Toys aren’t just fun. They’re learning power tools for your child’s brain–even if the toys are not marketed as “educational.”
The inside story: When you choose toys and activities that track with your child’s age and stage, you’re speaking his language and helping him develop cognitive, emotional, social and physical skills he can build on–just by playing. In fact, every time your baby plays with a toy—zzzt, zzzt–brain connections are made. Inside your child’s brain when he’s playing is like a Christmas tree, with thousands of sparkling lights going off.
Which toys should you buy for babies and toddlers on your list? Here’s your shopping game plan.
Top Toys: Birth to 12 Months
Puzzingo Kids Learning Puzzles; it’s a free download, for kids 18 months to 5 years
Craft-tastic Yarn Tree Kit; 8 months to 12 years
Music Together Hey Diddle, Diddle singalong song book, for ages 1 to 8 years
Music Together Two Little Blackbirds, singalong song book, for ages 1 to 8 years
Oribel PortaPlay Convertible Activity Center, for 5 months to 5 years
Tubby Table Toys, for kids ages 1.5 to 4 years
Whistlefritz Spanish for Kids: The Ultimate Collection, for ages 1 to 7 years
I’m also a fan of toys by HABA, such as this simple ball track, for children 12 months to 5 years, which teaches cause and effect (who knew?) and helps develop fine motor skills. A representative from the Germany company told me HABA toys are “substance, not sizzle,” and that good toys are “investments.” I couldn’t agree more!
Green Toys are on my shopping list, too. They’re made in the US from recycled milk cartons–100 percent post-consumer food-safe recycled plastic that contains no BPA, PVC, phthalates or external coatings. You can clean them in the dishwasher and toss them in the recycle bin when you’re done. Vehicles are their core line, such as this ferry, train, fire truck and seacopter. Each Green Toy comes in a 100 percent corrugated box printed with soy inks.
Of course, toys can’t get all the credit. You’re a key player in the process because babies and toddlers are attention junkies. They crave the one-on-one interaction and the security playing with you and other caregivers provides.
So, just so say no to “phubbing”—snubbing your baby with your phone by texting or answering e-mails when you’re supposed to be playing together. Everyone knows the feeling: You’re with your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend or colleagues and they’re on their phone when you’re trying to get their attention. Wah!
All kids can be can be surprisingly fickle with toys. Even with the most engaging toy, their interest can vanish faster than a dollop of whipped cream on a cup of hot chocolate. To keep toys in play longer, try these tactics:
Buy according to your child’s age. Take the manufacturer’s recommended age range on the toy package seriously. Don’t buy up. Buying a toy that’s months older than your child’s age won’t make him smarter. Instead, he won’t get out of it what he’s supposed to or be able to play with it easily. In addition to play value, age grading can alert you to a possible choking hazard, the presence of small parts, and other dangers. Try not to buy toys with small parts for a child older than 3 if you have a baby in the house. Your baby will find a way to get it.
For kids age 3 and up: Look beyond the logo. Some of the season’s most popular toys tie in with TV, book, or movie characters. But—good news–these toys aren’t on your baby’s radar yet. When your kids are really young, you can stay away from licensed characters and go with more inexpensive toys. But once your baby hits age 3 or so, there’s no getting away from them. They get their favorites soon enough.
When you get to that stage, even if a licensed character toy tops your child’s holiday or birthday list, ask yourself a key question: “If I took Elmo (or whoever your child’s fave character) off this package, what do I have?”
“If a toy has nothing to offer beyond the character, don’t buy it,” says Richard Gottlieb, a toy-industry expert in New York City. Toys with low play value are destined to get ditched extra early. A better bet for older kids: Select toys that require creativity. “Building blocks, nontoxic art supplies, educational video games, musical instruments, and sports equipment last longer with kids than toys that have limited uses,” says Jed Baker, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of No More Meltdowns.
Rotate toys. If your baby/toddler/preschooler/older child get loads of toys this year, don’t let her have at them all at once. Instead, set aside some of the bounty for later. After that group has lost its luster, bring out the sequestered toys, and so on. Toy cycling helps constantly refresh your child’s interest. What’s old is new again.
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By Sandra Gordon, copyright Baby Products Mom.