All the recent attention focused on the toy industry courtesy of safety concerns seem to have not just caused any Chinese-manufactured toys to be viewed with suspicion and sent parents trawling through the Internet in search of advice on the matter, but also caused a wider shift in spending patterns link as parents increasingly worry about finding something for their little ones this Christmas, which won’t get recalled in a few months time when someone licks it and finds it poisonous.

This in my mind doesn’t just touch on ensuring even better quality control on toys, but brings in to sharp focus two potentially incompatible value-systems: on one hand – the desire for safety and quality; on the other hand – the (almost) accepted transitory nature of many products (temporary diversion rather than long-term joy) and the subsequent unwillingness of some to spend money on products where safety and quality are taken extremely seriously.

Certainly in the toy industry nobody likes to point fingers and it is a matter of ensuring that each manufacturer takes responsibility for this, however with a lot of the focus on price, China has in recent years been a very tempting solution for many trying to keep abreast with a larger consumer trend of continuously wanting everything faster and cheaper than before. Quality takes time, it costs too and that can be a problem if your company’s business model can’t support the investment in it.

Back to lamenting toys I was recently asked what in my opinion makes a good toy, so here’s my personal list of criteria:

1. Age appropriate – small children in particular like to put everything in their mouth and are very  tactile in their play and exploration of the world – that means that the materials used and size are essential in making the toy safe. Older children have better fine motor skills and have stopped ‘chewing’ on everything to figure them out so can better handle small pieces.

2. Hands on – minds on: children’s gross and fine motor skills along with coordination mature earlier than other parts of their brain so it is important that their toys stimulate movement and coordination, both on large and small scale. The ability of the toy to engage your mind and imagination is essential as children learn about both themselves and the outside world through their imagination.

3. Easy to learn but challenging to master – this gives the toy longevity and guarantees interest over time.

4. Many ideas and opportunities – it is important to be able to learn through the toys, but if they do not encourage experimentation and idea generation the learning will be short-lived

5. Fun alone and together – being alone and together is important for kids, both with their own peers but also with their parents, so toys that can handle both enable role-play and storytelling that kids both love to hear and to do for themselves, alone and together.

Now some toys tick all the boxes, others only some, but it’s important to remember than there are many kinds of toys, each with their own strengths and a good mix is important too, but above all they must all encourage play, the more play the better!

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