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Parents

Top 5 Toy Buying Tips

Dr. Allison Mell, DPT
October 25, 2022
Top 5 Toy Buying Tips

Do you remember the toys you had when you were young?  I doubt your favorites, that your parents have saved in their attic and have lasted a few decades now, required batteries or involved a screen. Those were the days of simple, quality toys that children played with instead of playing for them.  So many toys on the shelves today (or on virtual “shelves”) are battery-powered, covered in buttons, and glowing with bright lights.  Not to mention the never-ending stream of musical sounds pouring out all day long. They sound lovely for all of 5 minutes after purchase.  

These modern toys are so tempting, not only for their pretty designs, but for the great source of entertainment you hope they’ll provide. But here’s the thing, toys are actually tools for development and not all toys are created equal. Many expensive products aren’t actually going to help your baby learn or reach the next milestones. Not only that- they often don’t even entertain your baby for very long.

When it comes to choosing baby toys- opportunities for creativity, independent play, and movement are the goals. And sticking to the basics will lead to plenty of cognitive, sensory, and motoric growth.

So before you go ahead and load up your Amazon cart with bright, busy, and loud products, keep the following 5 toy buying tips in mind:

1. Infants Don’t Need Much

During babies’ first few months of life, they actually need very little entertainment. A simple play mat and some black and white cards will do the trick.  In fact, newborns can only see high contrast images that are close to their faces (up to 8-12” away), and won’t start swatting at toys hanging overhead until they are 2 to 3 months old.  

Spending time in nature, going for walks, and simply looking at the surrounding scenery is enough stimulation to tire out any infant. Along with looking at their favorite person (that’s you!).

2. Bright Lights And Loud Noises Can Be Overwhelming

Babies’ brains are not quite refined enough to process lots of sensory information all at once….not just yet. So watching an overstimulating disco ball-like toy can be a lot for your baby to take in. Simple is better when it comes to baby toys. If “batteries not included” is written on the box, give it a second thought.

Babies need to develop a strong sensory foundation for all future motor milestones and cognitive function to be built upon.

Overstimulation of the senses can actually be counterproductive to baby’s growth, so making these decisions early can actually have long lasting effects. Choosing more basic options, that don’t do anything, are more suitable for your baby’s immature nervous system.

3. Everything Is New To Your Baby

Once your baby has entered more mobile stages, it can seem like they need a lot more entertainment.  You might have the urge to scroll through every online toy store to stock up your playroom. But before you do that, stop and take a look around your house.

It may seem simple, but everything in your home is new to your baby. Try offering safe kitchen items like measuring spoons or rubber whisks.  Even a laundry basket or a cardboard box can make for some great, inexpensive fun. You’ll likely find that your baby often prefers the objects you yourself interact with! So turn them into toys for a win-win all around.  

4. Open-ended Is Best

So many toys on the market have very specific purposes, like a ball going down a shoot or buttons to push to create a sound. This may be entertaining for a little while, but toys like this leave little to your baby’s imagination and the entertainment aspect, unfortunately, doesn’t last very long.

Open-ended toys that will grow with you child over time will actually allow for so much more creativity. Need some ideas?  These are a great place to start:

5. Less Is More

It’s a common misconception that the more toys you have lying around your house, the longer your baby will be entertained… Nope!  Not. True.  In fact, just the opposite.

Keeping a smaller amount of toys in your home can actually help your child better focus on play and for longer periods.

Think of it this way- If you have 20 flavors of ice cream surrounding you, you’re going to rush to have a small taste of each one instead of savoring the first, perfectly delicious flavor you started with. But if you only had one bowl of ice cream, you’d enjoy each bite instead of thinking about the other flavors you’re missing out on. Same with babies and their toys. We want them to build their attention spans, learn how things work, and build creativity by focusing on less for longer.

Want an easy way to get your baby more interested in what you already have? Try creating a toy rotation by picking out a few fun items, then swapping them out for a different set the following week.  You’ll save plenty of money with this strategy and your baby will be thrilled. Each week you’ll bring out the “new” designated set of toys and excitement will take over-success!

Bottom line:

There are obviously SO many things to consider when it comes to buying toys. It can become overwhelming to look at pages and pages on Amazon of endless toys that all look adorable and have good reviews. You think to yourself that these toys will occupy your child so you can get stuff done and the description says they’re helping your child grow smarter! So why not? Well, there are several factors to consider aside from how much room you have to store these bulky items. Infants don’t need to be entertained- their new environment (everything around them!) is exciting and stimulating and more than enough for the brain to process. Toys with too many lights, sounds, and colors are difficult for your baby to process. These toys typically play for your baby instead of encouraging creativity and learning opportunities. And lastly, too many options makes it difficult for your baby to concentrate and build an attention span for play.  Sticking to simple, open-ended toys, DIY toys, or the never ending joys of the great outdoors will provide plenty of exploratory opportunities for your baby. Need more activity ideas? Check out my membership here.

Dr. Allison Mell is the founder of Tots on Target and a physical therapist based out of New Jersey.

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