Whether you are a first-time parent or a doting grandparent, toy safety is one of the most important issues in any household. Toys may be bright and colorful, but are they safe for children? Are toys geared toward children over the age of 4 years appropriate for toddlers and younger preschoolers? The rule of thumb is, the younger the child, the chunkier the toy. This means large pieces, sturdy construction, board or cloth books and heavier plastic pieces on molded toys for toddlers.
Construction: Children under the age of 2 years should have integral toys: toys that do not come apart and which are large enough to not be swallowed, inhaled or inserted into noses. Large blocks made by a reputable company like LEGO, Fisher Price or Playskool are constructed for little fingers and hands.
Duplo Blocks give the children the chance to construct, just like older siblings, but these blocks are made for this age group. You can find sets that contain large plastic blocks that are designed to fit into matching shapes on a container cover. These are generally safe for children over the age of 2 years. Fisher Price has a line of toys for younger children and different sets for those children who are older.
In general, if there are strings attached, pieces dangling, flimsy parts or tiny bits, they are not suitable for children under 2 years of age. If you use a mobile for an infant, mount it high enough that little hands can reach for, but not touch the parts. Beware choking hazards. Always read the fine print – and check the recommended age on the original box. Once your child reaches 3 or 4 years of age, they will enjoy recreating their favorite stories or movies using creative play sets, play farms, play houses and more.
Chunky toys for little fingers: Board and cloth books are especially made for young ‘readers.’ Heavy wood puzzles with less large pieces are suitable for young learners. Cardboard puzzles and paper books are for older children. They simply aren’t safe to chew or suck and can easily be torn apart.
Adapting to your child’s growth: The perfect toy would be one that grows along with your child. Unfortunately, as your child grows and develops, their needs change. The baby toy that was once safe and out of their reach may not be so once they are standing, creeping, crawling or walking. Once again, be vigilant that your household and contents change as your child grows.
Choking Hazards: This is a major concern. Even stuffed toys can pose choking hazards, since fluff can be inhaled and coat little noses and throats. Check to make sure that eyes are securely fastened on stuffies, or that they are embroidered onto the toy: that they can’t be pulled out by busy little fingers or that ever-busy little mouth. Everything goes into a baby’s mouth. This can continue to the age of 3 or 4 years with some children! Check construction, check the box for recommended ages, and use common sense to determine if a toy is safe for your child.
Creativity: Chunky crayons are designed for children over the age of two years. At this age, children begin exploring how to create shapes, and what magic emerges when they put crayon to paper for the first time. Young children may also like non-toxic markers, designed for use specifically on paper. Crayola has art media especially made for this age group. Once children develop, their little fingers will be able to securely grasp smaller crayons, chunky pencil crayons and water-based markers.
This is when activities such as finger-painting prove to be fascinating to children. Playdo can be introduced to most children once they are over 3 years of age, and hours of enjoyment can be found in creative play sets as children age. Musical toys are also generally made for older children, whether it’s a little piano, that first plastic guitar or a plastic tape player.
Your child has a lifetime of exploration and experimenting ahead of them. Don’t rush them beyond their ability. Offer toys appropriate to their age and developmental stage. Each child is different: some may be ready for more sophisticated toys by the time they are 3 years old, especially if they have older siblings. Others will take a little longer to reach this stage.