Toy Buying for Real Kids

By Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

You’ve seen this year’s toy-buying lists in all the popular parenting magazines, age-by-age suggestions of must-have toys. Unfortunately these can lead to a houseful of forgettable toys. Gift giving is not about checking each toy off the annual list of hot new products, especially when buying for children!

Children grow easily bored with marketing gimmicks. They tire quickly of superficial appearances. Children are without pretense. They want and need to be engaged in their play. If the toy doesn’t satisfy them, the box will.

The following toy-buying strategies are intended to help you think about what each child genuinely likes. The emphasis here is on the child rather than on the toy.

  1. Look at the child’s new developmental interests and skills. Toys capture the essence of each new stage of growth. Toddlers need to move – from riding toys and slides, from marching with instruments to ball pits. Preschoolers are discovering limitless imagination – from dress-up to dolls and dinosaurs, from play kitchens to camping tents. School-age children understand playing by the rules and the intricacies of design – from board games to sports, from jewelry-making to construction kits.
  2. Select big ticket items that your child will enjoy for years to come. We create a child’s world of experience through larger play equipment: art tables and easels, climbing gyms, toy vehicles, imagination stations. Let your child lead you to the right purchases:
    • Does your child like to sit or move?
    • What holds your child’s interest longer than other activities?
    • If your child could do anything, what would he/she choose?
  3. Invest in “multiple intelligences”. Harvard educator, Howard Gardner, says that each child/person has dominant “intelligences” or preferences. He has researched nine “intelligences” that we can use to guide our gift-buying. The following ideas are sample suggestions, not in any way comprehensive lists. You will also see that the best toys fit in more than one category.
    • For children with linguistic interests: Think stories and poetry, puppets and puppet stages, word games, magnetic letters/words, chalkboards, and recorders.
    • For children with logical-mathematical interests: Think board games and lotto games, chess sets, microscopes, chemistry sets, and cooking sets.
    • For children with spatial interests: Think puzzles, construction sets and tables, light tables, art supplies, train sets and blocks.
    • For children with bodily-kinesthetic interests: Think sports equipment, water tables and sand boxes, balance equipment, tool benches, bicycles and skateboards.
    • For children with musical interests: Think music and karaoke machines, drums, guitars, percussion, multi-cultural instruments, sound equipment and head phones.
    • For children with interpersonal interests: Think telephones and microphones, Lego’s with people and scenes, character costumes, tea party sets, and anything designed for more than one person.
    • For children with intra-personal interests: Think magic kits, diaries and journals, play kitchens, pop-up firetrucks and school buses, and things suitable for solitary play.
    • For children with an interest in the natural world: Think snorkel gear, turtles and fish aquariums, butterfly pavilions, binoculars and bug catchers.
    • For the young existentialist: Think telescopes and solar systems, doctor kits, inspirational books and media, and places to think.
  4. Think outside the box. Children are not just interested in toys. In addition to shopping at the toy stores and websites, check out the non-toy options:
    • Hardware stores – hammers, nails, wood, masking tape, paint, plumbing pipes and nontoxic glue, flashlights and survival gear, etc.
    • Office supply stores – colorful paper, staplers, adding machines, bubble wrap, white boards, bulletin boards, book binding machines, etc.
    • Craft stores – collage materials, jewelry kits, tie-dye kits, sewing supplies, shells, etc.
    • Resale shops – dress-up clothes, trunks and suitcases, appliances to take apart and rebuild, etc.
    • Pet stores – aquariums and terrariums, etc
    • Garden shops – garden tools and gnomes, garden boots, dirt, stones, and garden workbenches.
    • Museums and Science centers – posters, books, activity kits, etc.
  5. Finally have fun and eliminate the guilt. Try not to worry about what everyone else is buying and how much everyone else is spending. This is about the child, not about proving our love with stuff. Buy what you like if that means you’ll be joining your child. Your time will always be the best gift you can give a child. Our generosity of spirit will add joy to a childhood and joy to the world.

Karen Deerwester is the owner of Family Time Coaching & Consulting, writing and lecturing on parenting and early childhood topics since 1984. Karen is also the Mommy & Me director at The Ruth and Edward Taubman Early Childhood Center at B�nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton. 

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