Health watch: Choosing toys is easy as child’s play |

Health watch: Choosing toys is easy as child’s play


If play is the work of children, then toys are the tools of their trade. Towering arrays in toy stores and insistent demands from kids for the hottest toys seen on Saturday morning television advertisements can leave parents dazed and confused.

Parents want kids excited with a new toy, but they also want the toy to be safe, appropriate for the child’s age and, getting back to the idea of work, useful in helping the child master new skills under the guise of having fun. Toys help kids develop hand-eye coordination, work on gross motor skills and model social interaction. Play also is intricately tied to both brain and language development.

Give the importance of play in a child’s world, it’s easy for parents to feel intimidated with the responsibility of choosing the “right” toys that will help a child achieve his or her full potential.

Parents can take comfort in the fact that there are no “right” toys. There are, however, countless classic toys, as well as re-inventions of classics that entertain kids as they help them meet their developmental needs. Child experts point out that it’s not the specific toy that’s so important, but that children have the opportunity to play in a supportive environment with lots of parental interaction, but a minimum of direction from the parent.

In other words, the play should be directed by the child (it’s his or her job, remember) with the parent acting as playmate, helper and safety inspector. The best toys are those that allow the child to make things happen, rather than watching what the toy can do.

Basic toy-buying rules include choosing a toy that is:

• Appropriate for the child’s age.

• Safe with no sharp edges, toxic components or small parts that might pose a hazard for children under age 3.

• Built well enough to withstand the rough and tumble child’s play.

Toys for infants: Newborns experience the word by seeing and hearing. A colorful mobile with bright patterns that face the baby and also play music stimulate both the eyes and ears. Don’t overwhelm the baby with flashing toys or loud noises.

By 4- to 6-months old, babies starting to bat at things and enjoy being able to influence their environment. Choose toys that make a noise when the baby shakes them, move when he bats at them, squeak when he squeezes them. At this age, babies also enjoy seeing themselves in baby-safe mirrors.

Between 6 and 12 months, babies are able to manipulate the switches, dials and buttons on a busy box. Plastic ring and key sets, suction cup rattles that sit on a high-chair tray and soft toys small enough for a baby to hold and manipulate also are good.

Puppets (with parents doing the finger work and providing the squeaky voice) are also entertaining at this age.

Be aware of textures when choosing toys for infants. A lot of their learning is tactile as well as coming from mouthing objects. Look for transparent fish-bowl type balls as well as balls that have raised bumps, tiny holes or are segmented with varying fabrics such as satin, corduroy and terry cloth. Infant gyms and activity quilts can help keep babies busy during floor play.

The toddler years between 1 and 3: They require sturdy toys that can be banged, dropped and generally handled roughly. Wood, thick plastic and washable fabrics are all good materials for this age group.

Toddlers are investigating the world at a great pace and need fast results from their efforts.

Stackable blocks and boxes should be designed so they stay in place long enough to build a tower suitable for demolition. Shape sorters need to be simple enough for the child to be able to succeed at passing the shape through the hole. The handle on a jack in a box needs to be designed so a toddler can turn it easily.

Pull toys, push toys (like small doll stroller, push along popcorn poppers) dolls, stuffed toys, role playing toys such as toy telephones, grocery carts, lawn mowers and tea sets; giant beads to lace; pegboards and simple puzzles are all popular at this age.

Toddlers love water play in or out of the tub (always strictly supervised) and sand play. It’s also an age to lay the foundation of reading to your toddler. Many books have textures, pop ups and other features designed to delight the younger set.

Farms with barns and animals, castles, school houses and school buses filled with little people are great toys from toddler through pre-school years.

The pre-school years between 4 and 6: Tend to focus on trains, cars, dolls, action figures and more realistic role playing like house and doctor. Young cooks enjoy creating their own masterpieces in the kitchen with supervision.

A large machinery enthusiast might need to landscape a corner of the yard or sandbox with steam shovels and trucks. An aspiring teacher will line playmates up at desks and drill them on the day’s lesson.

Sturdy, kid-sized garden tools, easels for art, a chalkboard for school play, Lego sets, Lincoln logs, Mr. Potato Head, card matching games like Memory, dominos and simple board games will keep kids entertained.

Make-believe assumes enormous importance around this age, so it’s good to provide dress-up clothes and accessories. A red towel can turn a 4-year-old into Superman; grandma’s old shoes sprayed with red glitter and a toy dog could be the makings of Dorothy and Toto.

One study of preschoolers showed that children who were more involved in make believe and imaginative play had more developed language skills. Make believe lets children explore the possibilities of their world. A child sitting in front of the television is a passive observer, taking in information but not actively creating.

Many child development experts suggest limiting total screen time (including television and computer games) to an hour or two per day.

School age kids from 6 to 12: Will expand their play into sports, bike riding and roller skating as they develop skills. Look for equipment that encourages these active pursuits. Don’t forget the helmets and pads.

As well as the electronic games kids ask for, get them card games, magic kits, construction toys such as complex Lego sets and Bionicals, puzzles, racing car sets, games that promote strategy such as checkers, chess, Battleship and Connect Four, board games such as Pictionary, Monopoly, kid versions of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit and other favorites.

Many kids begin a serious hobby in these years – whether it’s building models, sewing, cooking, doing science experiments or painting. Encourage their enthusiasm with relevant books and supplies.

This is a good age to select a craft or nature-related kit that would allow you to spend some time alone with your child. A bird feeder, binoculars and a bird book, a build-it yourself box kite or fishing gear can all create opportunities for parents and kids to play together as they grow older.

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