"Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play, children learn how to learn." ~ O. Fred Donaldson, PhD, play researcher

Fred Donaldson, PhD, acknowledges that play is a learning process for the kids.  Play can be defined as any mental or physical activity that is undertaken for fun and enjoyment.  It is an integral component of a child's healthy development. It is through play that kids explore, discover, and learn.  Through play, the kids can develop their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills while having fun.

Toys can supplement the kids' play.  Because of this, toy selection is an essential skill that parents should learn.  After all, every parent wants to support and optimize their kids' growth and development. 

Toy shopping, whether in the physical store or online, can be overwhelming. There are so many options to choose from, and every toy saying it's great for the kids.

To help you narrow down your selection, check out these tips. Hopefully, these can help you determine the best toy to give your kids or another child as a gift.

Tips on How to Choose Toys for Kids

1. Select age-appropriate toys. 

Kids can maximize the benefits of playing with toys appropriate for their current age, interest, and skills. Age-appropriate toys can help the kids discover new things, challenge their skills, and stimulate their curiosity. On the other hand, if you give your kids toys that are either too easy or too challenging, they may become uninterested or demotivated to play with the toys. 

When you go to the toy stores, you will find shelves of toys divided into age groups. The packaging typically indicates the recommended age for the toys. You can use this as one of the bases for choosing age-appropriate toys. 

Here is a quick guide on the toys and supporting activities per age group. 

  •   Newborn to 6 Months Old

At this stage, the baby's sense of sight, hearing, and touch are developing. And so, toys that can stimulate the senses are the best toys to get them. Choose toys that are lightweight, easy-to-grasp, textured, and have a soft sound. 

Recommended Toys: mobile, rattle, soft toys, mirror

  •  6 Months Old to One-Year-Old

Babies become more mobile in their sixth month.  The babies typically roll over, sit, crawl, scoot, bounce, stand, and pull themselves.  They understand their names and some words already.  They like to look for hidden objects and put things in and out of containers too.  The babies start to be more sociable and babble as if making a conversation with other kids or adults around him/them.

Recommended Toys:  Pretend Play toys such as puppets.  Stacking toys such as wooden blocks, soft blocks, or plastic nesting bowls. Books: Soft books and board books.

  • One-Year-Old

The kids enjoy moving and exploring their environment.  They also appreciate story-telling and playing alongside the other kids.

Recommended Toys:  Play Pretend Toys: Phones, dolls, stuffed animals, or vehicles. Fine Motor Skills Toys: Knobbed puzzles, toys with switches, dials, or knobs, push and pull toys. Books: Board books.

  • Two-Year-Old

The little explorers become more active as they climb, jump, hang, and roll to test their physical abilities.   Toddlers also like finding hidden things, sorting, building, and playing pretend.  They continue to enjoy story-telling activities and may start to play with other kids.

Recommended Toys:  Problem-Solving Toys: Puzzles (with 4 to 12 pieces), building blocks, or sorting objects (can be things around the house). Play Pretend Toys: Dolls, Vehicles, or  Costumes.  Child-sized pieces of Furniture.  Fine Motor Skills Toys: Lacing.  Books: Picture books. Gross Motor Skills: Big balls, tunnels. Climbers. Art Materials:  Big crayons, finger paints, or playdough. Musical instruments: Maracas, Tambourine, or Xylophones.

  • Three-Year-Old to Six-Year-Old

Preschoolers are inquisitive and ask many questions.   They like to experiment and observe things. They enjoy being with other kids, and they begin to learn how to behave socially. 

Recommended Toys:  Problem-Solving Toys: Puzzles (with 12 to 20+ pieces), smaller building blocks, sorting objects (can be things around the house), or simple card games. Pretend Toys: Dolls, Dollhouse, Vehicles, or Costumes Play kitchen, store, or play money.  Child-sized pieces of Furniture.  Fine Motor Skills Toys: Lacing.  Books: Picture books. Gross Motor Skills: Balls, Tricycles. Art Materials:  Big crayons, paint, or playdough.

  • Six-Year-Old to Nine-Year-Old

Grade schoolers tend to enjoy more physical activities such as jumping rope, biking, skateboarding, ball games, and other physical games.  More complex fine motor skills activities such as weaving, simple sewing, drawing may interest them as well.  Some may show an inclination towards other art forms like singing, dancing, painting, or acting. 

Recommended Toys:  Problem-Solving Toys: Puzzles (with 20+ pieces), smaller building blocks, board games, or card games. Pretend Toys: Dolls, Action figures.  Fine Motor Skills Toys: Sewing.  Books: Chapter books. Gross Motor Skills: Jumping rope, biking, skateboarding, or ball games. Art Materials:  Paintbrush, Paint, Oil Pastel, Color pencils, or Crayons.

You may also refer to the Tiny Steps Age-Appropriate Toys and Activities for the list of recommended toys and supporting activities for your kids.

If you want to know about the child's developmental milestones and activities, you can check out the Tiny Steps Child Developmental Milestone articles.

2. Opt for open-ended toys.

 Toddler_ with_ colourful_ stack_ pyramid_ and_ music_ toys

Adults tend to gravitate towards very colourful, loud, and battery-operated toys.  It may seem appealing to us, but it is not the case for the kids.

Simple is better, especially in the long term.  Stick to open-ended toys that can be played in different ways.  Wooden blocks are perfect for an open-ended toy.  It can be played by stacking, building, or counting.  It gives the kids the freedom to build whatever they want, may it be a castle, building, tunnel, or abridge.  The possibility is limitless when the imagination is at play.

3. Toys that can be used as the child gets older.

Children grow quickly, and they can easily outgrow their toys.  Hence, it is best to limit the toys you will purchase and choose open-ended toys.  Pretend play toys and building blocks are good examples of toys that can be used for years.  The toys have a purpose as long as their imagination develops and thrives.

4. Toys that are within the child's area of interest.

The list of the toys listed above is just a recommendation.  It is still dependent on the child's interest and readiness if he/she will appreciate the toy.  Take time to observe what they like, whether their eyes lit up or their focus intensifies when they see vehicles, animals, or hear music.  When you identify what sparks their curiosity and gets their attention, get a related toy.

5. Safety is a priority.

There are many toys under different brand names in the market, and not all toys are equal.   It is paramount that parents take time to read through and research the toys before purchasing them. 

To ensure that the toys you let your kids play with are safe, choose the toys that:

  • Made with non-toxic, lead-free materials and paint.
  • Does not have sharp edges
  • Does not have small detachable parts.
  • Does not crack easily.
  • Are Underwriters Laboratories approved (if battery operated)

6. Kids can also play with random things inside the home.

Kids can play with everyday things you have in the home.  Often, kids would prefer playing with an empty box, a remote control, a pot, and the ladle.  Do not limit your child with store-bought toys because simple is better, as we have said earlier.

That wraps up our tips for you. Don't forget these when you go toy shopping!

Do you have any other tips that you would like to share with us?  Send your suggestions or any feedback in the comment box below.

Tiny Steps

We play, learn, and grow with children. 

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