Toy Buying Guide by Developmental Age

Based on child development research, the following guide will help in your selection of toys for various age groups. Some playthings are recommended for more than one age category, as children of different ages often enjoy the same toy, each playing with it at his or her individual level.

Birth to Six Months

Abilities and Interests
Experts agree that even babies benefit from toys. Infants use their senses to learn about their world. For the first few months of life, babies are unable to grasp objects with their hands, but enjoy exploring with their ears and eyes. Therefore, toys that make noise or feature high-contrast, black-and-white or brightly colored images are especially appealing to newborns and young infants. Once infants can reach for objects, they enjoy toys that are textured and safe for mouthing. Remember, to avoid dangerous entanglement, toys never should be hung or attached to a crib, playpen, stroller, infant seat or around a child’s neck with elastic, string or ribbon.

Toy Suggestions

  • Crib gyms*
  • Floor gyms
  • Activity quilts
  • Mobiles*
  • Safety mirrors
  • Teething toys
  • Large, interlocking rings or keys
  • Cloth toys
  • Soft dolls
  • Stuffed animals (with short pile fabric)
  • Musical and chime toys
  • Rattles

*Remove when baby is five months old or is able to push up on hands and knees.

Six Months to One Year

Abilities and Interests
In the second half of the first year, infants master the motor skills that enable them to play with toys in new and exciting ways. When babies can sit up, they enjoy playthings they can manipulate — to bang, drop, stack up, put in and take out, and open and shut. Once they can crawl, “cruise” (walk while holding furniture) and walk, they enjoy things that move along with them. Toys that show cause and effect are also thrilling at this age.

Toy Suggestions

  • Balls (1 3/4 inches and larger)
  • Push-pull toys
  • Busy boxes
  • Nesting and stacking toys
  • Simple shape sorters
  • Pop-up toys
  • Soft blocks
  • Bath toys
  • Teething toys
  • Large, interlocking rings or keys
  • Soft dolls
  • Stuffed animals (with short pile fabric)
  • Simple musical instruments
  • Rattles
  • Squeeze/squeak toys
  • Cloth and cardboard picture books

One Year to Two Years

Abilities and Interests
In the second year of life, children are explorers. Fueled by curiosity and wonder, toddlers also possess the physical skills that make it easy for them to play and learn. A busy toddler needs toys for physical play — walking, climbing, pushing and riding – and ones that encourage experimentation and manipulation. At this age, children imitate adults and enjoy props that help them master life skills.

Toy Suggestions

  • Balls (1 3/4 inches and larger)
  • Push-pull toys
  • Ride-on toys (feet-propelled)
  • Wagons
  • Backyard gym equipment (infant swing, small slide, small climbing apparatus)
  • Nesting and stacking toys
  • Simple shape sorters
  • Pop-up toys
  • Blocks
  • Bath toys
  • Sandbox/sand toys
  • Wading pool/water toys
  • Puzzles with knobs (whole-object pieces)
  • Stuffed animals (with short pile fabric)
  • Dolls and baby gear
  • Play vehicles
  • Kitchen equipment and gadgets
  • Play household items (telephone, lawn mower, workbench, shopping cart)
  • Playhouse
  • Child-sized table and chairs
  • Non-toxic art supplies (large crayons and coloring books, clay, finger-paints)
  • Musical instruments
  • Cardboard picture books, pop-up books

Two to Three Years

Abilities and Interests
Older toddlers love testing their physical skills — jumping, climbing and throwing — and enjoy toys for active play. This age group also possesses good hand and finger coordination and enjoys putting these skills to work with basic arts and crafts, puppets, blocks and simple puzzles. Imaginative play also begins in the third year.

Toy Suggestions

  • Balls (1 3/4 inches and larger)
  • Backyard gym equipment (swing, small slide, small climbing apparatus)
  • Building blocks and building systems
  • Blocks with letters and numbers
  • Wading pool/water toys
  • Puzzles with knobs (whole-object pieces that fit into simple scenes)
  • Dolls that can be bathed, fed and diapered
  • Dress-up clothes and accessories
  • Hand- and finger-puppets
  • Kitchen equipment and gadgets
  • Play household items (telephone, lawn mower, workbench, shopping cart)
  • Non-toxic art supplies (crayons and coloring books, clay, finger-paints, sidewalk chalk)
  • Child-sized table and chairs
  • Play scenes (e.g., farm, airport) with figures and accessories
  • Sandbox/sand toys
  • Tricycle and helmet
  • Play vehicles
  • Wagon
  • Shape sorters
  • Playhouse
  • Storybooks
  • Stuffed animals

Three to Six Years Old

“Making believe and pretending are among the wonders of the experience of being human.”
— Dorothy G. Singer, Ed.D., authority on early childhood education

Abilities and Interests
After the age of three, children begin to play actively with each other. Preschoolers and kindergartners are masters of make-believe. They like to act out grown-up roles and enjoy costumes and props to help them bring their imaginations to life. It is quite common for children this age to develop strong attachments to favorite toys, expressing feelings to a special doll or teddy bear. Materials for arts and crafts are also popular with this age group, which enjoys creating things with their hands.

Toy Suggestions

  • Tricycle and helmet
  • Bicycle and helmet
  • Backyard gym equipment
  • Construction toys
  • Lacing and threading sets
  • Puzzles (10-20 pieces)
  • Stuffed animals
  • Dolls and doll clothes
  • Dress-up clothes and accessories
  • Props for make-believe play
  • Play vehicles
  • Hand- and finger-puppets
  • Play scenes with figures and accessories
  • Tape player and tapes
  • Non-toxic art supplies (safety scissors, construction paper, crayons)
  • Simple board games; word and matching games
  • Storybooks

Six to Nine Years Old

Abilities and Interests
School-age children enjoy play that requires strategy and skill. Board games, tabletop sports and classic toys like marbles and kites are favorites. Grade-schoolers also enjoy exploring different kinds of grown-up worlds and like fashion and career dolls and action figures. Children this age seek out new information and experiences through play and enjoy science, craft and magic kits. In addition, this age group possesses the physical skills and coordination to enjoy junior versions of adult sporting equipment.

Toy Suggestions

  • Complex gym equipment
  • Bicycle and helmet
  • Ice or roller skates/roller blades and protective gear
  • Sporting equipment (baseball glove, hockey stick, tennis racket) and protective gear
  • Simple swimming equipment
  • Stilts
  • Pogo sticks
  • Jump ropes
  • Construction toys
  • Jigsaw puzzles, including three-dimensional puzzles
  • Fashion/career dolls
  • Puppets, marionettes and theaters
  • Doll houses and furnishings
  • Action figures
  • Paper dolls
  • Science sets
  • Model kits
  • Craft kits
  • Magic sets
  • Art supplies
  • Tabletop sports
  • Video games
  • Electronic games
  • Board games
  • Tape player and tapes
  • Books (children’s classics, fairytales)

Nine to 12 Years Old

Abilities and Interests
Pre-teenagers begin to develop hobbies and life-long interests and enjoy crafts, model kits, magic sets, advanced construction sets, science kits and sophisticated jigsaw puzzles. Active play finds its expression in team sports. Painting, sculpting, ceramics and other art projects continue to be of interest.

Toy Suggestions

  • Sports equipment and protective gear
  • Bicycle and helmet
  • Ice or roller skates/in-line skates and protective gear
  • Advanced construction sets
  • Jigsaw puzzles, including three-dimensional puzzles
  • Puppets, marionettes and theaters
  • Remote control vehicles
  • Model kits
  • Science kits
  • Magic sets
  • Craft and handiwork kits
  • Art supplies
  • Playing cards
  • Board games
  • Chess, checkers, dominoes and other strategy games
  • Tabletop sports
  • Video games
  • Electronic games
  • Electric trains
  • Musical instruments
  • Books (biography, mystery, adventure, science fiction)

13 Years and Older

Abilities and Interests
Adolescents undergo dramatic physical and mental changes in a short period of time. At no other time in life are feelings about the self (self esteem) so closely tied to feelings about the body (body image). One of the most obvious social changes is the initiation of serious interest in and interactions with teens of the opposite sex. The most important cognitive change is in the growth in capacity for abstract thinking. At the same time, comes the realization that choices need to be made towards education, career and long-lasting friendships.

Toy Suggestions

  • Sports equipment and protective gear
  • Bicycle and helmet
  • Art supplies
  • Playing cards
  • Board games
  • Chess, checkers, dominoes and other strategy games
  • Tabletop sports
  • Video games
  • Electronic games
  • Electric trains
  • Music and Musical instruments
  • Movies, DVDs
  • Books (biography, mystery, adventure, science fiction) 

About this information: American Toy Institute, Inc. (ATI) is the charitable foundation of the American toy industry association, Toy Manufacturers of America (TMA). Via http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/5519/an-age-by-age-guide-to-buying-toys

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