You're standing in the toy aisle, surrounded by shelves upon shelves of the latest character sensation and looking for a toy for your next birthday party. Sure you want to look for toys that are easy on the planet and maybe even one that will teach the recipient a thing or two about going green. But above all, you want to make sure that the toy you pick is safe. And with all of the green marketing and greenwashing going on out there, you can't be sure that a toy is safe just because it claims to be natural or eco-friendly.  

So how do you know if a toy is safe? According to Malcolm Denniss, technical director for SGS Consumer Testing Services, there are a few checks you can make right at the store to know if a particular toy will be a good, safe fit for the recipient. Here's how:

Do an age check

The most important aspect of buying gifts for children (whether for holidays or birthdays) is to make sure the toy or game is age-appropriate for the child. Nearly every toy or game will list the appropriate age on the box. The guidelines were developed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Toy Industry Association, and take into account the typical ability of children to handle certain toys. Buying toys for children who are younger than the indicated age, even though we think a child may grow into it or is capable, may lead to inappropriate play patterns and hazards that a child is not yet prepared for.

Look for sharp edges

Children are naturally excited to play with new toys at holiday times, often in a robust and possibly in an overly enthusiastic manner. It is important that parents periodically check their children’s toys for any damage or breakage, which could create sharp edges or a choking hazard. If a toy looks damaged, take it away! If necessary, contact the manufacturer to verify that it is still safe to play with.

Double check the list

While toy shopping during the holidays, check recall notices at the toy or department store to verify none of child’s existing toys have been recalled and are still in your child’s room or toy box.

Ask mom

If you are buying toys for nephews, nieces or other children who you may not see on a regular basis, it is always a good idea to check with the parents and make sure you know what they think is appropriate for the child, particularly for very young children where maturity can vary significantly. Be particularly careful when buying for children under the age of three years. This age group often still puts toys in their mouths, so check the front of the toy package to see if the toys have small parts before buying.

Teach kids to play safely

Teach kids outdoor and indoor play safety. It’s important to teach them to not play ball games near roadways and to always look where they are running if the ball goes outside the play area. Never let them play near roads and areas where automobiles are driving. Do not let them play with flying toys indoors where they can not only knock over fragile decorations but can also hit bystanders.

The opinions expressed by MNN Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of While we have reviewed their content to make sure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, MNN is not responsible for the accuracy of any of their information.