One of my favorite things to do while discussing development is to make suggestions for toys to have at home, especially around birthdays and holidays. If your friends and family are asking you what to get the kids this holiday season, here are some good ideas that may even enhance development.
*Of note, this is intended to give general ideas based upon the developmental appropriateness of a category of items and is not an endorsement of any product or an exhaustive list of options.
First and foremost, BOOKS!
At every age books are a great gift. Babies should be read to starting at birth so for these little guys, board books are great. I loved reading Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar to my own kids. For toddlers, touch and feel books or lift-the-flap books are fun. At this age, children start to do more with their hands and develop their fine motor skills. Picture books are great for preschoolers and often teach good lessons. I always encourage parents to involve their children while reading picture books. I recommend they ask their child to make up a story based on the picture. They can test comprehension by asking their child what they think might happen next. These are good opportunities to talk about feelings or consequences of behavior. By the time children are school age or entering kindergarten, the first readers are a good choice. These books make it easy for young children to learn some common words and the books usually involve their favorite characters. By first grade, chapter books are good options. Lots of kids enjoy the Magic Treehouse and Rainbow Magic series. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson series are great for older children. One of my favorite books for kids aged 10 and up is Wonder, but there are so many options for children of all ages and with many interests. Check out the Common Sense Media website for age suggestions and talk to your child’s teacher about suggestions based on their reading level. Don’t forget that even once children can read, they still enjoy being read to. Sharing a good book with your child makes for some of the best bonding moments.
All kids love toys. From babies on up toys can serve as important learning tools. By 4-6 months of age babies are grabbing at things and putting them into their mouths. Good items for these babies are rattles, toy keys and teething toys. Always make sure babies can’t get their hands on anything they can choke on. For 9 month old babies, try stacking rings or stacking cups. They also love to see their effect on their environment so toys that light up or make noise when touched are fun (for them, not always for mom and dad). By 1 year toys that babies can stand up on or push around as they learn to walk can get them up and on the move. For toddlers try shape sorters, puzzles and building blocks. Once they are around 18 months, toddlers love to imitate their parents. Try a toy kitchen, toy cleaning set or baby doll and observe all they’ve learned from you. They will also start to play with toys properly, like pushing cars and trains around or playing doctor with a stuffed animal. Of course I always recommend a doctor kit! 2 year old children can start to build with big Legos and train tracks. Remember Lincoln Logs? My kids loved these as well. Don’t forget to stay away from small parts until age 3.
School aged kids
Once children are 3-4 years old they begin to have interest in certain activities. They are also using their imagination more, making playtime even more fun. Gifts can be geared towards the things they are interested in whether it is dolls, trains, dress up, musical instruments or gifts based upon a certain character. I always liked the Little People sets and watching my children move the characters around and making up stories about them. This is also a good age to introduce board games like Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land or Mousetrap. Memory games, crafts and jigsaw puzzles are also fun and can help your child develop fine motor skills, visual spatial skills and problem solving skills. For kids who like to build, check out Magna Tiles. For kids who like sensory play, try kinetic sand.
By the time kids are entering school, gifts can be more complex. There are so many games and activities that get kids both moving and thinking. Options can include sports gear (don’t forget helmets), musical instruments, brain teasers or puzzle books, group games like Spot It or Headbandz and more advanced board games like Monopoly, Clue or Scrabble. Don’t forget card games, like Uno, which are good for traveling. There are also lots of options for encouraging science like chemistry sets, telescopes, model building and sets that involve building electric circuits.
Children with special needs also enjoy a wide variety of toys and games. Learning toys, sensory toys, even toys that help children learn their activities of daily living. I found a few helpful websites, including eSpecial Needs and Fun and Function.
A word about electronics
Electronics are here to stay so the best thing to do is embrace it but manage it appropriately. The recommendations on screen/media use have changed recently and new guidelines can be found here. The American Academy of Pediatrics however still recommends no media use for children under 2 years of age, except for FaceTime or Skype with relatives. Because many kids will be asking for a phone or tablet this holiday season, be prepared to make a decision and be prepared to monitor the use. As stated in the new guidelines, clearly state what is and is not acceptable for games or apps and make sure to have screen free times and zones in the home. Also, be sure that screen time does not replace homework, chores or physical activity and watch for signs of impaired sleep. If your child already has a device, they may ask for video games, movies or apps. Again, check with Common Sense Media for good advice on age appropriate items. Don’t forget that open and frequent communication with your child will help both of you make good choices.
Always be sure to read the safety warnings on a package. Anything with small parts or with a potential choking hazard should be avoided for children 3 years old and younger. All equipment on wheels, like scooters, hoverboards and bikes, should come with helmets. Also, be vary wary of trampolines. Ideally they should have a zippered net and the expectation that only one child can be on it at a time. Finally, stay away from button batteries and small magnets, which are easily swallowed. Swallowed batteries erode in the GI tract and when multiple magnets are swallowed, they find each other, also eroding the GI tract in between. (Thanks to Tara Haelle for this reminder.)
Hopefully your children will get gifts that everyone can learn from and enjoy. Happy holidays!