The beginner's guide to buying toys

With the enormous choice on offer, selecting a toy for a child is a risky business. One tip that applies to all age groups is look for a toy that will grow with the child - sounds obvious, but something that can entertain a new toddler and a three year old just makes economic sense. If you're a member of mumsnet you will receive regular emails charting your child's developmental progress which can be useful guides as to what your child might like from the toy department.

Babies

Brand new babies aren't much interested in anything other than eating or sleeping - certainly not in the barrel-load of cuddly toys that everyone will give you. You may start to wonder if there's any point in having any toys at all. However, before too long babies will start to show interest in sounds, textures and bold patterns. Toys that can be attached to cot and pushchair are also a good bet - and will save you time at the osteopath.

There's a theory that bold geometric black and white shapes are best for small babies - but in our experience the more gaudy and tasteless the toy, the more the child loves it. If you're unsure, opt for a toy which covers both the geometric and the tasteless ends of the spectrum!

Given that babies also spend an inordinate amount of time lying down, anything you can suspend above them is always worth looking at. Playgyms are also a great way of charting your babies' development - as they graduate from ignoring it to taking notice, to making a grab and finally to kicking the living daylights out of the dangling toys.

Once your baby starts to try and sit up, your choice of toys can get more imaginative. Things they can bash and get a reaction from (sound or vision) are favourites and an inflatable ring, which cushions them when they lose balance, is a firm favourite with many. Textures are popular as are mirrored surfaces and repetitious sounds – even though they are sure to drive you crazy. As one member said: "Think about yourself - and ask others to think of your sanity - when buying toys. All kids like noisy toys, but make sure it has a volume control - and don't forget that batteries can be removed!"

Towards the end of the first year, building and sorting toys and anything that encourages movement will be useful.

Be ultra safety conscious with all baby toys – chances are everything your child comes into contact with will go in their mouth, so anything with small parts is a no-no. A trolley that might be great for a toddler to push, will be used by a baby as something to pull themselves up on - if it moves at the wrong moment disaster might strike. (For more on this see our safety tips)

Once your baby's mobile, you may also want to look for toys that can 'contain' them safely - baby bouncers, fun rockers - or that entertain them while they're in their high chair/bouncy chair, so you find a moment for a cup of tea.

Toddlers

From age one the choice of toys is phenomenal. Early toddlerdom will probably be dominated by learning to toddle, so toys that can be pushed (without running away with them) and later pulled or sat on and moved, will always be popular.

Construction and sorting toys can be frustrating at first, but will help your child learn co-ordination, shapes and probably colour and give you and them a real sense of achievement when it finally clicks. Plus the beauty of construction toys is they will last long after toddlerdom: "Look mum, it's the Eiffel Tower".

The cuddly toys you were showered with may start to come into their own as guests at tea parties, bedtime mates, passengers in trucks, but many will still be left out in blatant acts of favouritism. Don't think the most expensive toy will be the favourite either: "My son discarded all the beautiful Hamley's animals bought for him by his grandparents and chose a cheap leopard that we won at a fair, as his bedtime companion. He's now six and still loves Leopardy!”

Opening and closing, taking things in and out of containers can provide hours of endless fun - if you'd rather it wasn't your cupboards or purse that was emptied, invest in something like stacking cups - though that's no guarantee your cupboards/purse will be safe.

At the end of the first year role-playing - cooking, cleaning, mowing, pushing a pram - whatever they see you do (which sadly includes lying on the sofa and watching telly), will become important. It's up to you how much you encourage this by buying miniature versions of everything - mini household items don't come cheap. The good news is that this role playing - along with a fascination for vehicles - will last for many years, so you can view it as an investment: "My kids played with their kitchen for years and although it seemed pricey at the time, it was by far the best buy we made.”

Crayons, paints, playdoh - all the creative stuff - is worth having in the house, though don't expect to spend hours doing any of these activities as their attention span is still not great. Things that encourage a sense of achievement - easy jigsaws, wooden puzzles etc. - are good for morale and make you feel as if you're helping your child's education. Trikes and vehicle toys are good for indoors and out; they wear children out and the best ones grow with them, so shop around. Do think, though, about the space these toys will take up. As one reviewer said: "Consider where you're going to store everything and don't be afraid to tell people who ask what you do/don't want as a present. We've ended up with about five sit on and ride toys and our kitchen looks like a car park - but we can't give the stuff away for fear of offending the friends/relatives who gave them to us."

Peer pressure, amazingly enough, can rear its head from around two onwards, or from whenever your child can speak enough to say "want Tinky Winky". A desire to own spin-off merchandise will be the inevitable result of watching TV. How much you give in to it is your decision.

Ages 3-5

Role-playing, especially dressing up, is becoming increasingly important. Look at the Girls' and Boys' Dressing up Boxes for a range of different outfits. Messy play - sand, water, paint etc. - is inevitably popular, so be prepared! Musical instruments, such as the guitar and keyboard with stool and, if you're up to it, computer programmes aimed at this age group are potentially worth the investment. You may be amazed to see them still playing with the construction (like Lego/Duplo), vehicle (Brio etc) and role-play toys you bought years ago - be proud of your good choices!

Gender differences often, but not always, become more apparent with age. You will certainly know by now if you have a football-mad boy or a doll's house girl (or indeed vice versa). Anything that lets them burn off all that surplus energy will fill you with gratitude, so if space allows, climbing frames, playhouses etc. might be worth the grandparents clubbing together for (or picking up second hand).

They will be beginning to understand the concept of rules and winning and losing so simple board games and card games can be introduced, such as the Shopping Game and Top Trumps. Don't expect to win, though, and don't be surprised if the rules change. Puzzles are also great for this age. As one reviewer said: "It's great when you buy a puzzle that initially you have to do for them, then with them and then one day they surprise you and can do it on their own." You can encourage your child to like the things you'd like them to like (sport, dolls etc.) but there's little point forcing the issue if they show no interest - by now they know what they like. Towards the end of this age range as children go to school and get taken over by the latest 'big thing' you may feel lost and left out through sheer lack of understanding as to the importance of Yu-Gi-Oh Cards. If it's any consolation - you are not alone.
 

Last updated: over 1 year ago