Tips on shopping for children's toys A child's wish list is often dictated by ads and commercials with enticing colors, sights and sounds, but adults need to evaluate how safe and practical toys are.
Marilyn Rasmussen, a youth development/4-H specialist for South Dakota State University Extension, said there are a few precautions adults should keep in mind as they do their holiday shopping.
Consider the child's age, developmental stage, interests and skill levels when selecting toys. If you are not in contact with the child regularly, call the child's parent to find out the child's interests and current skill level. Some electronic devices teach math, spelling, or geography but may be too easy to hold the attention of some school-aged children.
They may have been interested in dinosaurs the last time you saw them, but now they are attracted to anything having to do with spaceships.
Look for quality design and construction. Toys that break the first time they are played with are very disappointing. Some stores have toys on display for you to examine. This makes it easier for you to determine how well made they are.
Read through the directions or instructions. Are they clear? Is the game or device too complex for your child's developmental stage? Is the toy difficult to assemble? If yes, will there be someone to help them with assembly? Frustrating toys often end up in the closet.
Read the labels. Age recommendations are a good guideline for selecting toys that appeal to a child's abilities and interests but they are also vital to safety concerns. Be especially cognizant of the warning "Not recommended for children under 3." This usually indicates that there are small parts or removable parts that could cause choking.
If the toy has fabric parts, look for the "flame retardant/flame resistant" label. Stuffed toys and dolls should also say that they are made of "washable/hygienic materials."
Toys with long strings or cords may be dangerous for very young children. The cords may become wrapped around an infant/child's neck causing strangulation. Even balloons, when uninflated or broken, can cause choking.
More children have suffocated on uninflated balloons than on any other type of toy.
When buying a toy for any aged child, also consider whether or not there are younger children or infants in the household. Does the child have a separate room, storage area or closet where toys can be kept out of the reach of these younger children?
Take special care to make sure toys conform to safety standards. Check for warning labels on any electric toys and be sure they meet mandatory requirements. Toys with heating elements are recommended only for children over the age of 8.
Art supplies should indicate that they conform to the ASTM D-4236 standard, indicating that the materials are non-hazardous.
Propelled objects should have soft cork tips, rubber suction cups or other protective tips which will help prevent injury.
"Toys are important for a child's development," Rasmussen said. "They provide opportunities for mental, physical and social stimulation and learning. Toys will provide hours of safe fun for children if adults take the time to shop carefully for toys that hold a child's interest, are well-constructed, durable, and well-suited to the child's physical abilities."
For further information on toy safety, check the Web site of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at http:// www.cpsc.gov/.