Rating the toys
CBC News Online | November 14, 2005
Every year, around the time the pumpkins get put away and the last of the leaves float to the ground, Canadians are inundated with toy reports. It's the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season.
The reports come from both sides of the border, from magazines, government agencies, industry groups and independent non-profit organizations. Perhaps the best known in Canada the unofficial kids' choice awards comes from the Toy Testing Council of Canada.
The TTCC has been testing and reporting on toys since 1952. It looks at a toy's design, durability, function and play value in coming up with its ratings. Three stars is tops. An NR rating (not recommended) is assigned to toys that show major deficiencies in function, play value or durability.
The council tests around 400 toys a year by placing each with a family for eight weeks. The families look at the design, function, safety, battery consumption, durability and play value of the toy.
Home testers are told to treat the toys as if they were their own. The council tells them not to take any special measures either to encourage a child's attention or to prevent normal wear and tear.
"We're always looking at the new and the innovative," Janet Heatherington, editor of the Toy Report told CBC News Online. "We don't retest toys year after year. And we don't test plush animals or puzzles."
Heatherington says the council gets its list of toys to test by going to toy fairs in Canada and the United States every year. The council won't test prototypes and tries to limit its testing to toys that are widely available across the country. Heatherington says in the end, it's the child who's the final judge of a toy's play value.
Dr. Esther Gelcer, a play therapy expert in Toronto, says toys play a key role in a child's development.
"I think what's important is to help parents understand that playing with toys is like going to work for an adult," Gelcer told CBC News Online. "With their toys, they exercise whatever they're learning. With dolls, for example, they replay what happened with family or in school. With building, they exercise new concepts they are learning."
Gelcer adds that some of the best toys can be everyday items found in the home. Kids can learn a lot from pots and pans, she says.
Some toys that have been around a long time also warrant consideration, according to Jana Hyer Davies, a Calgary psychologist who works with children in foster care. She sees the internet as offering tremendous play value.
"Kids can learn from others, for example, for foster kids to learn from other foster children," Davies told CBC News Online. "A light goes on when they learn the owner of dominoes was a foster child. It doesn't make it good, but it makes it better."
Davies has some practical advice for parents looking to buy toys for their kids: "When you go into the toy store...look for those the kid will tend towards. It's useless to buy [a toy] if they won't use it. It's important to keep that in mind when shopping."
Toys that make it to market have to adhere to the federal government's Hazardous Products Act. It's not up to the toy maker or the distributor to prove that the toy does meet the requirements.
"Most of the manufacturers who submit toys to us for testing have already adhered to safety regulations," the Toy Testing Council's Janet Heatherington said. "If there is anything that looks like a problem, we will submit it to Health Canada."
It's up to Health Canada's Product Safety Branch to get the word out to consumers about toys that may pose a danger to children. However, the branch will only act if it receives a complaint. Once the complaint is investigated, the Product Safety Branch can issue warnings or recalls if it determines the product poses a danger. It's rare that a recall is mandatory.
Most warnings regarding toys involve choking hazards toys that contain small pieces that a young child could swallow.
On July 12, 2004, Health Canada warned people to throw out jewelry bought through vending machines over the previous two years because it might contain lead. The voluntary recall involved 100 million pieces of jewelry in Canada and the United States.
Health Canada determined there wasn't much risk of lead exposure unless a child swallowed a piece of jewelry. Still, Health Canada acknowledges there is no known safe exposure level to lead.
Health Canada has issued tips for parents shopping for toys:
- Read and follow the age label, warnings, safety messages and assembly instructions for the toy.
- Look for sturdy, well-made toys.
- Remember that toys for older children may not be safe for younger children.