While visions of sugar plums dance in their heads, and the dilemma of whether Santa wants sugar cookies or snickerdoodles is hotly debated, parents are wondering what gifts to put under the tree.

The chosen gift not only has to be fun and entertaining, but safe, too.

Toys should be age-appropriate. Toys that are too advanced for small children can be not only frustrating, but dangerous, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When children receive age-appropriate toys they are likely to be more engaged and have fun, the academy points out. It’s also a good idea, they say, to choose toys that are matched to the child’s skills, abilities and interests.

Of course, cost is a consideration, too.

Small children are notorious for putting small objects in their mouths. Young children, under the age of three, should not receive gifts with parts smaller than 1¼ inches long, according to Consumer Reports, citing federal small parts regulations, which bans any toys intended for use by children under three from having parts that may break off and be swallowed.

Per these regulations, “small part” is defined as anything that fits completely into a test cylinder slightly smaller than a toilet paper roll, which it says approximates the fully extended throat of a child.

Toys which need an electrical outlet should be saved for children older than 10. Instead, advises the academy, look for toys that are battery operated. Even seemingly harmless toys with button batteries or magnets can cause harm to a child.

Button batteries and magnets can cause serious digestive and intestinal problems if swallowed. Parents should also read the instructions of a toy so they can show their child the appropriate way to play with it.

Dr. Thomas Bullen, M.D., a pediatrician with of the University of California - Davis Medical Group, adds that in addition to monitoring for choking and strangulations hazards, parents should not buy any toys that shoot.

Launchers, toy guns and toy bow and arrows are prone to causing eye injuries in children, he says.

Finally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends checking for toy recalls. From defects such as choking hazards to toys that can catch fire, the commission issued 28 toy recalls last year.

So what are good toy choices this holiday season?

For infants, Dr. Bullen recommends toys they can look at or listen to. For older infants, such toys as nesting cups, stacking rings or blocks are good choices.

With toddlers, digging toys (shovels and buckets, for example), finger paints or easy puzzles can be fun for this age group, says Bullen.

Preschoolers, the three to five set, enjoy dress up items, puppets, dolls and kitchen utensils such as pans and rolling pins are all big hits for them, said Bullen.

Early elementary school children are ready for more challenges both physically and mentally, he says. For them bicycles, sleds or outdoor gear with appropriate safety equipment (helmets and pads) make good gift choices. Children this age also enjoy science sets, crafts and board games. Youth age nine to 12 are beginning to develop their interests and skills. These children may enjoy gifts that stimulate their interest in nature or literature, such as a magazine subscription.

Team sports equipment is another option.

Teenagers, possibly the hardest group to buy for, are not impossible if you know the teen. In this case, calendars, journals, books, hobby and sports equipment or gift cards to their favorite stores are all possibilities, according to Dr. Bullen.

Consumer Reports issues an annual toy guide, which gives valuable information on toy selection for all age groups. With a little homework your, and your child’s, holiday can be safe as well as fun.

Happy Holidays!

Ann Bloom is a nutrition program assistant for the OSU Extension Service in Wallowa County.

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