How do you know which toys are best for your child? Your child can tell you what he or she wants - most likely based on the latest TV ads. But there are other factors to consider.
Here are some tips from John Simone, consultant in early childhood education for several major toy research and development firms:Understand the child's learning process: Learning is the ability of the human mind to consciously or subconsciously record events for later recall or action. Learning is accomplished through repetition. Repeated exposure to, or experience of, an event or stimulus facilitates the learning process.
Know your child: Each child is an individual. Use time spent playing with your child as an opportunity to learn what types of toys are favored, what skill levels your child has achieved. Children learn at an astonishing rate, and you will have to be alert to recognize changing abilities. You want to keep the child interested in the environment by providing enough toys to stimulate the mind.
Know the types of learning toys: Every toy will provide different experiences, good or bad, and your child will learn from these experiences. Toys fall into four categories: passive (the toy does nothing and the child must initiate and complete the action or experience); reactive (the child initiates the action and is rewarded); responsive (the toy elicits a response from the child); and interactive (the toy imparts knowledge and the child participates in a learning experience).
Choose the right toy: A good toy can be a bad experience if it is above or below your child's ability. Consider whether the toy will grow with your child.
Once you have make a choice, plan to play with the child and evaluate the reaction. Toys are not surrogates. Time you spend in the activities with your child is more important than the time the child spends alone with toys.
Safety: Each product is supposed to pass standard safety tests. But don't assume any toy is safe for your child until you have inspected it. Check for small parts that could be swallowed or wedged into ears, eyes and nose. Check for sharp points, edges or corners.
Making the purchase: As with any purchase, the consumer should compare price, features, quality, safety, warranty, battery requirements and the store's return policy.
How toys on today's market stack up? Several consumer groups rate and evaluate them.
Consumer Reports Books has a new "Toy Buying Guide." Selling for $7, it bills itself as "the most extensive examination ever of the toy department."
Among its listings:
Top-rated toys by "educational value":
1. Speak & Math (from Texas Instrument, $40, ages 4-8); 2. Flash Cards, math (Milton Bradley, $5, elementary age); 3. Speak & Spell (Texas Instruments, $40, ages 4-8).
Top-rated toys by "play value":
1. Nintendo Control Deck (Nintendo, $40, ages 8 and up); 2. Lego Technic building set (Lego, $15-$40, ages 6-12); 3. Legoland Town building sets (Lego, $20-$40, ages 6-12).
From the Americans for Democratic Action comes another evaluation:
The "toy box" of good purchases:
Fun With Food, Create a Cake (Fisher-Price); Pablo Jr. (Davis-Grabowski); Basic Shapes Bingo and Animoes (Colorform); Bubble Thing (Wham-O); Dirty Dunk (Charlico Inc.); Sesame Street Alphabet Roadway (Playskool); Discovery Map (Fisher-Price); Guess Who! (Milton Bradley); Garden Tractor and Cart (Little Tykes); Double Dare (Pressman Games).
The "trash box" of bad purchases:
Army Ants (Hasbro); Dolly Surprise (Playskool); Hit Stix (Nasta); Colormagic TV Dinners (Tyco); Dress 'N Dazzle Dress-Up Costumes (Tonka); Little Boppers and Monster Boppers (Worlds of Wonder); Baby Grows (Playmates); Glooper Gun (Entertech); Squarbles (Hasbro); Body Rap (Startel Co.).