Toy Shopping for Healthy and Happy Kids

Artist at WorkWhen you’ve got holidays or birthdays and you’ve got kids, you probably have TOYS! Watching my children open their presents is one of my favorite things, but figuring out what to give them can be a challenge. Added to the dilemma of figuring out what they want, what I think is appropriate and what they will get the most enjoyment and use out of is the worry about what is safe. I’ve compiled several great resources to help parents navigate the issues and the gift-choosing process.

According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), around 20 children in the U.S. die each year from toy-related injuries and about half of those deaths are from choking on small parts, small balls and balloons. A good test to use to see if a toy presents a choking hazard to a child up to age 6 is whether it fits inside a toilet paper roll. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, non-motorized scooters are the leading cause of toy-related injuries in children under 15.

U.S. PIRG has a good list of tips for avoiding dangerous toys. My favorite:

  • “New, powerful small magnets used in most magnetic building toys, toy darts, magnetic jewelry, and other toys can fall out of small toys and look like shiny candy. If a child swallows more than one magnet, the magnets can attract each other in the body (in the stomach and intestines) and cause life-threatening complications. If a child swallows even one magnet, seek immediate medical attention.”

U.S. PIRG’s full 2011 Trouble In Toyland report is here, including Appendix A, which has images of problem toys.

These days, parents need to be concerned not only about toys that might hurt children, but also about products which might be toxic to their health. Some children’s products have been found to contain hormone disruptors like pthalates and toxic metals like lead and cadmium.

Healthy Child Healthy World (HCHW) has Quick Tips for buying toys that are better for kids and the environment. My favorite:

  • “Is the toy re-useable? Can it be added-to, creating new interest? For example, doll houses and building sets get repeated use, and adding one small accessory at a time can bring much joy.”

HCHW also has more tips for finding environmentally friendly toys on their blog. My favorite:

  • “Ensure that children wear helmets when riding bicycles, skateboards, and scooters.” (Especially important considering all those scooter injuries.)

Here is my favorite idea from Consumer Reports‘ toy shopping safety tips:

  • “Do not buy metal jewelry — especially cheap metal jewelry — for young children.  About 20 percent of children’s metal jewelry has high levels of lead lurking beneath the surface coating.  A child who mouths or accidentally swallows a piece of lead-laden jewelry can suffer lead poisoning.” (High levels of cadmium are often found in cheap jewelry as well.)

The Environmental Working Group’s safe gift shopping tips are on their blog. My favorite tip:

  • Give activities, not things. Take your child to a play or a favorite restaurant, or sign her up for that gymnastics class. Time together and special activities make wonderful, non-toxic gifts!

My favorite tip from the Food Matters blog’s list is:

  • “Go au natural. Look for toys made of natural materials like solid woods (with no finish or a non-toxic finish) and organic textiles (cotton, wool, felt, etc).”

In that same vein, Jonathan Liu at the GeekDad blog has the ultimate, time-tested, economical kid toy list. As he says in the intro: “All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one. These are time-tested and kid-approved! And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time.” Enjoy this silly (but accurate) take on what kids like to play with.

And one final resource is‘s product search, which includes test results for over 8,300 products consisting of over 20,000 individual samples. Here you can look up a children’s product if you aren’t sure about its toxicity.

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