Don't mess around when shopping for toys


Parents spend millions of dollars every year buying toys that wind up, whistle and wiggle, but the kid may inevitably end up playing with the box the thing came in. Sometimes the kid knows exactly what he needs.

"The baby will teach us anything we need to know about that baby," says Sally Goldberg, an author and professor of early childhood education at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

While babies may gravitate toward objects and activities that spur their development, in the past decade a lot of scientific research has focused on finding exactly what it is that babies need at various ages and stages. An entire industry has sprouted that aims to provide infants with toys to help them develop.

Developmental toys are designed to stimulate a child's brain and creativity, requiring him to interact and manipulate the toy instead of sitting passively, explains Andrea Barbalich, executive editor of Child magazine. Most of these toys feature bright primary colors or are in black and white, like the Lamaze Crib Mirror.

For parents, though, the plethora of developmental toys can cause a bit of a panic. How many unique and often-expensive developmental toys does a child need? And what if your child's favorite toys are his socks and the dog's tail?

The first part of the good news is that the best developmental toys are those that can be used for a long time, which makes them more economically attractive, says Barbalich. For example, a set of designer nesting cups fascinates a baby, then can be used later for playing in the bathtub and even later to hold up a section of toy race-car track. Buying developmental toys that can be used repeatedly is worth the money because the toys are built to last.

"We think the best toys are open-ended," says Barbalich. "They can be used in a number of different ways, grow with the child, and the child has to participate.

Perhaps the best news for parents is that experts agree that the single most important developmental tool a baby needs is a parent or caregiver who will interact with him or her.

"Love, attention and play time have the greatest benefits," Barbalich says.

Toy advice

Check for news and reviews of developmental toys.

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