What to look for in a toy

Those who have been following me for some time may have noticed the wide variety of toys I post. So, how do I choose them? What makes it onto my favorites list, and what doesn’t? Here is a general guide I follow:

• Less is more when it comes to toys. In other words, keep it simple.
Toys that are brightly colored, light up, sing, dance, and have many buttons can be over- stimulating and overwhelming for young children. These toys also operate mostly on their own, leaving little room for the child to take charge and allowing them to become passive in play. During play, children should be as active as possible, steering the experience with their own actions and imaginations while the toy remains passive. That’s why I prefer toys that are simple, feature one function, have a clear cause and effect, and allow the child to be more focused and in charge of their experience. Whether it’s a puzzle, a board game, or a shape sorter, the activity should be clear and the child should be actively engaging and problem solving in play.

• I look for toys that promote a certain skill or reinforce a milestone
I like to ask myself what underlying skills each toy will help develop. For instance, if a child is 3 years old, there are certain motor, cognitive, and social milestones that they are expected to be meeting for their age (e.g., engaging in pretend play and using their imagination). I like to choose toys that will reinforce those milestones. It’s key to note the importance of keeping toys age appropriate, as toys for a younger age group won’t help develop new skills, and children may not be ready to get the most out of the experience when rushing ahead to toys for an older age group.

• Material and quality of the toy
If I have the opportunity to choose a wooden toy over a plastic one, I tend to do that. There are many plastic toys out there that are great. However, wooden toys typically leave more room for open-ended play, imagination, social interaction, critical thinking, and problem solving, as they tend not to have electronic components that can be distracting and direct the experience for the child. I find the simplified nature of wooden toys to be soothing and calming, allowing for more focused play. Wooden toys are also natural, more durable, and more tactile, having slight variations in weight and texture for little hands to explore.

• Varying sensory components are important
I prefer toys that enable kids to use different senses. Think of the value of hearing a musical instrument, looking into a kaleidoscope, smelling a flower, or feeling through finger paint. Toys that encourage the feel of movement such, as running, jumping, or steering are also incredibly valuable in supporting of coordination and brain development.

Hope you enjoyed the glimpse into my selection process. Next time I share a new toy, you’ll have a better understanding of why it made the list.