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An age-by-age guide to buying toys

Find out how to be a great parent to your children - from getting them a good education to keeping them healthy to making sure your kids feel loved and you have fun as a family! Get all the parenting advice you need and the answers you w...

Toys that teach

When shopping for toys for your children, look for items that aren't just age-appropriate and entertaining but also toys that will bolster their development and inspire their imagination and creativity.

2 to 3 years old

Abilities and interests

Older toddlers love testing their physical skills — jumping, climbing, and throwing — and enjoy toys for active play. This age group also possesses good hand and finger coordination and enjoys putting these skills to work with basic arts and crafts, puppets, blocks and simple puzzles. Imaginative play also begins in the third year.

Toy suggestions

  • Balls (1-3/4 inches and larger)
  • Backyard gym equipment (swing, small slide, small climbing apparatus)
  • Building blocks and building systems
  • Blocks with letters and numbers
  • Wading pool/water toys
  • Puzzles with knobs (whole-object pieces that fit into simple scenes)
  • Dolls that can be bathed, fed and diapered
  • Dress-up clothes and accessories
  • Hand and finger puppets
  • Kitchen equipment and gadgets
  • Play household items (telephone, lawn mower, workbench, shopping cart)
  • Non-toxic art supplies (crayons and coloring books, clay, finger paints, sidewalk chalk)
  • Child-sized table and chairs
  • Play scenes (e.g., farm, airport) with figures and accessories
  • Sandbox/sand toys
  • Tricycle and helmet
  • Play vehicles
  • Wagon
  • Shape sorters
  • Playhouse
  • Storybooks
  • Stuffed animals

Your 3-year-old's development and behavior >>

3 to 6 years old

"Making believe and pretending are among the wonders of the experience of being human."
— Dorothy G. Singer, Ed.D., authority on early childhood education

Abilities and interests

After the age of 3, children begin to play actively with each other. Preschoolers and kindergartners are masters of make-believe. They like to act out grown-up roles and enjoy costumes and props to help them bring their imaginations to life. It is quite common for children this age to develop strong attachments to favorite toys, expressing feelings to a special doll or teddy bear. Materials for arts and crafts are also popular with this age group, as they enjoy creating things with their hands.

Toy suggestions

  • Tricycle and helmet
  • Bicycle and helmet
  • Backyard gym equipment
  • Construction toys
  • Lacing and threading sets
  • Puzzles (10-20 pieces)
  • Stuffed animals
  • Dolls and doll clothes
  • Dress-up clothes and accessories
  • Props for make-believe play
  • Play vehicles
  • Hand and finger puppets
  • Play scenes with figures and accessories
  • Tape player and tapes
  • Non-toxic art supplies (safety scissors, construction paper, crayons)
  • Simple board games; word and matching games
  • Storybooks

6 to 9 years old

Abilities and interests

School-age children enjoy play that requires strategy and skill. Board games, tabletop sports and classic toys like marbles and kites are favorites. Grade-schoolers also enjoy exploring different kinds of grown-up worlds and like fashion and career dolls and action figures. Children this age seek out new information and experiences through play and enjoy science, craft and magic kits. In addition, this age group possesses the physical skills and coordination to enjoy junior versions of adult sporting equipment.

Toy suggestions

  • Complex gym equipment
  • Bicycle and helmet
  • Ice or roller skates/roller blades and protective gear
  • Sporting equipment (baseball glove, hockey stick, tennis racket) and protective gear
  • Simple swimming equipment
  • Stilts
  • Pogo sticks
  • Jump ropes
  • Construction toys
  • Jigsaw puzzles, including three-dimensional puzzles
  • Fashion/career dolls
  • Puppets, marionettes and theaters
  • Doll houses and furnishings
  • Action figures
  • Paper dolls
  • Science sets
  • Model kits
  • Craft kits
  • Magic sets
  • Art supplies
  • Tabletop sports
  • Video games
  • Electronic games
  • Board games
  • Tape player and tapes
  • Books (children's classics, fairytales)

9 to 12 years old

Abilities and interests

Pre-teens begin to develop hobbies and life-long interests and enjoy crafts, model kits, magic sets, advanced construction sets, science kits and sophisticated jigsaw puzzles. Active play finds its expression in team sports. Painting, sculpting, ceramics and other art projects continue to be of interest.

Toy suggestions

  • Sports equipment and protective gear
  • Bicycle and helmet
  • Ice or roller skates/in-line skates and protective gear
  • Advanced construction sets
  • Jigsaw puzzles, including three-dimensional puzzles
  • Puppets, marionettes and theaters
  • Remote control vehicles
  • Model kits
  • Science kits
  • Magic sets
  • Craft and handiwork kits
  • Art supplies
  • Playing cards
  • Board games
  • Chess, checkers, dominoes and other strategy games
  • Tabletop sports
  • Video games
  • Electronic games
  • Electric trains
  • Musical instruments
  • Books (biography, mystery, adventure, science fiction)

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