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Before You Buy Radio Control Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers

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Kids want fun toys. Parents want toys that are educational. RC toys are both. They can spark the imagination, help develop manual dexterity, and teach cause and effect.

Properly designed radio controlled and remote controlled toys for toddlers and preschoolers can meet their need for action and pretend play toys. They help develop physical and mental skills. But before you pick up just any toy labeled radio control or remote control, find out how what specific features to look for.

Is the Toy Radio Controlled?

Radio control means having antennas. Toys for this age group should have fairly short antennas covered in a thick plastic/rubber tube that bends and should have an antenna cap securely fastened to the end. Although they are designed to be safe and not break easily, children do tend to pick up and carry the cars by the antenna and if bent too much and too often they could become damaged.

Is the Toy Remote Controlled?

Remote control may mean tethered -- controller attached to the car by a wire -- or infrared. Wired vehicles have a very limited range of movement. Wired is better with slow-moving toys like bulldozers or dump trucks with actions that take place while stationary (scooping or dumping actions). A wired RC also means less chance of losing the controller. But watch out for too long cords that could pose a choking hazard.

With infrared there is no antenna to deal with although the vehicles will have a more limited range than radio control and require that the controller and vehicle always remain in view of each other.

How Many Buttons on the Controller?

Buttons on controllers help develop manual dexterity. These toys teach cause and effect -- press the right button to cause a certain action.

Two-button controllers are the norm for toddler and preschool toys. One button moves the car forward. The other button makes the car go in reverse or turn around. For some toys there may be an additional button or two for special actions such as horns or racing sounds or to operate the lift on a forklift or make lights flash. The buttons should be large and clearly labeled with arrows or other symbols.

Is the Battery Compartment Secure?

The battery compartment should be secured with a screw. In toys for school age children the battery compartment may have only a snap in cover. These can come loose. Toys for toddlers and preschooler should have a more secure battery compartment on both the car and the controller. RC toys for toddlers and preschoolers usually operate on "AA" or "AAA" batteries. You'll need batteries for both the vehicle and the controller.

Is the Body Fully-Enclosed With No Small Part to Break Off?

Sturdy, fully-enclosed bodies with no sharp edges and no exposed electronics or access to other internal components are important in toys for young children. Tires should fit snugly and securely to the body. It is still important to supervise the child when operating the RC vehicle because the tires do spin rapidly.

Ideally, details such as headlights and side mirrors should be painted on or be thick parts molded into the body. You don't want little pieces that can break off and be swallowed. Some models may have decals for detailing. This is OK but less desirable because the decals may come off or get pulled off.

Does It Light Up or Make Sounds?

Lights and sounds not only add authenticity to a toy, they can be an invaluable aid in helping the child learn how to operate the toy. Ideally, different sounds and lights are associated with different actions -- for example engine revving sounds or flashing police lights when the car goes forward or a beeping sound when a crane is lifting a load.

Some toys may simply have a button on the controller that makes sounds when pushed but not while the car is running. Too loud toys could damage hearing. A volume control or option to switch off sounds would be a good feature to have.

Does the RC Vehicle Look Like a Real Vehicle?

Toddlers won't really care if the car looks exactly like a real car but are attracted to brightly colored toys that are easy to pick up.

Once they get a little older at around four or five then toys that look a little more like the cars they see mommy and daddy drive will appeal to them. They'll also like toys that do something more than just drive around such as RC bulldozers, dump trucks, fire trucks with sirens, and stunt vehicles that pop wheelies or do flips.

Control the Fear Factor

If this is the child's first RC, don't push the toy at them. First encounters with an RC toy may be one of fascination and curiousity. Or it might just scare them. Be prepared for them to cry or try to hide from an RC that comes racing toward them or that makes loud noises. Let them play with it while the toy is turned off. Once familiar with it, drive it for them -- slowly and without coming straight at the child.

When the child is ready, let them take control. Once they learn what the buttons do, the child can move on to learning how to control the driving to make the vehicle go where they want it to go.

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