How to Choose Toys for Preschoolers

Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 28, 2022

Toys are vital for young children. Toys teach them, strengthen their imagination, develop their motor skills, and so much more. 

You shouldn’t choose a toy just because it is your child’s favorite character, though. It’s essential to consider your child’s age, development, and safety before giving them a new toy. 

Child Toy Safety Regulations

Before deciding if a toy is developmentally appropriate for your child, you need to know what’s safe in the first place. Many factors affect a toy’s safety.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission has outlined thorough guidelines for toy safety that manufacturers must follow. There are still too many types of toys to have a catch-all safety guideline, but there are also some factors that parents can look out for when buying safe toys for preschoolers.

Fabric toys. Most plastic toys are naturally flame-resistant, but toys that contain fabric can still be a fire hazard. Check if toys with fabric are labeled “flame-resistant” or “flame-retardant”.

You should also be able to wash fabric toys. Washing the toys regularly can prevent your child from getting sick and prolong the lifespan of the toy.

Painted toys. You don’t want the paint used on your child’s toys to be toxic. One of the common concerns regarding paint is lead paint.

However, lead can be found in more than paint. Manufacturers can use it to make plastic flexible and as alloys in metal pieces. 

Many older and international toys contain lead. Newer toys should have a lead-free label. If you’re concerned about lead in your child’s toys, you have some options: 

  • Take it away from them immediately. 
  • Take your child to the doctor if you think they were exposed to lead.
  • Check if the toy has been recalled by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Art supplies. Crayons, markers, pencils, paint, and everything used to make artwork should be nontoxic. These supplies can contain many chemicals, so opting for a clearly labeled nontoxic art supply is the safest option.

Choking hazards. The age restrictions on toys aren’t an arbitrary recommendation. They are determined based on the construction of the toy. Toys for older children aren’t safe toys for preschoolers because they may contain small parts. 

Newer toys should have a small parts label. You can use a toilet paper tube to test a small part when in doubt. If a small part of a toy can fit in a toilet paper tube, it’s a choking hazard.

Skip the Hand-Me-Downs

Your loved ones mean well. Passing on a sentimental toy to your child can be a kind gesture. Sadly, it may not be safe for your child.

Older toys can be a safety hazard. They may have been made when regulations were different or failed to account for certain toxic chemicals. Older toys may also be worn from years of play, which can lead to them breaking and becoming dangerous.

Developmentally Appropriate Toys Preschoolers

Children need different toys as they age. Preschoolers should receive toys that challenge their imagination and skills, encouraging their development. 

Toys tend to fall into three categories. Each type of toy has certain functions:

  • Activity toys strengthen coordination and motor skills.
  • Creativity toys support imagination and self-expression.
  • Learning toys teach concepts and encourage problem-solving. 

Depending on your child’s needs and preferences, you may search for a specific type of toy. Encourage your preschooler to explore new concepts as while, though, even while they develop their preferences.

Puzzles. Any puzzle is an excellent way for your child to learn problem-solving and reasoning. Jigsaw puzzles work well, but there’s a variety of puzzle styles to keep your child engaged. Preschoolers can handle puzzles with around 12 to 20 pieces. Make sure the pieces are not choking hazards, though.

Building toys. Whether they are Lincoln logs, bricks, or blocks, building toys let your preschooler exercise their imagination. Building toys can also teach a child about shapes, strengthen their coordination, and introduce problem-solving skills. 

Pretending toys. Your preschooler can use these toys to play pretend. Pretend food, fake cooking tools, dress-up dolls, costumes, construction playsets, and more can all transport your child into an imaginary world. 

Creating tools. Any means of creating artwork can be an excellent outlet for preschoolers. It improves their motor skills and coordination, engages their creativity, and improves their self-esteem.

Artwork isn’t the only way to create, though. You can give your preschooler a variety of child-friendly musical instruments as an alternative outlet for their self-expression. 

Developmentally appropriate books. As your preschooler ages, they start to learn new words and outgrow their old picture books. Cycle in new books to introduce them to new ideas and keep them engaged.

Active toys. Toys that exercise your preschooler’s muscles can help them stay healthy, expel energy, and improve their physical skills. Consider some of these active toys:

  • Different-sized balls to challenge their muscles and coordination
  • Riding toys like tricycles
  • Outdoor equipment like you’d find on a playground
  • Outdoor sports toys like a child’s baseball bat and ball

Toys like these often need safety equipment. Don’t forget to get your child helmets, pads, and other safety gear to avoid injuries.

Computer programs. Interactive computer programs and games can be practical tools for teaching your child. Computer games can also evolve, making it easy to adapt the activities as your preschooler ages. 

Other Considerations for Preschool Toys

It’s easy to get caught up in preschool learning toys and tiers of safety. There’s a lot to keep in mind, but there are a few essential considerations when shopping for new preschool toys. 

It’s open-ended. Children go through clothes and toys incredibly fast, so long-lasting and versatile toys are necessary. An open-ended toy doesn’t have a particular function. It can be used and repurposed as your child’s interests change.

It’s tough. Children can be rough with their toys. Toys can break if handled too roughly and cause your child to get hurt. You don’t want to buy toys more often than you need to, though. 

It’s fun. One of the fundamental functions of a toy is to be fun. Suppose your preschooler doesn’t even want to play with the toy you bought. In that case, its ability to improve motor functions doesn’t matter.

Show Sources


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Lead Hazards in Toys.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “How to Choose Safe Toys for Kids and Toddlers.”

NAEYC: “Good Toys for Young Children by Age and Stage,” “Why This Toy?” 

Nemours KidsHealth: “Choosing Safe Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers,” “Smart Toys for Every Age.”

United States Consumer Product Safety Commission: “Toy Safety Business Guidance & Small Entity Compliance Guide.”

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