Toys for your Tots: What’s Good and Appropriate?

Toys for your Tots: What’s Good and Appropriate?

If you walk into a big box toy store, the selection can be overwhelming.  Aisle upon aisle of jabbering dolls, complicated action figures, electronic games… where to begin?  How do we, as parents, choose quality toys for our kids?

I’ve had my fair share of toy busts over the years.  Just today I picked up a pair of sunglasses out of the dollar bin for my toddler.  They were broken within an hour.  At least it was a cheap mistake!

However, despite the occasional misfire, I’ve learned a few tricks that have helped me select some keepers.

Age Appropriateness

Buying age appropriate toys is important for safety reasons, of course, especially if you have small children who put things in their mouths.  However, age appropriateness isn’t just about safety.  If a toy isn’t developmentally appropriate, then it’s not much fun for the child.  Either it’s too hard to play with, too fragile, or simply not interesting.


I like toys that last.  A well made toy will survive a few days stranded in the sand-box, or being tossed down the steps.  If it’s a well-loved toy, it should be able to withstand frequent nights wedged in bed with a little one.

Wooden toys tend to hold up well.  We have a wooden train set that is on its third child.  The only sign of wear and tear is a few teeth marks courtesy of the family dog.  Not everything needs to be wood, however.  Still, the material should be durable and the toy should be solidly constructed.

Open-ended Play

Toys that provide opportunities for open ended play grow with the child.  For instance, a train set isn’t only for running trains.  As my son got older, he got interested in creating ever more complicated tracks that snaked off the table and across the floor.  Blocks also allow for this kind of play.  My toddler is happy to stack her blocks and knock them over.  Sometimes she’ll stick a few together and proclaim it a “house.”  My 6 year old builds anything and everything, from spaceships to robots to cities.  The blocks are endlessly adaptable.

Another advantage of these kinds of toys is that they really allow children to use their imaginations and be creative.

Safe Materials

A good toy is a safe toy.  After age appropriateness, consider the safety of the materials.  Be wary of products that might have PVC or lead, for instance.

Well reviewed and Time Tested

Internet reviews and the advice of other parents can be invaluable.   I’ve stumbled upon many a great toy at a friend’s house.  Reviews can often attest to a toy’s quality and durability, as well customer service.

Also, think about classic toys.  There are certain types of toys that get played with over and over again across generations.  These are almost always a good buy.

Don’t Forget the Little Stores!

It’s tempting to go to giant toy stores under the impression that the larger the store, the better the selection.  While this is true in some cases, don’t neglect the independent or smaller toys stores.  Often, smaller stores have unique or specialty items.  Further, smaller stores tend to have knowledgeable sales people that can give you advice or recommendations.

Batteries Optional

Electronic toys can be fun, but good toys don’t necessarily need flashing lights and music.  My toddler likes to listen to music on her little music player, but she also likes to make music by pounding on a makeshift drum.  Not everything needs 3 double A’s.

Some Things in Life ARE Free

Old boxes, Tupperware, hand-me-downs, uncooked pasta, an older brother’s hats…all of these can make amazing toys.  My daughter is thrilled with our box of winter gear and she puts on hats and mittens and wanders around the house pretending to leave.  My son can spend hours playing with an interesting stick.  With the right perspective, a day of entertainment can be completely free!

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  1. Mec Arevalo Mec Arevalo says:

    I made the mistake of asking my Mom and sis to shower my son with electronic toys… which he generally just banged on floors and walls and rendered useless. Plus, buying/charging batteries is a hassle.

    Now I prefer stacking cups and rings and blocks. He can throw them, play with them, gnaw on them and they’re still good. Haha.

  2. Thanks for mentioning open-ended toys. They really offer so much for kids–creativity, endless play, imagination, and emotional engagement. To me, education is all about encouraging and supporting curiosity and the more we can do to promote it the better. By the way, one great game for open-ended play is Think-ets. Tiny trinkets from around the world for imaginative play. Great for summer travel, restaurants, and poolsides.

  3. Stephanie says:

    You just have to take your time and pick out the toy thats best for your child, not just want he or she wants.

    I have a 5 year old daughter that wanted Legos. I knew that those pieces were too small for her so I ended up getting her mega blocks. I don’t think she even knows the difference.


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