I've been quite active in some forums lately and I came across a thread which was left unanswered for a couple of days. It frustrated the thread starter of course and so I decided to post a reply. The topic was pretty easy and intuitive, at least that was what I thought the first time I read it. The thread starter, a mom, wanted to know of activities and toys that would be recommended for toddlers and children.
I can still distinctly recall what toys and activities my parents provided me when I was a child. Since my mom was a graduate of Fine Arts, naturally she encouraged us to draw. She allowed me and my sisters to draw on the walls of the house. She also gave us large sheets of paper where we could trace our hands and feet on. As we grew up, we took to smaller sheets of paper, began using smaller crayons, then pencils then pens. It never left us, I sometimes still draw in my spare time for leisure. My sister was the one where the talent really stayed and flourished, lucky her! Although she is a graduate of Sociology, she now works as a layout artist for an international company, sketching and drawing storyboards and creating comics in her spare time.
My all time favorite has got to be Lego. Lego has been around for ages and I think it won't be going away soon, which is a good thing. I don't think its possible for anyone to know how to surf the Internet but not know of Lego. If you are still unaware of this great toy, click here. My dad got my sister the "Duplo" set and for me, the Lego "Technic" set. I think he may have overshot it with the Technic set though. The first time I opened the box that Christmas, I distinctly remember being disappointed. Being 7 at that time, I said to myself "What the hell is this, everything is yellow and black and does not resemble a toy!". Sadly, by the time I was able to appreciate what he gave me, everything was already ruined by excessive biting. Yes, I didn't know there was a way to seperate Lego bits aside from biting it off.
Not all parents are the same. Not all dads would get their kids Lego sets and certainly not all moms would allow their kids to write on the walls of their houses! So I think I'll just give my thoughts on "how" to choose toys and not "what" toys to choose for their toddlers and young kids.
As with all purchases, you would want to get the most out of your money's worth. You will want to get something that, will first off, fulfill the need it was intended for. Second consideration would be its quality and durability, understandably so because we are talking about children's toys. Then only comes the price.
So for example, you are planning to get, say, a doll for your 3 year old child. A doll is usually a representation of something that is living, more commonly a human being. I have read, dolls usually help children recognize the needs of a living being. They will learn how to dress it up, to play house with it, to feed it.
I did not include "child safety" as a category in what I had said earlier because a parent should never compromise that, it is always a given. Always check the packaging for an age guide and safety notes of the manufacturer (which is sometimes still really unreliable, seeing that there had been a slew of recalls over the past few years, so please check reviews on the Internet before buying). That being said, if you find yourself choosing between a stuffed toy bear and a Bratz doll, ask yourself. Does your child need something to hug? Is your kid able to handle hard or small plastic objects already? Where will she be using it, is it okay to leave it on the bed or on the crib? There are a whole lot of questions to be asked but primary, just ask yourself what purpose will the toy be fulfilling if you get it for your child.
Will it be durable? I've seen too many dismembered Barbie dolls during my childhood, since these toys are expensive, my parents decided to get us another brand, relatively cheaper because it was made out of hollow plastic. These got dismembered still, but my parents were crying no longer.
The best toy for me, would have a good balance of the three factors I have mentioned. Quality certainly would make the price go up and vice versa. If you are a parent who is not on a budget though, then its a different story.
Once you have covered these, it's time to get the toy. How do you choose which is appropriate for your child? I hope parents won't just get a toy just for the sake of giving one to their kid. It is very important to give a toy that will help your kid develop. Toys and play will be the main activity during the formative years, naturally you will be able to use these two not only to make your child happy but also to educate him or her as well.
HowStuffWorks gives a recommendation on what to get for babies and what to get for toddlers. Babies will need toys which will stimulate their senses. Rattles and mobiles help develop hearing, not to mention the fact that they make endearing keepsakes. Colorful stuffed animals, balls and activity boxes will help with movement and tactile perception. Stuffed toys should be small enough so that the baby can cuddle it, it is also recommended to get one that has a variety of textures, e.g. soft, rough, fluffy, smooth etc. For activity boxes, get ones which have buttons and knobs to push and pull, doors to slide open, movements that will get your baby to do basic tasks.
You may notice that after a few months, your baby will grow disinterested with his toys. This only means he has outgrown them. It would be a good time to shop for new toys which will provide more stimuli, like a stuffed animal of a more complex shape color and texture.
The same goes for toddlers too. We can classify toddlers into 2 groups, the young toddler (12-24 months) and the older toddlers (2-3 years).
Young toddlers will require toys which will develop fine motor skills and ambidexterity. Blocks and dolls are appropriate here though I would recommend the kind that looks like a Cabbage Patch kid not the Barbie doll kind. Nothing with small pieces as of now. Also check for any fiber or fabric that can be shed as the child may ingest these.
The large Duplo blocks or wooden blocks are not recommended yet. Choose blocks which are made out of light plastic, rubber or foam. The blocks should have rounded corners to avoid poking accidents. Sorting toys may come in the form of activity boxes with has holes to accommodate blocks of different sizes and shapes.
Older toddlers will need toys that will cultivate imaginative thinking. At this stage, your child should be able to hold a writing implement already. Big crayons and pens but not those with a sharp point can be given. Make sure to get the non-toxic kind. Toys that resemble real-life tools are recommended. Play telephones, minature keyboard pianos, kitchen equipment, toy cars, trains, trucks etc. Since these toys are made to imitate real life counterparts, increased wear is to be expected. Make sure that metal parts are rustproof, parts which might break off will not splinter or get a sharp edge.
Toy instruments like tambourines, horns and drums are a must. Puzzles are highly recommended, however, choose ones which you think is at the level of your child's capacity. A complex puzzle game may even discourage your kid to play it.
This is also a great stage to read to your child. Set aside time to read to your child or to listen audio books with him. If he has difficulty paying attention or sitting still, do not make him stay put. Continue to read but attempt to get a response from time to time to make sure he is listening to you.