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Toy age guidelines – lessons from Lego and The Simpsons

Not suitable for children 0-3yrs Age guidelines on toys for product safety – Principal Skinner was wrong about Lego!

The Maze, Safety Pin, Design icons

The Simpsons – Episode 550, May 2014:

Homer wakes up in a world where everything and everyone is made of Lego, except Maggie being made of Duplo blocks and is larger than the other characters. While driving, he goes to pick up a Lego castle for Lisa’s birthday. At school, Bart and Milhouse chase a skunk Milhouse brought in for ‘Share Day’. The skunk gets in behind the walls. While trying to disassemble the wall, Willie learns of the skunk and smashes through the wall collapsing the school down. Principal Skinner tells Bart to rebuild the school.


When Principal Skinner asks Bart to rebuild the school, he hands him a Lego kit for Springfield Elementary School.

Bart Simpson (who is perpetually 11): This (box) says ‘Ages 12 and up’

Principal Skinner: Age guidelines are conservative. And everyone knows it.

Without wanting to challenge Seymour Skinner’s authority, there’s more to age guidelines than meets the eye.

It’s not all about children’s intelligence

Lots of people assume the age listed on a toy is only to indicate how bright a child is. Have you ever heard someone in a toy store say ‘My child is smarter than average, so I will get this toy even though it says it’s for two years older than she is’?

Age guidelines are about the whole child. The physical capabilities, social skills, emotional development and intelligence. And it is often for safety reasons – whether children have all the necessary abilities and behaviour to use a toy safely.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has published Age Determination Guidelines – Relating Children’s Ages to Toy Characteristics and Play Behaviour. This extract discusses these principles.

US CPSC age guide extract

Extract from the US CPSC age guidelines

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has published Age Determination Guidelines – Relating Children’s Ages to Toy Characteristics and Play Behaviour (p. 5)

Little kids and small toy parts

You may know that many babies and toddlers learn about the world by putting things in their mouth.  This is why Australia  and many countries around the world have regulations requiring toys for children younger than three years of age not contain any small parts that pose a choking hazard.

The international standard for toy safety  includes tests to simulate normal use and abuse to check that toys don’t break into small pieces in day-to-day play.

Duplo pieces are bigger than Lego pieces – as the version of Maggie Simpson shows!

Homer Simpson: ‘Ohh, they’re so cute when they’re Duplo’

Lego decided a long time ago that many of its Lego pieces would be too small for children under three years of age. Their Duplo range is therefore made of larger parts that are too big to choke on and easier for little hands to play with.

And it’s not about whether a toy is attractive to a child of a particular age

People often gauge age suitability by whether a toy is appealing to a child. But age guidelines are tied to age suitability.

We know that young kids are attracted to flashy objects. If age guidelines were based only on appeal, then chemistry sets would be labelled as suitable for 3 and 4 year-olds. And since governments prohibit small parts in toys for children under 3, if attraction to 1 and 2 year-olds was the basis, then jewellery kits and marbles would be banned. ‘Even Lego itself would be banned.’

With toys for older children that have small parts and other complex features, parents and carers need to make sure that younger ones don’t get access.

Read more at:

US Consumer Product Safety Commission Age Determination Guidelines – Relating Consumer Product Characteristics to the Skills, Play Behaviors, and Interests of Children

Lego guidelines: The Whole Child Development Guide

And the International Standards Organisation has developed a new part to the ISO standard for toys – on age determination, published in 2014.