Choosing the Right Toys for the Right Age
Age-appropriate toys can still be fun, while being safe.
Give a kid a new toy -- almost any toy -- and chances are, you've got a
happy kid. Young children generally aren't fussy when it comes to baby toys and
kids toys, but parents should be.
Toys are more than just playthings, though, and while they should be fun,
they should also be age-appropriate, stimulating, and safe. "Play is so
important in the social, mental, physical, and emotional development of
children," says Vicki Panaccione, PhD, a child psychologist and founder of the
Better Parenting Institute. "Toys should be thought of as developmental
When choosing age-appropriate baby toys or kids toys for a young child, keep
these tips in mind:
Keep them simple.
Toys that do too much don't allow a child to use her own imagination. Dolls
and stuffed animals that talk or sing or direct kids to press certain buttons
essentially take charge of the play situation when the child should be the one
directing the action. "When a toy is too specific, it's limiting and it denies
the child the ability to use her imagination," says Panaccione. "The best toys
are often the simplest ones -- like blocks -- because they allow children to be
creative and spontaneous."
Set limits on electronic toys and video games.
We live in an electronic age, and any parent who thinks she can keep her
child -- even a toddler -- away from computers and the like forever is kidding
herself. But for young kids, especially, it's crucial to set limits. Research
has suggested that electronic toys pose several possible dangers for children's
health and development, including hearing loss (from loud toys), weight gain
(from being inactive while playing), and language and developmental delays. One
recent study at Temple University showed that toys that don't require a child
to do anything but watch promote a passive learning style, which can interfere
with learning to think independently.
Electronics can also affect a child's attention span, says Linda Crowe, PhD,
a professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Program at Kansas State
University. "Toys that have flashing lights and constant changes and movement
don't require a child to pay attention to any one thing for very long. Kids who
use these toys frequently can find it difficult to focus on something like a
book or non-moving toy."
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids under age 2 shouldn't
watch TV or play computer games at all; kids over 2 should have their "screen
time" limited to 1-2 hours per day.
Don't fall for toys that call themselves educational.
The educational toy business is booming, playing on parents' fears that
their kids need to learn as much as they can as soon as possible to give them a
leg up in the future. Not all such age-appropriate toys are inherently bad --
CDs that expose kids to classical music or foreign languages are fine, for
example -- but many baby toys and kids toys boast that they can boost brain
development or create early readers and mathematicians. A 2005 report from the
Kaiser Foundation found that many of these claims are unsupported. "The real
educational toys are not the flashy gadgets and gizmos with big promises, but
the staples that have built creative thinkers for decades," says Roberta
Golinkoff, PhD, head of the Infant Language Project at the University of