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The Right Toys at the Right Ages
Always read labels to make sure a toy is appropriate for a child's age. Guidelines published by the CPSC and other groups can help you make those buying decisions. Still, use your own best judgment — and consider your child's temperament, habits, and behavior whenever you buy a new toy.
You may think that a child who's advanced in comparison to peers can handle toys meant for older kids. But the age levels for toys are determined by safety factors, not intelligence or maturity.
Here are some age-specific guidelines to keep in mind:
For Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
Toys should be large enough — at least 1¼ inches (3 centimeters) in diameter and 2¼ inches (6 centimeters) in length — so that they can't be swallowed or lodged in the windpipe. A small-parts tester, or choke tube, can determine if a toy is too small. These tubes are designed to be about the same diameter as a child's windpipe. If an object fits inside the tube, then it's too small for a young child. If you can't find a choke tube, a toilet paper roll can be used for the same purpose.
Avoid marbles, coins, balls, and games with balls that are 1.75 inches (4.4 centimeters) in diameter or less because they can become lodged in the throat above the windpipe and restrict breathing.
Battery-operated toys should have battery cases that secure with screws so that kids cannot pry them open. Batteries and battery fluid pose serious risks, including choking, internal bleeding, and chemical burns.
When checking a toy for a baby or toddler, make sure it's unbreakable and strong enough to withstand chewing. Also, make sure it doesn't have:
sharp ends or small parts like eyes, wheels, or buttons that can be pulled loose
small ends that can extend into the back of the mouth
strings longer than 7 inches (18 centimeters)
parts that could become pinch points for small fingers
Most riding toys can be used once a child is able to sit up well while unsupported - but check with the manufacturer's recommendation. Riding toys like rocking horses and wagons should come with safety harnesses or straps and be stable and secure enough to prevent tipping.
Stuffed animals and other toys that are sold or given away at carnivals, fairs, and in vending machines are not required to meet safety standards. Check carnival toys carefully for loose parts and sharp edges before giving them to your infant.
Bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and inline skates should never be used without helmets that meet current safety standards and other recommended safety gear, like hand, wrist and shin guards. Look for CPSC or Snell certification on the labels.
Nets should be well constructed and firmly attached to the rim so that they don't become strangulation hazards.
Toy darts or arrows should have soft tips or suction cups at the end, not hard points.
Toy guns should be brightly colored so they cannot be mistaken for real weapons, and kids should be taught to never point darts, arrows, or guns at anyone.
BB guns or pellet rifles should not be given to kids under the age of 16.
Electric toys should be labeled UL, meaning they meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.