The Power of Play

Play is universal among children from all cultures is well-documented, with archaeologists discovering toys from as early as the dawn of human civilization. Despite the variations in style and type, the play remains an integral and automatic part of childhood development across the globe.

While the play has existed since ancient times, only recently have we come to appreciate its importance to a child's development. Too often, we dismiss playtime as simple entertainment for our children. Yet, experts consider playing to be a child's work. Truly, there is no more constructive pastime for a child. While play is the essential joy of youth, it is also the primary way children learn about themselves, others, and their world. Through play, children develop the physical, mental, social, emotional, and creative skills needed for life.

Considering the many advantages of play, foster parents are naturally inclined towards maximizing its benefits for their children to choose appropriate toys, encourage positive play experiences, and ensure safe play.

The Significance of Play

The play has an undeniable influence on every aspect of a child's development, laying the foundation for reading, writing, mathematical reasoning, and creativity; through play, children develop:

  • Creativity and imagination, when a child pretends to be a doctor, a teacher, a parent, or a firefighter, they learn that life is full of possibilities and opportunities.
  • Emotional skills, as children experience pleasure, bond with others, and work through feelings during role play.
  • Fine motor skills (using hands and fingers) as they handle playthings.
  • Language skills blossom as a child interacts with others and uses words for favorite playthings and activities.
  • Mental skills through play that encourage problem-solving and demonstrate causes and effects.
  • Physical (gross motor) skills, as a child at play, he learns to reach, crawl, walk, run, climb, jump, throw, catch, and balance.
  • Self-esteem, critical to long-term happiness and success, is enhanced when children achieve goals through play.
  • Social skills are mastered by learning to follow directions, cooperate, take turns, abide by the rules, and share.

Most important of all, play is fun. Years later, when we recall our childhood, we remember the happy times spent playing with special people most fondly.

The First Friends

It has been said that parents are their child's first playmates. Foster parents have an important role in choosing appropriate toys for their children, and research shows that children who play regularly with their parents enjoy the greatest developmental benefits. For children fortunate enough to have grandparents and other extended family members who live nearby, playtime with these special adults also can be enriching.

Observe your child, take their lead, and offer new ways to play and have fun. Too often, parents think they are too busy to play with their children. Yet, children grow up while we're washing dishes and opening the mail. Sometimes life can wait.

Toy Selecting

When choosing toys for a child of any age, it is vital to consider the developmental and recreational benefits of a well-rounded variety. Toys should encourage active, manipulative, pretend, and creative play while considering the child's interests and abilities. Reading the labels of toys can help identify age-appropriate, safe, and stimulating items.

Product Labels

Choosing toys for children can be a difficult task. Still, fortunately, manufacturers provide labels that can help foster parents select age-appropriate items. According to child development professionals, while each child progresses at their rate, certain typical milestones occur at similar ages. For instance, most children can sit up independently around the middle of their first year and start walking during the first half of their second year. By considering these averages, toy makers can create and label safe and enjoyable toys for children of a particular age group.

Toys are categorized according to four criteria:

  • The child's cognitive abilities of how to use the toy.
  • The child's interests level with the toy.
  • The physical ability of the child to manipulate the toy.
  • The safety features of the toy.

Safety labels are an important part of ensuring the safety of children. Many toys and games produced for children aged three to six have specific warnings to alert foster parents of choking hazards. These toys are not recommended to be given to children under three or any child who is still in the mouthing stage. Look for labels such as “Fabric products: Fire-Protection Treated Stuffed Toys and Dolls: Suitable for Surface or Machine Washing UL Listed: UL Certification” (Underwriters Laboratories) on electrically operated toys. Foster parents can ensure their foster children play with safe toys by reading safety labels.

Manufacturers need to include additional safety warnings in the packaging and instructions for parents to take extra precautions, especially concerning science toy sets containing hazardous materials, craft kits holding sharp or fragile items, and crib gyms and mobiles, which should be taken away when the baby reaches five months or starts to push up on their knees and hands.

It is important to consider age labels when purchasing toys for young children, as they are based on specific factors, such as safety. Attempting to buy a toy that is intended for an older child may result in the child becoming frustrated or exposed to a potential safety hazard, and so should generally be avoided in our competitive society.

Labels on toy packaging can be a great guide for consumers in narrowing down the selection of toys. However, it is ultimately important to consider the child's developmental maturity, abilities, and interests when making the final decision. Extra caution must be taken when selecting toys for children under three to ensure the toy is age-appropriate and safe for them.

  • It is recommended that items with small components be avoided, as these could inadvertently be swallowed, inhaled, or inserted into the nasal or ear canals of the child.
  • Check that the noses and eyes of stuffed animals and dolls are securely attached and stitched.
  • Select rattles, teething rings, and squeeze toys of a size that is too large, even when compressed, to become lodged in a baby's throat.
  • Refusing latex balloons is advised, as they are a potential source of choking and suffocation risks.
  • Select toys that are indestructible, washable, lightweight, and free of rough edges, sharp corners, or strings.

An Age-by-Age Guide to Selecting Toys

The following guide will help select toys based on child development research for various age groups. Some playthings are recommended for more than one age category, as children of different ages often enjoy the same toy, each playing at their level.

Birth to 6 Months

Abilities and Interests

Toys benefit even the youngest infants, stimulating their learning development. Newborns and young infants are drawn to toys that make noise and feature bright colors and high-contrast or black-and-white images. As infants can reach for objects, they can explore textured toys with their mouths. Safety should be a priority when selecting toys, so toys should never be hung or attached to a crib, playpen, stroller, infant seat, or around a child's neck with elastic, string, or ribbon.

Toy Recommendations

Activity quilts

Cloth toys

Crib and floor gyms

Large interlocking rings or keys

Mobiles

Musical and chime toys

Rattles

Safety mirrors

Soft dolls

Stuffed animals

Teething toys

6 Months to 1 Year

Abilities and Interests

At about six months old, infants develop the physical skills that allow them to interact with toys in various ways. For example, as they learn to sit upright, they become interested in objects that can be manipulated – such as those that can be banged, dropped, stacked, inserted, removed and opened, and closed. When they learn to crawl, “cruise,” and walk, they are fascinated by objects that move along with them. Additionally, toys that demonstrate cause and effect are especially thrilling at this age.

Toy Recommendations

Balls (2 inches or larger)

Bath toys

Busy boxes

Cloth and cardboard picture books

Large, interlocking rings or keys

Nesting and stacking toys

Pop-up toys

Push-pull toys

Rattles

Simple musical instruments

Simple shape sorters

Soft blocks

Soft dolls

Squeeze/squeak toys

Stuffed animals

Teething toys

1 to 2 Years

Abilities and Interests

Children are naturally inclined to explore and discover the world around them. Their curiosity is aided by their physical capabilities and newfound ability to walk and interact with various objects. Therefore, it is important to provide toddlers with toys that enable physical activities such as walking, climbing, pushing, and riding, as well as ones that facilitate experimentation and manipulation. Furthermore, providing suitable props for imitation and life skill practice can help children to develop their cognitive and motor skills.

Toy Recommendations

Backyard gym equipment

Balls -2 inches or larger

Bath toys

Blocks

Cardboard picture books, pop-up books

Children's table and chairs

Dolls

Kitchen equipment and gadgets

Musical instruments

Nesting and stacking toys

Non-toxic large crayons, coloring books, clay, finger-paints

Play vehicles

Playhouse and toys

Pop-up toys

Push-pull toys

Puzzles with knobs

Ride-on toys

Sandboxes and toys

Simple shape sorters

Stuffed animals

Wading pool with water toys

Wagons

2 to 3 Years

Abilities and Interests

At age three, toddlers often show a strong interest in exploring their physical abilities, such as jumping, climbing, and throwing. To support this, toys for active play are ideal. Furthermore, this age group typically has developed fine motor skills. It can use them in arts and crafts, puppetry, block building, and solving basic puzzles. Additionally, imaginative play often begins at this age.

Toy Recommendations

Balls 2 inches or larger

Blocks with letters and numbers

Building blocks and building systems

Child-sized table and chair

Dolls that can be bathed, fed, diapered

Dress-up clothes and accessories

Hand/finger puppets

Non-toxic crayons, coloring books, clay, paints, chalk

Play scenes with figures and accessories

Play vehicles

Playhouse with toys

Puzzles with knobs

Sandbox with sand toys

Shape sorters

Storybooks

Stuffed animals

Tricycle and helmet

Wading pool with water toys

Wagon

3 to 6 Years

Abilities and Interests

At ages three and above, children start to engage in interactive play with peers. Pre-schoolers and Kindergarteners often engage in imaginative play, incorporating costumes and props to bring their ideas to fruition. This age group also often forms strong attachments to certain toys, such as dolls or teddy bears, demonstrating their affinity for them. In addition, arts and crafts are popular with this age group, allowing them to create items with their hands.

Toy Recommendations

Backyard gym equipment

Bicycle and helmet

Cassette/CD player

Construction toys

Dolls and doll clothes

Dress-up clothes and accessories

Hand/finger puppets

Lacing and threading sets

Non-toxic art supplies, safety scissors, and construction paper

Play scenes with figures and accessories

Play vehicles

Props for make-believe

Puzzles (10-20 pieces)

Simple board games, word, and matching games

Storybooks

Stuffed animals

Tricycle and helmet

6 to 9 Years

Abilities and Interests

School-age children enjoy play that requires strategy and skill. Board games, tabletop sports, and classic toys like marbles and kites are favorites. Grade schoolers enjoy exploring different grown-up worlds like fashion, career dolls, and action figures. Children this age seek new information and experiences through play and enjoy crafts, magic kits, and science. In addition, this age group has the physical skills and coordination to enjoy junior versions of adult sporting equipment.

Toy Recommendations

Action figures

Art supplies

Bicycle and helmet

Board games

Books

Cassette/CD player

Construction toys

Craft kits

Dollhouses and furnishings

Electronic games

Fashion/career dolls

Gym equipment

jigsaw puzzles

Jump ropes

Magic sets

Model kits

Paper dolls

Pogo sticks

Puppets, marionettes, and theaters

Science sets

Skates- Ice, roller skates/in-line skates and protective gear

Sports equipment

Swimming equipment

Tabletop sorts

Video games

9 to 12 Years

Abilities and Interests

Pre-teenagers begin to develop hobbies and life-long interests and enjoy crafts, model kits, magic sets, advanced construction sets, science kits, and sophisticated jigsaw puzzles. The active play finds its expression in the team's ports. Painting, sculpting, ceramics, and other projects continue to be interesting.

Toy Recommendations

Art supplies

Bicycle and helmet

Board games

Books

Chess, checkers, dominos, and other strategy games

Craft and handiwork kits

Electric trains

Electronic games

Ice or roller skates/in-line skates

Jigsaw puzzles, including three-dimensional puzzles

Magic sets

Model kits

Musical instruments

Playing cards

Puppets, marionettes, and theaters

Remote control vehicles

Science kits

Sports equipment and protective gear

Tabletop sports

Video games

Toys for Children with Disabilities

While selecting the right toy for any child can be challenging, parents, caregivers, and friends sometimes need extra help choosing toys for children with disabilities.

Toy Industry Foundation (TIF) – formerly the American Toy Institute) teamed up with the National Lekotek Center – a nationwide non-profit organization – to help make play more accessible for these special children. Lekotek provides the Lekotek Toy Resource Helpline, a toll-free service (1-800- 366-PLAY) staffed by play experts who can recommend appropriate toys and activities for children and families.

In addition, TIF offers many resources to help children play safely. For more information, please write to:

Toy Industry Foundation, Inc 1115 Broadway Suite 400 New York, N.Y. 10010 or www.toy-tia.org

Adult Supervision 

The toy industry and the Federal government work hard to ensure that toys are among the safest products brought into the home. A toy may go through more than one hundred safety tests to imitate the kind of use and abuse it may get in the hands of a child. In addition, toy labels help foster parents choose the right toys for their children.

However, safe manufacturing and careful toy selection are not enough to protect our children. Foster parents should be safety experts, ensuring that toys are used, maintained, and stored correctly. In addition, adult supervision is a requirement when children are playing.

Toy-related injuries generally occur when an infant or toddler chokes on a toy intended for an older child, when a child trips over a toy that was not put away after use, or when an unsupervised child hits another with a toy. Most play-related injuries are avoidable.

Toy Maintenance

Toys must also be properly maintained to ensure safe play.

  • Check toys regularly for cracks, tears, sharp edges, small parts, loose buttons, dirt, etc.
  • Remind children to let you know when toys need repair
  • Never allow toys to remain outdoors overnight; rain, snow, and dew can cause rust damage
  • Discard a toy damaged beyond repair

Storage 

Toys inspire feelings of ownership in children. This sense of possessiveness presents a perfect opportunity for adults to teach children that care must be given to valued belongings. Children can be taught to store their toys properly at an early age in a place they select. It prevents toys from being lost, stolen, or damaged. In addition, it may prevent falls and keep younger children away from toys intended for older ones. It is especially important to keep toys off staircases to avoid falls.

If a storage chest is used, be sure it has a removable lid or a spring-loaded support that allows the lid to remain securely open. Also, check for smooth, finished edges, air holes to prevent suffocation, and hinge-line clearances to prevent pinched fingers.

Other good options for storing and organizing toys are large, stackable plastic bins, smooth-edged baskets, or sturdy, open shelves.

Ten Steps to Fun and Safe Play

  1. Remember the child's age, interests, and abilities when toy shopping.
  2. Read toy or packaging labels for age ranges and safety warnings.
  3. Carefully choose toys for children under three. Choose toys free of small pieces that can be broken off, are non-toxic, are lightweight, and have no sharp edges or points.
  4. Read instructions carefully for assembly and use. Complete warranty cards and retain the literature or website in case of future questions.
  5. Remove all packaging from toys before giving it to a baby or small child.
  6. Consider the home environment where a child will play with a toy is age-appropriate. 
  7. Supervise children and set good examples of safe play.
  8. Remind caregivers of safety concerns with toys.
  9. Store toys in a safe place.
  10. Check toys quarterly for needs of repairs or damage.

Toy Industry Foundation, Inc. (TIF)

Toy Industry Foundation is the educational and philanthropic institution of the Toy Industry Association, Inc. In addition to educating the public about toys and safe play by distributing materials to institutions, public organizations, parents, and caregivers, the foundation also provides a platform to develop proactive and thoughtful programs and partnerships with organizations that share a commitment to children in need.

Toy Industry Association, Inc.

Toy Industry Association, Inc., formerly Toy Manufactures of America Inc., is the trade group for the North American toy industry. The government, trade, media, and consumers recognize TIA as the authoritative voice of the toy industry. The organization, founded in 1916, is based in New York City.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

CPSC is a non-partisan Federal agency committed to protecting the public from potential hazards related to consumer products, including toys. Contact the CPSC at (800)638-2772 to report a hazardous product or product-related injury. Hearing and speech-impaired callers can dial the CPSC teletypewriter at (800)638-8270. You may also visit the CPSC website at www.cpsc.gov

Toy Safety Hotline

A cyber-hotline is available with information accessible on a 24/7 basis. This hotline is set up to assist you in keeping your child safe during play, addressing questions about specific toys, offering tips on safe play, and suggestions on suitable toys for different age groups. Also available are instructions on ordering free brochures on safe and fun play. In addition, toy manufacturers can be contacted through the information provided to visitors:

 Toy information by product name.

 Toy information by product category.

 Hot toys for the upcoming holiday season.

Fostering Fun and Safe Play for Children in Foster Care

Promoting fun and safe play for children in foster care is essential for their development and a powerful tool in helping them heal, grow, and thrive. By creating a nurturing and engaging environment, we can allow these children to explore, express themselves, and experience the joy of childhood.

We've explored various strategies and tips to ensure that playtime for children in foster care is enjoyable and safe. From creating a safe physical space to providing age-appropriate toys and activities, we have highlighted the importance of meeting the unique needs of these children while fostering a sense of belonging and security.

By emphasizing the importance of play, we acknowledge that it goes beyond mere entertainment—it is a fundamental right of every child. Play allows children in foster care to develop social skills, express emotions, and build resilience. In addition, it can be a therapeutic outlet that supports their emotional well-being and helps them process their experiences.

As foster parents, it is our responsibility to create an environment that encourages play, provides opportunities for exploration and creativity, and ensures the safety and well-being of these children. By embracing these principles, we can impact their lives and help them build positive memories and experiences.

Let us continue to advocate for the importance of fun and safe play for children in foster care. Together, we can create a place where every child feels valued, supported, and empowered to reach their full potential. By promoting joy, imagination, and safety, we contribute to their overall well-being and help them thrive despite the challenges they may face.

All children deserve a childhood filled with laughter, play, and love. So let us be the advocates and champions for fostering fun and safe play for children in foster care, making a positive difference in their lives—one joyful playtime at a time.

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