Despite the warnings you may have heard that recommended ages listed on toys can be inaccurate, it is still possible to find the right toy as a gift if all you know is the child’s age. In particular, age categories are more consistent with younger children, from babies up to four or five years old.
In general, babies like toys that stimulate their curiosity, and parents like baby toys that are safe. Simple toys are best. Choose ones that are vivid in color, have varying textures, and make exciting sounds. The key for babies is to choose a toy that is responsive to them. So consider toys that rattle or make noises when buttons are pushed. However, stay clear from toys that are loud or annoying – remember that parents will be hearing these toys bleeping and mooing all the time too.
Toddler toys are similar to early infant toys in that they are designed to develop a child’s curiosity about the world through interaction. Basic educational toys can provide hours of fun while teaching a toddler about colors, animals and shapes.
The difference is that toddlers also are becoming more socially aware. So pick toys that can be played with or shared by two or more children at a time. This early group play is important for developing social skills. Simple puzzles and other goal-oriented toys are appropriate here, so toddlers can learn how to play together.
This age group is where educational toys really take off. There is no shortage of creative toys designed to teach preschoolers about numbers and the alphabet, just remember to stay away from loud and annoying electronic games. Most electronic games allow you to test the sounds in the store – always a good idea. Popular choices beyond the basic blocks are interactive talking books and talking plush animals.
There are even simple snap-together model kits that are safe for preschoolers; this is a sure hit for children who like to build things. The trick with this age group is to pick a toy that is educational but still engaging, and also one that can “grow” with the child as he or she develops more skills.