Extension expert suggests parents buy age-appropriate toys that promote learning this holiday season

BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 28, 2007 – As families with young children canvass shopping malls for the best toys this holiday season, many parents and guardians may ask whether they should buy the latest electronic gadgets or stick to puzzles and board games.

One child-development experts suggests age-appropriate, learning-oriented toys.

First, determine how the age of the child will affect his or her ability to understand and interact with a toy. “For a young child, before he or she can grasp small toy items, you want to pick larger toys, such as a ball,” said Novella Ruffin, child development specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension and assistant professor at Virginia State University. “Also, choose toys that do not have any sharp edges or loose parts that a child could easily swallow.”

“Always consider a child’s fine and gross motor skills before making a purchase,” Ruffin added. “Another instance, you would not want to buy a book with thin paper pages for a child younger than two years. You would want to select an age-appropriate book with pages that a child can easily turn as gross motor skills develop.”

Toy manufacturers print the age level on their products, but parents and guardians should still check whether a toy is appropriate for their child. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission posts recall information on its website for toys deemed inappropriate for children. This includes the current concerns about lead-tainted toys.

Second, do not buy an excessive number of toys or spend too much money during the holidays. “Many parents and guardians are guilty of this,” Ruffin explained. “Children lose interest quickly, so giving them one or two quality items is fine.”

But Ruffin does recommend exposing children to toys that help to promote different aspects of their cognitive and physical development. “You want to buy toys that promote hearing, vision, fine and gross motor skills, and language development,” Ruffin said.

Third, interact with a child at play. “The purpose of play is to allow the child to explore and experiment with their environment, ” Ruffin said. “With the help of an adult, children can learn many concepts from interaction with toys, such as shapes, colors, size, and language. Parents can also make toys for play and be engaged with children in everyday situations, such as in the kitchen. A young child is often fascinated with something as simple as the sounds from banging a large wooden spoon and pots and pans.”

Ruffin added that parents and guardians should constantly engage in conversation with their children about what is happening around them, even when their children have not learned the language to talk with them.

Fourth, look for toys that will grow with a child. Durable toys that have play value beyond a child’s current age are often good choices. Parents should keep in mind more than age; a child’s developmental level, emerging interests, and skills are also important considerations when picking a toy.

About Virginia Cooperative Extension
Virginia Cooperative Extension brings the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the commonwealth. Through a system of on-campus specialists and locally based agents, it delivers education in the areas of agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, community viability, and 4-H youth development. With a network of faculty at two universities, 107 county and city offices, 13 agricultural research and Extension centers, and six 4-H educational centers, Virginia Cooperative Extension provides solutions to the problems facing Virginians today.