Now that the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been consumed, the holiday season is officially upon us and for many families this is a time when we begin to shop for holiday gifts for the children in our lives. Here are a few suggestions of some developmentally appropriate toys for the holidays.
0-12 months: Babies are attracted to bright colors and objects with high-contrast patterns. Their play involves watching and exploring their own bodies. Look for multisensory toys with a variety of textures and toys that are soft, lightweight, easily grasped, washable, and safe to go in the mouth. Good toys in this category include activity mats and gyms, mobiles, and plush toys. Mirrors help develop self-awareness and identity. In the later end of this age children become interested in cause and effect and container play so consider pop-up toys, stacking and sorting toys such as nesting cups and boxes, and squeeze and squeak toys.
1-2 years: Children in this age-group are increasingly interested in cause and effect activities such as dumping and filling, building and knocking down, and pushing and pulling. Building play starts to emerge towards the later portion of this age range so lightweight blocks or building materials are good options. Blocks are also a great example of open-ended play items that can encourage creativity and language development. Other suggestions include shape sorters, cars with handles or short cords, or simple trains. A riding horse can also be introduced at this age provided the child’s feet touch the floor or base of the horse when they are seated. Musical instruments such as xylophones and small tambourines are also fun.
2-3 years: Pretend play is now emerging and building play becomes more sophisticated as a child’s fine motor skills become more developed. Realistic props help enhance pretend play. Additional building blocks and materials and push-pull toys that resemble real life objects such as strollers, shopping carts, and vacuum cleaners are very popular at this age. Straddle ride-on toys and slow-moving three-wheeled scooters with wide standing platforms are fun and encourage physical development and self-esteem. Additional suggestions include easels and non-toxic finger paints. Play with simple insert puzzles may enhance attention span and visual discrimination.
3-4 years: Pretend play is at its peak in the preschool years and there are a variety of toys to encourage this sort of creative play such as action figures and dolls, playhouses, doll houses and thematic play scenes, dress up materials, and tools and props that resemble real items such as medical kits, cash registers, and cooking/kitchen sets.
4-6 years: Game play emerges more in elementary school as attention span increases and turn-taking behavior emerges. Many children begin to enjoy traditional board and card games at this age such as ‘Go Fish,’ and ‘Uno’ as well as matching or memory games. Train and car sets with multiple cars that detach and tracks are popular at this age along with more simple sewing and craft kits, water colors, and stamps with ink pads. Two-wheeled scooters and bicycles with training wheels (with the appropriate protective gear such as helmets) are popular gift ideas.
6-9 years: Children now have the ability to work on multi-step sequences and have the fine motor dexterity to begin complex model kits and more complex craft kits such as beading, jewelry kits, and yarn looms. Other ideas include jigsaw puzzles with 100-500 pieces and strategy games such as checkers. Skateboards, two-wheeled bicycles without training wheels and equipment based on your child’s interests such as cameras, roller skates and sports equipment are additional options.
9-12 years: Children in this age range are developing their skills from the sports and activities of their earlier years. Tailor your gifts based on your child’s interests and abilities. Examples include more advanced jigsaw puzzles, trivia games, and sports or recreational equipment such as camping gear.
Children do not require a large amount of gifts or toys to have a magical holiday experience. In fact, too many toys and gifts can overwhelm young children and there is evidence to show that fewer toys may help young children focus better and play more creatively with the toys they have. Set your own limits ahead of time on the right number of gifts that makes sense for your family and consider including extended family members in the conversation.
Of utmost importance is ensuring whichever toy you select is safe for the age of your child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers a variety of tips to aid in safe toy selection.
Catherine Workman, MD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and a developmental pediatrician at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone.
At Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, we understand that caring for infants, children, and teenagers is a special privilege. That’s why we partner with our young patients and their families to offer expert medical and surgical care. Our specialists treat children with conditions ranging from minor illnesses to complex, more serious issues at locations throughout the New York metropolitan area.