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November 26, 2009

Make toy choices safe, educational

As we gear up for the holiday season, we find ourselves making choices about what to buy for the young people in our lives.

This year, consider asking yourself these two questions about each of your purchases:

Is it safe? Is it educational?

At a bare minimum the toys we provide for our children should avoid harming them. For young children, parents should always consider the danger of choking. A good rule of thumb is to avoid toys and toy parts that are smaller than your child's fist.

Imagine the fact that the size of your child's wind pipe is about the size of her fist and that anything that size or smaller can completely obstruct the airway. Because it is natural for young children to explore by putting things in their mouths, it is wise to keep small toys and toys with small parts out of their reach.

Besides the danger of choking, toys that produce loud sounds can be harmful to your child's hearing. Repeated exposure to sounds that are louder than conversational level can reduce hearing acuity.

To avoid this danger, whenever possible volume controls should be adjusted to quieter settings, and noisy toys should never be placed near the ears.

For older children, it is particularly important to keep the volume of their audio devices (such as an iPod) low enough that someone standing next to them cannot hear the sound coming from the earbuds.

Beyond avoiding harmful toys, parents should be cognizant of those toys that will most benefit their children. A good starting point is purchasing children's books. It is never too early to start reading to your children.

Studies show that children who are read to each night are more successful in school and in later life. Storybook reading time can be a daily routine in which parent and child spend quality time together while sharing a favorite book.

Other types of toys can also facilitate quality time while doing hands-on activities. Some of these include Play-doh, Tinker-toys, Legos and Lincoln Logs. As you manipulate the toy with your child, you can make conversation about what you are doing. This is a great opportunity to enrich your child's communication skills.

Imagine all the opportunities for communication that are possible while playing with Play-doh and cookie cutters, for instance.

You can talk about rolling, cutting, pressing, stretching, etc. You can use words to make requests (May I have the cutter?), affirmations (Sure, you can.), refusals (No, thanks.), reports (I like pink.), and comments (That one is gorgeous!) just to name a few.

Finally, never miss a chance to make children aware of written letters in their environment. This can be as easy as pointing out the spelling of words on street signs as you're driving down the road. Spell, "S-T-O-P," when you see a stop sign, or say, "M is for McDonalds," when you see the golden arches.

Or you might consider specific toys that promote letter awareness including refrigerator magnets, wooden blocks, and puffy bath letters.

Whatever toys you choose, above all, continue to enjoy the precious time you spend with your child today as they all too quickly become the adults of tomorrow.

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