The best toys for kids
Toys can be a good way to kickstart your child’s play and support your child’s development.
The best toys for children are open-ended. Open-ended toys are good because your child can use them in many ways. They encourage imagination, creativity and problem-solving skills.
Here are ideas for open-ended toys:
- Blocks – your child can use blocks for stacking and building, make-believe and much more.
- Balls – they’re great to bounce, look at, roll, hold and throw.
- Cardboard boxes – your child can pretend these are shop counters, ovens, cars, boats, doll houses and more.
- Dress-ups – with some hand-me-down clothes and bits of fabric, your child can become anything or anyone.
- Crafty bits and pieces – your child can get creative with coloured paper, stickers, crayons and washable markers.
- Collections – your child can collect buttons, beads or coins, and sort by colour, pattern, size or shape.
- Natural materials – you could make a treasure box for your child filled with leaves, feathers or shells. Or you and your child could make a nature doll.
The way your child uses a toy is often far more important than the toy itself. Thinking about how your child might play with the toy can help you decide whether it’s the right one for you and your child.
Toys for kids of different ages
Many toys have age-range information on their packaging. This can be useful, but it’s only a guide for play. Your child’s interests will give you a better idea of what to choose. Here are ideas to interest children of different ages.
Play with babies is about interactions with you or other carers. Your baby loves to watch your face, listen to your voice and just be with you. This means that the best toys for your baby are toys that you play with together. For example, try looking at a brightly coloured mobile, listening to a wind-up musical toy, reaching for a rattle, or touching things with different textures together.
Toddlers love to play with boxes, building blocks, pegs, buckets and containers, and clothing for dress-ups. Toddlers also enjoy simple musical instruments that they can shake and bang – for example, a drum made from an upside-down pot and a wooden spoon.
Preschoolers and school-age children
Older children often like toys and play materials that let them explore, solve problems and use their imagination and senses. This might include materials for going on treasure hunts, building paper planes, making costumes or cooking. Puzzles or games that encourage older children to play with others are also good choices. And older children might enjoy toys or games from diverse cultures too.
Toy libraries are a great way to keep surprising your child with new toys. Most toy libraries charge a membership fee, but you can borrow toys for free. You might also like to read more about homemade toys and free activities for kids.
Safe toys for kids
Age-range information on toy packaging can be important for safety. For example, this information can indicate when toys have small parts that babies could swallow.
You can also get a sense of toy safety by checking whether toys meet Australian safety standards. Look for the Standards label on products and packaging or check the manufacturer’s website.
And when you’re choosing toys with safety in mind, especially toys for children aged 0-2 years, never buy toys that have:
- small parts, which could cause choking if swallowed
- long cords, ribbons or elastic, which could strangle
- button batteries, which could cause poisoning if swallowed.
- toxic paint or toxic materials.
It’s also good to look at what toys are made from. For example, if possible, choose stuffed toys that are made from organic materials and rubber toys that are made from 100% natural rubber.
Everyday household items like pots and pans, plastic containers, pegs, clothes baskets and blankets often make great toys. Just make sure that any household items your child plays with are safe, so avoid choking risks, sharp edges and other hazards.
Toy weapons, ‘sexy’ dolls and plastic toys
Some families find that certain toys don’t sit well with their family values – for example, toy weapons, dolls with grown-up or ‘sexy’ body shapes, or easily disposable, plastic toys.
If your child is interested in these kinds of toys, it can help to talk with your child about your family values. For example, ‘Guns can scare and hurt people very much. No-one in our family has a gun’. Banning these toys or refusing to buy them can make your child want them more.
And if you don’t want other grown-ups to give your child certain toys as presents, just explain your feelings briefly and calmly.
If your child plays with or makes toy weapons and you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to look at how your child is playing with the toy. For example, your child might be using the toy weapon as a water pistol to squirt at targets but not at people or pets. This might be OK.
But if your child is using the toy weapon aggressively towards other children, it can scare other children, who might not want to play with your child. It might help to guide your child towards friendlier ways to play – for example, ‘Why don’t you and May-Ling be on the same team and pretend you’re both fighting the monsters?’
It’s common for children to make toy guns out of everyday objects like sticks. You might not like this, but a gun made of sticks doesn’t have the same power as a toy gun. A gun made of sticks is a symbol, and children are less likely to use it to scare others. You could also redirect your child’s play by saying something like, ‘What else can you make these sticks into?’
Some female dolls come with sexy clothing like microskirts, fishnet stockings and high heels. This can create an image of women that you might not be comfortable with. For example, these types of dolls can give children the message that it’s important to look ‘sexy’ if you’re a girl.
It’s worth watching to see how your child plays with dolls. If you’re concerned, you could look for dolls with more child-like features.
If your child wants a new plastic toy but environmental values are important to you, you could try linking your family values with the way your child uses toys in daily life.
For example, instead of buying the toy, you could help your child make toys from things around the house. You could also talk with your child about how this is an example of recycling.
A ‘watch-and-see’ approach might be the best way to decide how you feel about your child playing with toy weapons, sexy dolls or the latest plastic toy. It might just be a phase your child is going through and will pass by itself. But if it worries you, you could suggest your child plays with something else.
Toys and advertising
Many toys are promoted by advertisements and marketing aimed at children.
Advertised toys are often designed to promote a particular type of play based on a movie or TV program. These toys might limit play options for your child. This can happen if your child plays with these toys only to copy what happens in the TV shows, rather than using their imagination.
Instead of getting your child an advertised toy, you could encourage your child to draw a picture of the toy or make the toy using natural materials.
If you have fewer toys in your home, children can explore those objects fully. And if you happen to have a lot of toys, you can rotate them by putting some away from time to time.