Age-by-Age Toy Guide

Expert guide to the best toys and gifts for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Babies (up to 1 year)

Early on, your baby's vision and motor skills will, in large part, determine which toys are best for her. Newborns are still developing their vision, so at first patterns with a lot of contrast will attract their attention (for example, black-and-white pictures or contrasting stripes or checks). Other good choices for babies from 1 to 3 months include a bright mobile, an unbreakable mirror attached to the crib, and a rattle that she will quickly learn to grasp and shake. Between 4 and 7 months, babies have improved vision and motor skills. They can visually track soft balls rolling toward them, and they are endlessly fascinated by looking in the mirror. Babies this age also love soft and textured toys that make sounds, as well as baby books with board or cloth pages. At 8 to 12 months, appropriate toys include stacking toys with different sizes, shapes, and colors, large building blocks, "busy boxes" with items babies can push, squeeze, open, or use to make noises (babies this age are learning cause and effect), and large dolls or puppets. Also popular and age-appropriate: push toys. And since kids this age have just learned to take objects out of a container and put them back in, they enjoy playing with buckets or pails that they can fill with other items.

Toddlers (1 to 3 years)

Toddlers can handle more complex toys because their ability to grasp and manipulate objects is more advanced. They love to build with blocks and play with shape sorters. Other good choices include: Nesting toys, beginner puzzles, cars, trucks, and large crayons for coloring. This is also the age when imagination develops, so toys that encourage make-believe play such as toy kitchen sets, telephones, dolls, and dress-up clothes are a great choice.

Preschoolers (3 to 5 years)

By this age, children have the ability to kick a ball forward and to throw and catch a ball fairly consistently. For that reason, balls of all sizes are popular. At around age 3, your child will be able to trace a shape and scribble freely, so equip her with plenty of paper and crayons. A string of wooden beads is a good way to help enhance your child's hand-eye coordination. Friends are becoming increasingly important to children at this age, and interaction with other kids teaches the concepts of sharing and taking turns. Plus, another child provides a partner for imaginative play (kids this age love to pretend to be Mom or Dad or their favorite superheroes), so keep dolls and dress-up clothes on hand.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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