Great Toys for Great Kids: Toy Safety

How we got into this business to begin with and why we care. Dorsett Publications, a publisher specializing in books how-to guides for building miniature furniture and structures, got into the toy business in part because one of us is an environmental resource planner with an inordinate fondness for blocks, old Erector sets, and Legos; and the other is a former child abuse investigator and paramedic who is passionate about toy safety. The combination accounts for our emphasis on construction toys, railroad related toys (trains, puzzles, a railroad cribbage board, etc.), and above all else, safe toys. We also subscribe to the belief that kids learn best when they “make stuff” rather than staring endlessly at a computer screen.

Great toys are engaging and spur imagination and critical thinking through creative play. They can be used to teach cooperation, encourage the development of language, math, and motor skills. Unfortunately, not all toys are safe, even great toys. Most toys are age-specific, like the Erector set, with which I spent hours trying to build the perfect amusement park. The small parts, including the pulley wheels, posed a choking hazard, so I wasn’t allowed to touch the set until I was well past the age of putting small metal pieces in my mouth and swallowing. At the time, it seemed grossly unfair that my older cousins could play with the set and I couldn’t. As an adult, I can now appreciate the restriction.We encourage parents to know about the products before buying, whether new, used, or antique; whether from a small shop, a retail outlet, a flea market or yardsale, or online.

Buying Safe Toys

We have taken the time to research the safety records for all of the companies with which we do business. In most cases, with a couple of notable exceptions, we deal directly with the manufacturer and know how our products are made, who makes them, and what types of materials are used. Not all stores, however, have the same time to devote to researching product safety nor the inclination. This puts the onus on the parents to know what their children are playing with. For information on product standards, for specific numeric data on the number of recalls in the US, and for a list of companies with recalls, take a look at our statistics page (coming soon). Whether you buy from us or you buy from someone else, buy safe. Some basic rules apply when you are shopping this holiday season.

  • Make sure the toy is age appropriate. The age range for a toy should be printed on the package. If it is not, don’t buy. Not all toys are appropriate for all children. Small pieces and parts (less than 1.75″ …or the approximate width of a toilet paper roll) pose a swallowing hazard for children under the age of 3. If you are buying a toy for an older child with younger siblings, teach them to keep small pieces and parts out of reach. If you are buying online, either from ebay or another outlet, check to make sure they provide the age information. If they don’t, don’t buy.
  • Don’t purchase toys for children five and under that are made from thin plastic. If it can easily break, the thin plastic can pose a cutting hazard.
  • For children under the age of 8, avoid products with sharp, pointy edges.
  • Know how the product is made, who made it, and what their track record is. There are a multitude of product safety recall websites. Unfortunately, not all products, even with the “Made in the USA” label , are made from parts made in the USA; not all products made in other countries, including China, are necessarily hazardous. If your child is adamant about a certain toy, find out about it before giving into “the look.”
  • Look at products and companies which have a history of producing award-winning products. Generally, toys and companies that have won awards have won because they produce safe, engaging toys.
  • If you are buying a product online, make sure the seller can provide you with enough information to make a safe decision. Check the product’s safety history. It may be a good deal, or it may be a bad deal with strings attached.
  • Antique toys and collectable toys (those toys we played with as kids that were made prior to 1978) are great and can be a tremendous amount of fun (like my father’s c.1938 Erector set), but they were also created prior to the passage of the majority of product safety laws (something for which you can thank Ralph Nader). The chances are that older toys have at least some lead in the paint. Their design standards may not meet current design standards, although, like Matchbox cars, they were designed to last far longer than the current crop of plastic toys. The older toys may still be appropriate for older children but should probably be avoided for children still at the chewing stage.

Checking Safety Records: Resources.

If you want to know whether a product is safe, here are some online resources that can help you out.

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