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Making Children’s Holiday Gifts Fun, Educational – and Safe!

Making Children’s Holiday Gifts Fun, Educational – and Safe!

One of the greatest joys of the holidays is watching youngsters eagerly unwrap their presents and immediately diving into playing with new toys. Toys are not only a great source of entertainment and delight, they can also aid in a child’s physical and cognitive development.

But, choosing the wrong toys can be hazardous, so it pays to read labels. Here are some general guidelines from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • Toys made of fabric should be labeled as flame-resistant or flame-retardant.
  • Stuffed toys should be washable.
  • Painted toys should be covered with lead-free paint.
  • Art materials should be labeled as nontoxic.
  • If you are considering a digital device for a child or teen, such as a tablet, smartphone or game system, think about the purpose of the device and the rules you want to set around its use.
  • Be cautious about toys containing button batteries or magnets. Children can have serious stomach and intestinal problems–including death–after swallowing button batteries or magnets.
  • Remember that small batteries can be in musical cards and other small electronics.

Choking is a particular risk for children aged 3 and younger because they tend to put things in their mouths. To avoid this danger, think “big.” Choose toys that are larger than your child’s mouth and steer clear of smaller items such as marbles and coins, as well as toys with buttons and beads that can be pulled off.

Those are some of the types of toys to avoid. What are some of the best types of toys to buy?

Choose age-appropriate toys to ensure your child safely derives the most pleasure and skills development from them. Keep in mind that the “recommended age” labels on toys are determined by safety factors, not merely intelligence or maturity. For example, toys with projectiles may be recommended for children 4 years and up, but many 6-year-olds aren’t mature enough to handle them.

“First, make sure the toys are safe,” advises Bhaskari Peela, MD, a board-certified pediatrician with the Washington Township Medical Foundation. She notes that many toys are instrumental in helping little ones develop motor and cognitive skills.

For infants, mobiles twirling above the crib help stimulate vision and attention spans. But, be sure the mobiles are out of the baby’s reach and all pieces are secure. Walking toys for toddlers can pose potential pitfalls as your little one cruises around the house. “If you live in a multilevel house, be sure to use safety gates to prevent your child from falling down stairs,” Dr. Peela explains.

“For children 6 to 9 months old, choose plastic rings which a child learns to place on to a cone in order of size. Another good choice is tapping toys, such as plastic structures with objects to be lightly hammered into place with a soft mallet-like tool. These toys help develop motor skills,” Dr. Peela says. Musical toys, puzzles and blocks help children with cognitive development. And, those cute push-pull toys help tots with balance and large muscle development.

Riding toys such as rocking horses and wagons, particularly suitable for children ages 1 to 6, should come with safety harnesses or straps and they should be stable to prevent tipping.

Dr. Peela also cautions parents to be sure to clean up toys or games with small pieces immediately after an older child is finished playing with them, to prevent younger kids from putting the pieces in their mouths and choking on them.

Grade schoolers and older kids love to zip around on wheels. If you plan to buy a scooter, bicycle, skateboard or in-line skates, be sure to include a helmet and other safety equipment such as wrist and shin guards.

Store shelves are teeming with toys and books that are educational. From learning play sets and tablets to robots and learning software—and of course, books—there are many options. These gifts encourage the development of innovative and creative thinking, as well as problem-solving skills.

How do you get your child interested in these toys and books? “Let them touch and explore them,” says Dr. Peela. “Children are naturally curious, and they learn by experimenting and evaluating,” she adds. Making learning hands-on and interesting is important. For instance, a cooking experiment can offer lessons in math, biology and even chemistry. While measuring ingredients, show how ½ cup of flour relates to one cup. You can talk about the plants that people grow to produce ingredients and how the right group of ingredients—in the appropriate amounts—can result in something delicious to eat!

While playing with musical toys, make up silly songs. Read poems or rhymes to teach basic language skills while having fun. The key to getting children engaged with educational toys is spending time introducing the toy to the child.

Enjoy your holidays with smart, safe, fun toys and books for year-round amusement and learning.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers guidance on toys for children at different stages of growth and learning. Visit for more information. To learn more about Dr. Peela, visit