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Safe Toys for Children

girl playing

Safe Toys for Children

Good Toys for Young Children by Age and Stage

In addition to being safe, good toys for young children need to match their stages of development and emerging abilities. Many safe and appropriate play materials are free items typically found in your homes. Cardboard boxes, plastic bowls and lids, collections of plastic bottle caps, and other “treasures” can be used in more than one way by children of different ages. As you listen to the following lists of suggested toys for children of different ages, keep in mind that each child develops at an individual pace. Items on one list—as long as they are safe—can be good choices for children who are younger and older than the suggested age range.
Toys for young infants—birth through 6 months
Babies like to look at people—following them with their eyes. Typically, they prefer faces and bright colors. Babies can reach, be fascinated with what their hands and feet can do, lift their heads, turn their heads toward sounds, put things in their mouths, and much more!
Good toys for young infants:
• Things they can reach for, hold, suck on, shake, make noise with—rattles, large rings, squeeze toys, teething toys, soft dolls, textured balls, and vinyl and board books
• Things to listen to—books with nursery rhymes and poems, and recordings of lullabies and simple songs
• Things to look at—pictures of faces hung so baby can see them and unbreakable mirrors
Toys for older infants—7 to 12 months
Older babies are movers—typically they go from rolling over and sitting, to scooting, bouncing, creeping, pulling themselves up, and standing. They understand their own names and other common words, can identify body parts, find hidden objects, and put things in and out of containers.
Good toys for older infants:
• Things to play pretend with—baby dolls, puppets, plastic and wood vehicles with wheels, and water toys
• Things to drop and take out—plastic bowls, large beads, balls, and nesting toys
• Things to build with—large soft blocks and wooden cubes
• Things to use their large muscles with—large balls, push and pull toys, and low, soft things to crawl over

Toys for 1-year-olds
One-year-olds are on the go! Typically they can walk steadily and even climb stairs. They enjoy stories, say their first words, and can play next to other children (but not yet with!). They like to experiment—but need adults to keep them safe.
Good toys for 1-year-olds:
• Board books with simple illustrations or photographs of real objects
• Recordings with songs, rhymes, simple stories, and pictures
• Things to create with—wide non-toxic, washable markers, crayons, and large paper
• Things to pretend with—toy phones, dolls and doll beds, baby carriages and strollers, dress-up accessories (scarves, purses), puppets, stuffed toys, plastic animals, and plastic and wood “realistic” vehicles
• Things to build with—cardboard and wood blocks (can be smaller than those used by infants—2 to 4 inches)
• Things for using their large and small muscles—puzzles, large pegboards, toys with parts that do things (dials, switches, knobs, lids), and large and small balls

Toys for 2-year-olds (toddlers)
Toddlers are rapidly learning language and have some sense of danger. Nevertheless they do a lot of physical “testing”: jumping from heights, climbing, hanging by their arms, rolling, and rough-and-tumble play. They have good control of their hands and fingers and like to do things with small objects.
Good toys for 2-year-olds:
• Things for solving problems—wood puzzles (with 4 to 12 pieces), blocks that snap together, objects to sort (by size, shape, color, smell), and things with hooks,
buttons, buckles, and snaps
• Things for pretending and building—blocks, smaller (and sturdy) transportation toys, construction sets, child-sized furniture (kitchen sets, chairs, play food), dress-up clothes, dolls with accessories, puppets, and sand and water play toys
• Things to create with—large non-toxic, washable crayons and markers, large paintbrushes and fingerpaint, large paper for drawing and painting, colored construction paper, toddler-sized scissors with blunt tips, chalkboard and large chalk, and rhythm instruments
• Picture books with more details than books for younger children
• CD and DVD players with a variety of music (of course, phonograph players and cassette recorders work too!)
• Things for using their large and small muscles—large and small balls for kicking and throwing, ride-on equipment (but probably not tricycles until children are 3), tunnels, low climbers with soft material underneath, and pounding and hammering toys

Toys for 3- to 6-year-olds (preschoolers and kindergartners).
Preschoolers and kindergartners have longer attention spans than toddlers. Typically they talk a lot and ask a lot of questions. They like to experiment with things and with their still-emerging physical skills. They like to play with friends—and don’t like to lose! They can take turns—and sharing one toy by two or more children is often possible for older preschoolers and kindergartners.
Good toys for 3- to 6-year-olds:
• Things for solving problems—puzzles (with 12 to 20+ pieces), blocks that snap together, collections and other smaller objects to sort by length, width, height, shape, color, smell, quantity, and other features—collections of plastic bottle caps, plastic bowls and lids, keys, shells, counting bears, small colored blocks
• Things for pretending and building—many blocks for building complex structures, transportation toys, construction sets, child-sized furniture (“apartment” sets, play food), dress-up clothes, dolls with accessories, puppets and simple puppet theaters, and sand and water play toys
• Things to create with—large and small crayons and markers, large and small paintbrushes and fingerpaint, large and small paper for drawing and painting, colored construction paper, preschooler-sized scissors, chalkboard and large and small chalk, modeling clay and playdough, modeling tools, paste, paper and cloth scraps for collage, and instruments—rhythm instruments and keyboards, xylophones, maracas, and tambourines
• Picture books with even more words and more detailed pictures than toddler books
• CD and DVD players with a variety of music (of course, phonograph players and cassette recorders work too!)
• Things for using their large and small muscles—large and small balls for kicking and throwing/catching, ride-on equipment including tricycles, tunnels, taller climbers with soft material underneath, wagons and wheelbarrows, plastic bats and balls, plastic bowling pins, targets and things to throw at them, and a workbench with a vise, hammer, nails, and saw
• If a child has access to a computer: programs that are interactive (the child can do something) and that children can understand (the software uses graphics and spoken instruction, not just print), children can control the software’s pace and path, and children have opportunities to explore a variety of concepts on several levels
Safety and children’s toys
Safe toys for young children are well-made (with no sharp parts or splinters and do not pinch); painted with nontoxic, lead-free paint; shatter-proof; and easily cleaned.
Electric toys should be “UL Approved.” Be sure to check the label, which should indicate that the toy has been approved by the Underwriters Laboratories. In addition, when choosing toys for children under age 3, make sure there are no small parts or pieces that could become lodged in a child’s throat and cause suffocation.
It is important to remember that typical wear and tear can result in a once safe toy becoming hazardous. Adults should check toys frequently to make sure they are in good repair. For a list of toys that have been recalled by manufacturers, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website.

Karen Nemeth, EdM, is an author, speaker, and consultant on early childhood language development at Language Castle LLC. She is the author of Basics of Supporting Dual Language Learners: An Introduction for Educators of Children From Birth Through Age

Here’s the Top 10 Toy Ideas for Infants!
1. Measuring cups and spoons to shake, rattle, and roll
2. Plastic containers to stack, fill, and empty
3. Washcloth to hide a surprise, wave in the air, or help with cleanup
4. Ball of yarn or ball of socks that can go far and do no damage.
5. Clean 2-liter soda bottle with label off, filled with beads, pebbles, jingle bells, etc., and safely sealed
6. Blankie
7. Your keys (*to jingle and shake, not to give to baby)
8. Disposable-diaper box turned into seat, sled, drum, hiding place
9. Upside down pots and pans (best if used with metal measuring cups for really loud rhythm jam sessions).
10. Your lap!

Top 10 for Toddlers and Preschoolers!
Empty boxes, large and small
1. Bubble wrap for art projects or jumping games
2. Rolls of brown packing paper for large art projects
3. Paper-towel and wrapping-paper tubes
4. Old gift cards, and membership cards as pretend money for shopping
5. Cardboard backing from flip chart after paper is used up. Use for puppet theater, store counter, easel, roadmap for toy cars, etc.
6. Big bowl of water with a few soapsuds on kitchen floor (with towel) with washcloth, kitchen items, dolls or plastic animals that need a bath
7. Roll of masking or cellophane tape. Watch the magic happen!
8. Clean, empty plastic food containers (for example, yogurt or margarine tubs) with lids for pretend cooking and bath time play
9. Your lap!

We talked to Dr. Toy (Stevanne Auerbach) about the value of toys and what to think about before selecting a toy for your child.
Why are toys important for young children?
Play is essential to babies, toddlers, preschool, and school-age children. Children need plenty of opportunities to play with a variety of good toys and materials and use their imagination. We need to respect and understand more about the world of play and its great value for all babies and children (and adults as well). Toys are an important part of every child’s life. It is a wonderful feeling to give the right toy. Choosing the right toy from among the many possibilities can be very rewarding to both adult and child.
What questions should parents ask before selecting a toy or children’s product?
1. Is the toy/product safe? Are there any potential hazards? Is the product too small? Any sharp edges or loose ties? Is it nontoxic? Will it take rough treatment? Can it be easily cleaned? Does it meet Consumer Product Safety Standards? Is there a warranty?
2. Is the product fun? A toy or child’s product is supposed to entertain the child. It should amuse, delight, excite, be enjoyable, and provide skills’ practice.
3. Is the product appropriate? Is this toy or product significant now? Does the toy fit the child’s age, skills, and abilities? Will it hold interest? Will the child be happy using the product?
4. Is the product well-designed? Is it easy to use? Does it look good? feel good?
5. Is the product versatile? Is there more than one use for it?
6. Is the product durable? Will it be something that will last a long time? Children play hard and subject their toys to a lot of wear.
7. Is the product enticing and engaging to the child? Does it offer an opportunity for fun, to learn, and to think?
8. Will the product help the child expand creativity? With the right products, the child can expand imagination in art, crafts, hobbies, language, reading, music, movement, and drama.
9. Will the toy frustrate or challenge the child? Will the child know how to use the product? Or will it be too difficult to use without adult assistance? Does the toy offer something new to learn, to practice, or to try?
10. Does the product match the package and the package match the product? If the toy does not match ads or packaging, it can be disappointing. Is age-grading clear? Is the item in the store like the product shown in the print media or TV advertisement?
11. Will the toy help nurture childhood? Does the product help the child express emotions, experience concern for others, and practice positive social interaction? Does it provide value to childhood? Or are there any violent, sexist, or other negative aspects to product?
12. What will the toy teach? Does it help expand positive self-esteem, values, understanding, and cultural awareness? Does it offer practice in skill building? eye/hand coordination? fine and large motor skills? communication? Does it educate the child about the environment? the community? the world? history? science and/or technology? other skills?
13. Can the product be cleaned and reused? If it is not washable, can it be cleaned in a practical way?
14. Is the toy affordable?
15. Does the price match the value received?

What are special considerations when thinking about electronic toys and games?

1. Sometimes it seems that books have lost their appeal to children (and to adults), but this may be simply competition between traditional forms of learning and new electronics that appear compelling.
2. Children need to read from books, hear stories read aloud, and also draw, write creatively, and play with many different kinds of products (paper, clay, art supplies, puzzles, blocks, dolls, soft toys like puppets, musical instruments, and many others) for optimal learning and for their own enjoyment.
3. Electronic toys, regardless of how many bells and whistles and gadgetry, should not ever replace the experience of reading a book, enjoying a story, playing with real objects, and creating with their hands, whether finger painting or building a tower of blocks. Too often, electronics take over our attention and we forget to interact with a real person or take the time for conversation. I do think electronics are excellent tools for rapid exchanges about making plans, or quickly sending information, and even playing good games for brief periods of time.
4. But electronics and high-tech toys cannot replace much needed personal contact and real human interaction. An example of this is playing a cooperative board game and having fun together as a family, as contrasted to playing alone on a computer or electronic game device. Social interaction is what is most valuable for full human development and well-being.
What are some different types of toys?
1. Select toys that offer a good balance and enrich children’s skills and creative opportunities. Include products that offer open-ended play like blocks, physical play like balls, silly toys like jack in the box for its fun and surprise responses, and, of course, electronics that are in balance with nontech toys.
2. Activity toys develop coordination, improve small and large motor skills, and balance. Begin with balls and beanbags; add a tricycle, bike, wagon, or skates. A jump rope and a kite are great for outdoor fun. Always check whether your child is ready for the activity. Also, don’t forget the valuable experiences of gardening, nature walks, and exploring.
3. Creativity toys stimulate self-expression. The child can create with crayons, finger-paints, watercolors, clay and craft sets. Children learn from following directions, a sequence of activities, and gain satisfaction in completing a project. Don’t forget activities like making something new with a cardboard box to stimulate imagination, singing or listening to or making music, or trying other creative projects.
4. Learning toys contribute to the acquisition of knowledge. These toys include books, tapes, videos, software, CDs, puzzles, and board games. The child should read books, listen to music, solve puzzles, and play games. Take time to read a story or create a puppet show. Discuss programs watched on TV or a recent movie attended. You can also build together with blocks and varied construction toys, play board games, and solve puzzles.
When a child has a preference for particular kinds of toys, is that something to encourage or should parents try to get their child to expand?
1. It’s best to expose children to many alternatives so that they can appreciate many styles while forming their own preferences. Older children have a wide range of interests. They continue to enjoy play, but are able to handle more complexity—in games, projects, products, and activities. You will learn a lot if you listen to what children like and why. You may not agree, but understand the preferences as a sign of their own personality growth and emerging peer relationships that are exceedingly important as they mature.
What are “open- ended” toys, and why are they important?
1. Open-ended toys and activities like bocks, puppets, dolls, and art supplies stimulate creativity, sense of humor, sense of discovery, wonder, reasoning, social development, and much more.
What’s the role of fun or joy in selecting toys, or should a parent always be thinking of “education”?
1.Being a fully developed person requires a good combination of thinking, common sense, and experiences. We must also experience a full range of emotions to be fully human. It would not be good to be lopsided to one degree or another. It’s better if we can solve problems, make good choices based on character and values, and feel glad and proud about finding solutions. Certainly children need to solve problems, express their feelings, and spend time each day in playful activities. If we are only rational and don’t allow ourselves to express feelings, we drastically reduce and diminish the full human experience of joy and discovery. The world of toys provides learning and fun, surprises and skills, emotional growth, experiences of all kinds, and much more. Enjoy smart play and smart toys for a lifetime. Toys, puzzles, and games are good for children—and seniors. Playtime is, after all, good for a lifetime. Turn off the TV and turn on playtime for more fun, memorable, and meaningful family time.
Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, is known as Dr. Toy and is the author of Smart Play/Smart Toys (published in 15 countries) and Dr. Toy’s Guide, www.drtoy.com, a website that offers useful, timely guidance on toys for all ages and from around the world. Dr. Toy is a former teacher and administrator with the federal government and was founder/director of the San Francisco International Toy Museum. drtoy@drtoy.com

Resource: National Association for the Education of Young Children

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