Holiday toy shopping hints

Consumer Reports News: November 20, 2008 04:21 PM

If you’ve got kids to buy for this holiday season, you’re probably already thinking about what to get them. “Wow” gifts don’t have to be the season’s “hottest” toy. The classics can often hold their interest just as long.

Here are general ideas for toys for kids from age 1 to 12 that are bound to be a hit because they track with your child’s stage of development.

Ages 1 to 3: Toddlers get their fill
At around age 1, children begin to take an interest in emptying, transferring, and rearranging their environment. Filling and dumping are organizing skills that help your toddler experience how things work and relate to each other. They also enhance hand-eye coordination and teach basic spatial concepts like “in” and “out,” so they’ll enjoy toys that allow them to endlessly fill and spill, such as a plush container of stuffed animals. From ages 2 to 3, active play and testing their physical skills by jumping, climbing, and throwing is the name of the game. Toddlers this age also like using their expanding hand-eye coordination to work with basic arts and crafts, blocks, and simple puzzles.

Gift tips: Blocks, books, fit-together toys, push-and-pull toys, pounding and shape toys, fill-and-spill sets, and balls.

Age 3 to 6: Masters of make-believe
By age 3, children start interacting with each other and engaging in pretend play. They enjoy acting out grown-up roles and using props such as costumes to bring their imaginations to life. They can also become attached to certain dolls or stuffed animals.

Gift tips: Age-appropriate nontoxic art supplies, books, videos, musical instruments, and outdoor toys such as a baseball tee, slide, or swing. Also consider doll and play houses, age-appropriate hand-held electronics, action figures, ride-on toys, and trikes (suitable for kids ages 3 and older; get a helmet, too).

Age 6 to 8: Raring to go
Kids of this age have energy to burn and like jumping rope, climbing, and bike riding. They also tend to be interested in producing finished products such as art, models, crafts, sewing, and carpentry. They typically enjoy hobbies and collecting things, and crave the mental challenges offered by games; reading, spelling, and math activities; and puzzles of 100-500 pieces.

Gift tips: A jump rope; complex gym sets with rings, bars, and swings; construction sets with motorized parts; 50-100 piece jigsaw and 3-D puzzles; analog clocks and watches (for learning to tell time); games with simple strategies such as regular checkers and Chinese checkers; stuffed toys; outdoor items like a badminton set, a sled or toboggan, or a basketball; roller blades or ice skates; remote-controlled cars or boats; and jewelry or other craft kits.

Age 9 to 12: Ready for a challenge
This age group can work independently and is apt to be interested in reading, science, specific crafts, such as pottery or knitting, or any design work in any medium (wood, plastic, paper, cardboard, tiles, beads). They can play complex card games, put together intricate parts and puzzles, manipulate tiny screws, and follow directions. They also tend to enjoy competitive games and sports.

Gift tips: Complex math, word, or spelling games or quizzes, remote-control vehicles, electric trains, complex arts and craft kits such as jewelry, weaving, knitting or crochet, books by a favorite author, computer games and software.

For more information, see our report on toys for toddlers and preschoolers and post on buying second-hand toys.

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