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How to find toys your baby or toddler loves

Toys and playing are a healthy part of children s development, with huge emotional, physical and learning benefits. There are many different types of toys, and each focuses on one or two specific areas of development. Motor skills, vocabulary, color recognition and hand-eye coordination are just a few. Here are some basic toy tips that apply to both babies and toddlers to help you choose the items that are right for your child's needs.

Age range: Toys list the intended age range in months or years. That protects babies from injury and swallowing hazards that smaller components can pose. Going underneath the recommended age limit is dangerous; however, feel free to be flexible with the upper range. A toy can be useful for a long time if it keeps your child entertained.

Electronic toys versus hands-on experiences: Many pediatricians recommend a balance of electronic and classic toys. While kids love to hear sounds and press flashing buttons, it s also good to let them make their own adventures. Plastic animals, dolls and action figures require children s help to come up with dialogue, meaning that their imaginations grow.

Bath time: Babies and toddlers of all ages can have floating toys in the bath, with proper supervision of course. Floating toys grab smaller kids' attention, and toddlers often start to make their own noises and pirate adventures. Babies also like bath toys that let them play with the water, like scoops and boats. Squirt toys give mom or dad a chance to play too, resulting in lots of happiness and giggling.

Bedtime: Prior to 12 months, most doctors recommend keeping your baby s crib free of toys and blankets at night or during naptime. A mobile, however, is safe for newborns and helps them fall asleep quickly. After 12 months, babies can sleep with plush animals or dolls, making them feel warm and loved.

Cater to their personality: After a while, you'll start to notice the types of toys your children like. There s nothing wrong with following up with similar toys. If little ones love to play with large plastic construction toys now, chances are they ll enjoy building blocks and toy cars in the future.

0-12 months

At this age, babies start to recognize faces and shapes. They re obsessed with moving objects, bright colors, sounds and lights. That s why infants are so fascinated by mobiles over their cribs. Once they reach about 6 months of age, babies can start to grasp things; toys that involve pushing buttons, sliding or pulling levers are a big hit. Children who are around 9 months old really love cause and effect toys, where they press something and get rewarded with music or colorful lights. Here are additional possibilities:

  • Activity mats or gyms
  • Rattles
  • Teething toys
  • Stuffed animals during playtime only
  • Large inflated rubber or stuffed cloth balls

12 to 18 months

Babies have a lot more energy at this stage, so toys that keep them active and moving are helpful. Walkers with lots of buttons let babies practice walking developing balance, coordination and muscle tone and play around at the same time. They re ready for slightly more complex activity boxes with curving contours and plastic rings to navigate. Shape sorters are perfect at this age too, helping with motor control and grasping. Other ideas include:

  • Wood or plastic blocks with rounded edges
  • Large interlocking blocks
  • Hammering sets
  • Colorful donut stacking rings

18 to 24 months

This short time period is when children s imaginations really start to light up. They begin pretend playing. Toys like dolls and rubber or plastic animals encourage kids to create situations, adventures and dialogue though you might not understand what they re saying yet. Large play vehicles like airplanes or construction equipment turn toddlers into the stars of their stories. Toys still need to be durable to stand up to some roughness, so keep that in mind.

2 to 4 years

Your kids creativity keeps on flourishing at this age, along with the mobility and strength they need to really make their dreams lifelike. Dolls, dollhouses and clothes or superheroes and secret hideouts depending on their interests let children imitate the world around them. They re ready for props for play sessions, such as wood or plastic cooking sets and kitchen utensils. At this age, children can also start to express their musical talents with large plastic keyboards, drums or button-press guitars. Other great toys include:

  • Ride-ons
  • Contoured puzzles with five or six pieces
  • Large building blocks
  • Ball toss games or sports games

4 to 5 years

Toddlers are almost ready to start school or pre-school as their brains start to soak up information like a sponge. Educational toys that teach them vocabulary, basic math, letter recognition and problem-solving skills help children learn and have fun at the same time. Consider some other creative possibilities:

  • Art supplies or sculpting dough
  • Science experiment kits
  • Advanced building blocks
  • Real keyboard or musical instrument
  • Larger 30- to 50-piece puzzles
  • Outdoor fortresses or houses to customize