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What to Look for in a Toy
Children love to be creative and use their imaginations.Toys provide an opportunity for them to do just that, and play an important role in enriching children's lives. By giving children opportunities to be creative, you help develop their self-confidence and a sense of pride in their resourcefulness and accomplishments. Oftentimes, it's a simple toy that provides a broad range of play value (and sometimes, it's the box the toy came in!).

For example, the Fisher-Price® Rock-a-Stack® has so many possibilities for fun and creative uses, as well as for much developmental learning. Besides the obvious skills of stacking and eye-hand coordination it encourages, some of the other things children can learn are colors (identification), sizes (bigger, smaller and biggest, smallest), placement (top, bottom, middle, next, over, under, between), numbers (how many, counting), and sequencing (which comes next). In addition, it can be used for fun and imaginative games and activities, such as ring-toss, rolling and chasing and catching them—even wearing the rings as bracelets or balancing them on your head! And, last but not least, it provides many opportunities for language development (learning words, making the connections and talking about the above, and much more). Millions of children all around the world have enjoyed playing with the Rock-a-Stack since 1960, and it's still a very popular toy today no wonder why!

Of course, it's important that toys are kept clean and in good repair. If you treat children's belongings with respect, they will learn to share this respect and learn that their own things are important. Also, make a point of taking broken toys out of the toy box until they are fixed. However, homemade toys need to be monitored very closely because of potential safety hazards—they do not undergo the stringent safety evaluation that manufactured toys do.

Here are some suggestions for stocking the essential toy box:

Toys that encourage children to imitate real life:
It's important to have toys that encourage children to use their imaginations and develop their creativity and social skills. Playsets with miniature figures, kitchen toys, tea sets, medical kits, pretend telephones—they all help children learn about the world around them by bringing it to their level. Having an interesting selection of dress-up clothes is essential for the same reason. I still recall the fun I had playing dress-up with my mother's high-heeled shoes and jewelry, her old hats and purses and fancy dresses—I even used old curtains, wrapping them around me as ballroom gowns!

Toys that inspire problem solving:
Toys like shape sorters, stacking toys and puzzles help children develop the concentration and problem-solving skills they'll need when they go to school and throughout their adult lives.

Toys that invite creativity:
Children love to use paints, crayons and paper. Play dough is great for exercising children's imaginations and helping their manual dexterity, and you can even make it yourself. Building blocks are essential, too—children love to play with blocks, they encourage creativity as well as logical thinking.

Balls:
Playing with balls of all sizes helps children improve their coordination. Ball games are also great for social interaction, helping children to learn about winning and losing and how to take turns.

Musical toys:
Children love to sing along with, dance to and control the music, and so a durable, child-appropriate CD or tape player and a variety of children's music are highly recommended. Songs with actions are particularly important—they improve coordination, stimulate the memory and are social, too.

Books:
Children should have access to as many books as possible. Even if they just pretend to read, they are still exercising their imaginations and their pre-reading skills. Like toys, books should always be kept in good condition so children learn to respect them.

Here is a checklist for you to use when looking for a good toy:

A good toy:
  • is safe and durable.
  • is fun to use.
  • is interesting to the child.
  • stimulates creativity and imagination.
  • encourages inquisitiveness and resourcefulness.
  • is a tool for learning.
  • is challenging, yet not frustrating.
  • invites repeated use.
  • involves child interaction.
  • addresses developing needs and emerging skills.
Kathleen Alfano Ph.D., Former Director of Child Research at Fisher-Price®