In my opinion, of all the things to shop for during the holiday season nothing is more fun than buying toys. Even better, is watching the kids in my life open their presents with a level of excitement and genuine enthusiasm that transports me to another time. Yet, with a record number of toy recalls last year and more choices than ever before, toy shopping can cause a headache in a hurry.
Here are some tips when shopping for the littlest ones on your list:
1) Know What’s Being Recalled
While responsible stores should immediately pull recalled items, consumers should double-check recall lists before heading out to shop. This is a good idea especially if you are buying multiple items for multiple children. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website (cpsc.gov) is a good place to start. Also, many toy stores are posting lists of recalled items on bulletin boards inside stores.
2) Buy From The Neighborhood Shop
Consider skipping the mall and shopping at a small toy store. Like a mom and pop hardware store, employees at small toyshops provide better service than their big box competitors. You may have less to choose from, but you will have quality choices, selected by people with real passion and knowledge about the industry.
3) Choose Age Appropriate Toys
Pay attention to the age recommendations posted on the packaging of most toys. Better yet, check with salespeople if you have a question about the age appropriateness of a certain toy. Again, workers in the smaller stores usually know their stock well. They can help you choose toys that are neither too simple, nor too advanced for the child. While Legos are a great choice for older children, they can cause a choking hazard for younger ones. Consider the age of all children in the house before making up your mind.
4) Research Toymakers
Despite all the negative press, there are dozens and dozens of safe, responsible toymakers, both foreign and domestic. For instance, Thailand’s Plan Toys makes interactive wooden toys from recycled rubber wood. Much closer to home, Papa Don’s Toys, based in Walton, Oregon, crafts classic wooden toys. You can research most toy manufacturers online. The best companies are upfront about the materials used, as well as other issues like sustainability practices and fair trade policies. If you still don’t get your questions answered, call or email the manufacturer.
5) Remember, Less Is More
Most children I know already have more toys than they need. Buying one or two high-quality items, rather than a whole bunch of cheaper ones is smart for several reasons. Most parents will appreciate it when gifts don’t add a lot of clutter.
6) When In Doubt, Buy Books
Take it from a parent of a small child, you can’t go wrong with a great children’s book.
Erika Weisensee is a writing mom. She lives in Milwaukie and teaches journalism and communication courses at the University of Portland.