When it comes to playtime, construction sets are a perfect outlet for curious little minds. The benefits of building extend further than you might think. In addition to being fun, it helps children develop critical life skills, like social interaction, eye-hand coordination, creativity, and problem solving. It also introduces important academic concepts, such as early math and basic engineering/science principles. Just like any toy, building toys may come with potentially unforeseen safety concerns. Knowing the latest trends, technology, and what’s appropriate for your child can help encourage their curiosity while keeping them safe.
Timeless + Technology
Nostalgia can play a big part in determining what toys our children play with. As Bob Dylan once said, “the times they are a changin’,” and so are the classic toys from your childhood. What was once a simple construction set comprised of blocks (and more blocks) may now be a little more sophisticated. Products like LEGO Boost – a toy that provides the familiarity of classic LEGOs, now uses advanced technology that enables children to build motorized creations, code behaviors, and play through the use of an app. LEGOs have come a long way from basic bricks.
“Connected” means something entirely different for today’s construction sets. Connected building toys today offer a lot more than interlocking pieces. Corresponding apps and other internet capabilities add a whole new element to the creative process. One of 2017’s hottest Christmas toys, the Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit by litteBits Electronics, brings together building and invention under a wildly popular brand name. The corresponding app guides the droid construction process, and allows tiny inventors to control their constructed creation.
Building encourages thinking outside the box, quite literally sometimes. Construction toys aren’t limited to blocks and bricks; building toys extend into the realm of “messy” play with modeling clays and popular items like Playfoam from Learning Resources. This fun, squishy, mess-free product, and others like it, are great for building and stretching imaginations. Plus, bright colors and interesting textures add a sensory element to the learning and building experience.
Structuring Safety at Different Ages
With all these cool new bells and whistles come a whole new class of safety concerns that vary depending on the age and ability of the child. This is also the case for the potential hazards related to building toys.
For children under the age of three, the size of the various parts plays a big part in terms of safety. Smaller building blocks, batteries, and magnets can become choking hazards and can result in internal damage or even worse. To prevent choking, make sure pieces are large enough that they can’t pass through a toilet paper tube. Batteries and connective magnets should be secure in their casing and inaccessible to small hands and mouths to avoid more severe injuries. Keep in mind that although non-toxic, products like Playfoam can present a choking hazard or can be an encouragement to young children to ingest more harmful products.
For older children, different hazards may apply. Building sets with motorized, electric components come with the potential for electric shock or pinching and for hair or clothing to become caught within the moving parts. Sets that allow for different assembly variations can also lead to unforeseen hazards, including projectiles, electric shock, or other safety issues resulting from unintended use. Supervision can go a long way in preventing these kinds of incidents and injuries. Make sure sets are age-appropriate and kept out of sight and reach when not in use.
Finally, toys that incorporate technology, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or apps, bring online safety issues into the mix. When it comes to connected toys, understand how they work — what information is collected, where it is stored (within the toy, Cloud, or 3rd party), who has access to it, and how it will be used. While connected toys provide the benefits of an enhanced, more personalized experience, hacks that may compromise the privacy, security, and safety of children are a real concern. Ensure that there are built-in security measures, and implement your own precautions prior to play.
Keep in mind that each child is different. What’s safe for one might not work for another. When selecting a building set for your child, heed the age recommendation and all warning statements that are present on the packaging. Use them to guide your decisions. Knowing your own child’s abilities and strengths will help to keep them safe while allowing them to build, learn, and indulge their curiosity.
UL’s team of quality assurance experts supports the toy manufacturing industry’s drive to bring safer products to the world market. In addition to UL’s unmatched toy safety expertise, our child development experts can determine the most appropriate age grading of toys. Products bearing the UL Toy Safety Certification Mark are held to the highest quality and safety standards for the youngest consumers. Additionally, UL’s advisory services continue to help toy manufactures throughout the supply chain, from design reviews and safety assessments. For more information on UL’s toy advisory services, contact TOYS@UL.com.
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