You've got a birthday party coming up, and it’s the kind where they serve apple juice and pizza. Unless the parents have specified “no gifts”, you've got some shopping to do. Where do you start?
Step 1: Check the label
Let’s start with a basic question: How old is the kid? Age is important to consider because a child’s ability to safely enjoy a toy depends on their level of physical, cognitive, and emotional development.
On any toy sold in the US, you’ll see that the package indicates a minimum age. Pay attention to the age label because it indicates what kind of safety testing was required for the toy by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Toys are often labeled “3+” because of small parts, which present a choking hazard to kids 2 and under, who really like to stick things in their mouths and noses.
Step 2: Consider their mental and physical abilities
A typical 2-year-old won’t know what to do with a 100 piece puzzle (except eat it maybe), while a 5-year-old might see a rattle toy and say “that’s a baby toy.”
Your goal is to select a toy that's fun and safe for your giftee at their current stage of development. As kids get older, rapidly expanding neural pathways, increased strength and motor control, and changes in emotional regulation affect how they play with objects around them.
Here are some questions you can ask to figure out if a toy is a good fit for the kid at their current stage of development:
- Do they have the attention span required for this toy?
- Are they already engrossed in the activity presented by the toy? (For example: If a kid loves stacking and building things right now, construction toys would be a good choice)
- Are they coordinated enough to play with the toy? (i.e. don't give a toddler a pair of stilts)
- Do they have the physical strength needed for this toy?
- Can they safely be left alone with the toy? (this goes back to safety. Make sure it's safe for them!)
If the answer is yes to the questions above, you've got a winner. Onto step 3.
Step 3: Think of the Parents
We've all been there. How many times has your kid received a toy that you absolutely hate?
Be kind to the parents. Ask yourself: “Will a parent enjoy this too?” Steer away from beeping, flashing toys if you know the parents will hate them.
One more point is that great toys allow adults and kids to play together. Kids learn from interacting from real, live people whose facial expressions, tone of voice, and other micro-movements reinforce a child’s actions.
When adults play with kids, kids build greater self-confidence and mastery of the skills that they’re practicing through play. Blocks, dress-up sets, instruments, and other toys that inspire creative play are fantastic ways to get both kids and adults involved.
You can choose toys that are a good match for a kid's mental and physical abilities in a few steps:
- Read the age label on the toy packaging
- Determine what physical and mental abilities the toy requires
- Consider the parent's wishes
That's it. You're ready to choose a great toy!
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