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Holiday toy shopping 101: tips for playing it safe

With the holiday season just around the corner, chances are there’s a lucky kid or two on your shopping list. Of course you want what's most fun for them, but did you know that thousands of kids suffer from toy-related injuries each year?

Making playtime fun and accident-free can be a challenge, so we’ve rounded up our top toy-shopping tips. Before you pass out those gifts, learn what risks to be wary of and find the perfect eye-safe toys for children of any age.

Common Sense Strategies

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 235,000 toy-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2008 alone. So what playtime perils pose the greatest threats? “The most common play-related eye injuries we see are due to projectile toys like BB guns or dart guns,” explains Amy Crissman Head, O.D., F.A.A.O., a VSP Doctor at Town & Country Eyecare in Novi, MI. “Any toy with a projective component carries significant risk.” So what kinds of precautions can you take?

Use discretion when it comes to play guns and other unpredictable gadgets and never buy a product that’s too advanced for a kiddo’s age. Keep small parts and sharp edges away from younger children, and if a must-have toy contains flying parts, purchase protective eyewear—the ultimate eye-safe accessory.

Surprising Safety Hazards

Lots of toys seem harmless at first glance, but can unexpectedly cause real damage to children's eyes. “Many play-related injuries aren’t caused by the obvious culprits,” explains Dr. Crissman Head. “Long-handled toys like play mops or batons can cause significant trauma to a child’s eye, and sports-related injuries are some of the most common with kids.”

Adult supervision is key during playtime, especially in mixed age groups where little ones might get their hands on older kids’ toys. For the variety of sports that kids play, “protective polycarbonate sports glasses are a must, especially for high velocity ball-sports such as tennis and baseball,” Dr. Crissman Head explains.

Play to Promote Development

Now you know that some toys can pose a hazard to the eyes, but did you know there are many toys that can actually improve a child’s coordination and stimulate vision?

Look for toys with contrasting patterns and bright primary colors to help promote visual development in younger children. Marble runs, beading projects, racetracks, and other toys that require tracking with the eyes are great for helping develop hand-eye coordination. Bean bag tossing, riding bicycles, and other backyard games encourage outdoor play and coordination. Also, these all help build a child’s visual skills.

Regardless of which toy route you take, Dr. Crissman Head recommends that toy buyers, “pick age-appropriate toys, avoid ones that have projectile objects or sharp edges, and instruct the child in how to properly play with the toy as you monitor them.”

With those tips, we wish you a fun, injury-free holiday season!