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Tips for picking the best toys for young children

By Betsy Flagler
John Rosemond
Betsy Flagler, who lives in Davidson, writes the nationally syndicated Parent to Parent column.

When you’re toy shopping for little kids, keep in mind that play has a purpose. Unlike tech toys, choices such as blocks and dress-up clothes tap a child’s imagination.

“Why buy toys when there’s Tupperware?” quips one mother of a 4-year-old. What she’s discovered: Less is more.

“Selecting a toy can be overwhelming,” says Sandra Schefkind, pediatric coordinator at the American Occupational Therapy Association. Consider these questions when buying for children, the association suggests:

• Is the toy safe and age-appropriate? If the suggested age range is too young for the child, he or she may get bored quickly. If the range is too old, the child may get frustrated and give up, or be exposed to small parts that could pose a safety risk.

• Can the toy be played with in more than one way? Toys that offer unlimited possibilities can tap into the child’s creativity. Blocks can be stacked, knocked down, lined up, crashed into and even substituted for play food in a pretend kitchen.

• Can the toy be used in more than one place or position? Toys that are easy to carry or can be used while sitting, standing, or even lying down make play possible anywhere.

• Does the toy involve the use of both hands? Construction toys, craft kits, puzzles, balls, riding toys and toss-and-catch sets promote motor-skill development.

• Does the toy encourage thinking or solving problems? Board games and science kits offer older kids the chance to use thinking skills , while shape sorters and puzzles are great for babies and toddlers.

• Does the toy encourage interaction? Dress-up clothes, costumes, playhouses, kitchen sets and tools can all teach cooperation and creativity.

• Is the toy worth the cost? Consider the appeal of the toy and its durability.

To get the most for your money, scour consignment shops for wooden dollhouses with people and furniture; wooden barns with animals and tractors; Matchbox cars with a garage; or pretend kitchens.

Betsy Flagler is a mother and preschool teacher. Email her at p2ptips@att.net or call 704-236-9510.

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