Choosing appropriate toys for children is an important responsibility for the early childhood professional. Despite the great number of toys available to children in their homes, as well as in child care settings, many toys are inappropriate or even dangerous for young children. The need for open-ended opportunities is great since toys provided to young children support play, an essential element in child development. Adults who recall their play memories often tell of long periods of free play, open-ended materials, and play uncontrolled by constant adult intervention.
Clearly, most children today do not have these opportunities. Similarly, when adults are asked to recall childhood toys, they often tell of toys that supported open-ended play, that kept their attention for long periods, and that lasted for years, often surviving into adulthood. Examples include traditional dolls, small metal vehicles, and wooden building blocks. Mass marketing often controls what is available in the market, and the influence of movies and television is immense. Increasingly, movies and network programming come with toys attached. Often a three-year cycle is prevalent with intense marketing the first year, reduced marketing the second year, and practically nonexistent marketing the third year, depending on previous demand. Violence and competition are common themes, with a strong affect on the quality of play the child experiences.
Consumerism is also evident in toy quality. Toys have a planned obsolescence; they are consumed, used up, so other toys can take their place. The disposable-toy mentality is also present in many giveaway toys available with fast foods. Like similar retail toys, these toys are short-lived and simply thrown away when broken.