Toys (for children, not for grownups...) Choosing toys is lots of fun -- for both children and for the shopper. (Well, sometimes it's fun for the shopper...) However, when choosing a toy you should consider both safety and how your child and the toy will get along -- in every sense. Children of different ages have different abilities, and certain toys can help them develop these abilities. Here is a short list of things to look for when picking out a toy for children of various ages. Newborn to age 1 year: Look for toys that kids can touch and squeeze, with bright colours and shapes. Mobiles are nice for babies to look at and follow; bright and contrasty patterns help to develop eysight and the ability to identify shapes and patterns. As they grow older, give them toys they can grasp and pick up, but make sure that toys are safe to chew on -- remember, when babies start teething they will chew on anything they can chew on. Activity-center toys with lots of knobs and buttons and levers are also nice for older babies. And don't forget stuffed animals and other soft figures. (Many of these are now washable. This is a very useful feature...) Age 1 to 3 years At this age children are learning to be mobile and beginning to explore their world. Of course, this is the age (actually, once they start crawling) when you need to make sure that nothing dangerous is within their reach. They will be learning to walk, run, climb, and jump, and to throw things, and toys that help them learn these things are nice (especially balls and ball-based games, preferably with large balls like soccer and basketballs). Toys that kids can push and pull are desirable too -- and this includes toys that children can pound on. (Soft toy hammers are good; just don't let your child near the family tool box.) Age 3 to 5 years Children at this age start to experiment more, and play more often (and more smoothly) with other children. Pretend toys (like toy telephones) are welcome at this age, as are creative toys such as art supplies (choose your supplies carefully, since you may have to wash a misplaced masterpiece off the living-room wall, and select supplies and instruments that are safe -- no sharp objects or things that could be swallowed). Tricycles are a good way to develop muscle coordination and prepare for later bicycle riding, and other outdoor toys and games are good choices as well. Age 5 to 9 years Children are now in school, and it's nice to (try to) coordinate their play with their activities in school. It's also pretty difficult, what with half-hour ads for Pre-Teen Deviant Transmogrifiers every Saturday morning, but it is possible to steer children into more creative and educational -- and sometimes less expensive -- channels. Art/craft supplies are nice, as are puppets, dolls, and other play figures (well, maybe you won't be able to avoid the Transmogrifiers). Outdoor activity equipment like balls and jump ropes will help their physical development (and get them out from in front of the TV). Age 9 to 14 years At this age children are participating in team sports and developing lifelong interests. Equpiment and suppplies for both are welcome gifts. These can range from sports equipment to musical instruments. There are two schools of thought on spending large sums of money on expensive gifts like instruments. On one hand, buying good-quality equipment at the outset gives children the chance to experience a particular avocation or hobby without being discouraged by poor quality and breakdowns. On the other hand, spending hundreds or thousands on something that your child may not be interested in after a few weeks or months is discouraging for you. One compromise that can work well -- if it's available to you -- is to rent expensive items like musical instruments, and rent only high-quality items. That way, if your child decides that she's not going to play her 10th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall, you won't be out a few thousand for the baby Stradivarius.
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