Toys and games are widely available and frequently, the lowest prices may be found online. However, we at the Good Play Guide and other experts believe it is important to look beyond price and make sure we know the toy is from a reputable source and that it meets safety regulations.
It is also essential to keep in mind that the toy states that it is appropriate for the age range of the recipient too. Here are our five top tips to help you pick the perfect toy that is well made, age-appropriate but most importantly, safe for your child to play with.
1. CHOOSING SOMETHING AGE-APPROPRIATE
This is particularly important for babies and toddlers, who tend to put things in their mouth. After all, this is how they explore and learn about the world. Keep an eye out for the age grading on the toy packaging or guidance online (the appropriate age range is included for each toy listed in the Good Toy Guide for example).
Even if you consider your child to be advanced or mature for their age, it is important to listen to the safety guidance when buying toys, to make sure they will be safe for your child to play with. This is because safety and manufacturer guidance is based around the specific features of a toy and the developmental characteristics of children at a certain age, rather than intelligence or maturity. For example, for children under three, toys with small parts are not usually advisable as they can present a choking hazard.
Another important reason to choose the toy that’s right for your child’s age and interests is to make sure they will get the most enjoyment out of it. This is because if it’s too advanced, they may become frustrated and if it’s too simple, they’ll get bored of it quickly.
2. MAKE SURE THE TOY CAN WITHSTAND RIGOROUS PLAY
It is also a good idea to test out toys for sturdiness. The toys included in our guide are thoroughly tested by children, so it soon becomes clear if they do not stand up to rigorous play.
For babies and toddlers, you should make sure the toy is also strong enough to withstand chewing. It is helpful if the toy is washable (especially when made of fabric), as it means you can wash it if it gets grubby and avoid any nasty bacteria or mould forming.
You should also ensure that the toy does not have sharp ends or small parts like eyes or buttons that can be pulled loose and present a choking hazard.
3. CONSIDER THE ‘ADD-ONS’ THAT MAY BE NEEDED FOR YOUR GIFT
Ride-ons like bikes, trikes, scooters and skateboards are great for encouraging children to get active and helping them develop their balance and coordination. However, if you are thinking of buying one as a gift, you should remember to give a helmet, knee pads and other protective gear to go along with it.
Falling down is a key part of learning and growing, especially where active play is concerned so it is important to make sure that children are well protected when using their exciting new toy.
For younger children, ride-on toys such as rocking horses and push cars can usually be used once they are able to sit up confidently and unsupported. However, you should make sure that these toys are secure enough to prevent tipping and come with safety straps where needed.
4. CHECK THE TOY HAS BEEN DESIGNED ACCORDING TO SAFETY GUIDELINES
This can often be checked through the label or product information. For example, toys which are made of fabric should be labelled as flame resistant, to make sure that they are not flammable and art materials such as paints and crayons should state that they are non-toxic.
It is also advisable to buy electronic toys with adjustable volume. While toys are subject to safety standards limiting their sound level, they can still be loud when turned to full volume – which can pose risks to children’s hearing, especially if they hold it directly to their ear.
While second-hand toys can offer value for money, the environment and often a lovely sense of nostalgia, it is important to remember that they may not have been safety tested to the same standards as today’s toys and this information may not be as readily available. This can also be the case for those toys sold through online marketplaces and third-party sellers.
5. BE CAREFUL WITH CONNECTED TOYS
When we talk about connected toys, we mean those that connect to the internet to be played with. For example being linked to or controlled by an app (such as a smart speaker) or by taking information from an app to influence play.
These can offer fun, interactive games that are great for developing children’s listening and communication skills. However, it is important to consider that as with anything constantly connected to the internet, this can bring about risks to you and your child’s privacy.
This is because just like on a computer, any personal data runs the risk of falling into the wrong hands if not protected. So if you invest in a connected toy, make sure to speak to children about the importance of passwords, ensure your connection is secure and use parental controls.
Buying the perfect toy can be challenging as every child is wonderfully different. However, by ensuring that it is safe to play with means that your child will be able to get the best fun and learning opportunities out of their gift.
The most important things to consider when buying a toy are that it meets safety standards, that you are well informed on its features, that it is age-appropriate, that it is durable enough to withstand play, and that where needed, it comes with suitable safety gear.
Use our tips as a starting point to put your mind at ease when selecting a good, safe toy for the child in your life this Christmas.
By Sarah Welland