Dec 2, 2007

Guest Post: 5 ways to avoid dangerous toys

The following is a guest post from Brip Blap, a blog about many things, including a lot of personal finance. I'm a regular reader and encourage you to subscribe to the RSS feed.

5 ways to avoid dangerous toys

Are you killing your kids? If you read the news or this blog, apparently most of us are one bad purchase away from doing just that without knowing it. Whether it's lead-contaminated paint or date-rape dots or collapsing toy shelves, toys - of all things - have become a source of serious concern for parents.

So what can a parent do? Try running through this simple checklist before buying a toy:
  • Does the toy have batteries or moving parts? Batteries are toxic. Noise-producing toys stifle the imagination and annoy parents and other adults who have to listen to repetitive beeps and shrieks. Steer clear of electronic toys.
  • Skip the plastics. As a general rule, plastic toys are made from plastic for one reason: cost containment. Plastic is a cheap material, and toy companies are already squeezed by licensing and manufacturing costs. Seeking out toys made from non-plastic materials (wood, in particular) is difficult. I have spent a long time in Toys R Us looking for non-plastic toys for our son. They are out there, though. Melissa & Doug toys are (for the most part) non-plastic toys that can be found at major retail stores.
  • Think twice before buying a brand instead of a toy. Branding is the primary selling point for toys. If you don't believe me, go to a toystore and tell me how many toys you can find which are NOT associated with a television show, a movie or a musical group. These toys are often created with the intention of reinforcing the child's desire to buy more toys branded in the same way rather than creating an educational experience. Many of the branded toys are built cheap and fast in countries with questionable safety standards. Buying non-branded toys does not guarantee safety, but many of them are made with more care to compete with the Dora and Buzz Lightyear and Finding Nemo toys.
  • Do your homework! Most of the recent recalls were from, frankly, cheap toys or toys of questionable quality. You can consult the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) who maintain a website on toy safety.
  • Keep it simple! You will often hear parents laughingly talk about how their children pass by all of the fancy beeping whirling toys to bang on a pot with a wooden spoon or throw a tennis ball endlessly. This is simple, straightforward advice: despite what you may think, your children don't need a lot of fancy toys. Simple toys like building blocks and simple dolls and wooden cars are going to be the best for your child, both educationally and in terms of safety. They inspire imagination and creativity and at the same time are not usually made from toxic materials and do not contain poisonous batteries or small moving parts.
Just use common sense and avoid buying anything that your instincts tell you that you shouldn't. Run through the list above, and remember: children can play with anything and have fun, but only YOU can determine what's safe!

I don't agree with everything Brip Blap says, but he makes some very good points. For example, we've found that most wooden toys (including Melissa & Doug, which he mentioned) just aren't interesting enough for Alex. But I avoid all toys in the dollar section at Target, since the risk that something so cheap is contaminated seems so great. And, in fact, for the holidays, we've asked for Lego Duplo sets to encourage the imagination and creativity that come naturally to Alex already. - Cathy


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! We do have a lot of toys without batteries...lots of blocks, dolls, ponies etc, but we have our fair share of battery operated ones too. As you said, there are times when you need a toy that does more than sits there. There used to be great mechanical toys out there that didn't use batteries, unfortunately they no longer exist, or I'd be happy to purchase those.

We have been buying more and more of the playsets from Learning Curve. They are partially wood and cost a fraction of what the Little People toys cost and they're sold in most department stores. Each one comes with a sturdy board book as well.

I do know that I now avoid many of the dollar store items I used to put in stockings and use as secret santa gifts.

I also think one thing that wasn't mentioned was pure number of toys. But maybe none of us as parents want to address that ;) If we chose a couple quality gifts for our kids rather than covering the bottom of the tree in toys we might not increase our odds of coming across a dangerous toy as often.

MetaMommy said...

You make some very good points. However, it's important to keep in mind that just because something is made of wood doesn't mean it's not made in China. A lot (all?) Melissa & Doug toys are made in China, so I would be cautious with any such purchases.

As Jen-Fur Henry commented, I subscribe to the "less is more" theory. Our son has enough toys to entertain him, but not so many that he doesn't care about any of them. I encourage books, music, non-battery operated toys, and clothes (which can be passed on in the future) as gifts for him, but we'll see how that goes.

BB said...

Thanks, first of all, to Cathy for the opportunity to guest host! I don't want anyone to think I was wholeheartedly endorsingly Melissa & Doug products - they were just the best example of a mass-produced non-battery toy I could come up with. I've actually found that wooden spoons and blocks and whatnot are even better than M&D.

I agree with jen-fur that the QUANTITY is another whole problem! We have a lot of toys already that our Little Buddy doesn't care for, and we probably shouldn't have bought in the first place - but that's just the way the cookie crumbles, so to speak :)

Anonymous said...

I found a lot of great looking wooden toys at Green Abode
online. I don't think they sell plastic toys.

ChiefFamilyOfficer said...

You're all absolutely right - quantity is a major issue. Unfortunately, I can't seem to stop the invasion of toys into my house, but I got rid of several boxes' worth a couple of months ago and I have more set aside for Goodwill.

Rather than wooden blocks, we prefer Legos because what you build stays together - and there have been countless trash trucks built, played with and taken to bed. :D

@Beth - Thanks for the recommendation!