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Choosing the right toys for your child can be overwhelming. With so many options to pick from and so many ways to shop for them, determining what is safe, developmentally appropriate, suitable for your home, and still fun for your child can be overwhelming! SMG Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine Specialist, Dr. Nicole Garcia is here to save parents from the torment and indecision that comes with this tricky decision making process. With over a decade of experience working with children and families, Dr. Garcia can seamlessly guide parents on the ins and outs of toys by age and stage.
“Every child develops at their own rate, but there are many good options available. With some simple guidelines to follow, soon you’ll be shopping shop the aisles (or browsing the internet) with ease filling your cart (physically or virtually) with safe, skill-developing toys that are a perfect match for your child’s age, abilities, and sense of fun,” says Dr. Garcia.
This holiday season, make gift buying a breeze by following Dr. Garcia’s quick tips below!
Birth to 6 months of age
For young infants between 2 and 4 months of age, parents will see a lot of checkerboard and colorful toys. This is because contrast is visually appealing to young infants as their visual acuity naturally develops. It’s also why you may notice your young infant staring at the ceiling fan all day if you give them the chance. Toys that incorporate mirrors are also a great option up to 6 months of age. There are several studies that show an infant’s preference to look at faces versus objects, and more specifically prefer to look at the face of a child over that of an adult.
Here are a couple of toys I really like for this age group:
6 to 12 months of age
Music is a wonderful addition to a family house hold at any age, but 6 to 12 months is an awesome time developmentally to make music a part of your baby’s life. At this age, they also start to see color more effectively, so you can’t go wrong with the combination of colors and sound.
I particularly love:
Motor development is a very important part of a baby’s life at this age. A six-month-old should have a toy that helps them to bear weight on their legs with support. This was an age where the Evenflo Exersaucer Jump and Learn Jam Session was a staple for both of my girls. Infants will start pulling to a standing position at about 9 months of age, shortly followed by “cruising” between 10 and 12 months. This is when a push toy can help get your child used to moving around on his or her feet with support. A perfect example of this type of toy would be:
*Despite its name, the Discover Activity Walker is a push toy, not an actual walker. Beware of walkers! A walker is a device that can be used by infants who cannot walk on their own. They are not recommended as they put baby in a position for lateral movement before they are ready from a muscle tone standpoint. The risk for injury is increased, especially twisting injuries affecting the hips and legs.
12 months to 2 years of age
After the first birthday, a baby begins to transition to more complex developmental tasks. From a fine motor standpoint, it’s all about building and stacking with blocks and stacker toys. Just be careful about the size of the pieces because young toddlers continue to explore new things most commonly with their mouth. At this age, my daughter was obsessed with:
A soft ball to roll or kick or a rolling toy car are great gross motor toys to introduce at this age. Kids also very much love tubby time (supervised if course!) and so bath time toys can be a huge hit.
By 18 months, a young toddler is entering the peak time for expressive language. This begins with imitating of sounds and turns into an explosion of new words, to the point where you must be careful what you say if you don’t want grandma to hear it tomorrow. Toys that talk and sing are a great option for this age group as imitating sounds is the big precursor for expressive language.
2 to 3 years of age
This age group can be summarized in two words: imaginative play. Doctor, chef, baby doll, firefighter, princess, superhero, the list goes on and on. What comes to mind for this age group are things like play kitchens, toolboxes, doctor kits, and toys that involve dress up. Just see where your child’s imagination takes them!
3 to 5 years of age
There are a lot of transitions going on developmentally for 3 to 5-year-olds. From a gross motor standpoint, they become more capable of tasks that involve balance and coordination. A scooter, a balance bike, or a bike with training wheels are essential for this age group. Just make sure you have appropriately fitting protective equipment. Many reputable brands of helmet companies size helmets based on head circumference, which I like very much. With regards to fine motor development, the transition is to copying and tracing, beginning with simple shapes, and then moving on to letters and numbers by age 4. Artistic toys, crafting activities, and activity books that work on basic reading and writing skills tie in well with these fine motor milestones. I also love the idea of picking up a musical instrument at this age because it not only helps with fine motor skills, but also taps into the amazing creativity that accompanies cognitive development in preschool aged children.
6 to 12 years of age
So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, which is electronics. The temptation from your child and pretty much everyone you know will be to buy the game system, smartphone, or electronic device of the moment. Fight it! All kidding aside, I tell families in my practice that screen time is a survival tool and should be limited to no more than one hour per day outside of schoolwork. Electronics are an enormous part of how older children and adolescents communicate and interact with the world, so teaching them how to use devices appropriately is very important. But it’s all about balance. My favorite “toys” for this age group are board games and puzzles. School aged children are in a peak time for cognitive development and abstract thought processes. Start with something like Hungry Hungry Hippos and Candyland, then onto Jenga and Connect 4, and finally more complex strategy games like Battleship or chess. Trivia and games for larger groups are a way to get the whole family having fun together. The sky is the limit! Your 12-year-old might even put down their phone without having it surgically removed!
Please note: The above are only guidelines. All toys can be dangerous if not used properly or are in poor condition. Be sure to always supervise young children. It’s also very important for parents to consider the ages of other children in the household, as parts can go missing and end up in tinier hands.