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Parenting Feature Articles


Choosing the right toy for your child

Leanne Spengler, former Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


Colorful wood blocksBecause play is often described as the work of children, children need toys just as adults need tools for their particular jobs. Even children who lack commercially produced toys will find playthings such as fingers and toes, pots and pans, and hills and trees.


The national average for the number of toys a child receives during a gift-giving occasion is about 12. Most children are satisfied with three or four new toys. If a child receives too many new toys at once, he may become overwhelmed in deciding what toy to play with.

To eliminate some of the frustrations of too many toys, select toys with the child’s needs and interests in mind. A well-balanced selection of toys is necessary for the child’s total development. The selection might include:


  • Toys for physical development like push and pull toys for younger children and wagons, sleds and swings for older children.
  • Toys to develop sensory skills through play with a variety of materials. Water, sand, pots and pans are all possible examples. Anything that can be SAFELY touched, tasted, smelled, looked at or listened to would help in developing sensory skills.
  • Toys for make-believe and developing social skills might include dolls, play cars, trucks and accompanying play sets. These toys don’t need to be expensive. Many simple household items such as clothing or discarded kitchen materials make great play props. Children can use their imaginations, and empty boxes become many interesting playthings.

Books and puzzles are also considered toys and should be readily available to children. Plain paper and crayons can be helpful in developing a child’s creative skills.


The simpler the toy the better. A toy should be versatile and flexible for a variety of uses. Toys need adult supervision, but should need little, if any, adult instruction. Toys should not be purchased with the idea of allowing the child to “grow into” the toy. Follow the age guidelines found on the toy packages and labels. These guidelines take into consideration a child’s age, physical size, skill level and safety concerns. Many toys designed for older children may not be safe for infants and toddlers. These toys may have small pieces that can be choking hazards or they may have mechanisms that are too complicated for the young child.


The Consumer Products Safety Commission provides safety and recall information for all toys sold in the United States on their website.

There is no way to ensure that every toy purchased will be the best toy. Be considerate of the child’s age, interests and current developmental needs and you will come closer to selecting a toy that is the best fit. A list of activity ideas for children based on their special interests can be found in the publication Nurturing Children’s Talents (GH6127).


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Last Updated 12/15/2015