Naughty or Nice?

Naughty or Nice?

The season of gift giving is upon us. If exchanging presents is part of your holiday tradition, you know choosing appropriate toys for the children in your life can sometimes be difficult. When it comes to the littlest ones on your list, it’s ideal to find toys that are both fun to play with and help with growth and development.

“Toys occupy many hours of a child’s play and should therefore be carefully selected,” says Tara Yates, a pediatric occupational therapist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill.

Luckily, the way toys are packaged makes choosing the right ones easier, especially when it comes to children under the age of two. Many manufacturers will list which ages the toy is appropriate for as well as the developmental benefits of playing with the toy on the outside of the packaging. However, pediatric therapists note that the recommendations are only a guide and based on national averages for when developmental milestones are reached. Children develop at different rates, so it’s important to keep the individual child, his or her interests and skill level in mind when selecting a toy.

“It’s important to remember that a ‘good’ toy is one that does not do all the playing for the child. The child needs to be an active participant with the toy, not just be entertained,” says Yates. “By being an active participant, the child has the chance to practice new skills in a non-pressured environment.”

In addition to being developmentally appropriate, audiologists at Advocate Children’s Hospital Andrea Rosenquist, Janice Leverenz and Rachel Barr urge parents to keep the noise level of the toy in mind. Playing with noisy toys, toys that exceed 85 dB when placed 20 inches from a child’s ear, can potentially affect a child’s developmental by causing hearing loss, fatigue, inability to pay attention or an upset stomach. Playing with noisy toys or being exposed to loud noises for an extended period can cause permanent hearing loss, which affects a child’s speech and language development.

“Noisy toys can be distracting for children by reducing sustained attention and can take away from the goals you may be targeting such as having the child independently identify and label three out of the five animal toys he or she is playing with. They tend to focus more on making the noise happen again rather than following a direction, answering a question or labeling items,” says Kris Peters, a pediatric speech-language pathologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn.

Playing with safe and age-appropriate toys help children engage in play and contribute to learning and development by challenging their patterns of movement, creativity, social skills and cognitive skills.

“The majority of learning and development, especially at young ages, comes from the availability of age appropriate toys that stimulate and challenge areas of physical, cognitive, social/emotional, language and self-help skills,” says Yates.

In search of a gift this holiday season? Pediatric therapists shared some ideas for developmentally appropriate toys for the youngest members of the family:

  • 0 – 3 months: Toys with mirrors, mobiles, small rattles
  • 4 – 6 months: Ring toys, soft blocks, large textured books, an activity mat
  • 7 – 9 months: Shape sorters, cause/effect toys, container play activities
  • 9 – 12 months: Push toys, stacking toys, books; push/pull toys, outdoor toys such as swings, ride on toys
  • 12 – 24 months: Wagons, crayons, playdough, dolls, simple puzzles, clothes and accessories to play dress up

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About the Author

Colette Harris
Colette Harris

Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.