There's five different groups of kids that you need to think about if you're looking for a cool, long-lasting educational toy for the holidays. The groups that I like to think of them in are infant, toddler, preschooler, elementary age, and older.
Best Toys for Infants
The best thing you can do for an infant is to have something that they can explore are the rings, the rings that they can stack with, anything that makes noise, anything that crinkles or squeaks, one that they can put in their mouth that has different textures that they can fee. That's how babies explore. They explore through sight, sound, texture, and taste. So, babies who are going to be able to grab onto something with their little hands, that's going to be good. Anything that's soft, anything that makes noise, anything that they can try to put together, or anything that they can bang. Those can be great toys for infants. It allows them to see cause and effect. It allows them to see when they pick up something, what noise does it make? When they throw something, what noise does it make? When they put something in their mouth, what does it feel like on their gums? Those are the kind of things you are going to want for your infant.
So for the infants the biggest problem for a lot of toys that the older kids will have that you want to not have around an infant is a choking hazard toy. So that's going to be the big thing too. Make sure that if you have older kids, they keep their big kid toys away and they don't have the little babies choke on them.
Best Toys for Toddlers
Now moving along, the toddler age group, now this is a really fun group because this is the age when you start seeing their imagination go wild. They're really starting to get the concept of "I can do this. I can build this. Look at what I can do." Most toys for toddlers, you're going to want things that they can actually play with and create. Blocks, we don't see blocks that much anymore, but blocks are really cool. Things that they can actually sort of try to make sense of their world work really well. So my favorite, and I still have mine when I was little, little people. Little people are universal. They actually have bigger little people for toddler age groups, so they can actually figure out how to put them into a little car, put them into a little chair, things like that. And they can sort of recreate what their family looks like with little people. And it's really good for teaching the roles that different people play in their lives. Choking hazards, watch out for the choking hazards in toddlers too.
Best Toys for Preschoolers
Preschoolers, I have one of these. Preschool kids are so much fun because they're getting their personalities. The biggest thing that preschoolers are learning. Their vocabulary is exploding. They're learning different words, different sentences, colors. They're learning how to count. They're learning a lot of these things that are educational. They're still exploring their environment. They're testing limits. They're just little sponges. And they're just absorbing as much knowledge as they can. So the more educational things that you can get for them, the more you allow them to use their own creativity the better. Little people, still a great one. My son loves his Leapster. Leapsters are great for kids ages three and up. My older son still plays with his Leapster too, and he's learning about counting money and math. And his new favorite game is a chemistry game, and he's seven. It's really a toy for them to be able to learn a lot about their world and a lot about things that they're going to need to get ready for kindergarten.
Best Toys for Elementary-age Children
So elementary school kids, yes, that's my other one, he is really into science, and a lot of kids this age are into science. They're into books. They're into Legos. Legos are specifically designed usually for kids ages six, seven, and up. And there's a ton of them out there. Elementary school kids are the ones where they're really trying . . . they're not little kids anymore, but they're not teenagers. They're trying to figure out their place in the world, so giving them the opportunity to express their creativity is going to go a long way too because they're going to . . . right now they're trying to figure out who they are, what their interests are, and you can help them along the way by giving them toys, educational toys that are going to help them explore all these options.
A lot of kids this age will really like to do experiments. They have chemistry sets. You can help them figure out about animals, about their world around them, geography, different things like that. Board games, these kids really start getting into board games because they understand rules, and they don't get so upset when the game doesn't go quite the way that they wanted to like a preschooler would. And they are now able to read what's on the board games as well. Games where they have to think, that's another thing that they like. Checkers, things like that. They have to start losing logic. Another good game would be Clue. One of the things that game teaches is deductive reasoning.
Best Toys for Older Children
So finally, the older kids, middle school and up. These kids are trying to find their identity. These kids are the ones where peer pressure is going to come into play. What do their friends have? You know, do they have as much? Do they have the coolest game? Do they have the coolest clothes, things like that? You're not going to be to find many toys for them. The one thing you are going to want to do is watch to see what kind of things that they get to make sure that they're educational, make sure that they are things like books and things like that.
Make sure if it's a game like the Wii or the DSS it's not one that's overly violent. That's one that you're going to want to be careful of. Music, music is a great way for them to express their individuality. Dance, okay, a lot of my patients that are older, they have like "Just Dance" and everything. That's great. One, it gets them moving so they get some exercise. Two, they have dance parties. I can't tell you how many patients that I've been told have dance, the "Just Dance" games, and they have dance parties. You know what? Those are great. Those help with peer relationships. Those help with activity. They're a lot of fun so kids really part to participate in them. So when you're cruising through the toy aisle trying to figure out what to get, keep these tips in mind so that you can get things for them that are more than just play things. This will help them with the developmental stage they're in and beyond.
updated: November 28, 2022
originally published: December 4, 2013
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