How often have you seen an expectant father rush out to buy the unborn child a Hornby train set? Seen Aunts and Uncles buy toys that your child grew out of years ago? Seen the proud grandparents buy the 'must have' toy of Christmas only to see it end up at the bottom of the toy box come Boxing day? Toy buying may not be as easy as you first think. Toy retailers and manufactures alike bombard your senses with an array of stylish packaging and eye catching displays all designed to make you want to buy their toys! However, you, as the toy buying public, needs to ask a few simply questions to ensure that you're actually purchasing the toy you want as opposed to being fooled by the marketing frenzy that makes you THINK you're buying the toy you want!

Here are some great tips to consider when buying toys...

Is it age appropriate?Edit

This is especially important when buying for the younger child, especially babies. Many toys state 'not suitable for under 3's' - the main reason for this is that, all too often, the toy may contain small parts that a younger child could pull off and choke on. Safety aside, the age recommendations on toys really are there for a reason. A toy given that is too advanced for a child to appreciate will simply lead to frustration. Instead of advancing your child, it will actually be detrimental to their development since they're missing out on playing with age appropriate toys that will enhance their development. The ages given on packaging are a good guide to age appropriatness, as are observing the child with the toy. Are they playing with it correctly? Are they enjoying it? The right toy will help to promote mastered skills and develop emerging skills, it shouldn't be so easy as to be boring, yet not so difficult as to frustrate.

My six month old son is almost sitting and almost mobile - so he has toys that move a small distance so as to encourage him to move towards them. They also have various buttons to press and things to grab - all much easier to do when sitting - so it's reinforcing earlier mastered skills of pressing buttons to make things happen, and its also helping emerging skills such as sitting and crawling.

Is it Safe?Edit

As mentioned before, age appropriateness and safety tend to be linked together. However, safety in general should be considered when toy buying regardless of the age of the child. Just because you may be buying from a reputable retailer does not automatically make a toy safe. Check for yourself the sturdiness of a toy, can small parts come away, can the toy be washed or cleaned easily (toys that spend half their life in a babies mouth will be a breeding place for germs), are there any obvious risks such as ropes that could present a strangulation hazard or sharp corners etc?

In addition to these safety consideration, many toys require add-on safety buys. You may buy your child a great bike, roller-blades, skateboard or whatever - but has anyone bought them knee and elbow pads or a helmet? Likewise, if buying a trampoline, has anyone invested in a bounce surround to avoid the dangers of bouncing off? Whatever you buy, consider the safety risks that may be associated.

Is it stimulatingEdit

Regardless of whether the packaging says that a toy is suitable for your child or not, you need to ask yourself 'is it stimulating?' Where babies are concerned, their development is so rapid that it can be hard to know what stage they are at. But, a good guide is to look for toys that can stimulate a range of senses. Mirrors and bright objects help stimulate their visual systems, things that make noises, different textures to feel in their hands or mouth - all these things help in their developement. This doesn't change as the child gets older - they are always learning things such as hand-eye co-ordination, cause and effect, spatial awareness, language and so on. An action figure may seem like the 'must have' toy, but quite often the play value associated with this may be very limited. Although not every toy should be about educating your child, quite often the learning done through play is invaluable.

Is it value for MoneyEdit

How many times have you thought 'what a rip off!'? Please don't take out your frustrations on the lowly shop assistant who merely sells things at a recommended retail price. Prices are set primarily by the manufacturer - and although large chain stores may do discount prices, this is thanks to the manufacturer offering them a bulk buy discount not avalable to the independent toy shop. That said, value for money should not merely translate into cost. Value for money should take into consideration the amount of play a child will get from the toy. If something that costs twice as much as something else is played with twice as much - then its giving the same value for money. Look at a toy from that perspective. Lego and playmobil offer good examples of toys that, although not the cheapest on the market, generally offer good play value, thus good value for money.

How about your sanity!!Edit

Sad but true, many parents end up removing the batteries from a child's much loved toy because they can't stand to hear the same tune repeated yet again! When toy buying please do consider the parents - a drum set may be a lovely idea - but how would you feel being the one on the receiving end of that bang bang bang for hours at a time?