Your Guide to Age-Appropriate Toys

Toy shopping is serious business. Toys that are too easy will bore your babe. Those that are too advanced will aggravate him. But pick one that's just right for his skill level, and you'll be giving him hours of education, exploration, and enjoyment "Toys are an investment in a child's development," says Marianne Szymanski, founder and president of Toy Tips, Inc. and co-author of Toy Tips: A Parent's Essential Guide to Smart Toy Choices. Ready to shop? We've compiled a list of age-appropriate toys -- as well as ones to avoid -- for each developmental level.

Babies (under age 1)

Best Bets:

  • You. During the first three months, you're their favorite plaything. "It's all about sensory development," Szymanski says. "Interaction with your face and your voice is what they really need."
  • Mobiles. Take them down when your baby begins grasping so he doesn't pull it on top of himself.
  • Rattles. "Toys that shake or make squeaking sounds are appropriate once baby is acquainted with you," Szymanski says.
  • Bath toys
  • Soft stuffed animals
  • Hardback or cloth books with simple, colorful figures to aid visual development. Make sure the books have rounded edges.
  • Push and pull toys. These come in handy at about 9 months, or when your baby attempts to walk by holding onto something, Szymanski says.

What to Avoid:

  • Toys with strings or cords more than 12 inches long
  • Products made of PVC
  • Small objects like marbles that fit through a toy-testing tube
  • Toys with small parts (such as batteries or loose magnets) that can be swallowed
  • Stuffed animals with loosely sewn-on parts that can be easily removed
  • Sharp-edged toys
  • Toys made with lead-based paint

Toddlers (1-3 years)

Best Bets:

  • Sorting and nesting toys
  • Modeling clay
  • Blocks
  • Hardback books with rounded edges
  • Soft balls
  • Picture books
  • Musical toys
  • Pop-up toys
  • Stacking rings
  • Shape sorters
  • Simple puzzles

What to Avoid:

  • Small objects like marbles that fit through a toy-testing tube
  • Toys with small parts (such as batteries or loose magnets) that can be swallowed
  • Stuffed animals with loosely sewn-on parts that can be easily removed
  • Sharp-edged toys
  • Toys made with lead-based paint

Preschoolers (4-5 years)

Best Bets:

  • Basic board games. The key word here is "basic," Szymanski says. "Don't introduce anything too strategic yet." Preschoolers are still mastering how to play by the rules and take turns, so pick games with simple scoring methods.
  • Dress-up clothes, accessories, and props to assist with pretend play
  • Large crayons, pencils, paints, blunt-edge scissors, glue, and other art supplies
  • Modeling clay
  • Books
  • Basic musical instruments
  • Outdoor toys, like a sandbox, pail, and shovel
  • Puppet theaters and puppets
  • Puzzles
  • Ride-on toys. Make sure they go no faster than 2.5 miles per hour, Szymanski says, and are used on flat, smooth surfaces under your supervision.
  • Tricycles or bicycles with training wheels (plus a helmet and your supervision)
  • Wooden train sets

What to Avoid:

  • Electrical toys
  • Remote control toys operated without parental supervision
  • Sharp-edged objects such as standard scissors
  • Toys made with lead-based paint
  • Costumes or clothing items that are tripping hazards
  • Mini-bikes

Copyright © 2009 Meredith Corporation.

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