Choosing the perfect toy for your toddler can be tricky!
They want something fun but not too difficult. Some toddlers are still learning how to use their hands and need a toy with big buttons they can quickly push.
Others have mastered some skills and would love a puzzle or activity to challenge them more. This blog post will help you find a suitable toy for your little one!
A rule of thumb: Less is more. The less a toy does, the more opportunity a child has to create and learn from it. Simple toys are more accessible for children to use, need less supervision and can last longer. Our exclusive range of baby nursery products will help create the perfect baby nursery for your baby.
The Best Toys for Kids
Toys can be a great way to kickstart your child’s play and support your child’s development. But your child might not need as many toys as you think.
Toys should match a child’s developmental level and age. Toys should be clean and have no sharp corners or small, detachable parts. They should also not contain unsafe, toxic or flammable materials.
To survive a child’s repeated handling, a toy must be made of stable and solid materials.
Easy to Use
A child must be able to work a toy by himself to enjoy it. Generally, simple toys are the easiest to operate.
A child should find a toy fun to play with now and as she grows. Look for toys that a child can play with in many ways.
Play teaches a child to think, create and imagine. Choose toys that allow for pretending, role-playing, problem-solving and practising skills.
Children learn essential social skills by playing with other children. By playing socially, they become familiar with cooperation, negotiation and compromise. Older children who are more likely to share choose toys that they can use with others. For younger children, have enough toys so that sharing is not necessary.
The best toys for children are ‘open-ended’. These are the toys that your child can use in lots of different ways. They encourage your child to use her imagination, creativity and problem-solving skills.
Open-ended toys include:
- blocks: one day, your child uses them to build a tower, and the next day he might bring the league up to his ear and pretend it’s a phone
- balls: they’re great to bounce, look at, roll, hold and throw
- cardboard boxes: your child can pretend these are shop counters, ovens, cars, boats, dollhouses and more
- dress-ups: with some hand-me-down clothes and bits of fabric, your child can become anything or anyone he likes
- crafty bits and pieces: coloured paper, stickers, crayons, and washable markers can get your child started on a masterpiece.
You don’t always have to buy toys. Everyday household items like pots and pans, plastic containers, pegs, clothes baskets and blankets often make great open-ended toys.
Just make sure that any household items your child plays with are safe, so avoid sharp objects or small objects that could cause your child to choke.
Choosing Toys for Kids
Many toys have age-range information on their packaging. This can be useful, but in terms of play, it’s only a guide. Your child’s interests and stage of development will probably give you a better idea of what to choose.
However, age-range information can be important for safety, for example, when toys contain small parts that a baby could swallow.
In these cases, it’s wise to follow the recommended age-range information.
The best’ toy’ is you, a caregiver or other close family member for your baby. Your baby will delight in watching your face, listening to your voice and simply being with you.
Even play activities like looking at a brightly coloured mobile, listening to a wind-up musical toy and learning to reach for a rattle are more fun when you and your baby do them together.
Toddlers love to play with boxes and often have more fun when wrapping a present comes in than the present itself. Other good choices for toddlers include construction toys like building blocks and clothing for dress-ups.
Toddlers also enjoy simple musical instruments that they can shake and bang – a drum made from an upside-down pot and a wooden spoon can be just as much fun as a purpose-built toy.
Older children often like to solve problems and use their imagination. Puzzles or games that get your child playing with others are also good choices. My Baby Nursery has a huge range of baby toys for your baby room.
Choosing Safe Toys for Toddlers
Toys are an essential and fun part of every child’s development. But they can come with risks too.
Choking is a hazard for kids ages three or younger because they tend to put objects in their mouths. So parents need to check out their children’s toys and supervise when kids play.
What to Look For
Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when shopping for toys:
- Toys made of fabric should be labelled as flame resistant or flame retardant.
- Stuffed toys should be washable.
- Paint on any toys should be lead-free.
- Art materials should be nontoxic.
Crayons and paints should say ASTM D-4236 on the package, which means that the American Society has evaluated them for Testing and Materials.
Steer clear of older toys, even hand-me-downs from friends and family.
Those toys might have sentimental value and are certainly less expensive, but they may not meet current safety standards and may be so worn from play that they can break and become hazardous.
And make sure a toy isn’t too loud for your child.
The noise of some rattles, squeak toys, and musical or electronic toys can be as loud as a car horn — even more audible if a child holds it directly to the ears — and can lead to hearing loss.
Safe Toys for Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
Always read labels to make sure a toy is appropriate for a child’s age.
And consider your child’s temperament, habits, and behaviour whenever you buy a new toy. Even a child who seems advanced compared with other kids the same age shouldn’t use toys meant for older kids.
The age levels for toys are determined by safety factors, not intelligence or maturity.
Keep these age-specific guidelines in mind:
- Toys should be large enough — at least 1¼ inches (3 centimetres) in diameter and 2¼ inches (6 centimetres) in length — so that they can’t be swallowed or lodged in the windpipe. A small-part tester, or choke tube, can determine if a toy is too small. These tubes are designed to be about the same diameter as a child’s windpipe. If an object fits inside the box, then it’s too small for a young child. If you can’t find a choke tube, ask a salesperson for help or use a toilet paper roll tube.
- Avoid marbles, coins, balls, and games with balls that are 1.75 inches (4.4 centimetres) in diameter or less because they can get stuck in the throat above the windpipe and make breathing difficult.
- Battery-operated toys should have battery cases that secure with screws so that kids cannot pry them open. Batteries and battery fluid pose serious risks, including choking, internal bleeding, and chemical burns.
When checking a toy for a baby or toddler, make sure it’s unbreakable and strong enough to withstand chewing. Also, make sure it doesn’t have:
- sharp ends or small parts like eyes, wheels, or buttons that can be pulled loose
- small spikes that can reach the back of the mouth
- strings longer than 7 inches (18 centimetres)
- parts that could pinch tiny fingers
Most riding toys can be used once a child can sit up well while unsupported — but check the manufacturer’s recommendation.
Riding toys like rocking horses and wagons should come with safety harnesses or straps and be stable and secure enough to prevent tipping.
Hand-me-down and homemade toys should be checked carefully. They may not have been tested for safety. Do not give your infant painted toys made before 1978; they may have paint that contains lead.
Stuffed animals and other toys sold or given away at carnivals, fairs, and vending machines are not required to meet safety standards.
Check carnival toys carefully for loose parts and sharp edges before giving them to your infant.
Keeping Toys Safe at Home
After you’ve bought safe toys, it’s also essential to make sure kids know how to use them. The best way to do this is by supervising play, and playing with your kids teaches them how to play safely while having fun.
- Teach kids to put toys away.
- Check toys regularly to make sure that they aren’t broken or unusable:
- Wooden toys shouldn’t have splinters.
- Bikes and outdoor toys shouldn’t have rust.
- Stuffed toys shouldn’t have broken seams or exposed removable parts.
- Throw away broken toys or repair them right away.
- Store outdoor toys when they’re not in use to not be disclosed to rain or snow.
And be sure to keep toys clean. Some plastic toys can be cleaned in the dishwasher, but read the manufacturer’s directions first.
Another option is to mix antibacterial soap or a mild dishwashing detergent with hot water in a spray bottle and use it to clean toys, rinsing them afterwards.
Many non-toys also can tempt kids. It’s essential to keep them away from:
- sharp scissors
- balloons (uninflated or broken balloons can be choking hazards)
Toys and Your Family Values
You’re the person who decides what toys are OK for your child to play with within your home.
If you have strong feelings about certain toys, it can be a good idea to talk to your child, especially as he grows older. You could mention your family values. For example, ‘Guns can scare and hurt people very much. No one in our family has a gun’.
But drawing too much attention to toys – for example, banning them or refusing to buy them – can make your child want them more.
It might work better to link your family values with the way your child plays and uses toys in daily life. For example, say your child wants a new plastic toy, but environmental values are essential.
Instead of buying the toy, you could help your child make toys from things around the house – and you could also talk with your child about how this is an example of recycling.
Or, if your child wants a tablet device or gaming console, you could try making more time to get outside to play together – and you could talk about how physical activity is better for your child’s body than screen time.
And whatever family values you decide to share with your child, it’s a good idea to be consistent. For example, children might get confused if they’re allowed to watch violent TV shows or play violent video games but cannot play with toy guns.
If you don’t want other grown-ups to give your child certain toys as presents, a short, calm explanation of your feelings should do the trick. In the end, it’s your decision.
Toy Weapons and ‘sexy’ Dolls
Some families find that particular types of toys don’t sit well with their family values – for example, toy weapons and dolls with a very grown-up body shape or clothing style.
If your child plays with or makes toy weapons and you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to look at how your child is playing with the toy.
For example, your child might be using the toy weapon as a prop in a make-believe game of cops and robbers. You might think that’s fine.
But if your child is using the toy weapon aggressively towards other children, it’s not suitable for his social and friendship skills.
That’s because it can scare other children, who might not want to play with your child.
It might help guide your child towards friendlier ways to play––for example, ‘Why don’t you and your playmate be on the same team and pretend you’re both fighting the bad guys?’
The weapon itself might not be the issue.
It’s pretty standard for children to make toy guns out of everyday objects like sticks, celery or toast.
This might not be something you want to encourage, but a gun made of toast doesn’t have the same power as a toy gun. A toast gun is a symbol and is less likely to be used to scare others.
Playing with dolls can be great fun for your child, but some dishes have a grown-up, ‘sexy’ look; for example, some female dolls come with sexy clothing like microskirts, fishnet stockings and very high heels.
This might seem fun and innocent, but it can also create an image of women you might not be comfortable with or want your child to copy.
These dolls can give children, especially girls, the message that the most important thing about them is their look and that the best way to examine is ‘sexy’.
Again, it’s worth watching to see how your child plays with dolls.
If you’re concerned, you might want to offer dolls with more child-like features, so your child is exposed to dishes of all styles and body shapes.
A watch-and-see approach to toy guns and sexy-looking dolls might be the best way to decide how you feel about your child playing with these types of toys.
In the end, it might just be a phase your child is going through and will pass by itself. But if it worries you, you could suggest your child plays with something else.
Toys and Advertising
Lots of toys have ads and marketing aimed at children. It can be tough to resist when your child wants a toy because ‘everyone else has it’.
Advertised toys are often designed to promote a particular type of play based on a movie or TV programme.
This doesn’t necessarily make them nasty toys, but they might limit the play options for your child. This can happen if your child only plays with these toys to copy what happens in the TV shows, rather than using his imagination.
The way your child uses a toy is often far more critical than the toy itself in determining the toy’s effects on your child’s development.
Thinking about how your child might play with the toy can help you decide whether it’s the right one for you and your child.
List of Most Important Toys
- Unit blocks. Plain wooden blocks (lots of them) in enough sizes to encourage construction hours, alone and with others.
- Legos or some other manipulative toy that promotes the development of fine motor skills and creativity.
- Baby dolls and a few fundamental changes of clothing. Nothing fancy. I’m not crazy about the dishes that crawl, eat, say something, etc. They usually break too quickly, and they reduce the amount of creativity required to play with them by whatever thing they do. I do suggest having dolls with various skin tones in the playroom. When children love their dishes, they are practising loving people who look different from themselves.
- Play kitchen stuff and a play toolbox — both toys for both genders. Kids love to imitate their parents and other adults around them, and their play helps them get comfortable with doing lots of different things.
- Dress-ups — scarves, hats, animal masks, leotards. Look in your closets or the local Salvation Army store and put together a box full of stuff for hours of creative play.
- A collection of sturdy rubber or plastic animals (farm animals, zoo animals, and definitely dinosaurs) and a few vehicles scaled to work with the blocks. Your kids will spend hours making farms, zoos, and dramatic scenes.
- Art stuff. Lots of it. Playdough and cookie cutters, chunky crayons and paper for little kids. Older kids like glue, glitter, safety scissors, and lots of colours of paper.
- Finger paint. Every kid deserves to be messy once in a while. You might also include an inexpensive plastic tablecloth to put on the floor when it’s finger painting time.
- Something for making rhythms and music. A pot and a spoon will do for kids under two. Jingle bells for the young child. Something more complicated like a thumb harp for older ones.
- A sturdy dollhouse with some basic furniture and durable dollhouse dolls that represent everyone in your family. The house needs to be big enough and open enough that the kids can get in there and play. (Don’t be surprised if you find the dinosaur or the zoo animals in there sometimes.) You don’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy one of those expensive wooden houses. This can be a fun family project. Find a few sturdy boxes for rooms, cut out windows and doors, decorate the walls and put a scrap of fabric down for a rug. Small containers, jar lids, some fabric and scraps of wood can be easily transformed into furniture. Dolls can be made out of old-fashioned clothespins. Even if you aren’t the creative type, remember that your kids are.
- Anything that encourages physical exercise: jump ropes, balls, essential sports equipment, skates, age-appropriate riding toys. Too many of our kids lack physical confidence and competence.
- An age-appropriate board game or two to encourage cooperative play and problem-solving.
In summary, to foster learning as well as fun:
Remember that play is the “work” of childhood. Good toys help kids learn new skills and practice relationships with others and their world.
When you choose a toy, ask yourself if it is really for the child or yourself. (It’s OK to use toy buying as a nostalgia trip. Just don’t expect the child to share your enthusiasm.)
Little girls and little boys both need to learn to be comfortable with babies and with tools in the world they will inhabit as adults. Get in there and play with your kids. It’s part of the fun of being a parent.