Best Tips for Toy Shopping

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Best Tips for Toy Shopping

With the holidays quickly approaching, we thought this would be a great opportunity to share some toy shopping tips! We know how overwhelming it can be to buy toys for children. There are SO many toys to choose from, and our children’s interests and skill levels are always changing. Here are seven tips to help make holiday shopping for your kids a breeze.

Tip #1: My number one recommendation when toy shopping is to choose open-ended toys. You may be asking, “What’s an open-ended toy?” An open-ended toy is any toy that can be used in a variety of different ways. For example, you can use wooden blocks to build a tower, a town or even a train. You may build a castle or boat. How a child plays with blocks and what a child builds with blocks will depend on the child! Open-ended toys encourage children to use their imagination, and creativity, and as a result, they develop their own play schemes. It’s also important to recognize that these types of toys are going to hold your child’s attention longer, and they are likely to be used over and over because the play options are limitless. 

I also like to think about how various open-ended toys can be used together. For example, the other day my daughter used her cardboard blocks to create a fort for her stuffed animals. She then took the “fort” apart and created different habitats for her animal figurines using the blocks. It’s always fascinating to me to see what my children (and the children I work with) come up with when they’re given an open-ended toy.  

A few of my favorite open-ended toys include:

-Blocks (e.g. wooden blocks, cardboard blocks, foam jumbo blocks, MagnaTiles

Play kitchen with pretend food 

Baby dolls

-Dress up items (e.g. superheroes, princesses, etc.)

-Role-playing kits (e.g. doctor, vet)

-Figurines (e.g. Little People, animals, characters)

Tip #2: Try not to think of toys by gender. The reason why toys seem to be gender specific is because we tend to buy certain toys for girls (or certain toys for boys). For example, baby dolls are typically associated with girls while cars and trucks are associated with boys. We need to break this mindset by recognizing that all toys can be used by all kids! You’ll never know whether or not your daughter, niece, or granddaughter likes dump trucks and tool sets if they aren’t given the opportunity to play with these toys.

Tip #3: There are some great holiday toy mailers/catalogs available right now. If you haven’t received one in the mail, you should be able to pick one up from a local store, such as Target, Walmart, or Kohls. Use these catalogs/magazines to find out what your child is interested in. Have your child create a wish list by cutting out the pictures. **Added bonus, this is a great fine motor activity and can also be used to promote language development! You can also use this activity to encourage your child to help with holiday gift-giving. Encourage your child to think about what his/her cousins may want this year. See if your child can come up with ideas based on what the other child likes/dislikes. 

Tip #4: Age recommendations are helpful, but just like speech and language (or gross motor) milestones, the recommendations should be used as a guide. Of course, some toys are not suitable for certain ages because of choking hazards, but it’s possible that a toy that is listed as 3+ may be appropriate for your 2-year-old. It’s important that we challenge our children and give them opportunities to play and learn. If we go back and think about the open-ended toys, many of these toys can be used as children grow. Children’s imaginative skills, interests and problem-solving skills develop over time. Therefore, what they were able to do with blocks at age 2 is going to be vastly different from what they can do at age 5.  

Tip #5: Read reviews. I LOVE going to toy stores and seeing the toys in-person. It gives me a chance to interact with the toys and talk to people who have had experience with the toys. Due to the pandemic, many people have been shopping almost exclusively online. While the websites have descriptions, I have found that reading reviews can be incredibly helpful! Reading reviews allow me to learn from other parents, grandparents, etc. about their experiences with various toys. It’s often hard to determine the quality of toys without playing with them. People who take the time to review toys (and other items) want to educate others. The information they provide can give buyers a different perspective than what’s listed in the description. Lately, I have been seeing more people include photos to highlight positive (and negative) experiences with toys, too. The photos have been helpful for me because it gives me the opportunity to visualize the actual toy.

Tip #6: Large gross motor toys are an even bigger hit this year due to the pandemic. Putting the pandemic aside, large gross motor toys can come in handy on bad weather days. It can be difficult to fulfill your child’s physical needs when you can’t go outside. We often use our large gross motor toys to create obstacle courses, but they can be used individually as well. We love our indoor trampoline, Nugget Comfort, and tunnel. On my holiday wish list this year, I have included stepping stones, a climber and a balance board. Scooters, swings and rockers are also great!

Tip #7: Sensory toys are important because they help children learn about their senses in a fun and safe way. If you aren’t familiar with sensory toys, think about toys that enhance any of the five senses (i.e. sight, smell, touch, hear, and taste). While many people think that sensory toys should be used by children who struggle with sensory processing, sensory stimulation is actually important for all children. Some examples of sensory toys include kinetic sand, slime, instruments, and teethers. My girls love playing with water beads and sensory tubes. If you are feeling crafty, you can easily make a sensory tube (or bag) at home using various art supplies (e.g. glue, glitter, sequins, etc.)! Another awesome sensory toy is a light table. You can pair so many different toys with a light table, including MagnaTiles or any other translucent toys (e.g. letters/numbers, pegs, etc.). 

We hope that these shopping tips will make your holiday shopping easier this year! This list can also be used next year when shopping for birthdays. We also recommend sharing these tips with first-time parents as well.

If you have questions about these recommendations or specific toys that you highly recommend, please feel free to contact us! We’d love to hear from you!

Therapyworks Erin Michelle

Are you interested in services for your child? Founded by Michelle Worth and Erin Vollmer, TherapyWorks provides in-home speech, occupational and physical therapies in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois and teletherapy nationwide.

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