Choosing the best toys this Festive Season!

Image: Loren Stow

It can be really stressful at this time of year, as you walk into your local mall, armed with your list of who you need to buy presents for… And even though many people have cut back on adult presents, there is always a focus on buying presents for the children in your family or your circle of friends over the Festive Season.

I remember last Christmas, when my mother asked what she should buy for my son, and I wasn’t really even sure.  In fact, I would often buy toys that I
liked that wouldn’t even win more than a casual glance from my little boy…

What I learned quickly was that I needed to understand what my son would be interested in, based on his developmental level – otherwise I was just wasting my hard-earned money!

So, I believe that if I’ve been confused at times, then there must be other parents out there who don’t have the foggiest clue as to what to buy for the little people in their lives.  So they opt for something flashy, maybe with batteries, some lights and tune or two… a kind of stab in the dark… only to be disappointed with their little ones hardly pay the toy any attention.

In addition to choosing the right toy for the right age, we can sometimes become sidetracked by the sheer magnitude of the Festive Season and forget the real meaning of toys when it comes to children. Play is one of the most important areas of development, shaping the way in which our little ones explore, pretend and share, to name but a few of the skills they acquire from the toys which they are given.

Santa’s Toy List:

0-9 months

* Wind chimes make beautiful sounds to listen to.

* Mobiles to look at, especially those with bright high contrasting.

* Cuddly toys – woolly, furry, cloth, plastic, even a combination of different textures.

* Music boxes and CD’s of simple nursery rhymes, classical music, and children’s songs (check music boxes to make sure they’re not off key).

* Rattles, shakers and teethers to pick up, grasp and shake.

* A non-glass mirror.

* An activity gym with dangling objects.

* Plastic squeeze toys.

* Vinyl or cloth books.

* Roly-poly toys (round-bottomed figures that can be pushed over, but bounce back up).

9-12 months

* A door swing.

* Nesting blocks, stacking toys, and stacking rings.

* Push-me-pull-me toys.

* Toys with large popping beads / toys with pop-up parts that are easily activated by pushing a button (Children at this stage like to make things happen – they like to push a button and hear a song, or have a bird pop out of the window etc.)

* Bath toys, including toys that float and bubbles to pop.

* Board books.

* Balls (they now prefer neon colours).

* Musical instruments (drums, shakers, tambourines, xylophones).

* Take-apart toys with large pieces.

* A rag doll with embroidered eyes.

12-18 months

* Walking toys like a walker with a handle for pushing, shopping carts, baby carriages etc.

* Toys large enough to sit on like scooters or animal hoppers, and toys to sit in like a play tent.

* Soft dolls and stuffed animals.

* Balls of all sizes, including a soccer-sized ball and a larger inflatable beach ball.

* Music to listen to, participate in and move to.

* A shape sorter (the drop-in kind).

* Wooden blocks.

* A toy broom, dust pan and cloth.

* Medium sized toy truck and car.

* Nursery rhyme and picture books (go for a book with simple pictures and one sentence on a page).

18-24 months

* Dress-up and pretend items – hats, mom and dad’s old shoes, plastic houses and people, dolls, cars and trucks.

* Mallet and peg toys (pounding bench with large pegs in holes that are ‘hammered’ with a mallet made of wood or rubber).

* Wood, cloth and plastic animals of a good size.

* Toy phone.

* Indoor and outdoor swing.

* Sand box, sand toys, digging toys and a bucket.

* Balls and bean bags of all sizes.

* Simple puzzles (with 2-4 large sized pieces).

* Crayons and large sheets of paper.

* Music and children’s books with lots of rhyme and repetition.

2 years

* Housekeeping equipment (broom, toy dishes, tea-sets, cooking utensils, dolls and dolls equipment, washing and ironing toys, child-size table and chairs).

* Egg beater (held with one hand and turned with the other – not battery operated).

* Inflatable pool and water-play toys, and a sandpit and sand-play toys.

* Cars, large tipping truck and train (train with tracks from 2½ years).

* Low rocking horse or a tricycle (most use pedals from 2½ years).

* Play work bench with tools (kiddie’s screwdriver and wooden hammer).

* Small playground equipment for sliding and climbing.

* CD’s to listen to and simple musical toys like a drum, chimes or cymbal.

* Baby construction toys with large pieces to stack and or fit together / laces and beads to string / 6-8 piece inlay puzzles to put together.

* Children’s books with lots of rhyme and repetition.

3 years
All of the 2 year old favourites plus:

* Craft equipment (finger paint, beginner’s brush, paper, poster paints, glue, blunt scissors and construction paper; but no fill-in, tracing or paint-by-number art).

* Play dough with cookie cutters and rolling pin etc.

* Imaginary settings e.g. a town or castle with plastic figurines of humans and animals (not too small in size).

* A child’s CD player or an instrument to experiment with (e.g. a xylophone that is tuned).

* Push and pull vehicles (also maybe a sled on 2 small wheels).

* Dress-up dolls (with clothes that have buttons and zips) and dress-up clothes (mom and dad’s old clothes in a trunk).

* Beginner’s board games and picture Lotto’s (matching pictures).

* Full size playground equipment.

* Story books and fairy tales (to be read to).

* Simple number and letter toys.

4 years
All of the 3 year old favourites plus:

* Puppets and puppet theatre.

* Toys that involve eye-hand coordination, e.g. shooting a play arrow at a target, darts with rounded tips, shooting at a target with a water gun, tossing bean bags into containers or onto targets.

* Make believe kits for imaginary play, e.g. nurse and doctor kit; play-store equipment; hammer, carpet tacks and wooden board for setting up a play factory; typical office equipment to set up a ‘day at work’.

* Blackboard and chalk (buy a smooth masonite door from a hardware store and paint it with blackboard paint to create a huge blackboard – every child’s dream).

* Kiddie’s gardening tools and small plants that require little care.

* A see-saw.

* Equipment like a back-pack, ‘gogga’-box and magnifying glass for nature trips.

* Dominoes, board and card games like ‘snap’.

* Construction sets with smaller pieces / construction sets that work with magnets.

* CD’s of various kinds of music (children’s, classical, etc.) and lots of story books and fairy tales (to be read to).

Note: This is the age at which fads begin, so be sure to ask what they are collecting. If they are mad for dinosaurs they may be disappointed if the toy that you buy has another theme.)

5 years
All of the 3 and 4 year old favourites plus:

* Child-sized sports equipment that involve more skill, e.g. shooting a ball through a hoop / roller skates.

* Large doll’s pram and equipment / Barbie-style dolls with clothes and furniture.

* Craft equipment including stencils / adhesive tape and paper for three-dimensional construction.

* Regular screwdriver and large screws, nuts and bolts.

* Puzzles (most enjoy 20-25 pieces, many manage 50).

* Snakes and Ladders and other simple family games.

* Shadow puppets (playing with shadows against a wall) using hand puppets or hands alone see .

* Rope tying games (learning to make special knots) and string games to strengthen little fingers (for example, watch  to see how to make a cup-and-saucer out of string).

* Lots of story books, fairy tales and books on certain themes and topics (to be read to).

* Age-appropriate computer games (limit to 1 hour per day OR 2 hours Friday afternoon and 2 hours on Saturday).

6 – 7 years
All of the 5 year old favourites plus:

* Bicycle (soon without balancing wheels) / skipping rope / hop scotch mat / hoola-hoop /ring toss / ten pin bowling set / swimming equipment / ball games with equipment and rules, e.g. croquet, cricket , etc.

* Craft equipment, including equipment for plain stitching, simple weaving and mosaics (but no pre-printed patterns for the mosaics).

* Pick-up sticks / marbles /spinning tops / kite flying.

* Tag games, blind-fold games, tree climbing and hide and seek games.

* Masks and costumes.

* Simple card games (also include some that are more advanced than snap).

* A simple camera.

* Activity books that involve writing skills and perceptual development.

* Lots of story books, fairy tales and books on certain themes and topics. Now include beginning science and history toys and books, as well as rhyme, riddle, and joke books.

* Age-appropriate computer games (limit to 1 hour per day OR 2 hours Friday afternoon and 2 hours on Saturday).

It can all become a bit overwhelming, keeping in mind the age, developmental level, the true meaning of the toy, and all without blowing our budgets right out of the water… Never fear! There are some hard and fast guidelines to choosing the perfect toys, ones that will excite and entice your kiddos over the Festive Season, while teaching them valuable skills beyond the carols and the candlelight.

Words: Loren Stow
when we know better… we do better

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