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Harvard Medical School
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Chrome 2001


Mental Health
Understand that toys are an important contribution to the learning process.
InteliHealth Medical Content
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Children grow up, but never seem to outgrow the desire for toys. While playing with toys is fun, children also learn a lot, including an increased understanding of the world and how things work. Toys help them develop and practice physical skills, as well as teach them social skills (for example, how to play fair, win or lose gracefully, and get along with others). As children get older, their toys may get more complex, but they still provide hours of enjoyment and opportunities for learning. Even adults play with and learn from toys, although they often call them hobbies.

The value of a toy is unrelated to its price tag. Rather, it should be judged by how well it fits a child’s developmental stage and how much it inspires creative play. Many simple, inexpensive toys stimulate a child’s imagination more than do fancy, expensive ones.

When selecting a toy for any child, choose one that matches the child’s age and developmental stage, but always think safety first. Remember that for maximum safety, think not only about the age of the child, but also about the ages of the other children in the home.

Choosing safe toys

Not all toys are for all children. In 2012, an estimated 265,000 children were treated in emergency rooms for toy-related injuries. Sadly, 11 toy-related deaths were reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Think about the following when shopping for toys:

  • Read and strictly follow labels for age and safety recommendations.
  • Look for toys that carry the seal of approval from the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the letters ASTM, which indicate the product meets national safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
  • Match toys to the child's age and abilities.
  • Avoid toys that shoot small objects.
  • Avoid toys that make loud or shrill noise that can damage hearing.
  • By law, new toys intended for children younger than age 8 should not have sharp metal or glass edges.
  • Remember to include all the correct, properly fitting protective gear that goes with the toy, such as helmets with bicycles.
  • Use caution when giving toys with small parts to children who have brothers or sisters younger than 3 years of age. If any piece of a toy or game fits inside a toilet paper roll, it should be considered a choking hazard for small children.

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Choosing developmentally and age-appropriate toys

Children will be bored with toys that are too easy for them and frustrated with toys that are too difficult.

Children in kindergarten and first grade (aged 5 to 6) are creative, are increasingly curious about the world around them and like playing with other children. They would enjoy:

  • Science materials: magnets, magnifying glasses, gyroscopes, bug catchers, stethoscopes, medical kits
  • Crafts: stringing beads, weaving materials, simple sewing projects, modeling clay
  • Dolls with real-life accessories, dollhouses with furniture and small people
  • Dress-up clothes
  • Hand puppets
  • Jump ropes, roller skates, ice skates
  • Miniature farm, hospital, circus, fire station, gas station, train sets
  • Cameras, clocks
  • Sand box and sand toys (pail and shovel, molds, spoons)
  • Simple puzzles, board games
  • Books with funny and playful stories, books about familiar people and places

Children aged 7 to 8 years become more interested in systems, keep themselves busy with imaginative play, and show greater skill in using their hands. They now may focus most of their time and energy on a few favorite activities, and would enjoy:

  • Paper or magnetic dolls with clothing
  • Puppets, marionettes, and puppet theaters
  • Costumes and accessories
  • Science materials: globe, aquarium, terrarium, lock with key
  • Sports equipment: soccer, football, basketball
  • Bicycles, jump ropes
  • Electric trains with tracks, switches, signals
  • Workbench, with good tools and materials
  • Games that depend on skill as well as luck: checkers, dominos, card games, board games such as Monopoly
  • Simple magic tricks
  • Books for them to read alone: books about animals, insects, birds, reptiles, jokes, riddles; books about children from other countries

Older children, aged 9 to 10 years, start to develop an interest in hobbies and scientific activities. They want to learn how things work and how to make things. They are also more physically active and would enjoy:

  • Hobby collections: trading cards, coin folders, stamp books
  • Model cars, boats, airplanes
  • Science materials: compass, microscopes, telescopes, chemistry sets
  • Crafts: sewing, knitting, needlework, woodcarving, metalwork, painting
  • Sports equipment: baseball, soccer, basketball, football, tennis.
  • More challenging board games: chess, Othello, Mastermind, Risk
  • Outdoor games: croquet set, badminton set, kites
  • Books such as chapter books; simple biographies; books about science, adventure or fantasy


Last updated August 11, 2014

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