Your children already have a closet full of toys that they ignore. How can you find the toys that they will actually play with? A good general rule is to take into account their temperament and their current favorites. These will give you good guidelines to go by when shopping. Some toys are also better for children at certain stages in their development.

Infant to Age 1: At this stage children are learning about their surroundings. It is a good idea to give them toys with lots of different textures and things to explore. Babies love things like mirrors, rattles, and activity gyms. Anything with flashing lights is usually a big hit. Newborns respond best to black and white patterns, whereas older babies prefer primary colors.

It can be hard to know exactly what a baby will like, so it is not a bad idea to test-drive a few toys at a friend’s house. Watch for which toys your child gravitates to. Taking infants and young toddlers shopping with you also works well. You can see which toys catch and maintain their attention and throw it in the shopping cart. They are unlikely to remember you even buying the toy come Christmas Day.

Ages 2 to 4: Children at this age like to “Do it myself!” Look for simple puzzles, sorting challenges, and toys that have zippers and latches to build dexterity. Chunky crayons are also a great way to spark their own sense of creativity. Toys that encourage sharing and make believe, like a pretend workbench or kitchen, are also a good fit.

Ages 5 to 7: Look for things like board games or other games with rules and structure. Children are also natural born collectors, so find out what they are into and help add to their collection. It is also good to give children plenty of incentive to have fun outdoors, so a toy like a butterfly net, a kid-friendly camera, a tent or a stargazing guide may be a great idea.

Ages 8 to 12: Children at this age are developing a sense of self and their own unique talents, so look for gifts that help them develop these talents. Avid athletes would appreciate things like baseball gloves and soccer balls, and the more creative types might like complex models or jewelry-making kits.

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Finding Just the Right Toy

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