‘Tis the season – for buying toys, that is. As I walked through the toy aisles this past weekend, I noticed lots of fun, colorful, and appealing choices. But what toys are really best for children? I want to choose toys that children will like, but I also want toys that will help them develop.

Here are a few tips:
1. Safety should be a top priority. Pay attention to the age range marked on many toys. It is a very useful guide, but it is only a guide. Children differ in when they are ready and interested in some types of toys. That age range is usually based on safety concerns, not maturity or intelligence according to this interesting article from the Texas Extension Service. Keep in mind that even though a child may be out of that stage where “everything goes in the mouth,” even older, school age children have been known to choke on small, round objects like super balls.

2. Read the fine print on the package. Are all the parts needed included in the package or will the toy require lots of “sold separately” additional items to make it fun. Those make what appears to be a reasonably priced toy quickly become expensive. And don’t forget the cost of batteries, both now in the future.

3. Can the toy be used in more than one way? Some toys are fairly limited in how they can be used. Pictured above is a toy that was one of my favorites growing up. According to my parents, I slept with this toy and called it my “purple.” Well, I have to admit, mine is long gone, but I purchased this replacement when my niece was a baby many years ago. Now her infant son has started playing with it. Similiar toys are still available even today. Besides the obvious of stacking the rings and learning colors and size relationships, the rings can be bracelets. The yellow center can be a trumpet. What appears to be a simple toy really can be used in many ways.

4. What about the older children in your life? Older elementary and middle school children can use toys to explore hobbies, interests, and even potential careers. Think about what gets your child excited and interested and build on that interest. One of the most memorable gifts I received was a chemistry set. I loved that toy even though it didn’t translate later into a love of my college chemistry classes!

Happy shopping!