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Choosing the Right Toys for the Right Age

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

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.

Choose age-appropriate toys.

Children enjoy toys that they can master and that are right for their particular stage of development. Here are some suggestions for the types of toys kids benefit from most as they go through different stages:

0-6 months: Infants are fascinated with movement, sounds, and simple black and white visuals. They are discovering their own bodies, working on eye-hand coordination, reaching, and grasping. Age-appropriate toys for babies include: mobiles, rattles, busy boxes, and anything they can begin to grasp, swipe at, pull, kick, squeeze, or shake.

6-8 months: Older babies can hold small toys. They are learning about cause and effect and they will repeat activities over and over in order to master them. They also like to transfer toys from hand to hand and into and out of containers. Many of the same toys for infants will be used in new ways by older babies.

8-18 months: This is the age when babies begin to foresee results, decide on a goal, and deliberately take some action to make it happen. They also begin to experiment with size, shape, and space. Age-appropriate toys include push/pull toys, blocks, nesting cups, rings on poles, shape sorters, and simple take-apart toys.

18-24 months: Toddlers begin to enjoy playing "pretend." This is the time to introduce dress-up clothing, dolls, kitchen sets, and toy cars, trucks, and school buses.

2-4 years: Kids learn a lot about socialization during the preschool years and continue to do a lot of pretend play. Miniature farm and house sets allow them to exercise their imagination, while large crayons, finger paints, and Play-Doh help develop creativity. Children also make huge gains in both fine and gross motor skills throughout this period, so puzzles, large Legos, blocks, and other construction toys are perfect age-appropriate toys. Noise is always an enticement, so young children love drums and hammer-and-peg toys at this age range.

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Reviewed on December 19, 2006

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