Children do not need a lot of toys; they do need a lot of play experiences. A thoughtful selection of "open-ended" toys will provide childrren with most of the play materials they need. Look for the following characteristics of good toys:

-A good toy is open-ended. Its use is not strictly defined. The child determines how it is used as he explores and discovers its many possibilities. Every child is unique, and an open-ended toy is responsive to the changing needs and interests of the child.-A good toy is inviting, interesting and exciting. Children want to play with it for a long time and again and again. Children are curious about how a toy works and what they can do with it. They like a toy that responds to some action on their part.

-A good toy has sensory appeal. It might have a unique sound, an unusual texture, a refreshing color, an interesting shape. Through their senses children learn about the physical properties of objects and experience concepts such as size, balance and weight while playing playing with toys. Children also begin to develop aesthetic values when exposed to quality toys that are pleasing to their senses.

-A good toy is appropriate to the age, size, ability and interest level of children. Children like a toy that they can manipulate and that challenges them. They get frustrated with a toy that is too difficult and bored with one that is too easy. The suggested age designation on packaging is based on generally accepted skills for a given age and is intended as a guideline.

-A good toy responds to the different play needs of children. Children need toys that let them fantasize, figure things out, use their bodies, play with others. Good toys encourage children to use their imaginations, minds and bodies.

-A good toy is well-made. Quality materials, fine workmanship and an interesting design ensure that a toy will have lasting value.

-A good toy can include others. Children sometimes like to play with other children and with adults. Some of their toys should encourage parent-child interaction.

-A Good toy is safe. A safe toy is one that can be used in the play environment with no danger to children. Safe toys are non-toxic, have no sharp edges and do not propel objects. Parts are securely fastened. They have no harmful chemicals or flammable materials. Toys with long cords and small pieces should not be given to infants and young toddlers.

-A good toy empowers a child. Children learn by doing. They discover they can affect their environment; and through the accomplishments and successes of play, they can move forward with courage and optimism.

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(Additional information)

Hot Toys for 1990

THE 1990 DURACELL NATIONAL TOY SURVEY

Children at YMCA daycare centers around the country were given a number of toys to play with and then asked to rank their favorites. Here are the top 12:

1. Power Alley Electronic Bowling (Marchon).

2. Sound Machine Water Cannon (Nylint).

3. Sound FX (Mattel).

4. Super Dough Magic Show (Tyco).

5. Rattle Me Bones (Tyco).

6. Monopoly Jr. (Parker Brothers).

7. Ready Set Spaghetti (Milton Bradley).

8. Thin Ice (Pressman).

9. Gearopolis (Discovery Toys).

10. Flippin' Flapjacks (Parker Brothers).

11. Lights Alive (Playskool).

12. Stamp-A-Story (All Night Media).

WHAT'S HOT from TOYS R US

Best-sellers and predicted favorites at Toys R Us stores around the country:

1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Playmates), ages 4-12.

2. Simpsons Figures (Mattel) 4-12.

3. New Kids on the Block Doll Assortment (Hasbro) 7-12.

4. Bubble Sax (Fisher Price) toddlers.

5. Weebles Fire Station Ride-on (Playskool) toddlers.

6. Spytech (Tyco) 7-12.

7. TMNT Elec Game (Konami) 7-adult.

8. Bo Jackson Football/Baseball Game (Tiger Elec.) 7-adult.

9. Scattergories (Milton Bradley) adult.

10. Taboo (Milton Bradley) adult.

11. Read My Lips (Pressman) adult.

12. Shark Attack (Milton Bradley) 7-12.

PLAYTHINGS MAGAZINE SURVEY

Top-selling toys of 1990 (through first week in November), according to a survey of 15,000 retailers.

1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

2. Barbie and accessories.

3. World Wrestling Federation figures.

4. New Kids on the Block figures.

5. Game Boy.

6. My Pretty Ballerina.

7. Super Mario Brothers III.

8. Batman and accessories.

9. GI Joe.

10. Scattergories.

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Keep safety in Mind

Be tough on a toy before your child is. Small children have amazing skill in taking things apart. Test buttons, bells and stuffed-animal eyes to make sure they won't pull off. Watch for sharp edges.

The federal government has established a size for safe toys for kids under age 3. A small part should be at least the size of this standard - 11/4 inches in diameter and 2 1/4 inches long (see below). Any part smaller than this is a potential choking hazard.

Some special problems:

- Bikes are a major source of childhood injuries. Buy a helmet to go with any bike you buy.

- Balloons are not considered unsafe toys. But small children can easily choke on pieces of popped balloons or on uninflated ones.

- Avoid electrical toys for young children. Kids should not play with or near electricity.

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What parents should know about toys

Each year, Americans spend approximately $12.75 billion for toys, and about 60 percent of that total is rung up during the holiday season, according to the Toy Manufacturers of America.

Toys are not only fun but are important to a child's development, says Jane Krejci, a product manager for the BRIO Scanditoy company who was in Salt Lake City earlier this year to talk about toys.

Toys help children develop socially, emotionally and physically, she says. Most of what children learn comes from external sources: parents, homes, schools, media and society. But one source of learning originates within the child himself - during his play. Here, the child becomes his own teacher and listens to his own inner voice or urgings. In so doing, he strengthens his core and nurtures his wholeness.

Therefore, she says, it is important to choose good toys. Back-to-basics toys are popular: blocks, balls, bikes, dolls. But important factors to consider are what the toy will do for the child, what the child is interested in and safety.