Toys should be fun, durable, easy-to-store and to clean, as well as safe and age-appropriate. Following these guidelines listed here can help ensure that toys used in the childcare setting are safe ones.
U.S. toy manufacturers follow certain labeling guidelines which note toys that are safest for young children, and those intended for older children. It is important to follow these age recommendations. Although children may be physically able to handle "older toys," they may not be developmentally ready to play with them safely. Labels also indicate if the toy contains small parts that young children can choke on or ingest.
It may be tempting to save money by purchasing used toys at yard sales or accepting donated toys. However, used toys seldom have the original packaging and safety labels and important warnings, as well as instructions for safe handling, assembly, and cleaning, may be missing. Since 1994, labeling is required for all products used by children under age three and must include choking hazards (if they apply).
Condition of Toys
Select toys that are well-constructed, easy-to-clean, and convenient to store. Inspect closely for any broken, worn, or missing hardware, cracks, dangerous moving parts, and sharp or rough surfaces such as splintering wood. If a toy is cracked, it may expose small, dangerous pieces that could cause choking. Avoid older-looking, painted toys, or those with chipped paint as they may have been painted with lead-based paints which can cause lead poisoning if the child chews on the toy or eats the paint chips.
All toys wear out eventually, so ensure toy safety by inspecting and maintaining toys so that they remain in good working order and safe condition. Discard or repair any toys that have cracks, chipping paint, loose parts, frayed threads, exposed stuffing, sharp objects, or rough surfaces. A convenient time for toy inspections may be when they are gathered for weekly cleaning. (Mouthed toys should be washed at least daily.)
Most toys can be washed in a mild detergent and bleach solution. Generally 1/4 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water can be used for disinfecting wood or plastic toys. Stuffed or fabric toys should be laundered in the washing machine.
Cords and ties
Help prevent strangulation by keeping straps, ribbons, ties , or strings on toys short. Strings and cords are found on many items such as toy telephones and pull toys. Look around your setting for other items which may have cords within children's reach, such as bumper pad ties, wall hangings, and window coverings.
Once toys are inspected for safety hazards and categorized by appropriate age for use, another important consideration is how to keep toys for older children away from the younger children. This can be particularly challenging in the home-based childcare setting where children of various ages may intermingle during playtime.
If you have sufficient staff to provide supervision, one solution is to keep children of different ages in different rooms during play time with a locked door or a safety gate between them. If children are in the same area, set up tables and play areas in different corners of the room, and place yourself or another adult between them. This helps prevent exchange of inappropriate toys. Store toys designed for older children on higher shelves so that the younger children cannot reach them.
Schedule some playtime for older children (who require less naptime) during naptime for younger children. Older children may play with the more advanced toys during this time. Remember to promptly remove and store these toys as soon as possible and place them well out of the reach of younger children.
Toy Safety for Different Ages
Infants Mobiles and crib toys that are within the baby's reach are among the greatest toy hazards for infants up to 12 months old. At around three months of age, babies develop the ability to grab and grasp and crib toys may be pulled down onto the child causing injury. Be sure that crib toys are securely fastened in place. Infants also may become entangled in toys with strings so mobiles should be kept out of the baby's reach by lowering the crib mattress, or raising or removing the mobile.
Keep stuffed animals, heavy blankets, and pillows out of the infant's crib to prevent suffocation. Check stuffed toys frequently for tears or loose beads or decorations. Stuffed toys with stitched eyes and noses (rather than buttons or plastic parts) are safest.
In general, infant toys should be soft, easy-to-clean and store, lightweight, "sturdy," and without moving parts. Babies like to put things in their mouths, so keep small objects out of reach and check toys for small parts, such as the squeakers in squeaky toys, which can fall out and cause choking. Rattles and teething toys should be "indestructible" and pliable, with handles at least 2" wide (as recommended by the CPSC) so they cannot become lodged in a baby's mouth.
Toddlers Toddlers have little sense of danger and often put things in their mouths, especially when they are teething, tired, or hungry. Latex balloons, balloon fragments, and small balls are the most common toys causing suffocation deaths of children at this age. Strangulation may occur when children climb from cribs and become entangled by stringed toys.
Arts and craft supplies should include simple selections, such as jumbo crayons, nontoxic paints and large paintbrushes, nontoxic unscented modeling clay, and unscented washable markers. (Children may be tempted to "eat" scented markers or modeling clay). Choose white school glue or glue sticks instead of rubber cement or other toxic adhesives.
Preschool to Kindergarten Children often enjoy climbing, running, jumping, and taking risks. Falls are a major source of injuries associated with both indoor and outdoor toys at this age.
Wheeled toys, popular with this age group, should be well-balanced, with wide wheels that have adequate treads for good floor contact. The riding toy should match the size of the child, allowing him or her to firmly grasp the handles and reach the foot pedals.
Choking also is a hazard, so do not allow children to play with or blow up a latex balloon. (Mylar balloons have not been associated with choking hazards.)
Continue to select toys that are age-appropriate. Children may be fascinated by toys for older children, which often require electricity or may have sharp objects. Remember, there is a safety reason for toy age recommendations!
By Sheila Blythe-Saucier, RN, Child Safety Consultant
Protect all children by reporting any injuries from toys to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). To report a product-related injury or obtain information on products, call CPSC's hotline at 800-638-2772 or visit CPSC's web site at www.cpsc.gov.