When toy shopping, follow the manufacturer's age recommendations displayed on the package. Although you might think that a more "advanced" toy will present a welcome challenge, in reality, it could be a source of frustration if it surpasses your baby's current stage of development. Age grading relates to the safety of the toy as well as its play value.
Consider the classics, such as stackable plastic "doughnuts," shape sorters, building blocks, and interlocking plastic oversized beads for very young children. There's a reason that they've been around so long.
For more clues about what toys your child might like, take note of what toys he or she gravitates to on play dates and/or at day care.
Shop around. Browse stores, catalogs, and Web sites for other ideas. Also, ask for suggestions from parents who have children of similar ages.
Check the federal Government's recall Web site, www.recalls.gov, to see whether the toys in your home--or toys you plan to buy--have been recalled. Even better, sign up for free e-mail notices of future recalls at the Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site, www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx. Keeping up-to-date can help prevent you from buying a recalled toy and remedy the situation if you bought a toy that has been recalled.
Regardless of your child's age, don't buy toys with small magnets, even if they seem safely contained within the toy. If the toy breaks and the magnets fall out, they could be accidentally swallowed and cause intestinal damage.
Cheap, poorly constructed toys are no bargain. Flimsy plastic toys--the kind sometimes sold in drugstores, airports, and dollar stores--often have dangerous sharp edges or small parts that can break off easily.
Used toys, especially solid, molded-plastic ones, can be a great buy. But as you would with new toys, check www.recalls.gov before shopping. Thrift stores, consignment shops, and yard and garage sales often have toys in excellent condition. But carefully check every toy to see that it's well made and safe, with no parts that could break loose and no magnets, which have proven dangerous for children as old as 11. Wash any secondhand toy before giving it to your child. Babies experience much of their world through sucking, so expect that most toys will go straight to their mouths.