Kids learn through play. This means that they need toys. Some of those toys may become part of their fondest memories. In fact, your child may still have a few of them when they become an adult. Buying toys for your child doesn’t have to be complicated, but you do have to think about their safety at all times.
Why it is important to choose toys that are appropriate for a child’s developmental age?
From a child’s perspective, toys are for having fun. From an adult’s perspective, toys are for having fun and learning, while keeping them safe. The idea, therefore, is to find toys which are a good fit for the skills they are learning, as well as matching their personality and interests.
What makes a toy developmentally appropriate?
Developmentally-appropriate toys are toys which are designed and constructed to progress your child’s development while keeping them safe.
What makes a toy safe?
In the context of toys, safety means a combination of design and build quality and appropriateness for the child’s development stage. Basically, toys which are poorly-designed and/or poorly-made are likely to be unsafe regardless of a child’s development stage.
Even the best-designed and best-made toys can, however, be unsafe if the child has not reached a stage of development when they can use them appropriately. Some toys can be used by children at different stages of development, provided that the younger children use them under adult supervision.
Having just said that there are some general points to keep in mind, regardless of your child’s development stage.
Actively check product safety. Be aware, however, that product safety information is only as reliable as the source. In other words, if you are buying toys from a reputable retailer, then you can almost certainly trust the labelling. If, however, you are looking at toys on a market stall, then you might want to be more cautious about taking safety markings at face value. It would depend on the situation.
Fabric toys need to be fire-resistant/flame-retardant.
Stuffed toys need to be whole (e.g. no ripped seams) and should use stitching throughout, i.e. not glueing. If you’re looking at pre-loved stuffed toys, then check them thoroughly for small parts, especially if they are hand-made.
In particular, look out for stuffed toys with stick-on plastic eyes and/or tied-on ribbons. These are convenient for crafters and they are totally fine for adult collectables, but they are a serious choking hazard for young children. Check the type of stuffing used. Avoid toys which have “pellet-type” stuffings (e.g. beans). These are also a choking hazard.
Wooden toys need to be solid (e.g. free of mould or the effects of mould) and free of splinters.
Metal toys should be appropriately painted to keep them free of rust.
Any paint used on toys for children needs to be lead-free.
Any toy intended to hold a child’s weight needs to be robust enough to handle it.
Avoid toys with small parts for children under school age. Avoid toys with sharp edges and/or projectile capabilities even for children at the younger end of school age. This includes foam projectiles. These are all major causes of toy related injuries.
Be very careful with inflatables, especially with preschooler kids. These may seem about as harmless as you can get but anything inflatable can burst, at which point it becomes a choking hazard for children. Make sure they are put away where only adults can access them and always used under adult supervision.
Art materials should be actively marked as non-toxic.
Noise levels should be reasonable, especially if a child can hold a toy to their ear.
All toys need to be able to be thoroughly cleaned in some way.
How To Keep Toys Safe
Toy related safety starts at the point of purchase, but even the best-quality toys can become unsafe as they become used. Here are three tips to keeping toys safe for your child.
Make sure toys are always put away properly.
Kids tend to put things down when they’ve finished with them (or get distracted) and just wander away. Sometimes they get taken away by adults, (e.g. for bath or bed) and then the adults are too busy or tired to put the toys away. This is totally understandable but it’s also unsafe. The way to deal with this issue is to have easy-access storage into which you can dump kids toys so they don’t get damaged and nobody gets damaged by them.
If your children are old enough for toys with small parts (e.g. Lego), invest in buckets, bins or similar to hold them. Basically you want something with a wide mouth which can stand upright by itself. Then your child (ideally) or you (really) can just chuck everything in it and put it out of the way.
If you have children of different ages then you need to make sure that they each have their own storage space. It’s fine if the older child can access the younger one’s storage but it’s vital that the younger one is kept out of the older child’s storage space.
Store outdoor toys indoors.
Indoors does not have to mean in the house. It can mean in an outbuilding. Basically it means out of the way of the elements. As a bonus, this also tends to help keep them out of the way of would-be thieves.
Take care of toys appropriately
Many toys will need some level of maintenance if only the occasional wash. High-quality toys will often be able to be repaired if they are damaged. In fact, that’s often one of the signs that a toy is high-quality.
Think carefully before buying a toy which is likely to need a lot of care and maintenance, especially when kids are younger (meaning you’ll have to do it all). Likewise, think carefully before buying a toy which is likely to need regular repairs. Even if you have the skills (and tools) to deal with them yourself (or know someone who does) do you really have the time? If not are you prepared to pay for someone else to repair the toy for you?
Repair or recycle promptly
Make sure you deal with repairs promptly or just take the item for recycling. Be honest, if you’re not dealing with the repair and your child isn’t chasing you about it, then it’s time to move the item along somewhere else.
Keep alert to product recalls
These are very unusual, but they do happen.
Remember the wrapping!
In all seriousness, some manufacturers work to the highest safety standards, but send their products in packaging which has all kinds of safety hazards like plastic bags, staples and plastic ties. You don’t have to avoid toys just because the manufacturer (or retailer) hasn’t learned how to choose safe packaging, just make sure you deal with it.
Practice safe play
Make sure your kids are always using any necessary safety equipment for their activity. If a toy has wheels, then they should almost certainly be wearing a helmet. If it has projectile capabilities then they need some form of safety eye-wear. If they could fall of it, then consider extra safety pads (as well as a helmet).
Choosing safe toys for a baby
The golden rule here is to avoid anything which could do them any damage whatsoever if they put it in their mouth, which they will. The key is to stick to items with large parts, preferably soft ones, which are easy to hold.
Very young babies will enjoy colours, textures and noises. They love play mats. As they age, they start to develop their mobility. Bouncer seats are always popular as is anything which works on cause and effect.
Choosing safe toys for toddlers and preschoolers
Toddlers seem to have boundless energy so they love anything which gets them moving or just doing something. If they can ride on it, build with it or make it do something then it’s likely to go down well. Kids this age love to make music but if that doesn’t go down too well with adults, then they have the motor skills to start making art.
Once they reach preschool age, kids are usually really eager to develop their imagination and enjoy being challenged. This is often a great time to start looking at life skills and seeing where their long-term interests might lie.
For example, you could try them with a balance bike and get them age-appropriate versions of adult activities such as play-cooking sets. They can now grasp basic board games (with large parts), get really engaged with arts and crafts (which they often love) and start taking more of a serious interest in music.
Choosing safe toys for young children
For kids aged about 5 to 8, development is really an extension of their late preschool years. By now, their personalities, interests and preferences are becoming increasingly clear. If children express a strong interest in something at this point, then it’s very likely to be a sign that it will form part of their long-term future.
Many children, however, are still very much in the process of exploration and developing their imagination and now they have the technology to help them. This could be a great time to get them their first tablet, you now buy tablets designed specifically for kids.
That said, lots of traditional toys are still very popular, especially ones which have an element of creativity and strategy, like many board games. Just remember to keep an eye on the size of the parts (e.g. the game pieces).