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Age-Appropriate Toys for Children
by Mark A. Brandenburg, MD
Now that the holiday season is fast approaching, no doubt you will be looking to find just the right toys for those special children in your life. Understanding a little about the physical and mental development of children will enable you to better choose holiday gifts for the little ones around you. The following pages describe the basic characteristics of child development at each stage of growth. Lists of some age-appropriate toys are also included.

Baby Play

During the first three months of life, a baby will enjoy colorful toys and pictures. Watching the movement of toys and listening to soothing music will be most pleasing at this age. There are literally thousands of different toys available in stores for infants. Cheerful toys such as stuffed animals and pillows can be a wonderful way to brighten your baby's day. Just remember, never place these items in the crib- they can cause suffocation.

One- to Three-Months-Old

  • Rattles and musical toys
  • Soft squeeze toys and balls (balls should be at least one and three-quarter inches or 44mm in diameter)
  • Unbreakable mirrors
  • Teethers
  • Bright pictures
  • Talking and singing to your infant
  • Pleasant facial expressions

Four- to Seven-Months-Old

From four to seven months of age, a baby will show an increasing interest in shaking, holding, touching and mouthing objects. Manipulating objects to produce movement and noise will also begin.

  • Rattles and musical toys
  • Soft squeeze toys and balls (balls should be at least one and three-quarter inches or 44 mm in diameter)
  • Unbreakable mirrors
  • Teethers
  • Bright pictures
  • Toys which have holes for easy gripping
  • Soft baby books made of vinyl or cloth
  • Interlocking plastic rings
  • Floor gyms
  • A jumper to bounce in

Eight- to Twelve-Months-Old

By eight months, an infant will begin to take an interest in exploring the surrounding environment. Motor skills are developing rapidly, and soon she will learn to sit up, crawl about, stand and eventually walk. Playing with objets, using them to shake, throw, poke, push, pull and drop will also occur. Operating simple mechanisms such as pop-up boxes, musical toys and push-pull toys will provide endless amusement and entertainment.

  • Musical toys
  • Soft squeeze toys and balls (balls should be at least one and three-quarter inches or 44 mm in diameter)
  • Unbreakable mirrors
  • Teethers
  • Baby books made of cardboard
  • Key rings
  • Sturdy cloth toys
  • Pop-up boxes
  • Containers to empty and fill such as cups and small pails
  • Stackable toys in large sizes
  • Bath toys
  • Large stuffed animals
  • Push-pull toys

Toddler Toys

One to Two-Year-Old

At one year, a toddler will engage in more active play that includes running, jumping, climbing and exploring. Toys that can be used in these activities will be preferred. Also, toys for building basic structures will be enjoyed.

  • Big balls for throwing and kicking
  • Drawing and coloring books
  • Large picture books
  • Push-pull toys
  • Building blocks
  • Bath toys
  • Play clothing
  • Dolls
  • Make believe toys (i.e. dinner sets and tools)
  • "peek-a-boo" games
  • Wagons
  • Miniature lawn mowers, shopping carts and baby strollers

Preschool Play

Three to Five-Year-Old

From three to five years of age a child will begin to enjoy more imaginative and creative play. Building recognizable structures and using smaller and more complex pieces will be preferred. Group play will become more important, too. As interactive and communication skills develop, she will begin to show more interest in toys that can be shared with other children.

  • Picture books
  • Basic musical instruments
  • Dolls and stuffed toys
  • Story books
  • Simple puzzles
  • Non-toxic arts and crafts
  • Construction toys
  • Card games
  • Sand and water toys
  • Toy telephones
  • Three and four-wheel riding toys (with a helmet)
  • Roller skates (with a helmet)
  • Playground

School-Age Fun

Six to Eight-Year-Old

During the early elementary school days, a child will be developing stronger muscles with improved coordination and dexterity. Social interaction will become more complex. At this age, she will develop some degree of competitiveness. Activities that involve these skills include sports, music, art and outside play. Home activities such as reading, writing, and collecting also interest some children. Early school-aged children can safely enjoy arts and crafts at home as well. Watercolors are safe to use, as are blunt scissors and non-toxic white glue or paste.

  • Musical instruments and dancing
  • Books
  • Board games
  • Jig saw puzzles
  • Riding toys, to include properly sized bicycles (with a helmet)
  • Sporting activities, to include gymnastics, swimming, baseball, softball, basketball, soccer and football.

As you will see, the activities and toys that children enjoy become more diverse, varied and complex as they grow older. An ever-increasing gray zone develops between what is safe and unsafe, so rely on your intuition and experience when deciding which toys can be given to an older child.

Written by Mark A. Brandenburg, MD, author of CHILD SAFE: A Practical Guide for Preventing Childhood Injuries. CHILD SAFE is also a terrific gift for grandparents, nannies, baby sitters and all other child care providers. Dr. Brandenburg is an Emergency Physician at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Board Certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM).

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