Expert Articles

How should I choose toys for my child?

Author: Annie NG
Speech and Language Therapist

With the amount of toys out there on the market, it can be overwhelming to shop for your child. What considerations should you have in mind when it comes to identifying appropriate toys for your child’s age and development?

Why does your child need to play?

Play is a crucial part of child development because it contributes to their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional growth. When children are playing, they are not just having fun. They are learning in the process. In Piaget’s words, “Play is the work of children”. Play is also a great way for parents to engage fully with their children. 

Let’s learn more about play by busting these five myths.

  1. The more the toy does, e.g. if it plays music, lights up and moves, the more educational it is for my child.
    • A lot of battery-powered toys are examples of toys that do a lot without your child doing much work. One press of a button might already trigger a series of actions that allow a child to just sit back and watch, instead of having to actively think about how to operate the toy themselves.
    • Most battery-powered toys are very entertaining, but not always educational. Typically, the more your child uses their mind and body to explore, operate and problem-solve in the play process, the more learning opportunities the toy is offering them.
  1. Pick toys that label the skills they promote.
    • Toys that claim the different kinds of skills they promote have not necessarily been proven to be true. Instead of choosing a toy based on those claims, choose based on the suitability of your child’s current development. For example, if your child has developed or is soon to develop their pincer grasp, then a toy that encourages this fine motor skill is appropriate. If your child is interested in animals, perhaps a toy vet kit would be nice to add to the toy collection. 
    • When choosing toys for your child, go by their interests
  1. My child is not interested in traditional toys like blocks, animals and books. 
    • Whilst every child’s interests are unique and there will always be toys that they prefer more than others, we need to also consider the reasons why they seem disinterested in certain types of toys. For example, does your child just need to be shown what they can do with a particular toy? Have you tried playing with the toy in non-conventional ways (we know children love things that are non-conventional when it comes to play!) Is the toy too challenging for your child’s current developmental level? Is your child used to playing with battery-operated toys that allow him to just sit back and watch, therefore needing more exposure toys that require him to play more of an active role?
  1. I should keep buying new toys to help my child learn.
    • Despite what the world of marketing is trying to tell you, you don’t need to constantly buy new toys for your child. That said, you can intentionally choose toys that will grow with them.
    • Some toys are designed to support multiple stages of play skills and some are not. Some can be played in many different ways but some are more single-functional. Where possible, choose toys that encourage open-ended play and social engagement, e.g. group play. 
    • Toy rotation is another way to keep existing toys interesting for your child. Instead of making every toy available to your child, select a few of them to display in the play area and put the rest away. Rotate the toys on display every other week or so. 
    • Studies show that having lots of toys actually causes distractions. Having fewer toys can increase the depth and duration of playtime. Children learn to play in more varied ways and their play quality can also increase.
  1. If a toy can occupy my child for a long time, it’s a sure winner!
    • It is always nice to see a child independently engage in something for an extended period of time because it often means that they have found something they really enjoy and that we can have a moment to ourselves or to do something else.
    • Independent play should be encouraged but not at the cost of sacrificing group play. Independent play should be balanced with play opportunities with others. If a toy is taking away your child’s desire to play with others, you may need to think of strategies to incorporate more group play or social play in the week.

Some toys that are likely to grow with your child:

  • Blocks and building toys
  • Food toys and cooking set
  • Animals, dolls and figurines 
  • Play house 
  • Vehicles and train set 
  • Tool box 
  • Balls
  • Books 
  • Play dough 
  • Arts and craft supplies

There is no hard and fast rule on how to curate your child’s toy collection, but here are a few points to consider the next time you go shopping.

  1. Does the toy provide the right level of challenge for your child?
  2. What kind of play skills does the toy encourage?
  3. Is the toy providing passive entertaining or does it encourage your child to use their mind and body actively in the process?
  4. Does the toy provide opportunities for group play and social engagement? If so, how can you facilitate your child to do so?
  5. Does the toy complement your child’s current toy collection?

Remember, a toy is only a part of the play process. How you get involved in the play with your child can make the biggest difference in their engagement and learning!

1,000 FAQ
How should I choose toys for my child?