Baby furniture buying guide

Don't purchase a cot, cradle, playpen or highchair until you've read our informative guide.
 
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05.Playtime

Play is enormously important to a child’s development. As well as entertaining and stimulating the child, it also meets a range of needs—physical, intellectual and emotional—while promoting development in these areas.

  • Kids’ Games, by Elaine Clow, provides a guide to child’s play from ages three to six.

Books

  • Your greatest allies in discovering the best books are children’s librarians and booksellers.
  • Many libraries and bookshops have book readings and storytelling especially for children.
  • Magpies, an Australian magazine about children’s books is published five times a year and is packed with reviews of new books, interviews with authors and illustrators, and articles on how children learn to read. Website: www.magpies.net.au.
  • Another useful source is the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA). Website: www.cbc.org.au.
  • Copeland Publishing’s free, monthly city-based publications (Sydney’s Child, Melbourne’s Child, Adelaide’s Child, Brisbane’s Child, Canberra’s Child and Perth’s Child) have book reviews for new books, as well as music, DVDs and movie reviews. Pick them up at chemists, child care centres, baby care shops and leisure centres.

Music and movement

  • Encouraging an early interest in and appreciation of the performing and creative arts gives children an enriched environment for the development of their imaginations.
  • Exposure to music can start as soon as you choose. If listening to and playing music are a part of the parents’ life the baby will be accustomed to hearing it right from the start.
  • Rhythm, melody, rhyme and repetition are the key ingredients to instilling a musical ear in the child.
  • The Australian Broadcasting Corporation shops are recommended as a source of children’s music recordings, as well as being a good place for books and CDs. Website: www.abc.net.au.

Toys

  • An expensive toy isn’t necessarily a good one, and having lots and lots of toys can simply be confusing for the child. Selective, careful buying is the answer, together with improvisation.
  • Make toys from items around the house—even unbreakable and safe things such as pot lids and plastic containers can provide hours of entertainment for curious youngsters.
  • Make the most of your local library.
  • Watch out for old toys in secondhand stores and at garage sales. Give them a thorough check for loose or broken parts, then a wash.

Toy safety

Hundreds of children require medical attention each year because of accidental injuries from unsafe toys, playing habits and play environments.

What to look for

In the shop
  • All toys suitable for children aged up to 36 months – including toys that aren’t marked as such – are required to meet the mandatory standard AS/NZS ISO 8124.1:2002. They must not be small, must not contain any small parts that may be a choking hazard, nor produce any small parts when subjected to various tests designed to simulate normal use and abuse. AS/NZS ISO 8124.3:2003 is also mandatory. Certain toys must not contain lead and seven other toxic elements.
  • Toys labelled “not appropriate for children under three years” or “For ages 3+” are unsafe for children any younger than that. It’s a safety warning, not an indication of skill level or intelligence.
  • As a general guide, if a toy or its parts can fit wholly into a 35mm camera film canister, or if a loose ball is smaller than 44.5 mm in diameter, it can choke a child under three.
  • Babies’ toys should be washable and non-breakable.
  • Rattles, squeeze toys and teethers should have no small ends that could extend into the baby’s mouth (accidents occur when babies partially swallow the rattle while sucking on it or if they fall with the rattle in their mouth).
  • There should be no small parts that could be chewed or pulled or twisted off (such as eyes, buttons or wheels), no sharp edges, sharp points, rough surfaces or pinching hazards. And if a sharp edge or point is essential to the function of the toy—for a toy sewing machine or scissors, for example—make sure you show your child how to use it safely and always supervise them while they use it.
  • Try to imagine how the toy may be abused, and whether it could become dangerous if used in a way not intended by the manufacturer. Children may stick their heads, arms or fingers into apparently unlikely gaps, or poke small items into their noses, ears or mouths.
  • Toys that make loud noises—particularly toys that are held against the ear, such as walkie-talkies and toy mobile phones—could be harmful to hearing.
  • Toy chests and boxes should be designed not to trap or close on top of children. They must have lid-support mechanisms to prevent sudden collapse or dropping of the lid. Better still, they should have a lightweight, removable lid. Make sure the lid is fitted with rubber or other stoppers that allow a gap of 12mm or more when the lid is closed. This will ensure small fingers can’t be crushed and assist with ventilation (of particular concern should a child be unable to climb out of a chest or box).
  • Check for ventilation before buying tents, masks or helmets.
  • Ride-on toys should be stable and appropriate to the age of the child; toy bikes should have effective brakes.
  • A toy that shoots projectiles should only have a soft, one-piece dart or non-removable suction caps, and the firing mechanism should not be able to discharge any other objects like stones or nails. Projectiles must not fit wholly into a 35-mm camera film canister (this requirement applies to all ages not just to under 36 months).
  • Swimming aids or flotation toys should be marked to comply with AS 1900. Adult supervision is essential with these toys.
Toys at home
  • Before you give a toy to a young child, remove the packaging and plastic coverings. If you intend to give the box to the child to play with, check it for staples, pins and tie wires.
  • Be alert for harmful ingredients—watch for dyes and paints that rub off, particularly with toys that can be easily chewed.
  • Keep older siblings’ toys away from babies, who may not realise potential dangers, and encourage older children to do the same.
  • Store damaged toys securely out of reach until they can be repaired, or throw them away.
  • Never leave dead batteries in toys because they may leak poisons or liquid that may burn skin. The battery compartment must not be easy to open, e.g. needs a tool to open.
  • Be vigilant: buy only safe toys and supervise your child so they use them safely.

For more information check with your state or territory’s consumer affairs and fair trading agency, or get the free Safe Toys for Kids Guide from the ACCC

Playpens

It comes as quite a shock to parents when their formerly immobile baby becomes a fearless little explorer. So a playpen can bring some peace of mind.

There is no current mandatory or voluntary Australian standard for playpens, some models currently on the market may pose potential safety risks to your child such as sharp edges or protrusions to bump themselves on and the possibility of trapping body parts between gaps.

What to buy

CHOICE tested Playpens in August 2008. Of the eight playpens tested only one model, the Plebani Recinto, passed with flying colours and it’s the only model we recommend without reservations. Two other models are worth considering.

Recommended

PLEBANI Recinto ART 044

Plebani Recinto ART 044 Price $149
Good points

  • Passed all our safety tests.
  • Can be pulled apart and stacked for moving or storage.
  • Reasonably easy to assemble and pull apart.
  • Fairly easy to move as it keeps its form well.
  • Easy to place and remove child.
  • Has a mattress.

Bad points

  • Relatively heavy.
Worth considering (failed minor safety requirements)

Lindam Safe & Secure LD124

Lindam Safe & Secure LD124 Price $250
Good points

  • Can be set up in other configurations.
  • Foldable for moving or storage.
  • Has a mattress.
  • Latched gate, which means you don’t have to reach over the high sides to access the child.
  • Easy to use.

Bad points

  • Failed minor safety tests — hinges protrude and minor chance of limb entrapment.
  • Requires some effort to unfold and fold — a tool is required.
  • Not easy to move as it’s heavy and doesn’t keep its form well.
  • Has no designated handle when folded.
  • Extra care must be taken to avoid the finger pinch points when folding.
  • Relatively heavy.

According to the manufacturer this playpen is tested to the European standard for playpens.

Baby Dan BabyDen / Park’A’Kid

Baby Dan babyDen/Park A Kid Price $300
Good points

  • Can be set up in other configurations.
  • Foldable for moving or storage.
  • Latched gate, which means you don’t have to reach over the high sides to access the child.

Bad points

  • Failed minor safety tests — hinges protrude and minor chance of limb entrapment.
  • Requires a lot of effort to unfold and fold.
  • Not easy to move because it’s heavy and doesn’t keep its form well.
  • No designated handle when folded.
  • Extra care must be taken to avoid the finger pinch points when unfolding and folding.
  • Relatively heavy.

What to look for

Check that the playpen has:
  • Adequate depth (more than 500mm high) to prevent a child escaping or falling.
  • Adequate stability and strength: it should be strong and sturdy and resistant to tipping and lifting from your baby leaning on the sides.
Check that it doesn’t have:
  • Small objects that can be swallowed or inhaled.
  • Sharp corners, edges and points that can injure a child.
  • Projections that can injure a child when it bumps into them.
  • Projections and openings that can cause entanglement with a child's clothing — this can be a strangulation hazard.
  • Gaps and openings that can cause entrapment of a child's finger, limbs or head. Spaces between the side bars should be between 50mm and 95mm. Larger gaps can trap the child’s head. It’s also acceptable for spaces to be between 12mm and 30mm.
  • Moving or rotating components that can injure a child when a part of the child's body gets in them.
  • Footholds, such as projections, openings or ledges that could enable children to climb out of the enclosure or cause them to fall from a height if they try to climb out.

Features

  • Multiple configurations. Some of the playpens could be set up in other configurations, which could be useful for sectioning off “out of bounds” areas such as fireplaces.
  • Gate. A gate is useful as it means that you don’t have to lift your child up over the sides. Make sure that it resists being opened by the child but is safe and convenient for you to operate.

Safety precautions

  • Don’t place objects against or inside the playpen that may help them climb over the side.
  • Keep it away from hazards, such as heaters, stoves, power points and dangling cords from blinds and curtains.
  • Ensure all latches are securely locked before use.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a playpen.
  • To minimise any risk of suffocation, avoid soft bedding in the playpen and use only one floor pad.

Babywalkers

Basically a frame on wheels, a baby walker is a piece of play equipment designed to support a baby who is not yet able to walk.

Because babies in walkers are much more mobile they can readily get themselves into dangerous situations, which can lead to serious injury.

In 2004, at the Children’s Hospital Emergency Department in Westmead, Sydney, 12% of injuries involving nursery furniture were due to baby walkers. Most injuries associated with babywalkers are caused by falls down steps, scalds, burns and poisoning from household chemicals.

CHOICE strongly discourages the sale and use of babywalkers. There’s no evidence that they help children to start walking sooner; in fact, they may even delay a child’s first steps. All babywalkers sold in Australia must pass a product safety standard (based on a US safety standard, ASTM F977-00). If you feel you must use one, look for a model that complies with the standard.

Here's what to consider if you still want to use a babywalker:

  • Consider other products without wheels such as playpens, bouncers, rockers, playmats and playtables, that can entertain your baby.
  • Babywalker-proof your home - block off stairways and put barriers around stoves, heaters and fires.
  • Always supervise your child in the babywalker.
  • Look for a babywalker that has a 900mm wide base (which shouldn’t fit through a standard doorway) and/or a brake mechanism to prevent them from being ridden over the edge of steps.
  • Ensure all metal parts are smooth and free of sharp edges.
  • Check that any locking mechanisms work and are out of baby's reach.
  • Remove any objects that may cause the baby walker to tip over.
  • Keep items such as kettles, irons and hot drinks out of the way.
  • Don't use babywalkers on surfaces where there is a change in floor level. Most accidents happen on steps or stairs.
  • Don't use babywalkers if your child can't sit up without assistance.
  • Don't use babywalkers if your child can walk unaided.

Jumpers

Baby jumpers, often known as jolly jumpers, support a baby who is not yet able to stand in a seat which is hung from a door frame or tripod. Babies’ feet can then touch the floor allowing them to bounce up and down. CHOICE discourages the use of jumpers.

  • The door clamps can break, causing a baby to fall and older children can cause harm by pushing the baby into the doorway.
  • If the baby bounces or swing sideways, they could lose their balance and knock their head against the doorframe. So use only in a wide-framed doorway.
  • Don’t overestimate the benefits of a jumper to your baby’s natural development; about 10 or 15 minutes is plenty of time for a bouncing session (if the baby enjoys it). And never leave a baby alone in a jumper or bouncer.
 

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