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Choose Toys Carefully

By Melanie Maxcey

Partners & Parenting 

June 1999

By playing with toys or play props, children can acquire essential life skills like sharing, cooperation, problem solving, language and math. But parents and caretakers have to be careful when choosing toys for children, cautioned Jasmine Ng, an associate with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service's Partner for Parenting program.

There are four types of toys for young children: social and fantasy materials like dress-up clothes; music, art and movement materials like drums; exploration and mastery toys like blocks and clay; and total motor playthings like tricycles and swings.

Before purchasing a toy, consider whether the type of toy is right.

"The toy needs to be appropriate for the child's age and abilities," Ng said. "The toy should interest the child, usage instructions should be clear enough for you and the child to understand and the toy should have multiple uses."

Following the age range recommended by the manufacturer helps determine a toy's appropriateness.

Dr. Linda Ladd, Extension child development specialist, said ignoring age recommendations can have serious consequences. Care-givers must make sure a toy is safe, both physically and emotionally.

"The thing we hear about most often are the small parts of toys that get into a child's mouth who is at the stage where they taste everything and the child swallows the toy and the child chokes," Ladd said.

Watch for loud toys that could damage a child's hearing, and remember that a toy designed for an older child can hurt a younger sibling. Watch for cords or strings that can wrap around an infant's neck, sharp points and edges and projectile objects that can injure eyes.

Ladd, who is also a clinical psychologist, added that experiencing continual defeat at the hands of a toy can be harmful for a child's self concept.

"I don't want to keep a child from learning defeat," Ladd said, "but if they experience repeated defeat, it is typical for them to say, 'I don't like that anyway.' Or they may internalize it, 'What's the matter with me that I can't do it? I'm not as good as someone else.'"

Care-givers should also determine whether the toy is worth its price, concluded Ng.

"You want a toy that will stimulate a child's imagination and initiative. Make sure the toy is sturdy and can't be broken easily. Then, ask yourself whether the child will use the toy enough to justify its purchase."

For more information on toys, check the Institute for Childhood Resources' site, Dr. Toy's Guide, at The site lists toys the institute likes with age appropriateness guidelines posted.

For more information on toy safety, visit and use the search function to find toy safety articles.

The Partners for Parenting Program is a joint effort between Extension and the Texas Department of Health. Posted in the 'Livingroom' by News & Public Affairs, Agricultural Communications, The Texas A&M University Agriculture Program.

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