THE HEART OF THE MATTER
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 

Week: 551.1 Guest: Heather Paul, National Safe Kids Campaign Topic: Safe, creative toys for kids Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: It's that wonderful time of the year again...visiting, decorations, packages with ribbons and bows...but an important question remains: What do we put in the packages we give to our kids....Heather Paul of the National Safe Kids Campaign is here...

PAUL: First of all, overall, 2.6 billion toys and games are sold in the U.S. every year...and amazingly, two thirds of that, over 2 billion toys, are sold during the holiday season. Unfortunately, there are over 133 thousand kids, ages 14 and under, who are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to toys...and we know that most of those injuries are preventable.

NEMA: What are the biggest categories of injuries?

PAUL: Choking, because of too small parts that are in the hands of too small children for those marbles, or small balls, or whatever, that just should not be used by children under the age of three...or falls, and that has to do, of course, with too many toys hanging around on staircases, on floors...and children just slip and fall on them.

NEMA: There are many people who really need a guideline to help them buy toys....relatives and friends who don't have kids who want to get a nice present...that's safe too....let's start with the youngest....

PAUL: If you have an understanding, developmentally of kids from zero to one, you know they explore with their hands, and mouths and eyes, and they enjoy toys that they can just touch or squeeze. So, we recommend crib gyms, floor activity centers, soft dolls or stuffed animals, squeaky toys and activity quilts.

NEMA: How about kids in the one to three year old group...they're really starting to get active and begin learning activities....

PAUL: Now they're climbing and jumping and walking and throwing and playing rough and tumble games. So, we suggest soft blocks, large balls, push and pull toys, pounding and shaping toys...and those wonderful big, thick, early cardboard books. From three to five....and now they like to experiment with imaginary situations, and have toys that almost become companions. So, we recommend non-toxic art supplies, lots of pretend toys, for example, play money, telephones, and of course, the tried and true Teddy Bears...and of course, as soon as your child is on wheels, he or she should be wearing a little helmet to get conditioned to the fact a bike helmet is absolutely important.

NEMA: The interests get broader from the ages of five to nine....

PAUL: For instance: arts and crafts kits, puppets, jump ropes, and now we're getting into miniature dolls and action figures in which you play at a different cognitive level. Finally....it's the 9 to 14 year old, and now we are looking at children who are developing their life-long skills, hobbies and interests...so, keep in mind hand-held electronic games, board games, and of course, sports equipment...as well as some model kits or musical instruments.

NEMA: We have to watch out as well for the older toys....

PAUL: Another important issue is maintenance, and to make sure that the toys are in good shape and that there aren't now, new sharp edges, or damaged parts that could cause injuries, or loose eyes on teddy bears that can be easily pulled off and choke a small child. So, there is some work that goes into play, but it's certainly worth it...and no one wants to see a trip to the emergency room during the holidays.

NEMA: Heather Paul of the National Safe Kids Campaign which, with the Toy Manufacturers of America, has the Play Smart Holiday Guide to Toy Safety...call 800-607-6446 to get one. Two more notes: First bikes demand first helmets...and watch toys for older kids don't get into the hands of the younger ones. I'm Steve Girard.