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Toy Buying Guide
by Meredith Lord, Child Development Professional

The three words I hear most in December: Buy, Shop, Sale. This is why I would like to take this space to offer some guidelines for toy shopping this season. I realize that the mall can be a scary and confusing place at times, and these suggestions may not get you through the tough spots, so please feel free to email me with any questions you may have. If you are looking for a child development perspective on a certain toy, or you want clarification on the material laid forth here, feel free to contact me.

Board Games

I greatly appreciate Hasbro’s “Family Game Night” marketing tool. They’re right, playing board games as a family gives you a chance to grow closer to each other and keeps your children from participating in unsupervised activities.

Always Good:
Boggle, Candy Land, Scrabble, Monopoly, Etc. These games have stood the test of time and have a wide appeal.
Stay Away From:
“Scene It” games. We should be discouraging children from watching movies, not making it look cool.
New Toys:
Twister Dance. This is a fun new twist on an old favorite.

Arts & Crafts

One of my three favorite categories. I love to inspire children to come up with their own ideas, to experiment and make their own connections.

Always Good:
Large art sets with markers, colored pencils, etc.; Perler boards and beads; Crayola jumbo box of crayons.
Stay away from:
Spark Art “Creativity System” Easel from Fisher Price. This toy actually suppresses a child’s creativity by giving them sounds for their drawings and offering pre-drawn backgrounds for their art.
New Toys:
Crayola’s “Color Wonder” series of markers, paint, etc. that won’t color on anything but the designated paper. Most children are capable of learning to color only on the designated paper by 30- to 36-months-old. Before this age, children should never be unsupervised with art materials because they are likely to eat them. With this in mind, Color Wonder seems like an unnecessary waste of money to me. However, this would be an excellent gift for a child who has Autism, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or any other condition that may legitimately prevent a child from following the “only on the paper” rule.
Make It Yourself:
Play-dough kit.
Buy a plastic box and fill it with a mixing bowl& spoon, measuring cups & spoons, a copy of several no-cook play dough recipes (available online) and the ingredients needed to make the dough. The commercially available Play-Doh brand is nice, but if a child makes it from scratch, this utilizes greater levels of mathematical skill and is more fun.


Another one of my top three, however, the books that are available in toy stores and discount stores are there to make money for the store, not because they are great works of children’s literature. Buying books for a child is a GREAT idea, but please go to an actual bookstore for this and get help from a professional. The best place to go is your local independent book dealer because they typically have the most knowledgeable staff.

Blocks/Building Toys

Building blocks are a great toy for both genders because they foster mathematical skills as well as creativity. When choosing a building set, think about the term “open-ended.” This means that there is no pre-determined shape or structure you are supposed to build. Instead, open-ended toys have limitless options, therefore encouraging creativity.

Always Good:
Colored woodblocks, such as the Imaginarium brand from Toys ‘R’ Us; Lego, Duplo, and Primo blocks (depending on the age of the child you are buying for); and train sets.
Stay Away From:
K’NEX (almost all children I have watched play with these just end up making weapons out of them), and Lego sets that have a specific building on the cover.

Pretend Play

Last, but not least of my favorite three. Fantasy play has a large impact on children’s social and emotional development (regardless of gender), as well as their language development and their creativity levels. Pretending is one of the most important tasks of childhood, and one of the most enjoyable!

Always Good:
Plastic animals/dinosaurs (such as Animal Planet’s brand), and dress up clothes (check your local thrift store!)
Stay Away From:
Toys that make sounds, like dogs that bark of grills that sizzle. Children will naturally pretend that their dog is a monkey, or their grill is a dinosaur bed, but the pre-recorded sounds will discourage this type of healthy re-representation.
Make It Yourself:
If you have any sewing skills, this is your big moment! Children love handmade dress-up clothes the most because of their versatility and durability.

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