Play is essential for children because it contributes to their intellectual, physical, emotional and social development. When children play, they exercise their creativity, develop their imagination, master their dexterity, improve their cognitive ability and build physical strength. Experts agree that the best kinds of play allow kids to set their own goals, negotiate challenges, develop and share ideas, and make their own rules.
But how can we make sure our kids are getting enough healthy, unstructured play time when they’re growing up in an overscheduled and stressful environment, when parents are overly focused on producing high academic achievers, and safety concerns prevent us from letting our kids roam around freely and unsupervised? Perhaps the best thing we can do for our kids is to make sure they have the right kinds of toys at home to make play time most rewarding.
First and foremost is safety. Safe toys for young children are sturdy, without sharp parts or splinters, free of pinching hazards, and easy to clean. If the toy will be used by an infant, it’s important that parts aren’t small enough to become a choking hazard.
Toys must be made from non-toxic materials and coated with lead-free paints. You should steer clear of antique toys, second-hand toys and homemade toys that have not been tested and approved by a certified testing lab, or may have been produced before the current regulations governing toy manufacturing were in effect.
In addition to being safe, a good toy will match the child’s appropriate stage of development and abilities.
The best baby activity toys for infants between 0-6 months are things they can reach, grasp, suck on, shake, and make noise with. Some age-appropriate toys for little babies are squeeze toys, teething toys, soft dolls, textured balls, and board books.
Infants between 6-12 months are starting to crawl, sit up and pull themselves to a standing position. They are capable putting things in and out of containers and placing objects on top of each other. Some of the best baby activity toys for this age group are dolls, vehicles with wheels, bath toys, large beads, nesting toys, large soft blocks, wooden blocks, and push & pull toys.
As your child continues to grow, look for toys that will encourage them to explore, create, pretend, imagine, and learn from trial and error.