1. Where is my child developmentally? Toys that are too simple or too complex for your child's development level will lead to boredom and frustration. Look for toys that your child can manage on their own but that will also help them improve their fine motor skills, imaginations and social development.
2. What will my child need to learn in the year ahead? If your child will be entering preschool or kindergarten in the coming year, ask your school district for a skills checklist so that you can see where he or she needs additional practice. There are many fun toys that can help children develop the skills that they'll need for school without having to pressure them with drills and flashcards. Beading kits, puzzles, blocks, magnet and chalk boards and other toys can help reinforce fine motor skills, problem solving abilities and concepts such as pattern recognition, shapes and colors.
3. What do we already have? Take a quick inventory of the toys that you already have in your home. Do you already have plenty of dolls, stuffed animals and vehicles? A play kitchen that never gets played with? A block set that is played with every day? This can help trigger ideas for toys that complement what you already have and expand your child's playtime repertoire. You can also use the opportunity to declutter and find new homes for toys that your child has outgrown. Just a note: you don't have to give up on age-appropriate toys that your child hasn't warmed up to right away. Often, parents find that putting away neglected toys for several months then re-introducing them is a great way to drum up enthusiasm.
4. Which toys will fit into our lifestyle? Do we have room for a large dollhouse or will a smaller one that can fold up for storage be a better choice? Can we devote space to keep a floor easel out all of the time or would a tabletop model be more practical? How can we store puzzles and games with many pieces so that they are easy for our family to keep organized and intact? Do we prefer to go to a playground or play in our own backyard? How tolerant are we of noise or a mess? Toys that are too big, too fussy or don't fit into your family&'s routine are usually doomed to be neglected and finally wind up being sold or given away.
5. How will this toy help my child develop their creativity and imagination? Toys that do all of the work for your child have a lot of novelty value but won't engage their imaginations the same way that "kid-powered" toys will. Toys that require children to come up with their own story lines and act them out will hold their attention longer and yield more developmental benefits.
6. Is this toy safe? Do pay attention to the recommended ages on the toy's packaging, especially for children under three. Look for toys made by manufacturers with a solid reputation. Beyond the age recommendations, think about how your own child is likely to use the toy. Some children are naturally more impulsive or have a more rough and tumble style of play and their toys should be able to safely stand up to the ways that they typically play.
7. Is this toy for my child? Or me? Almost every parent and grandparent has been tempted to buy a toy for their child because it's one of their childhood favorite (or the toy that they've always wanted but never had). This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but do try to be realistic about how enthusiastic your child will be about the toy to avoid disappointment on both sides. Remember, you can always buy the toy for yourself!
Jacob Maslow has learned a lot about buying toys as a father of five! He currently works as a marketing director for Today's Concept, which sells a wide range of household items including the award winning Melissa and Doug toys. His boys are asking for the Melissa and Doug puppet theater this year.
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