Does your toy cupboard need a facelift? Maybe your children are in need of some fresh toy options to spice up their play. With so many options out there, it can be hard to narrow down what’s important, what you need and what to avoid. It’s tempting to want to have it all, but not every family has the budget of Santa Claus.
Here are five things to consider, or questions to ask yourself, the next time you head to the toy shop.
Choose open-ended toys for educational value and value-for-money
There’s nothing worse than investing money in new toys, only to find that your child has outgrown them in a few weeks. It’s important to buy toys that are age-appropriate from both a safety and development point of view, but you should also consider choosing options that can be used in many different ways and with increasing complexity. This way you’ll get the best value for money out of your purchase.
Open-ended toys are brilliant for a child’s development. Not only do they encourage creativity and imagination, but they often last longer than battery-operated alternatives that might only have one way to play with them. Some open-ended materials are more expensive, but you will recoup the initial cost through years of endless play.
A great example of this is Duplo for younger children and Lego for older children. What starts out as quite basic connecting and pattern-making, leads to colour-matching, tower-building and ever-more complicated feats of ‘engineering’. Magnetic tiles are another brilliant building toy that can provide a challenge for children of all ages. Both magnetic tiles and Duplo are great for introducing preschoolers to early literacy and numeracy.
Consider your child’s interests
What does your child absolutely love to play with now and how often do their interests change? Consider what they’re passionate about – such as outer space, animals or machinery – and the types of toys they currently enjoy. Is it a newfound love or something they’re close to moving on from? While open-ended toys can be enjoyed for longer, it’s also important to acknowledge your child’s interests and extend them with new challenges.
If your child absolutely loves puzzles, push them a little harder with a new jigsaw with more pieces or an unusual shape. If they’re all about aliens, but are transitioning to a new play schema, this is a great opportunity to introduce a new type of toy tied to something they already love.
Try to have a variety of toys available to encourage your child to build different strengths – movement toys for gross motor play, loose parts for fine motor skills, and educational toys depending on their age.
Don’t bust your budget
In the 80s there were Cabbage Patch Kids. Then, the 90s had everyone obsessed with keeping their Tamagotchi alive. The latest fads will come and go, but it’s important not to feel compelled to buy into them if it’s going to put pressure on your toy budget (of course, with older children this may require some negotiation).
If there is something you or your child desperately wants, but it’s out of your budget, try putting some money aside each week so you can purchase it on sale. Social media can make it feel like you need the best and brightest, but great toys don’t need to cost a lot of money!
Along the same lines, choose what’s right for your child and your family, not what might be right for other people’s children. To put it simply – children are expensive, toys don’t need to be.
How much space do you have?
This sounds like a really obvious question, but it’s easy to get carried away with the latest fads in toys without considering how suitable they are for your home. Play sofas and Pikler triangles are great for encouraging gross motor play, but both take up a lot of floor space, which isn’t so great if you have a small house or are short on space. Likewise, train tables are a lot of fun but take up a lot of real estate; it might be easier to put that money into buying more tracks and accessories and playing on the floor, clearing the area each evening.
Also, consider what storage options you have to avoid being inundated by a toy-splosion. It’s a great idea to only keep a few toys out at a time to avoid overwhelming your children with options, and regularly rotating what’s available as they lose interest with each toy or game.
Above all – safety
Any parent’s worst nightmare is their child getting hurt. Minimise the risks of play-related accidents by making sure the toys you choose are appropriate for their age (and that of any other children at home unless supervised). Check they pass any applicable safety regulations and are being used for their intended purpose.
Buying toys for any child, whether your own or as a gift, is fun but can also feel overwhelming. There are so many options, so many claimed benefits, and everything looks so colourful and fun that we want to play with them ourselves, right? Go back to basics with these five simple considerations and you’ll soon find toy-buying a breeze.