”Although the toy industry has improved its safety standards in recent years, buying safe and appropriate toys for children still takes thought. The first rule of toy buying is to carefully examine the toy to determine if it is appropriate for the child in question. And second, to examine the toy for the product's quality.
The first place to begin your examination of a toy is the age recommendation on the product's package. If there is no age recommendation, check with a sales clerk. (This might be difficult in a larger store because the employees in many large stores do not have product knowledge and may mislead you.) And if you are buying through a catalog, call the catalog company if no age recommendation is listed in the catalog.
The age recommendations for toys can indicate different things. Our experience has found that a toy's age recommendation is a great barometer, but it is not absolute.
Toys that are labeled, "not for children under 3 years old" usually indicate that the product has small parts or long strings which may be hazardous to younger children. Small parts could be lethal to children who are still putting things into their mouth. And toys, which have strings or cords six inches or longer could cause strangulation.
If you are buying such a toy for an older child who has a younger sibling at home, keep in mind--the younger child may get his or her hands on the toy. In such situations you may want to reconsider your purchase and buy a toy without the "under 3" warning.
Age specific recommendations also indicate the age group that might find the toy enjoyable or what skill level is needed to use the toy. Although you should try to stay within the recommended age levels, it is important to know the child.
Toy companies are often wrong in their age estimates. By knowing the child who will get the toy, you are in a better position to know the child's likes and skill level. Buying a toy that's too advanced can lead to frustration and may even be dangerous. Whereas, buying a toy that is not up to the child's level will be quickly discarded by the child.
After you have selected a toy it is imperative that a responsible adult be present when the toy is given to the child. Even if the toy does not require adult supervision or guidance the adult should read all directions that come with the toy and explain to the child how the toy should be used.
Also, check the toy for small parts, sharp edges or other potential dangers. Stuffed animals and soft-bodied dolls should always be examined for sturdy, well-sewn seams and that eyes, noses, buttons or other parts are on securely and cannot be pulled off by the child. One way you can check a toy for small parts is by using the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper. If the toy fits in the tube, it might be small enough to choke a toddler.
Immediately after opening a toy remove the package and all packing material. Toy packages may contain staples, plastic bags, styrofoam and a variety of other material that can be dangerous to children of all ages. And periodically, make sure you check your child's toys for worn or broken parts, loose screws and bolts, sharp points, splintering wood, jagged edges and other potential dangers. Make sure you repair or throw away broken toys immediately.” From the Live and Learn website