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Holiday Gift-Giving: Toys For All Tots

This week I’m doing a series on
holiday gift ideas. I usually break my informative article series
up with alternating pieces about life with Maddie, but let’s
face it: the shopping clock’s ticking. So we’re moving
forward, and today’s attention is on toy shopping.

There’s a great website you can always refer to in a pinch:
href="http://www.toyportfolio.com/">Oppenheimer Toy
. They rate toys by age range and I’ve
always found them to be right-on. It’s a great place to turn
if you’re overwhelmed. You’ll also find a few great
websites or catalogs and learn to trust the quality of those
stores. href="http://clickserve.cc-dt.com/link/tplclick?lid=41000000010845593&pubid=21000000000082989">
One Step Ahead
and href="http://www.fatbraintoys.com">Fat Brain Toys have
served me well.

I’ve got some specific toy
recommendations for you, but more importantly we’re going to
talk about the types of toys that work well for kids by age groups.
One of the hardest things about buying for babies is having to
guess what they “want”; what they’ll like and
light up around. So here’s what’s worked for my mommy
focus group. In general, I recommend buying a bit “up”
in age; if the child is six months, don’t buy a 0-6 months
toy. Buying something a bit ahead of the child is totally fine to
me since he’ll be deluged with gifts he can play with right
now; the parents will appreciate a gift he grows into in a month
when he’s bored with all his new stuff. And by the way, every
parent who wrote me back with his or her recommendations stressed
the fact that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to help
a child play. Pots, pans, Tupperware, and boxes work just as well
when you throw in an engaged parent and some imagination. And of
course, I think the best gift for a child at any age is a book:
it’s never to early to read to them. But if you’re
looking for specific ideas, here’s the breakdown:

Zero to six months Let’s face it, there aren’t a
lot of interactive toy options at this age, especially in the first
couple of months. Kids are still mastering such complex skills as
opening and closing their fists, so spending a bunch of money now
isn’t going to help much. At this age, I strongly recommend
going back to your friend’s baby registry and picking up
what’s not yet been gotten. If you’re looking for ideas
for your own munchkin, you’re going to be more in the
“gear” phase than “toy” phase: target="_blank"
bouncy seat href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?link_code=ur2&tag=1mother2anoth-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&path=tg%2Fdetail%2F-%2FB0002FQVJC%2Fqid%3D1140040730%2Fsr%3D1-2%2Fref%3Dsr_1_2%3Fv%3Dglance%26s%3Dbaby">
crib mobile
and so on. The best toy Maddie had in those
early days was the href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?link_code=ur2&tag=1mother2anoth-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&path=tg%2Fdetail%2F-%2FB00068O1OC%2Fqid%3D1136602858%2Fbr%3D1-7%2Fref%3Dbr_lf_ba_7%3Fv%3Dglance%2526s%3Dbaby%2526n%3D548052">
Gyminee Playmat
which we used almost from the beginning
for tummy time. No, I take that back – the best toy Maddie
had in those early days was Mommy. Getting a book like Dr.
Sears’ href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?link_code=ur2&tag=1mother2anoth-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&path=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2Fgp%2Fproduct%2F0316778001%2Fqid%3D1139195980%2Fsr%3D2-1%2Fref%3Dpd_bbs_b_2_1%3Fs%3Dbooks%26v%3Dglance%26n%3D283155">
The Baby Book
is a great gift; it breaks down
development month by month and gives simple suggestions for games
to play with your child to encourage them to interact. target="_blank"
Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five by
Penelope Leach is another great one for the bookshelves. If the
child’s closer to six months in age, soft blocks will hold
her attention for a while, as will a simple mirror she can look at
during tummy time. The href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?link_code=ur2&tag=1mother2anoth-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&path=ASIN%2FB00008BR9I%2F1mother2anoth-20%3Fcreative%3D327641%26camp%3D14573%26link_code%3Das1">
clutch cube
is a great example of a small, inexpensive
toy that travels anywhere; Maddie grew into it right at three
months and loved it for several months after that. In general, I
found that Tiny Love and Lamaze made the best, sturdiest toys for
this age group. And again, if you’re shopping for a child
closer to six months than not, consider shopping in the next
category -

Six to twelve months Parents face two big life changes at
this time: starting solid foods and getting mobile. Any gifts
towards these two milestones – babyproofing gift
certificates, the high chair on their registry, etc. – would
be much appreciated. For suggestions on specific babyproofing
supplies, see myhref="http://www.1mother2another.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=270&Itemid=46">
babyproofing blog

Developmentally, this is an age of leaps and bounds. Maddie outgrew
her playmat and quickly looked for more vertical, interactive toys.
The href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?link_code=ur2&tag=1mother2anoth-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&path=tg%2Fdetail%2F-%2FB00007F8OJ%2Fqid%3D1136603458%2Fsr%3D1-14%2Fref%3Dsr_1_14%3Fv%3Dglance%2526s%3Dimaginarium">
Developlay Activity Center
was a huge hit at six months,
and is still played with regularly now at 18 months. The target="_blank"
Alphabet mat was and still is a huge lifesaver; we use
it for babyproofing, big blocks, and more. We’ve got two
sets. As baby gets mobile and mom needs a break, the target="_blank"
playzone is a great buy if you’ve got the space.
We use it in our office, the one room we can’t babyproof. She
loved it, hated it, and is back to loving it again. It’s got
an interactive wall, collapses easily, and lasts for years with
limitless configurations. A good investment. In general, babies
will enjoy something that allows them to sort shapes (target="_blank"
this one
is by far my favorite), grasp different hard
objects, and more; it’s a time of motor skill exploration. If
you’re buying for a mobile child, some sort of activity table
like the Fisher Price href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FFisher-Price-C5522-Laugh-Learning%2Fdp%2FB00023HVKC%2Fsr%3D8-1%2Fqid%3D1164775929%3Fie%3DUTF8%26s%3Dtoys-and-games&tag=1mother2anoth-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325">
Laugh And Learn
is a good buy; kids can hold themselves
up and play. Also fun for a mobile child is a push toy like the
Leapfrog href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FLeapFrog-10100-Learning-Band-Walker%2Fdp%2FB00029R660%2Fsr%3D11-1%2Fqid%3D1164776045&tag=1mother2anoth-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325">
Learning Band Walker
; this one can collapse to be played
with by a seated, pre-walking child as well. Just remember, those
seated infant walkers are a no-no; please don’t buy one. Read
my href="http://www.1mother2another.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=294&Itemid=46">
on it to find out more if you don’t believe

As we move to “toddlers”, you’ll see a fair
amount of one brand, Melissa and Doug. They make excellent, fun,
long-lasting toys for toddlers and are recommended by pretty much
all of my fellow parents. So you are forewarned -

12 months Look out, it’s time to get some serious toys
here. Think constant movement, and think imagination stimulation.
For Maddie’s birthday I asked friends for recommendations of
toys she’d play with for a long time, and everyone came back
with one of two answers: a ride-on toy, or a big cube. Deciding she
was still a bit young for the cube, we ended up getting Maddie this
bubble walker
which should last her for years. I love
this one since it adapts to be pushed, sat on and pushed by an
adult, or self-propelled, but whichever you get, here’s what
the car needs: first, some storage space, like in the seat or under
the hood. Kids love to play with this space. Second, a way for the
adults to control it without bending over, like a handle in the
back. Trust me, you’ll thank me. Other great toys that will
last a long time at this age are the activity tables I mentioned in
the previous age section and riding toys like this target="_blank"
bouncing pony or a rocking horse. Balls will become fun
around this age – an href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FRhino-Toys-Jellies-O-Ball%2Fdp%2FB000IDOM5I%2Fsr%3D1-3%2Fqid%3D1164776468%3Fie%3DUTF8%26s%3Dtoys-and-games&tag=1mother2anoth-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325">
O Ball
is perfect for little fingers to hold onto,
throw, etc. We also found this href="http://clickserve.cc-dt.com/link/click?lid=41000000012434834">
bubble maker
that’s easy enough for Maddie to
operate on her own. It’s great for rainy/snowy days or when
you’re desperate for a distraction and don’t have time
to sit and blow bubbles. This is also a great age to start looking
at a pop-up tent, preferably one that can be added to with tunnel
attachments. Make sure they’re safe for this age group and
collapse easily for storage; they’re great again for indoor
days and fun for everyone from crawlers to preschoolers. Twelve
months is also the age kids become interested in baby dolls. In
general, anything they can explore with their hands – buttons
to push like cell phones or activity tables – are great for
this age; Maddie really loves her href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FAlmas-Designs-QB-60-Quiet%2Fdp%2FB000021YZS%2Fsr%3D1-2%2Fqid%3D1164776832%3Fie%3DUTF8%26s%3Dtoys-and-games&tag=1mother2anoth-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325">
Quiet Book
and has for several months. Her target="_blank"
musical instruments also came in “handy”, ha
ha. And Melissa and Doug’s href="http://www.fatbraintoys.com/toy_companies/melissa_doug/shape_sorting_cube.cfm">
Shape Sorting Cube
will keep a one-year-old busy for a
while. And finally, Maddie discovered chalk, crayons, etc. around
13 months but didn’t have the coordination to really handle
them; the href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FOhio-Art-66000-Travel-Doodle%2Fdp%2FB0007KN7PI%2Fsr%3D8-1%2Fqid%3D1163127821%3Fie%3DUTF8%26s%3Dtoys-and-games&tag=1mother2anoth-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325">
became her preferred creative outlet at that

18 months Here’s where imagination really takes off.
Role-playing and story scenarios start to come out. Motor skills
are refined enough that toddlers don’t have to
“think” as much about walking. So as you shop, look for
room for the imagination!

Artistic toys such as the href="http://www.amazon.com/Spinmaster-Aqua-Doodle-Basic-Mat/dp/B00008X343/ref=pd_bxgy_t_text_b/104-0947154-5790362">
or washable finger paints will be a big hit.
I love the Aquadoodle because there’s no mess and no chance
for staining the couch by accident. On the imagination front, this
seems to be the age when playing in the kitchen becomes popular. A
friend of mine swears by Constructive Playthings’ version
because it leaves more to the imagination. Melissa and Doug make
some great food sets, including one of href="http://www.fatbraintoys.com/toy_companies/melissa_doug/cutting_food_box.cfm">
foods you can “cut”
. Blocks also are a great
imagination toy, now that hands can hold them more confidently. target="_blank"
Large Leggos serve well now, too. My friend Sandra said
her son loves his Megablock cars, especially at the playground.
More complex hand challenges, like the href="http://clickserve.cc-dt.com/link/click?lid=41000000012434851">
play cube
or the href="http://www.fatbraintoys.com/toy_companies/melissa_doug/magnetic_chalkdry_erase_board.cfm">
alphabet board
are big hits with this age. And parent
after parent told me to look at plastic animals or the Little
People line; kids this age love to tell stories with them, put them
in containers, and so on. Finally for this age group, pull/push
toys come into their own as kids become more confident in their
walking and balance. The classic popper is a never-fail hit with
Maddie on a rainy day; this href="http://www.fatbraintoys.com/toy_companies/melissa_doug/pull_along_zoo_animals.cfm">
Pull Along Zoo Animal toy
is great for pulling or
playing with.

2 years Seems to be the age when girls and boys start to
diverge (don’t yell at me – I’m just passing on
what parents have said to me. Remember Maddie’s not here
yet). Trains start to become interesting to a two-year-old boy and
can have endless tracks and cars added; just make sure the tracks
are compatible before grandparents buy – not all
“Thomas the Tank” pieces work together, for example, if
they’re made by different companies. And girls become even
more interested in baby dolls – dressing them, feeding them,
carrying them around, etc. Two seems to be the earliest people
tried out a tricycle with any success. It also seems to be a good
age for My First Leappad – a good, engaging toy that is
portable and reasonably quiet. Simple puzzles become doable and
Leggos take an even stronger hold; my girlfriend Abby recommends
this href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2Fnone-LEGO-Preschool-Playtable%2Fdp%2FB0000789T0&tag=1mother2anoth-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325">
Leggo Table
. My friend Graham had great success with
this Melissa and Dave href="http://www.fatbraintoys.com/toy_companies/melissa_doug/wooden_shape_sorting_clock.cfm">
Wooden Shape Clock

3 years We’re at the upper age limit of my
recommendation ability, but you’ll be fine now; at this age,
kids have opinions and will easily point you towards their likes,
dislikes, and abilities. In general, though, three seems to be an
age when dress-up strikes – probably because they’re
finally able to dress themselves. No need to spend a lot of money;
hit a Salvation Army for fun pieces, or create your own. It’s
also a great age to start playing games; href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FCranium-104010000-100E-Cariboo%2Fdp%2FB000063XO3%2Fsr%3D1-1%2Fqid%3D1164778083%3Fie%3DUTF8%26s%3Dtoys-and-games&tag=1mother2anoth-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325">
and href="http://www.reallygreattoys.com/ItemDetail.aspx?itemID=13664">
Baby Animal Lotto
are two recommended first games.

So there you go! Hopefully this will help you shop or point
grandparents in the right direction a bit more confidently. If
you’ve got favorite toys for an age, PLEASE post them below
– share the wealth!


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