PUBLISHED: 3:21 PM on Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Age should factor in the choice of toys parents select
"Parents should invest in toys that children can engage in socially," said Carolyn McIntire, a child life specialist at Children's Mercy Hospital. "Many kids today watch too much television, and the social aspect of play seems to get lost."

Instead of buying toys that isolate a child into individual play, McIntire suggests parents think about purchasing toys their children can share with others. Encourage toys that offer opportunity for challenges as well as successes in play.

"Good gifts for infants and toddlers are the ones that they can push and pull, ones that are multi-textured and ones that appeal to a child's senses," McIntire said.

"Toys that actively engage them where they can explore with their hands and manipulate the toy instead of sitting and having the toy entertain them."

Those type of toys could include simple objects such as stacking cups, mirror toys, soft foam blocks and balls, even plain boxes and pots and pans.

McIntire said she thinks there is a big marketing push by the toy industry to attract consumers to toys that talk and are educational such as electronic learning aids made by V-Tech and LeapFrog for toddlers to 5-year-olds.

"You don't want to over stimulate them with too many choices in a toy, then you've overwhelmed them and it negates the purpose of the toy," McIntire said.

As for school-age kids, she said they enjoy games with rules, and that's where electronic games become attractive.

"Kids are at that age where they like rules," McIntire said.

So toys such as board games, play dough, art and collage materials, blocks and Legos, as well as dress-up clothes, allow children to create things and role play.

She also said parents need to read to their children or allow children to read to them, even if they may not know the words, but can recite familiar stories or create the story from pictures. Parents could help their children make their own book with pictures from magazines, newspapers or family pictures, and allow them to decide on the story line.

Other tips McIntire offers to parents include reading labels and looking for age recommendations.

Consider younger siblings who may be around toys given to older children.

Broken toys should be repaired or thrown away. Watch wooden toys for splintered or rough areas. Check for sharp edges, hinges that could pinch and heavy lids that can trap a child. Be sure battery compartments are enclosed.

Use the film canister test - if small parts of toys fit in an average 35 mm film canister, they are a potential choking hazard.

"Parents should hold the toy close to their face and if it is too loud for them, it will be too loud for their children because children always hold toys too close to their face," said audiologist Christy Maddux. "If they do get a loud toy, parents can put masking tape over it to reduce the volume."

Maddux admits many people don't think about noisy toys causing permanent hearing.

"If a sound exceeds 85 decibels in volume, it has the potential to cause hearing loss in someone regardless of age, especially with repeated exposure," she said.

Maddux recommends to parents that if they wonder what toys are too noisy to visit