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Health & Parenting

Choosing the Right Toys for the Right Age

Age-appropriate toys can still be fun, while being safe.
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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 Delaware.

Keep only a few toys out at one time.

"I see kids that are just inundated with toys," Panacione tells WebMD. "They are given too many toys too soon and have a hard time focusing on any one of them." She suggests that parents rotate toys in and out of a child's toy box or room, reintroducing a toy after a few weeks when it feels fresh and new. And if your child has several toys of a similar type, let him fully explore one before introducing another. Kids don't, for example, need five different shape-sorters out at one time.

The same toy can also carry a child through many different developmental stages, so don't be in a rush to replace old toys with new ones, says Panacione. "Some of the basic toys, such as blocks, serve so many developmental purposes that parents shouldn't be quick to replace them and move on to something 'newer.' For example, infants can begin to hold blocks and develop some muscle development and coordination." As a child grows, blocks help develop many other skills such as object permanence (the concept that an object is still there even when out of sight), spatial relationships, language, imagination, creativity, and the use of building, planning, and construction principles.. Using blocks with siblings or friends also teaches frustration tolerance and cooperation with others.

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