Eye safety is the number one issue for every parent. As parents, we are in a way spoiled for choices in toys. We have to understand that our kids are born with the immature visual system; and they need to be stimulated to promote healthy eye development. Many of childhood toy associated incidents occur at home, so we need to ensure that these toys are safe; and eye-safe for our kids.
Toy size is important; if a toy is large enough not to fit into a child’s mouth then it is age-appropriate for young children. However; if it can be manipulated to break apart to smaller pieces, put the toy away until your child is older. These toys are usually labelled as ages 3 and up; but if your 4-year-old still puts things in his/ her mouth, these toys are not developmentally safe for the child. Make sure that the toy is of solid construction; not easily break apart, and the finishes or paints are nontoxic or easily peeling off. Blocks are generally safe for most ages; however, ensure that the edges are blunted to reduce risk of eye injury. Watch for sharp edges and long-handled toys as they might not be eye-safe for toddlers. In general, supervise all children especially toddlers with such toys.
Also avoid flying toys such as darts, slingshots, and arrows for children under 6. It is always a good idea to supervise children playing with such toys to avoid any eye injuries. If your older child is playing with any chemistry set or experiment; provide him/ her with safety goggles (even wraparound sunglasses is better than nothing).
Here are some suggestions for children’s age-appropriate toys to encourage their visual development, hand-eye coordination and visual-spatial skills;
0-12 months; bright coloured mobiles/ rattles, balls (larger than their mouth size), stuff animals, blocks, measuring cups, and activity children gym set. Keep in mind their vision is not fully developed; thus bright coloured or highly contrasted toys are best.
12-18 months; nontoxic finger paints (non-toxic)/clays, board books, large pieces’ toys such as puzzles/ stacking toys/ shape sorters, musical toys.
18-36 months; large crayons/ markers, paints and clays, large Legos, riding/ rocking toys, child-sized household items, sandbox, climbing toys
3-6-year olds; crayons/ markers/ pencils, safe household items, swings, tri or bicycle, puzzles, Legos, balls, magnetic letters, rollerskates, musical toys and so on.
Finally, the parents’ decision to choose toys for the children should be respected. When purchasing gifts for grandchildren or family friend’s children, a gift receipt where applicable can be attached to the present, in case they want to exchange it for a more suitable or safe toy for their children.
Sonya Wijaya (B. Optom./ PG. Spec. Cert. Cont. Lenses/ Ther. Endorsed) is an optometrist who practices in Optical In Sight (Doncaster East VIC) www.opticalinsight.com.au