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Is This Toy Safe?

recalled toyIn 2008 Congress passed the first major overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) since its creation. The new compliance laws provided for tough new bans on lead and phthalates, required larger printed warning messages on toy packaging, cracked down on smaller toy pieces that could choke a child and greatly improved CPSC’s ability to monitor and hold wrongdoers accountable. Toy vendors were required to be fully compliant as of this past February.

Toy recalls have dropped dramatically from 2007 when 45 million toys and other children’s products were classified as unsafe. Still there is no magic bullet to instantly make ALL toys safe. With that in mind, the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) published its 24th Annual Report on Safety for the Toy Industry with guidelines to help parents in purchasing toys for little ones. It also provides examples of toys that may pose potential safety hazards.

The main areas in the report concentrate on choking hazards, excessively loud toys, and toxins like lead and phthalates in children’s products. Key findings:

CHOKING HAZARDSrecalled toy

The law bans small parts in toys for children under three and requires an explicit, prominent warning label on toys with small parts for children between the ages of three and six. In addition, balls with a diameter smaller than 1.75 inches are banned for children under three years old. Unfortunately choking on small parts, small balls and balloons remains a leading cause of toy related deaths and injuries. In 2009 alone, 5.3 million toys and other children’s products were recalled due to choking hazards. 

TIPS FOR PARENTS:

  • Avoid small toys or parts of toys that can fit entirely into a toilet paper tube.
  • Avoid small balls and round objects. Balls should be at least 1.75” in diameter for children under three.
  • Avoid cylindrical pieces of toys that can lodge in a child’s airway.
  • Balloons and pieces of balloon can completely block a child’s airway. Never give balloons to children under 8. Mylar balloons are a safer alternative.
  • Avoid hand me down hazards – keep toys for older kids away from young children.

LOUD TOYS

Almost 15 percent of children ages 6 to 17 show signs of hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by a one-time exposure to loud sound as well as by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over an extended period of time.

In March 2007, the American Society for Testing and Materials adopted a voluntary acoustics standard for toys, setting the loudness threshold for most toys at 85 decibels, and for toys intended for use “close to the ear” at 65 dB.

TIPS FOR PARENTS:

  • If a toy seems too loud for your ears, it is probably too loud for your child. Don’t buy it.
  •  Toys used close to the ear (like toy cell phones) should not be louder than 65 decibels, measured from 10 inches away. More info here
  • Other toys should not be louder than 85 decibels measured from 10 inches away.
  • For “loud toys” you already own: take the batteries and/or cover the toy’s speakers with tape.

TOXINSrecalled toy 3-lead-smaller

Exposure to lead can affect almost every organ and system in the human body, especially the central nervous system. Lead is especially toxic to the brains of young children. Despite the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) bans, in 2009 the CPSC has recalled nearly 1.3 million toys or other children’s products for violations of the lead paint standard and an additional 102,700 toys and other children’s products for violation of the 300 ppm lead standard.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), levels of phthalates found in humans are higher than levels shown to cause adverse health effects. The data also show phthalate levels are highest in children. Still despite a CPSIA ban, 2 toys were found this year that exceeded the maximum phthalate levels.

TIPS FOR PARENTS:

  • Keep costume/novelty jewelry away from young children.
  • You can screen a piece of jewelry or toy for lead using a home lead tester available at the hardware store. (This is a screening method, and should not be relied upon as a definitive test.)
  • Check www.recalls.gov for recalled toys.
  • Avoid plastic toys labeled as “PVC” They often contains phthalate softeners. Look for toys labeled “phthalate-free.”
  • Choose cloth or unpainted wooden toys instead of soft plastic toys.
  • Read the labels of play cosmetics and avoid products with xylene, toluene or phthalates.
  • Avoid plastic bath toys or bath books.

For parents concerned about toxin exposure, the “Absolute Greatest Guide to Green Gifts for Kids” from Healthy Child Healthy World and www.HealthyStuff.org can be excellent resources

WHAT’S A PARENT TO DO?

The CPSC is one small agency and there are numerous new toys produced every year in the US…as well as imported from other countries. Unfortunately that means that CPSC is not able to test all toys, and not all toys on store shelves meet CPSC standards. This also means that there is no comprehensive list of potentially hazardous toys. There are things however that a safety conscious parent can do:

As always, in the end, it comes down to you and I being vigilant in the toys we purchase. Hopefully the tips we’ve provided can be of some help…for the holidays…and beyond.

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References:

What is a good toy for a special needs child?

Whether you are a parent, a caregiver or a birthday party guest it may be challenging to choose a toy for a special needs child. The more information you have about the child, the easier it will be to make the choice so you might want to ask:telefonino2 

♦ Is the child working on any specific skills, such as gripping or cutting (fine motor) or jumping (gross motor)?

♦ Does the child have any specific dislikes, such as loud music or flashing lights?

♦ What is the child’s favorite type of play? Dress up? Art? Puzzles? Riding toys?

♦ Who is the child’s favorite character? What is the child’s favorite movie or show or song?

There are a few tools that will help you choose a toy that will not only give the child lots of fun playtime but also might just prove educational or otherwise beneficial:

The Toys R Us Guide for Differently Abled Kids breaks toys down into different skill sets to make shopping less overwhelming and more specific. The guide is available online and also in print in brick & mortar Toys R Us stores. You can order the toys online from Toys R Us or use the guide as research and buy them at any retailer.

Also from Toys R Us is the Faces of Autism slide show of beautiful portraits and the 10 Toys That Speak to Autism selection. Check each toy’s description for its features and benefits.

AblePlay offers offers a rating system, search engine and reviews of toys for special needs kids. You can buy the items online or use the site for research. There are also message boards and blogs on the site, as well as articles and even the ability to build a wish list for your child. AblePlay’s press release gives more information about the site.

The Toys R us guides as well as AblePlay rely heavily on input from Lekotek, which is being threatened by budget cuts in Illinois. Lekotek offers programs and family support in many states and there is info on the site about starting one in any location.

Gyrowheel

Scraped knees, bruised egos, and disappointment have long been hallmarks of learning to ride a bike, which nearly every kid tackles typically around or after the age of 4. Not to mention parental fatigue and frustration from watching a little rider struggle and suffer injury. There has to be a better way, right? That’s what we at Gyrobike believe too.

Gyrowheel was born from four of my friends’ fascination with making learning to ride a unicycle easier (and less painful!) while we were all at Dartmouth College. (They were students at the Thayer School of Engineering while I was at the Tuck School of Business.) They needed to find a way to help keep the unicycle upright so they decided to try and create a training wheel that used the same physics principles that stabilizes a gyroscope to add the stability they needed to the bike. The idea worked.

They soon realized that this would not only stabilize a unicycle but also add stability and balance to any regular two-wheel bike and that countless little kids could benefit from finding a safer and easier way to learn to ride a bike and Gyrowheel was born. For decades, most kids have started out riding a two wheeler using training wheels. The problem is that training wheels do not simulate two-wheel bike movement, and therefore do not teach the rider gyrobike1the correct way to ride a bike. Training wheels simply keep a rider from tipping over (most of the time) and teach bad riding habits, such as leaning away from a turn. Kids using training wheels develop muscle memory that is counter-productive to riding a bike. When the training wheels come off, these riders find themselves back at square one and have to unlearn bad habits.

And let’s face it, kids don’t like training wheels. Training wheels don’t look that cool when your kids’ friends are zooming around on two wheels without them. Older kids particularly feel embarrassed by the stigma of riding with training wheels. Even kids whose parents have them skip the training wheels step struggle through the learning process with trial and error and often injury. All too often we hear from parents whose kids are either embarrassed by riding with training wheels, or have gotten so discouraged from continuously falling that they give up trying. I have a friend (who shall remain nameless) who is 33 years old and was so discouraged from learning to ride that she hasn’t tried to ride a bike since she was 8 years old!

Gyrowheel replaces the front wheel of bike and is designed to fit virtually any standard bike with the same standard wheel size. Not only does it look cooler than training wheels, it adds stability to a bike and teaches proper riding technique. Gyrowheel senses unbalanced biking and re-centers the bike under the rider’s weight when the bike starts to wobble. It simulates fast biking by allowing new riders to enjoy the stability normally only experienced while biking at high speeds. Training wheels can’t do that!

Believing that we could really make a difference, the inventors and I partnered to find a way to bring the invention to all the kids and parents out there so that learning to ride would be safer, easier and a whole lot more fun – Gyrobike was founded in 2007 with this endeavor in mind.

We spent two years in product development, prototyping and exhaustive testing. Gyrowheel was designed with a disk that spins independently inside the wheel. Our challenge was to not only develop a front bike wheel with a disk that could do this, but also to find a way to get the disk to spin fast enough to create a force – the fancy term is “gyroscopic precession” – that would stabilizes the bike. This would keep the bike steady even at a very low speed – making learning to ride easier, safer and a whole lot more fun.

Our next step was to make sure Gyrowheel was the best, safest product we could make. And we went through multiple versions – first just to make sure the technology would work the way we planned, and then to make sure the Gyrowheel was little people friendly. We fully enclosed the disk to keep small fingers safe. We enclosed rechargeable batteries and motorized the disk. We created a fun design that allows kids (and adults!) to see the “magic” disk in action.

And we tested and we tested. Gyrowheel underwent many tests — including compliance, safety, and environmental — to ensure that we would be delivering a product that parents can trust. We also tested Gyrowheel on hundreds of new and experienced young riders. And what we found was:

  • When testing in the ideal environment, (i.e. a flat or veryslight downhill location free of obstacles and distractions, including siblings, pets and road hazards), our new riders have 100 percent success rate learning to ride a two wheeler with Gyrowheel.
  • On average, riders using a Gyrowheel and no training wheels learned to ride much faster than riders who had been using training wheels
  • In fact one little girl learned to ride in just 30 minutes with Gyrowheel

At the end of the day, our mission has always been to deliver a safer, more fun way for kids to learn to ride a two wheeler. And I am pleased to say that after 2 long years, Gyrobike will begin to deliver the first Gyrowheels on the market later this year.  We are looking forward to seeing the first group of new, confident little bikers, who didn’t have to learn the hard way, shortly thereafter.

HEALTHFUL HINTS

Tips to Teach New Riders:

  • Avoid using training wheels!
  • Ensuring a safe riding environment is important. Choose a location free of obstacles and distractions, including siblings, pets and road hazards. Ideally the ground should have a very slight downhill slant, though flat ground works well too.
  • We recommend temporarily removing the pedals from the bike (look in the instruction manual of the bike for guidance). Note: there are lots of bike out there you can buy without pedals, but we recommend saving your money and just removing the pedals so you can attach them when your rider is ready to start pedaling.
  • Lower the seat so that both of your rider’s feet are comfortably flat-footed on the ground while straddling the bike seat. A slight bend in the knee is ideal.
  • Help the rider gain comfort and confidence simply sitting on the bike seat and holding onto the handle bars.
  • Have the rider practice pushing along the ground with his or her feet to scoot the bike around, like a seated scooter, until he or she is comfortable pushing off the ground and able to pick up his or her feet from time to time. This exercise should build confidence and balance.
  • When the rider is comfortable with this exercise, you can reattach the pedals and start to incorporate the peddling action.
  • To assist them with balance, support the rider on his or her lower back using your hands and stand to the back of the rider.
  • Do not try and hold the handle bars of the bike to support the rider.
  • Encourage the rider to “keep pedaling” and to look ahead” – these are helpful keys to success.
  • When your rider is tired or seems to be getting frustrated, take a break but have them give it another try soon.
  • Praise and positive reinforcement goes a long way – so make sure your rider knows that he or she is doing a great job!

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