Douglas Thompson, president of the New York-based Toy Manufacturers of America (and the father of two grown children) suggests parents follow these guidelines when shopping for toys:

Look for the age recommendation on the package.

Select toys that are durable and can be passed on to younger children.

Be leery of inexpensive, unbranded toys. They may not have been through the proper safety tests.

Take a toy out of its box -- "you can and should" -- to make sure it's what you expected from the picture.

Check Sunday supplements and weekly ads for the best buys.

Consider safety. Never buy toys with small parts -- which could be swallowed -- for children under 3. Be wary of toys that shoot any kind of object. Not only could another child's eyes be injured, your child could look into the toy when it is loaded.

"While the TMA cannot compel toy manufacturers to comply with safety standards," says Thompson, "the Consumer Products Safety Commission (Cpsc) can, and does."

Products that have met the CPSC's safety standards usually have the numbers PS72-76 marked somewhere on the package.

The commission also provides a Hot Line which can be dialed toll-free to report defective or dangerous products, or to request its toy safety packet: