"THE HEART OF THE MATTER"
Guest: Heather Paul, National Safe Kids Campaign, Washington, D.C.
Topic: Choosing safe toys
Host/Producer: Steve Girard
NEMA: Youve been buying toys this holiday season...its tough sometimes to find the right gift for kids. For those of you who havent gotten gifts for everyone yet...maybe you hit those big After Christmas sales, hoping to gobble up future gifts...here are some tips on how to match up the gift and the recipient. Heather Paul of the National Safe Kids Campaign joins us....
PAUL: The first thing to know, of course, is who youre buying for. And perhaps their taste...but most importantly, knowing there are good, constructive, fun toys that are special to kids of certain ages. So, start with the age of the child youre going to buy for, and then buy age appropriate toys. The first thing to look for, of course, is that very important warning label. There are certain toys that are not recommend for children three and under, and the label is very clear that the reason why its not recommended for small kids is because there are chokable parts inside. Thats the most important thing to remember, because of the over 100 thousand toy related injuries that end up in the emergency room, many of them are choking related...and its because of small parts. So, thats the number one issue for parents and care givers.
NEMA: Lets talk about the kinds of toys or gifts appropriate in the different age groups. What about under one?
PAUL: In that first year of life, of course, children are ready to explore with their hands and mouths, and its so important that the toys be kind of soft, and dont have any removable parts, for instance any ribbons that can come off...or little glass beads for eyes that can be pulled off and swallowed. Thats most important...for instance, crib gyms are great...floor activity centers, soft dolls and stuffed animals, squeaky toys and activity quilts. They usually always work.
NEMA: What changes for the one to three year old?
PAUL: Between the ages of one to three..kids are starting to climb, jump and walk...throw and play a little more rough and tumble games. So, soft blocks are very interesting and constructive and good developmentally. Large balls, push and pull toys...and make sure that any string on any push or pull toy is longer than 12 inches...or at least that length. And anything that sort of pounding and shaping toys are great, and of course, never dismiss the power of a good book. I would always put that at the top of anyones list...there are so many wonderful books that are perfect for children in this age group. Usually, they have the heavier page, theyre cardboard, they have rounded edges, simpler form, simpler stories, and theyre terrific.
NEMA: A book is a gift that doesnt need batteries, and isnt broken a short time down the road...
PAUL: And its nice to inscribe it. When children get older, they really do remember who gave them things at what point in time, and just to say, "From Aunt Harriet, Christmas 97"....is just a neat thing to do.
NEMA: Now were buying for a youngster 3 to about kindergarten age....
PAUL: In the years of three to five, kids are starting to experiment with their imaginations...much more extensively, and toys become close companions. And so thats the time when art supplies become important...that test the imagination, and pretend toys: play money, telephones...any kind of toy that allows a child to build a world. Teddy bears and dolls, outdoor toys such as the tricycle get important. And of course, this is the time when we put that first helmet on any child. Even though a tricycle seems pretty close to the ground, and kids arent moving fast on them, its just as important to make sure that kids are conditioned to wearing helmets for sports, really for the rest of their lives.
NEMA: Ive got two in the next age group...five to 9 year old...and they are really, really active...
PAUL: Well, from 5 to 9, they are getting challenged by much more complex games...and of course, computer games for children of this age are getting more and more popular. Arts and crafts, again, kind of extending that idea of the imaginary life. Favorites items that can go with sports that theyre starting to play. And then the last age group for us is 9 to 14, and theyre getting much more opinionated and independent. So, its also the point at which older kids are developing life-long skills and hobbies...so more hand held games, and board games and lots of sports equipment, and perhaps even musical instruments and model kits.
NEMA: After the kids get the gifts, its a pretty good idea to monitor their use....especially at the start...
PAUL: Supervision is number one. For the most part, the millions and millions of toys that are produced in the U.S. or for the U.S. consumer base every year are very, very safe. The standards of the toy industry are very high, and toy related injuries in the emergency room usually mean there hasnt been enough supervision and that toys have been misused, so most important...especially for small children, that there be older siblings around who are responsible, and adults as well.
NEMA: How about getting kids to pick up and put things away...?
PAUL: Thats very important. Each child should really, ideally, have their own storage area, especially if you have a small child who should not be near small parts, and older children with games, and all kinds of things that might have anything that can choke a small child. So, create a little storage area and to have toy chests for each child makes a lot of sense. And that whole conditioning thing...picking up after yourself and knowing that these are the things youre responsible for picking up.
NEMA: Parents have to be aware of the condition of new and old toys....
PAUL: Toys that might be absolutely perfect when theyre bought at the holiday season dont fare so well a year later or two. So, check for things that are broken, and parts that have come off...and anything that might be subject to hurting someone. So check for any damage on toys, on a regular basis as a parent.
NEMA: And a good way to get kids into the habit of picking up...and getting a good look at the toys that may be broken is actually getting down and playing with them whenever you can...
PAUL: From time to time, there are these kind of hokey promotions that say, "Spend 20 minutes with your child"! And while its always difficult to mandate any amount of time that s ideal....but for heavens sake...common sense would dictate that its really important to interact with children, and literally get down on the ground...and find that its a lot of fun to read together, or play a simple game together, and those are probably the best memories that most children have with their parents, and vice versa.
NEMA: Heather Paul of the National Safe Kids Campaign...who wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday season.
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