We all know how the right kind of toys can become important tools for learning. They give a child’s gross motor skills a boost as he grasps and plays with his toys. They help his develop cognitive learning like simple problem solving (“Does this puzzle piece fit here?”) and exploring of shapes, colors and sizes. And they can enhance a child’s memory skills and attention span.
Knowing the benefits of play through toys, it's not only important to pick the right types of toys, but to know how to choose safe ones as well. Keep these points in mind when buying play things for your little one:
1. Always follow age recommendations. The age recommendation is printed on the packaging, and they are there for a reason. These don’t just make sure that your little one is ready for the toy, but they were also made safe for a particular age.
“For children one and under, choose toys that are colorful, lightweight, have various textures and are made of non-toxic materials. Children this age learn through sight, touch, sound and taste and often put things into their mouths to explore them,” saysDr. Bettye M. Caldwell, Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education.
2. The smaller the child, the "bigger" the toys. Toys should be large enough so that they can’t be swallowed or be choked on. Check for small parts as well that your child may be able to detach from the toy like eyes or buttons. To check if a toy or its parts are big enough, you can use a Choke Check tube (make your own by following the instructions here). If the toy fits through the tube, then it’s too small.
3. At the store, test the toy yourself. That means play with it like how you know your baby would. It should be able to withstand all the abuse it’s going to get (ie. throwing, pulling, grabbing and chewing). Move on to the next toy if you can foresee it will break after two rounds of play.
4. Avoid toys that come with batteries and magnets. If your baby is supposed to hold it, then skip any battery-operated toys. Both batteries (especially button batteries) and magnets are not only choking hazards, but are also very dangerous when swallowed. The chemicals found in a battery can cause severe burns to a child’s insides. A pair of magnets when swallowed can be attracted to each other through intestinal walls and cause damage to the intestines. Remember, it’s not what the toy can do, it’s what your child can do with the toy. There are hours of fun and learning to be had with stackable cups and wooden blocks.
5. Check for hazards. Make sure toys for your baby don’t have:
harmful and toxic chemicals used to make the toy
sharp ends that your child can hurt himself with
strings, cords or straps that are longer than 7 inches
small ends that can extend to the back of a baby’s mouth (like stuffed toy tails, antennas, etc.)
6. Say no to balloons and latex gloves. Balloons and latex gloves should never be given to children 7 years old and below, especially babies. Balloons are actually the main cause of toy-related deaths in children, according to BabyCenter. A child blowing up or chewing a balloon may accidentally inhale it and choke. When swallowed, they form tight seals in a child’s airway making it impossible to breathe.
7. Check them regularly. Unfortunately, toys that are well-loved by your baby are those that tend to get run down quicker, too. Regularly conduct a toy maintenance check of your baby’s play things for safety and durability. Discard those with loose parts, chips, and broken pieces.