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.
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
Toys made with lead-based paint
Preschoolers (4-5 years)
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