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

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