Trying to Find Safe Toys for a Preschooler, Toddler, or Baby?

Me too! What are "safe toys"?

As a mom of 3 small children, I feel completely overwhelmed by the recent developments in the toy world. It seems that every day a new recall comes out identifying yet another unsafe toy that is in one of my kid's collections.

I am concerned for their safety. I still have flashes of my baby chewing on a Dollar Store plastic bracelet recently recalled for lead paint. AND, I don't want to deal with the trauma of taking away my children's favorite play things. My son was DEVESTATED when we had to send in several of his precious Thomas trains for replacements.

If you're like me and shopping for Christmas or birthdays, you look at the huge number of toys on the shelves at your local retailer and wonder which toys are safe and which will have to be thrown out or sent in for a replacement in 3 months. During the course of my shopping, I have been trying to do some research to determine what are safe toys and what toys are more at risk for being recalled.

Here is a complete list of recently recalled toys:

Recalled Toys

Although it is impossible to avoid all toys that may possibly pose a risk to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers (unless you avoid toys altogether), there are some good resources to help you make more educated buying decisions.

In looking through some of the information out there, I have found 3 important factors seem to determine a toy's safety.

1. Where a Toy is Made
This is possibly the most publicized aspect of a toy safety. We have all heard how products manufactured in China may not go through the same rigorous quality controls as here in the United States. Looking at the list of recalled toys, the majority (see chart below) were recalled due to lead paint hazards. Although avoiding toys made in China does not guarantee that you are buying safe toys for your kids, those made in China seem to have more of a risk of containing lead paint.

Most toy manufacturers don't make it easy to research where a toy is made. Looking online at the major toy retailers, I can't find information on where the toy is manufactured (unless it is MADE IN THE USA). After MANY online searches and several trips to major retailers, I have compiled a small list of the more mainstream toys made in the USA:
(To determine for sure where a toy is manufactured, always read the label before purchasing)

  • Step 2 has many larger toys, art easels, climbers, and play kitchens still manufactured in the US.
  • Little Tikes has many riding toys, sports sets, outdoor toys, climbers, and play kitchens manufactured in the US.
  • I found many board games still manufactured in the US. Popular kid's games such as Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Cootie, and the Dora ABC Games are all made in the USA. Here are some other US made games:
    • Parker Brothers: Scrabble Jr, Racko, Sorry, and more
    • Milton Bradley: Guess Who, Life, Hungry, Hungry Hippos, and more
    • Briar Patch: Thomas Station Matching Game, Thomas Tracks & Trestles Game, and more
    (Always check the label because some versions have pieces made in China or other countries)

  • K'nex states on its website that all of its "Bricks, Rods, and Connectors" are manufactured in and contain raw materials from the US. (Special components and moving parts may be manufactured elsewhere)
  • Crayola has many products manufactured in the US. Model Magic, Crayons, and Markers are all made here. (Once again, check the package for information regarding component parts)
  • While LEGOs are not manufactured in the United States, the majority of the labels that I read stated that the toys were manufactured in various European countries (a few also list China & Mexico)

2. How a Toy is Made
Other than lead paint hazards, the remainder of recalled toys were recalled due to possible injuries such choking, burns, or lacerations. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, "safe toys for young children are:

  • well-made (with no sharp parts or splinters and do not pinch)
  • painted with nontoxic, lead-free paint
  • shatter-proof
  • easily cleaned"

Focusing on the quality of the toys you purchase rather than the quantity is one way to help ensure that your kids are playing with safe toys. According to an article on Parent Map,

"Toys made from natural materials are more likely to be safe, but are no guarantee of safety. Some wood is chemically dried and coated with toxic lacquer. Look for wooden toys dried naturally and coated with substances like beeswax and vegetable dyes. Fabric toys may contain toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde. Avoid toxins by seeking toys with the European Öko tex certification or similar assurances." (Schreiber, Nov. 2007)

One way to make sure that you know exactly how your preschooler's toys are made is to start your creative juices and create your own toys with your kids. My website has many ideas for fun, easy crafts, learning activities, and handmade toys. Using handmade toys and activities with your children allows you to control the materials and the quality.

3. Age Appropriateness
28 of the 81 toys recalled from November 2007 to November 2008 were due choking hazards (from small pieces, broken parts, or magnets). One way to avoid these hazards is to only buy age appropriate toys for your baby, toddler, or preschooler.

As we all know, most babies and some toddlers put EVERYTHING in to their mouths. To try to find baby safe toys, make sure that there are no small parts, pieces that could break off, or that toys are not coated in toxic substances (like lead paint).

Toys not appropriate for babies and toddlers always state "Not Intended for Children under 3 Years of Age". Retailer websites always list the recommended ages for toys. However, I also know many preschoolers and elementary age children with a tendency to put toys in their mouths. You know your child better than anyone. No matter what age is posted on the toy, always use your own judgment in determining safe toys for your child.

If all of this information is a little overwhelming, you're not alone. I certainly don't know what the answer is and I still don't know exactly which are "safe toys". Hopefully with the growing public concern over the safety of children's toys, manufacturers will begin to more closely watch the quality of their toys.

Until that happens, however, we as parents may have to flip our view of things- changing from looking for the lowest prices and latest trends to searching for well-made, longer lasting, and possibly more expensive toys for our children. It may be impossible to ensure that our children only play with safe toys, but we as parents do have some control. We can:

  • Do our research (several toy companies have quality "guarantees")
  • Tell toy manufacturers what we want
  • Buy only age-appropriate toys
  • Comply with recalls
  • Teach our children to play with toys properly
  • Keep toys in good working order
  • Throw out broken toys
  • And, most importantly, supervise our children while they are playing


National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Guide to Good Toys:


US Consumer Product Safety Commission:

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