Toy Buying Tips – Or…right toy + right age = happy kid

We have a myriad of toy choices today – all designed for fun and teaching. But does every toy automatically offer a positive teaching experience?

My friend’s two year old is one smart kid but when her grandmother showed up with a dress-able fashion doll marked Ages 6+ – disaster was clearly in store. For an hour, Grandma sat on the floor frantically trying to teach the toddler how to manipulate the clothes and accessories. Baby preferred to throw the blouses, chew the tiny shoes off the doll’s feet and wander away to play with the packaging as grandma “corrected” her play. Not only was this doll and her wardrobe way beyond the two year-old’s skill level but most of the items were way too small for her to even safely have.

When recounting the tale to me, my friend was on the verge of tears. She described the frustration and eventual meltdown of both grandmother and baby. By the end of the afternoon the disheveled doll was boxed up, taken away and never mentioned again. Had this same child been introduced to this toy when she was ready, it might have been one of her most beloved possessions.

A much better choice would have been an age appropriate doll or a quality play set . Grandmother and baby could have played happily and safely, and spent a fun afternoon together. Taking time for a little realistic research and thought before laying down the credit card always pays off when buying toys.

It’s tempting to give children things that we care about, but it’s imperative to ask if this is truly the right toy, right now, for that child.

If you are unsure about buying a certain toy, here are some things to find out first

  • How safe and durable is this toy?
  • Does it have smooth edges and a sturdy feel? Check plastic toys for brittle parts.
  • Look out for small pieces like magnets or eyes that might easily detach, presenting a choking hazard.
  • What about lead? Lead, when added to paint, makes it stick better and last longer and it was used for years because of those properties. However, when ingested, the body mistakes the lead for calcium and absorbs it into the bones. That is especially dangerous for children under 6. Lead exposure can cause learning disabilities, hearing and speech problems even kidney damage and decreased bone growth. With all the concern, several companies now offer kits to swab toys or other suspected items for the presence of lead. These are available for around $20 on the web.
  • Is this toy season appropriate for my child? You never wanted to be the kid who got a sled in June. Your child doesn’t either. Save it for December.
  • Is this toy age appropriate ? Most quality toys offer age guidelines based on field testing and accepted skill assessment levels. They are generally very accurate.
  • Is this toy size appropriate? Trikes, bikes and scooters come in lots of sizes now. Do your homework here because the right size really maximizes your child’s enjoyment of ride-on toys.
  • What developmental or educational benefits will this toy offer? A toy doctor kit doesn’t ready a child to practice medicine but it does offer plenty of other learning opportunities. There’s role-playing as doctor or nurse. Logic is needed for knowing that the ailment must be diagnosed before the beginning the treatment. Language skills are needed to reassure the “patient.” And, of course, the motor skills to administer a shot or take the blood pressure. Toys like this also act as props that children use to bring their gigantic imaginations alive.

Excellent toys present kids with opportunities to expand their minds and their world through play. Toys are an important step in a child’s overall education. Providing the best tools of play for our kids definitely deserves our time and consideration. Author, Joseph Chilton Pearce, reminds us, “Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.”