Labels on toy packages are meant to make choosing safe, appropriate toys for your child much easier. No package label will be able to tell you exactly which toys are correct for your child as not all toys are appropriate for everyone. However, child development experts agree that children develop in a sequence of stages and therefore the toy industry uses this information to indicate what types of toys are safe and appropriate for children of a variety of ages. These labels help parents and other toy purchasers distinguish among the wide array of toys available in order to make the most suitable purchases.
Keep in mind, every child is unique and will develop at her or her own pace. When purchasing a toy, the best thing you can do is know the maturity, skill level and interests of the child, read the recommended age labels carefully and use common sense.
Toys are age labeled following the age grading guidelines of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which consist of four main criteria:
- The ability of a child to physically manipulate and play with the features of a toy
- The ability of a child to understand how to use a toy
- The child’s play needs and interest at different developmental levels
- The safety aspects of the toy itself.
Each child’s abilities, interests and play needs will vary at all levels of development. New toys are frequently tested by children in play settings to determine age-appropriateness, durability and play patterns. Manufacturers may also involve parents, teachers or others that care for children to receive first-hand knowledge and insight.
In addition to age labeling, as of January 1, 1995 all new toys and games for children ages three through six are required to carry warnings about choking hazards. These warnings provide you with information if the toy contains small parts, and that the toy is not intended for children under the age of three. No matter the age of your child, toys with these labels should be avoided if he or she is still mouthing objects.
Some manufacturers also choose to add other safety warnings and cautions to their package and/or the enclosed instructions. Toys that may include cautionary labels in addition to the age label are:
- Electrically operated toys that may have heating elements
- Science toy sets that may have toxic chemicals
- Science or craft kits that may have sharp instruments such as scissors or breakable glass
- Swim/floating aids that are not meant as life-saving devices
- Crib mobiles and gyms (which should be removed when the baby pushes up on hands and knees to prevent possible entanglement)
- Toy intended for assembly by an adult which may have potentially hazardous sharp points and edges in its pre-assembled state.
Aside from age and safety labels, toy manufacturers may include seals of approval from independent product review specialists or awards that have been granted for their product. These independent product reviews usually evaluate items such as the toy’s ease of use, visual appeal, functionality, cost effectiveness and originality. While not required by any means, these seals help consumers select toys that may be the best fit for their child’s interests.
Bottom line, the point of purchasing a toy is for your child to have fun. Review the age recommendations and safety labels carefully and then make an informed decision as to whether or not the product is right for your child.