Choosing the right toy is easier than you think.
It just takes a little time and a little research. Just remember the
basics: understand who the toy is for, including the age and gender of
the child, his or her interests, and even how the toy will be used.
Some toys emphasize simple play patterns, while others stimulate a
child's dexterity, thinking, social skills, or educational
development. What's your goal?
Toys are for fun, but they also can play a
positive role in a child's educational, social, emotional, and
physical development. Some of the most widely accepted theories on
childhood play habits focus on the powerful influence toys have on
development skills. Play is one of the primary ways that children
master new and sometimes complex skills. With toys, they can interact
with objects for their own amusement while working on cognitive and
motor skills, especially important in very young children and kids
with some learning or physical challenges.
Toys have the potential for teaching as well.
Toys that challenge children may stimulate their capacity to reason
and parents should monitor the kinds of toys and images that cross
their children's path. Prudent purchases and careful TV monitoring are
always advised, but it is especially prudent given the preponderance
of toy ads tied to children's programming.
What is play and does it affect a child's
development? Playing with a toy with a parent or adult helps babies
interact with others and aids in language development. Babies like to
play peek-a-boo with toys because they are just learning that the toys
exist even when they are not seen or heard. Peer toy play by
elementary school students helps them develop a mature sense of rules
as well as right and wrong.
Stuffed animals can help a toddler make the
transition from infant dependency on mom and dad to more independent
play common in early childhood. Preschoolers can communicate problems
they are having though their play with toys, even when they can't
communicate them directly. Preschool children need to see that they
can cause interesting things to happen when they put their mind to it,
and playing with toys helps them accomplish that. Toys also empower
children by permitting them to control their environment, at least
temporarily. Older kids need to see that they are playing correctly
Don't be influenced by toy awards. Many of these
seals of achievement and awards affixed to toy boxes are paid
advertising. Their claims of having tested the toys sometimes mean
that they collected children's opinions. Simulated toy tests sponsored
by advertisers are gimmicks used to gain media attention.
Before shopping for a toy, be sure to collect
the following information: exact age, personality type, a list of
interests and skills, any special challenges that can affect a child's
physical limitations and play experience, and current interests.
Suggested types of toys by age:
Infants: Birth through 1 year:
Toys should expose a baby to a variety of
experiences: sight, sound, touch (shape, size, texture), and taste
(because many times, toys go into the mouth). Bright colors,
lightweight toys such as rattles, and squishy toys encourage early
grasping, holding, and exploring. Once a child is able to sit up,
introduce blocks, nesting cups, stacking rings, and toys that require
reaching. For crawlers and early walkers, choose large balls and
Toddlers: 1-3 years
Physical play should be an important focus. For
outdoor play, choose ride-ons, wagons, balls, and sandbox accessories.
For indoor play, choose chunky blocks. Large-piece puzzles and toys
that allow a child to use excess energy and develop emerging muscle
control are also good. At this stage, children like to imitate parents
with play food, kitchen sets, housekeeping tools, ride-on cars, sport
ssets, baby strollers, and musical instruments.
Preschool: 3-5 years
Children in this group are fascinated with how
and why things work. Construction sets, washable crayons and markers,
paints, modeling clay, books, and simple board games encourage
creativity. Introduce toys that inspire pretend play and allow
children to imitate mom or dad to practice life skills. Examples
include cash registers, toy telephones, make-believe town sets, doll
houses, and furniture.
School Age: 5-9 years
Encourage children to share and introduce toys
that teach both team playing and independence. Consider toys that
boost self esteem and allow children to use their personality and
skills. Choose hobby sets, sports toys, computer software,
problem-solving math toys, construction sets with detailed elements,
and storybooks with valuable messages. Games and electronic toys are
available to help children learn specific skills including counting,
matching, and problem solving.
Preteen: 9-12 years
Acceptance from friends and self-esteem are very
important to this age group. Toys also begin to seem less interesting
to children of this age. Complex construction toys, board games,
strategic puzzles, science toys, and activity kits are the best
choices. Active and physical play should be an area of focus through
team and group sports. Social and intellectual skills are refined
through board, electronic, and card games.
Toys for Children with Special Needs
When choosing toys for children with special
needs, keep in mind that specifically designed or modified toys are
not always necessary. For all children, toys are only props used in
play, and the process of play itself is valuable for development of
physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills.
Board games give children a chance to practice
turn taking, communication, and socialization skills. They are also
great for the whole family to play together. By modifying the rules of
the game, such as taking off time limits, enlarging pieces or having
partners, toys and games can be made less frustrating for a child with
a shorter attention span or motor difficulties.
Communication skills can be expanded through
play. For children with language delays, repetition is a plus. Look
for books that have repetitive phrases or toys that continually repeat
concepts and directions.
Electronic toys feature lots of lights, sounds,
and music and are usually a good choice for teaching cause and effect.
It's always a good idea to take advantage of Try Me packaging to test
quality and sound levels.
Determine the best position for the child to be
in to maximize the play and educational value of the toy or game. Toys
can be played with in many ways, either seated at a table, wheelchair,
or someone's lap, sitting or lying on the floor, or by using a
particular piece of specialized equipment.
Look for safety labels, including flame
resistant products. Check all toys periodically for breakage and
potential hazards. Avoid toys with long cords, sharp edges, and
points. All electronic toys should have a secured battery compartment.
Always supervise your child's play.
Children will become bored with toys that don't
challenge and stimulate them. Conversely, children who try
unsuccessfully to play with toys that are too challenging might grow
frustrated, disinterested, and upset. Before choosing a toy, it is
important to know the child's age, personality type, current skills,
A few simple measures can help you select safe
and appropriate toys for your children. What is appropriate for one
child can be dangerous for another. For example, older children should
keep their playthings away from younger siblings and playmates that
still put toys in their mouths.
Character and Licensed Toys
Licensed toys with a recognizable character,
whether animated or humanlike in the form of a television or movie
character, are popular because children identify quickly with them.
They want the toy with a personality. If you buy licensed character
toys, keep in mind the personality. Is it something you approve of?
Remember that your child is learning from this personality and might
even mimic what it does.
When a child begs for a popular character, be
selective. Limit their toy collection to only acceptable
personalities. Balance the request with a book about the character or
a different toy that encourages skill development.
Toy Safety Tips
Buying safe toys is extremely important,
especially when there are children of different ages in the house.
Make sure a toy does not have a cord or pull string long enough to
wrap around a young one's neck and cut off air supply. Packaging
should not have sharp corners or wire ties. Small parts that are less
than 3 inches by 3 inches are a swallowing hazard for ages 4 and
younger. Keep such pieces out of reach and remind older children to
put such items beyond the reach of smaller children. Battery-operated
toys should be in a tight, secure compartment. Compartments that
require a small screwdriver to open and close are safest. Keep this
tool out of reach of children under 12. Talking devices in interactive
toys should be securely enclosed. Zippers are acceptable. If you think
a toy might be dangerous, remove it from your child's reach
immediately. Return it to the store where you bought it. Be sure you
have the right assembly tools and batteries to avoid disappointment.