How do you choose toys for children based on their age and how do you know you’ve chosen the right ones? Should you choose toys for entertainment purposes only, or should you choose toys that are designed to educate your child? In this guide, I’ll go over how to choose the right toys for your child, toys they will not quickly outgrow, and toys that will nurture their thinking, while challenging them.
Beneficial Toys for Children
Shopping around for the best Christmas toys and gifts is a little easier than choosing toys that are designed to promote brain development and social skills. Buying the right toys can set your child’s imagination free and can boost their self-confidence, encouraging them to explore and learn more.
Typically, toys for your children should match their stage of development. There are many appropriate and safe materials that you can commonly find around your home including measuring spoons, lids, plastic bowls, and cardboard boxes, which can be used by a young child who has a great imagination. The biggest problem parents run into when they are shopping around for fun and educational toys for their child is not only cost but the fact that children often outgrow their toys quickly. Just keep in mind that every child develops at their own pace, so this list of suggested toys for children based on age may not be appropriate for your child. When you’re shopping for toys, the goal is to choose something your child will enjoy, something that will engage their imagination, promote social and emotional development, and keep them happy and entertained. Every child is different, which makes it even more challenging to find the right toy. In this guide, I’ve included an extensive list of toys that many parents highly recommend.
Birth to Six Months
Most babies at this age love vivid and bright colors. Good toys for babies from birth up to six months should include things they can squeeze, make noise with, shake, toys for teething, and toys they can hold.
This can include toys such as:
- Board and vinyl books
- Textured balls
- Soft dolls
- Teething rings
- Soft stuffed animals
- Unbreakable mirrors
Babies Seven to Twelve Months
Older infants love to move around. Usually, they go from rolling over to sitting. Then they advance to scooting, then pulling themselves up, and standing. At this age, a baby will respond to their own name, and may also respond to common words. They could also put things in and out of containers, find hidden objects, and identify body parts.
Toys that are a great choice for infants this age include:
- Baby dolls
- Wood vehicles with wheels
- Plastic cars
- Wooden cubes
- Soft blocks
- Large rubber balls
- Push toys
- Hand puppets
Toys for a One-Year-Old
Babies that are one year of age are always on the go. Usually, they are able to walk, whether they’re a little wobbly or sturdy, and some can even climb stairs. At this age babies love books, may have already said their first words, and love to interact with adults and children.
Great toys for this age include:
- Large board books
- Board puzzles
- Musical toys
- Wooden blocks
- Toy phones
- Coloring books and crayons
- Stuffed toys
- Wooden or plastic vehicles
- Hand puppets
Toys for a Two-Year-Old
Two-year-olds learn rapidly and are high energy and very curious. At this age, they are very active and love to climb, jump, and tumble. They have excellent control of their fingers and hands and like to do things with small objects and love to draw, build, and problem solve, so toys such as puzzles, and large Lego sets would be a great option. Keep in mind that you need to purchase toys that are age appropriate for safety precautions, so do not buy anything that is small enough for them to swallow.
Great toy options include:
- Sensory boards
- Blocks that snap together
- Sorting games
- Dress up clothes
- Paint sets coloring books in crayons
- Chalk boards
- Washable markers
- Toddler size furniture
- Water play toys
- Stuffed animals
- Card games
Toys for Kids Ages Three to Six
Kids ages three to six have a significantly longer attention span compared to toddlers. Usually, they will ask a lot of questions and talk a lot. Kids this age like to experiment with their toys and their physical skills. They like to interact with children their age, are very competitive, and they are just learning how to take turns and share.
Toys for children this age include:
- Toys that encourage problem solving, such as puzzles
- Smaller toys that they can sort by color, shape, height, width, and length
- Transportation toys
- Construction sets
- Dolls with accessories
- Dress up clothes
- Toys to create with, such as paint sets, construction paper, and washable markers
- Chalk and chalkboard
- Picture books
Since children love to play outside, consider purchasing toys that encourage physical exercise such as ride on equipment, including bikes and tricycles, swing sets, tunnels, wagons, an outdoor plastic bowling pin set, and balls.
Choosing Safe Toys for Your Children
Toys that are safe for your children should be well made and should not include any parts that could potentially pinch or cut them, any parts they could swallow, and there should be no sharp edges. The toy should also be painted with lead-free nontoxic paint and should be easy to clean and shatterproof.
Choose products that have been third-party tested if you’re shopping around for electronics. Check the label on the product to see if it has been approved by Underwriter Laboratories. UL is a third-party testing facility that thoroughly tests out all types of products to ensure products are safe.
In most cases, toys that have small parts are not recommended for children under the age of three. Read the package to learn whether or not a toy is approved for infants and toddlers. Most toys that are designed for older children will clearly state not that the toy is not recommended for children under the age of three. To be extra safe, take a look at the toy before you give it to your child and to make sure there’s no small pieces or parts that could possibly get lodged in your child’s throat.
Routinely Inspect Toys
It’s important to keep in mind that usual wear and tear can often result in a toy that becomes dangerous. Parents should check their child’s toys often to ensure they’re in good repair.
Sign up for product recall alerts. You will receive an email regarding any toys that have landed on the product recall list if they have been deemed unsafe.
How Kids Play
Below I’ll go in-depth regarding how kids play, which can help you choose toys that stimulate brain development, teach social and emotional skills, and toys that teach kids about the world.
During their first year of life, for babies it’s all about exploration. A baby will use his or her five senses to learn about their interesting environment. Does an object feel rough or sticky? Soft or hard? What does an object do if it’s dropped? How does an object taste? Typically, play will consist of mouthing or tasting an object, dropping it, banging it, or shaking it.
- During this first year, a baby will develop new motor skills, so play will become more complex and coordinated.
- At about 3 months of age, a baby will begin to reach for and grasp toys such as a teething ring or a rattle.
- By age six months, they will be able to transfer a toy between their hands.
- At about nine months of age, a baby will develop a pincher grasp which makes it easier for them to hold and pick up small objects, such as teething rings or blocks.
- During this time, play is mostly a solitary activity, however by twelve months, when they play side by side with other infants, they can imitate activities.
The first year, mom and dad are the infant’s favorite plaything. Interacting with their parents as they play will help them learn about cause and effect, social relations, and language. Once an infant has begun to understand how things in their environment relate to each other and how they sound, feel, and smell, an infant is ready for the next stage of development, which is figuring out how they work.
How Toddlers Play
A toddler will become more aware of the functions of objects. They will learn how to stack blocks, use their imagination to play, and transition from using a bottle to drinking from a big kid cup. At this time, the concept of pretend play is in full effect. Your little one will enjoy acting out their favorite TV shows or pushing a toy train while making choo-choo noises.
A toddler will also start to differentiate shapes and colors. Because of this, when you’re shopping for toys, you should choose toys that are colorful and bright and easy to hold. By twenty-four months, most toddlers are able to scribble with a crayon, kick a ball, stack four blocks or more and they may even be able to do simple puzzles.
By the age of three, most toddlers will learn how to pedal a tricycle.
How Preschoolers Play
Preschoolers will have a desire to connect with others and interact and pretend play, as they learn how to share and began to grasp the concept of give and take.
Of course, pretend play will also become more elaborate since their knowledge of the world is more advanced.
How Elementary School Kids Play
Kids in elementary school are accomplished in ways they never were before. They have already grasped a deep understanding of the world around them and have advanced toward mastering skills that challenged them in the past, such as riding a bike or catching a ball.
Physical abilities such as fine and gross motor skills are more refined. Additionally, children will learn how to ride a two-wheel wheel bicycle, scooter, or skateboard. Arts and craft projects become more complex, and a child may spend hours weaving bracelets, painting, or drawing.
At this age, friendships are more important, and your child may seem more interested in playing with their friends than being around you. Keep in mind that even as your child grows, you’re still the most important playmate in their life, so try to set aside some quality time.
Toy Shopping Mistakes to Avoid
Below, I’ve included a list of common mistakes that many parents make when they’re shopping for toys for their child. Be sure to keep these tips in mind the next time you’re online shopping for the perfect toy for your boy or girl.
Don’t Purchase Toys You Want Your Child to Grow Into
Playtime is how a child learns about themselves and it builds their self-esteem. Purchasing toys that are beyond their years will only frustrate a child and will make them feel bad about their inability to play with a toy. While it is tempting to purchase toys that are meant for older children, in the hope that you won’t have to constantly replace toys, it’s a much better idea to purchase toys that are specifically designed for your child’s age. This will build your child’s self-esteem and can make playtime mentally stimulating and entertaining.
It’s also really important not to buy toys that are meant for older children if you have a child under the age of three since these toys often contain parts that a younger child may swallow.
Don’t Disregard Your Child’s Interests
Some children love to use their imagination and play elaborate pretend games, so dress up is a great choice. Other children like to play pretend with small play settings such as doll houses or mini workbenches. If your child doesn’t like board games or puzzles, try another type of activity. The idea is to encourage and strengthen their interests. It’s also important to talk to your family who may not live nearby and let them know the types of toys your child is interested in.
Avoid Bringing home the same type of Toy
While popular children’s movies may be all the rage one year, bringing home everything that is related to just one movie will quickly become boring for both you and your child. The goal is to bring home a variety of toys that will last throughout the year and toys that can provide mental stimulation, allowing them to explore new things and learn about the world around them.
Researching and learning how to choose toys for your children based on their age, interests, and development needs, can strengthen their eagerness to learn, builds their self-esteem, and encourages social interaction. If you have an older child over the age of three and you’re unsure of what to buy them, sit down with them and discuss their interests. This type of conversation can teach you a lot about your child and can even help you find activities that both you and your child can participate in together.