Christmas is just around the corner, and of course, top of our “to do” list is to shop for gifts for family and friends. Personally, I find that the most difficult people to shop for are the “little people”–those that barely make it up to your waist kind of people, especially the 6-year old and below kind of people. And with the myriad of choices in the market, it can be quite overwhelming: pressure from ads, friends and even family doesn’t make this task easier either.
Because toys are tools that children use to develop countless skills, it is so important to choose safe and appropriate toys for them. Children need to have direct experience with the world in order to make sense of and learn about it, and toys —the right kind of toys—provide them with this. For instance, have you ever observed that if you give an infant a rattle they let it fall to the ground? If you pick it up and give it back to them, they are most likely to drop it deliberately, to see if it falls again. Sure enough, it hits the floor! They have just learned about gravity! They enjoy the game “drop the toy” and soon, everything in their grasp becomes a toy for dropping – bottles, spoons, balls, and even bowls of food. They practice this “experiment” and play this game with everything they touch. They understand about gravity because they have actually experienced it with their toys.
Toys are important for several other reasons, too. Children exercise their muscles with toys: they develop coordination and balance as they practice riding a bike, climb a jungle gym or even as they stack one block on top of the other to make a tower. All these necessary skills are developed easily through toys.
Toys also allow children release energy, something which they never seem to run out off! For instance, it may not be okay for them to use their energy to jump on the bed, but it is almost always okay for them to use it to ride a tricycle or bike, pound playdough or splash water inside an inflatable baby pool.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)offers the following information on selecting the safest and most appropriate toys for young children.
Safe toys for young children are:
• well-made (with no shared parts or splinters and do not pinch)
• painted with nontoxic, lead-free paint
• easily cleaned
• When choosing toys for children under age 3, make sure there are no small parts or pieces that could become lodged in a child’s throat and cause suffocation.
In addition to being safe, toys for young children need to match their stages of development and emerging abilities. Although many safe and appropriate play materials are free and typically found at home— Cardboard boxes, plastic bowls and lids, plastic bottle caps, and other “treasures” which can be used in more than one way by children of different ages—below are lists of suggested toys for children of different ages, based on their suggested age range.
Toys for Young Infants: Birth through 6 Months
Babies like to look at people – following them with their eyes. Typically, they prefer faces and bright colors. Babies can reach, be fascinated with what their hands and feet can do, lift their heads, turn their heads toward sounds, put things in their mouths, and much more!
Good toys for young infants:
• Things they can reach for, hold, suck on, shake, make noise with – rattles, large rings, squeeze toys, teething toys, soft dolls, textured balls, and vinyl and board books
• Things to listen to – books with nursery rhymes and poems, and recordings of lullabies and simple songs
• Things to look at – pictures of faces hung so baby can see them and unbreakable mirrors
Toys for Older Infants: 7 to 12 months
Older babies are movers – typically they go from rolling over and sitting to scooting, bouncing, creeping, pulling themselves up, and standing. They understand their own names and other common words, can identify body parts, find hidden objects, and put things in and out of containers.
Good toys for older infants:
• Things to play pretend with – baby dolls, puppets, plastic and wood vehicles with wheels, and water toys
• Things to drop and take out – plastic bowls, large beads, balls, and nesting toys
• Things to build with – large soft blocks and wooden cubes
• Things to use their large muscles with – large balls, push and pull toys, and low, soft things to crawl over
Toys for 1-year-olds
One-year-olds are on the go! Typically, they can walk steadily and even climb stairs. They enjoy stories, say their first words, and they like to experiment – but need adults to keep them safe.
Good toys for 1-year-olds:
• Board books with simple illustrations or photographs of real objects
• Recordings with songs, rhymes, simple stories, and pictures
• Things to create with – wide non-toxic, washable markers, crayons, and large paper
• Things to pretend with – toy phones, dolls and doll beds, baby carriages and strollers, dress-up accessories (scarves, purses), puppets, stuffed toys, plastic animals, and plastic and wood “realistic” vehicles
• Things to build with – cardboard and wood blocks (can be smaller than those used by infants – 2 to 4 inches)
• Things for using their large and small muscles – puzzles, large pegboards, toys with parts that do things (dials, switches, knobs, lids), and large and small balls
Toys for Toddlers: 2-year-olds
Toddlers are rapidly learning language and have some sense of danger. Nevertheless, they do a lot of physical “testing”: jumping from heights, climbing, hanging by their arms, rolling, and rough-and-tumble play. They have good control of their hands and fingers and like to do things with small objects.
Good toys for 2-year-olds:
• Things for solving problems – wood puzzles (with 4 to 12 pieces), blocks that snap together, objects to sort (by size, shape, color, smell) and things with hooks, buttons, buckles, and snaps
• Things for pretending and building – blocks, smaller (and sturdy) transportation toys, construction sets, child-sized furniture (kitchen sets, chairs, play food), dress-up clothes, dolls with accessories, puppets, and sand and water play toys
• Things to create with – large, non-toxic, washable crayons and markers, large paintbrushes and fingerpaints, large paper for drawing and painting, colored construction paper, toddler-sized scissors with blunt tips, chalkboard and large chalk, and rhythm instruments
• Picture books with more details than books for young children
• Things for using their large and small muscles – large and small balls for kicking and throwing, ride-on equipment (but probably not tricycles until children are 3), tunnels, low climbers with soft material underneath, and pounding and hammering toys
Toys for Preschool and Kindergartners: 3- to 6-year-olds Preschoolers and kindergartners have longer attention spans than toddlers. Typically, they talk a lot and ask a lot of questions. They like to experiment with things and with their still-emerging physical skills. They like to play with friends – and don’t like to lose! They can take turns – and sharing one toy by two or more children is often possible for older preschoolers and kindergartners.
Good toys for 3- to 6-year-olds:
• Things for solving problems – puzzles (with 12 to 20-plus pieces), blocks that snap together, collections and other smaller objects to sort by length, width, height, shape, color, smell, quantity, and other features – collections of plastic bottle caps, plastic bowls and lids, keys, shells, counting bears, small colored blocks
• Things for pretending and building – many blocks for building complex structures, transportation toys, construction sets, child-sized furniture, dress-up clothes, dolls with accessories, puppets and simple puppet theaters, sand and water play toys
• Things to create with – large and small crayons and markers, large and small paintbrushes and finger paints, large and small paper for drawing and painting, colored construction paper, preschooler-sized scissors, chalkboard and large and small chalk, modeling clay and playdough, modeling tools, paste, paper and cloth scraps for collage, and instruments – rhythm instruments and keyboards, xylophones, maracas, and tambourines
• Picture books with even more words and more detailed pictures than toddler books
• Things for using their large and small muscles – large and small balls for kicking and throwing/catching, ride-on equipment including tricycles, tunnels, taller climbers with soft material underneath, plastic bats and balls, plastic bowling pins, targets and things to throw at them, and a workbench with a vise, hammer, nails, and saw
Try to buy “open-ended” toys and activities that are failure proof and that grow with the child. Art and construction materials increase motor, thinking and creative skills. Blocks, Legos, paints, crayons, paper, play dough, board games and books are tried, true, and timeless.
In the end, remember not to always give your children everything and anything they want. In real life, we do not get all the things we want immediately because we want them. In this way, you are teaching them about delayed gratification, and children need to learn this.
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Good Toys for Young Children by Age and Stage (NAEYC)
Toys: Tools for Learning (NAEYC brochure)