I know I’m not the only mom who has purchased something and then later thought, “well that was a waste,” so I’ve created this handy list of 10 basic questions to ask myself before buying a toy (especially if that toy isn’t on my list!)
1. What is it made out of?
So many toys are made of plastic now days. This is something we parents need to be wary of for a few reasons:
Plastic is often less durable.
Plastic is usually worse for the environment.
Plastic is generally lacking in terms of sensory engagement.
When it comes to toys we want a good variety of materials, a healthy mix of plastic and wood and cloth.
2. How many years of play could it withstand?
Not how many minutes.
Not how many weeks.
Not even how many months.
How many YEARS of play could it withstand?
According to the Center for Sustainability, the average person generates 4.3 lbs of waste per day. How much of that waste is cheap, broken toys?
3. Would your child grow bored of it quickly?
Too many parents are not getting their money’s worth when it comes to toys.
Think of it this way, if you are paid $15 an hour and you are buying your child a $49 toy, that toy cost you 3.26 hours of your life, not including taxes. Your child should enjoy the toy for longer than it takes for you to pay for it!
4. Can it be played with in more than one way?
Toys with flashing lights and loud music are often the culprits here. If the only way to play with it is by pushing a button, then of course its going to get boring! Look for open-ended toys, toys that don’t tell children how to play but rather let them figure it out for themselves. Blocks, balls, action figures, etc.. There is a reason these classics are still around, its because there is a million ways to play with them and they never get old.
5. Does it encourage creativity?
Can your child make up a story or a game with this toy? Do they get to think for themselves while playing with this toy? Or is this a toy that comes with rules on how to play with it?
6. Does it aid in fine motor or gross motor development?
Children who use their hand muscles are more likely to have good penmanship and they will have a leg up when it comes time to learn skills like shoe tying and sewing and woodworking.
There is an obesity epidemic in our country. Make sure your child doesn’t become just another statistic by encouraging them to run, jump, and play with their whole body.
7. Will it engage your child’s senses?
Again, back to that excess of plastic. Plastic has one texture, one smell, one taste.
We want to surround our children with many textures, many smells, many tastes.
I’m not anti-plastic, but it shouldn’t be the only material our children have access to.
I’ve talked before about the importance of sensory play. I can’t stress it enough. Lack of sensory play is tied into all sorts of childhood health problems such as depression, anxiety, sensory processing disorder, and nature deficit disorder.
8. Will it encourage your child’s curiosity?
All children are born as scientists and artists. They all want to take the world apart and put it back together and see how it all works and revel in the beauty of it all and make it a more beautiful place. These traits are wonderful and we should be encouraging them. Unfortunately, a lot of what we give our children to play with stifles creativity and curiosity. Aim for toys that give your children a puzzle to figure out, rather than toys that tell them how to play.
9. Is there a place to put it in your child’s room?
Is there a specific drawer, shelf, or bin that this toy can fit into? Don’t buy something that is going to get left on the floor or that you’ll have to squeeze it in to make it fit. Don’t stress yourself out with the excessive clutter. Better yet, don’t stress out your child.
A concept that is talked about frequently in the Montessori method is presentation. Toys should be presented to children on shelves that are not cluttered so that it is easier for the child to find, play with, and put it away when done.
An excess of toys doesn’t lead to more play, rather it leads to the child not knowing what to do. Then you have problems like children pulling toys off the shelves and piling them on the floor out of boredom or frustration. This is one of those times when less is more.
* If you really want this toy and there just isn’t room for it, you might consider donating another toy to make room OR trying toy rotation.
10. Would your child appreciate it?
Are you buying a toy car for a kid who hates cars? Does your child have so many toys that it doesn’t even phase them when someone gives them a new toy? Are they going to say “thank you” and proceed to play with and care for the toy as they should?
If not then don’t buy it. Teach them to appreciate the things they have before buying anything new.
Not every toy is going to check off all the boxes for an “ideal toy” but these are some good guidelines to keep in mind when shopping.
In fact, feel free to print out our Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Buy That Toy Printable List, put it in your purse or wallet and take it to the toy store with you as a reminder.
For toy suggestions that will stand the test of time, see my Gift Guide for birth-12 years.by