Choosing the right toy
TOYS HAVE A PURPOSE
Children play with toys or games as a form of entertainment, traditionally in some forms mirroring the adult world they are trying to understand. Play is children's "work: and toys are the tools used in play. In addition, toys can keep children occupied and, if properly chosen, should assist in physical, mental, social and emotional development. Play is universally recognized as an important part of learning, developing and growing.
Toys are used for many purposes. They can develop imaginations and stimulate enquiring minds. Through play, concepts and ideas are taught and reinforced. Some toys encourage social interaction and others suggest "quiet time". Toys can be used in clinical situations to assess mental development or to probe psychological problems in children who may lack verbal skills. With the right blend of creativity and design, toys can enhance the process of discovery, learning and imagination.
Children do not need to be taught how to play - it comes naturally. While there may be a required learning pattern or temporary age barrier, toys are the very essence of "fun". Through the process of learning and acquiring new skills, toys mirror for children life's daily lessons - success, defeat, acceptance, frustration, challenge, enjoyment, and more.
There is no question that an unlimited number of toys are available on the market today - from very simple and inexpensive to extremely complex and expensive. The choice of toys is any combination of needs based on interest, suitability, purpose, budget, and appeal.
The CTA has defined 15 basic product categories:
One of the earliest identifiable toys, balls are made from a variety of materials and are a source of pleasure for children and adults. Balls are used in many games, sports, and activities but can also be quietly enjoyed by one.
One of the largest categories, dolls are available in many shapes and sizes. Limited only by the imagination, dolls are found in most homes with children. Today, consumers can find dolls that perform a variety of functions, such as walking, talking, crying or drinking. Other dolls are simply cuddly and attractive.
The most common stuffed toys are manufactured from soft, plush material and often represent an animal or character. Stuffed toys can be comforting companions for small children, familiar friends for older children or sentimental favourites for adults. Recent marketing efforts have resulted in stuffed toys sold in conjunction with books, movies, videos, and other entertainment activities. Stuffed toys range from relatively inexpensive to costly collectors' items.
Construction toys are known for their versatility and ability to challenge the creative imagination. These toys span many ages and range from single building sets for young children to complex and intricate sets for older children and adults.
'Let's Pretend Toys:
A smaller version of what adults use, these toys cover the spectrum - kitchen sets, toolboxes, train sets, cash registers, vacuum cleaners, cars, guitars. As representations of everyday life, these toys enhance children's abilities to mirror the activities performed by the adults around them.
Children can experience situations and express their feelings through a number of playthings such as paints, crayons, kaleidoscopes, simple projectors and computer-enhanced drawing sets. These toys enable creativity and expression to flourish.
Using a variety of products that enable moulding, shaping and forming, children can stimulate their imaginations and develop their fine motor skills.
Music and Rhythm Toys:
Rattles are often the first rhythm toys offered to children. As they get older, they are introduced to drums, xylophones, recorders, horns, bells, whistles, and tambourines. The list is endless.
Although there are both indoor and outdoor varieties of climbing toys, most structures are found outdoors. The primary purpose of these toys is to have fun, but motor skills and muscle tone will improve with usage.
Sports and Outdoor Equipment:
Items in this category cover a full range and can offer opportunities for exercise and social interaction. From skipping ropes, tether balls, bicycles, wagons, tennis racquets, skates and pogo sticks, children and adults can develop their skills, pursue an interest and have fun.
Children's vehicles are classified in two categories: vehicles that are played with and vehicles that are played on. Vehicles that are played with range from miniature die-cast cars and trucks to larger realistic-looking models. Vehicles for playing on are child-size 'ride on' style, often primarily for outdoor use.
Electical and Battery-Operated Toys:
This, too, is an extensive category of toys, ranging from simple to complex. The appeal for most children is the opportunity to push buttons and levers, flick switches and observe motion.
From simple activities that require only the rules, to complicated and challenging board games, children and adults can participate. There are three basic forms of games: chance, skill/action, and strategy. Today, many games are marketed in conjunction with known entertainment characters or themes.
Hobbies and Crafts:
Items in this category offer opportunities to express creativity and imagination. Most are available in kit form for beginners.
Electronic Toys and Games:
Toys in this fast-growing category may be a part of another category or they may be in their own category. For example, there are electronic games that are also available in a non-electronic form.
CTA members who manufacture decorations produce a wide variety that emcompasses many occasions (e.g. Mother's Day, Thanksgiving and Halloween). Also included are party favours, Christmas and other greeting cards, tinsel, wreaths, seals, and tags, artificail trees, indoor and outdoor lighting, ornaments, Halloween masks and costumes, and Easter decorations.
Educational and entertainment value
Although adults are the primary purchasers of toys, at an early age children begin to express strong desires about toys. These desires are based on peer pressure, exposure to marketing on television, other products and store displays and personal interests. While parental influences are strong at an early age, as the child grows older, the parental influence wanes. The appeal of toys is based on two factors:
Characteristics of design, features, quality and price.
"marketing appeal", e.g. a doll character representing the lead role in a newly released movie or video
The educational value of toys is generally measured in the ability to "teach" or reinforce concepts and methodologies. For example, building blocks can reinforce counting concepts or colour and pattern creation. Some toys are recognized by generations of parents as providing superior educational value; these long-lasting toys are usually known for their durability and effectiveness, while other toys appear and disappear in a season or two.
Reading the label
All toys and games are designed and packaged according to certain regulations and pre-determined marketing strategies. From the consumer's point of view, there is valuable information to be found on the labels. While the range of packaging is broad, consumers can generally find the following types of information on the label:
- Manufacturer, including trademarks, licensing etc.
- Small parts warning (e.g. toy parts may present a choking hazard)
- Suggested age (e.g. "Recommended for ages 6+", "Not suitable for under age 3")
- Package contents (e.g. for a game: "Contents: 20 plastic chips, target tray, plastic cup and rules", for a toy: "Plush dog - all new materials, consisting of polyester fibres. Surface washable only.")
- Safety standards (e.g. "Safety tested")
- UPC code and price
What's age appropriate?
While buyers have the challenge of picking the winning toys from a vast array on the store shelves, their decision is usually based on personal judgement and the promised investment from marketing and advertising campaigns or testamonials from friends. To refine the decision-making process and select an age-appropriate toy, the best guidlines are "common sense and read the label". Age-appropriate means knowing the recipient and how they will enjoy and treat the toy. Age-appropriate means buying a toy without removable parts for a toddler who can easily swallow and choke on a small item. Age-appropriate means selecting a game that will challenge and stimulate an older child.
In addition to selecting a toy that will maximize the recipient's interest and attention, another age-appropriate factor relates to thematic toys that represent potentially undesirable elements. For example, some toys and games reinforce physical force and aggression, while other toys represent undesirable characters or behavioural patterns that cannot be discriminated appropriately.
Most toy packages include suggested ages for use. This information has been compiled from research into a child's chronological age, physical size, skill level and maturity; age labels are developed for different types of toys.
Age labelling is intended to provide guidelines for the consumer. Because children develop at different rates and vary in skill and muturity levels, some designations on labels contain a range, e.g. "Recommended for children from 18 months to three years." Labelling is not intended to be a substitute for appropriate adult supervision and proper use and care of the toy.
All toys are manufactured to comply with the rules and regulations of the Hazardous Products Act, administered by the Health Canada Product Safety Bureau. A copy of the Act can be obtained through the nearest Product Safety Bureau office.
Safety: The Industry's Priority
With its own initiatives and through its work with the International Council of Toy Industries, members of The Canadian Toy Association are strong advocates in promoting the development of toy safety standards. Sharing information and exchanging ideas have resulted in many advancements to enhance safe practices in the design and manufacture of toys - regardless whether they are produced by a large company with large on-site research and staff facilities or are the brainchild of budding entrepreneur.
Creating safety standards requires a lot of work. There is a huge time commitment to conducting child development research, comprehensive safety testing, quality assurance engineering, risk analysis and usability studies. For numerous years, the industry has collaborated its findings amongst its members around the world and continues to work towards international standards for toy safety.
There are many aspects to toy safety. From the manufacturer's perspective, it means producing toys that are tested for criteria such as the use of hazardous substances and flammability concerns. It also means meeting the criteria of international government safety organizations by using materials that are scientifically proven to be safe and meet or better the prescribed levels. Safety is the industry priority.
In the development stages, toy designers compile statistics and information from various sources: parents, psychologists, teachers, child development specialists and marketing experts. The result of this research provide important clues as to what children AND parents want when they buy toys.
Research is also actively undertaken to test for the safety aspects of toy usage: sharp points, content, durability, wear, etc. In Canada, Health Canada's Hazardous Products Act's regulations govern safety issues and in three provinces (Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba) there are also specific provincial regulations covering stuffed articles. For products involving cosmetics,there are requirements under the Food and Drugs Act about designated information and declarations of all the ingredients used. For all aspects, provincial and federal regulations should be clarified.
Toy testing is a complex and involved process; many elements are tested: mechanical soundness, flammability, compliance with electrical standards (if applicable), small parts, sharp points, stuffing and fabric content, and other items that require close attention to detail. For all toys, testing is undertaken well before production commences and continues with strict quality control after the product is on the market.
To solicit valuable feedback on aspects such as toy safety, appeal, usefulness, durability, age-appropriateness and potential improvements, children are convened in focus groups to provide input. Regardless of how the toys are assessed for their features, most toy manufacturers either maintain an in-house facility to conduct testing research or establish a relationship with an external organization, such as a toy testing laboratory. As the toy moves from concept, through design and engineering, to final production, its safety features are continually evaluated.
There's no substitute for adult supervision
Most accidents or injuries related to toys usually assign the blame to the toys, not the user or the purchaser. In fact, most accidents or injuries are directly attributable to the lack of adult supervision, the lack of a playmate or the availability of age-appropriate toys to very young children (e.g. choking on small, removable toy pieces form an older child's toy). Statistics indicate that the most frequent causes of injury occur as a result of tripping over or bumping into a toy and the swallowing of small toys or parts by age-inappropriate children.
Toy maintenance is also very important. As toys age, wear and tear, they should be appropriately repaired or thrown out. Broken and worn toys can pose potential hazards for chilren of all ages.
For new toys, potential hazards are clearly stated on the packaging. For example, toys that contain small parts or those which are packaged in clear plastic film have a clear warning. Many toys and games are also labelled with age-appropriate guidelines. However, clear warning instructions, other detailed product information and stringent safety standards, rules and regulations for the manufacturers will not replace proper toy selection and appropriate child supervision.
- Before purchasing the toy or game, read the label for detailed information. Determine suitability for age, interests and environment.
- Monitor usage. All toys are not suitable for all ages and all children.
- Check toys regularly for broken parts, deterioration, defects, cleanliness and general safety.
- Supervise play activities appropriately. Determine if potential safety hazards exist.
- Be alert. Toys should not be left unattended in potentially dangerous places, such as on stairs.
CTA members are updated on changes in standards and regulations. Another reason to become a member of CTA
“Industry Guide to Canadian Safety Requirements for Toys and Related Products, 2003” published by Health Canada is available by calling the Consumer Product Safety Office near you.