If you are the parent of an advanced or gifted toddler, you may be frustrated with buying toys. Those that are labeled for your child’s age group seem, well, too simple for your child. What you may not know is that the labels for the age-appropriateness are based on physical safety, not on cognitive ability. Buying toys labeled for older children may be putting your child at risk. Just because your child is advanced does not mean he or she is free from choking or injury from small parts and sharp edges.
Observe Safety Precautions First
Safety precautions should be your primary concern when buying educational toddler toys. According to WebMD, 72,000 children under the age of 5 are treated in emergency rooms across the U.S. each year for toy-related injuries.
To ensure your toddler’s safety:
Look for toys with quality construction that can withstand rough play. Toddlers love to jump, run and kick, and they can be rough on toys. Be sure the toys you buy can withstand the treatment a toddler is likely to give them and will not break, exposing sharp edges or small parts.
Check the buttons, eyes, nose and mouth on stuffed animals to be sure they are securely attached. Those with embroidered features are much safer than those with sewn-on eyes and nose.
Avoid toys or games with small parts. Although you can buy a “choke tube” to determine if small parts pose a danger, WebMD recommends checking small parts with an empty toilet paper tube. If the part is small enough-even when squeezed-to fit into the tube, it is unsafe for your toddler.
Avoid toys with long strings. A string longer than 7 inches poses the risk of strangulation if it gets caught on another object and wrapped around your child’s neck.
Avoid toys that make loud noises. Young children are not mature enough to realize that holding the toy to their ear is dangerous. As a rule, if the toy is too loud for you, it is too loud for your child.
Choose Toys That Encourage Creativity
It is easy to forget that children learn from playing, and even the advanced or gifted toddler needs to learn much more than letters of the alphabet and numbers. Toys that encourage free play and allow children to interact in different ways help them learn about the world around them.
Building blocks, construction sets, action figures or dolls allow your child to engage in imaginary play. These free-form toys allow your child to direct his or her own activities and explore concepts freely. Resist the urge to buy elaborate sets designed for older children. Just because children have the fine motor skills to build with small Legos doesn’t mean they’re safe from choking.
Large balls, push toys and wagons build gross motor skills and keep your child active. Look for toys that do not pose a danger of pinching small fingers when used.
Choose Books Your Child Enjoys
Stimulate your child cognitively by reading to him or her daily and by taking time to discuss the story. Allow your child to practice retelling the story and to predict outcomes and sequence events in the story. Include both fiction and nonfiction. Many advanced of gifted toddlers develop an interest in science or nature and enjoy a wide selection of books with quality images.
Don’t assume because your child is advanced or gifted that picture books are too young for him or her. Look for those with quality graphics and appropriate storylines for their age. Remember, just because your toddler can perform academic tasks similar to older children, he or she is still a toddler and needs exposure to books that are age-appropriate in content, not vocabulary.
Take the time to enjoy your advanced or gifted toddler’s unique abilities, but don’t lose sight of the fact that he or she is still a toddler. Although cognitive stimulation is desired and necessary to develop children’s budding skills, resist the urge to direct their play. Toddlers require the freedom to explore and use their imagination. You can help them by providing quality toys that are safe for their age so they can experience the freedom to explore on their own.
WebMD: Take Toy Safety Measures
Kid’s Health: The Right Toys at the Right Ages
The Untrained Housewife: How to Buy Toys for Toddlers