what to look for when selecting baby toys

What to look for when selecting baby toys this holiday season

It’s almost Christmastime! (And Hannukkah, and Kwanzaa, and Festivus, and any holiday you celebrate!) And you know what that means… we are all gonna be buying toys for our toddlers and babies! But what should you look for when you are shopping for baby toys?

If you’re looking for a rundown of the best toys of the year, sorry—this is not that article!

I’m not going to tell you exactly what to get. My goal is simply to get you thinking about what types of toys are best for your family, so that you can shop responsibly.

Some of the things I’ll be going over are: how many toys you should buy, manufacturing considerations, and age appropriateness.

Order a coffee to go, and let’s go shopping!

how to select safe and fun baby toys

How many toys should I buy for my baby or toddler?

When you are looking for baby toys, try to remember: LESS IS MORE. Here are 2 essential questions to ask yourself when you are tempted to buy many toys:

Will these toys keep your child busy?

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of quantity over quality. You might think that having more toys means your child will keep himself busy for longer. But actually, the opposite is true!

If you have purchased a lot of toys, try to resist giving them to your child all at once. Instead, introduce them one by one over time (use your best judgement here—but I introduced new toys to C when I felt her old ones didn’t interest her anymore, were too easy for her, or if I was just bored to death of the same ones).

Another trick I use is to mix up my daughter’s toys because we have 2 play areas, downstairs and upstairs. Every so often I take half of the downstairs toys and put them upstairs, and vice versa. This mixes them up and I feel like she can “see” some of the toys again as though they were new. Orm if you have only one space for toys, you can also try a rotating stock in which you keep some toys hidden away and take them out when you think they’ll seem interesting again.

I’ve heard of parents who limit their Christmas gifts to 3 per child (as per the 3 magi in the Christian tradition). I must say, I really like this idea as a parameter for our family. So far this year, I bought C a play kitchen made from wood. If I can, I’d also like to get her some accessories for her dolls, such as a bottle and binky. But I don’t feel the need to get her more than that—we already have so many toys (most of them gifts) and space is ever limited.

how many toys you should buy

Will these toys be fun for you as a parent?

You might also be tempted to buy a lot of toys because YOU think they would be fun to play with! But take a step back and consider your child. Look for baby toys you can reasonably assume would interest him. Sometimes I have bought toys for C which I thought were really cool, but I was disappointed when they didn’t interest her much.

By all means, buy a whole bunch of toys. But I urge you to look for baby toys that are:

  • appropriate for the age and development of your child
  • and cater to his interests.

One more thing. You are the parent. You can control what types of toys and how many your baby or toddler has. And if a certain toy would drive you crazy, don’t feel like you have to buy it just to placate your child.

Look for the manufacturing info on the baby toys

For me personally, this is probably the most important aspect of selecting toys for your baby or toddler because it’s the first thing I look for: manufacturing info. Where is it made? How is it made? And with what materials?

Made near you

Before I buy any baby toy, the very first thing I look for is the “Made in ___” label. For some reason, it’s getting trickier and trickier to find this information, which I think is criminal, but I digress.

If it says Made in PRC, that’s China. If you live in China, great! Go for that toy. If you live an ocean away, I would encourage you not to buy that toy.

Toys made far from you are problematic for 3 main reasons:

  • You don’t know how it’s made (working conditions, fair wages, etc.).
  • The carbon footprint is huge if it needs to be shipped across an ocean.
  • It supports an economy other than your own.

Unfortunately, toys made far away are often cheaper. I won’t get into the reasons here. Sometimes the price tag is a huge selling point, right? But I think the fact that these toys are so cheap actually encourages us to buy more of them, so our children end up with more toys than they need.

You can circumvent both problems by buying locally made toys, which will be more expensive, so you’ll buy fewer. Sure, it will take more effort and time on your part to source locally made toys. But at least you’ll be conscious and informed in your purchase.

If you can, try to purchase toys in-store rather than online, because the “Made In” information is not usually listed for items you purchase online. As a bonus, you can support small local businesses!

pay attention to manufacturing

Safe materials

Of course, we need to make sure the toys we are buying for our children are safe to use! Here are some labels to look out for when buying certain types of toys:

  • Painted toys should be labeled lead-free
  • Art supplies should be labeled nontoxic (and washable, as a bonus)
  • Plush toys should be labeled washable (okay, not really a safety thing, but more for convenience!)

For years, we as consumers also looked for flame retardant materials. But the chemicals used to make a material flame retardant are toxic and are being phased out. Children in particular are susceptible to health problems caused by flame retardants, so you should stay away from any toys (or car seats) labeled flame retardant.

(Flame resistant is fine, as these items are normally made from natural materials that are already naturally less likely to combust.)

Natural materials, such as wood and metal, are best. Not only are they nontoxic, but they are more pleasing to manipulate than plastic, and are recyclable.

Look for the developmental appropriateness of the baby toys

Listed age range

The easiest way to know if the toy in your hand is appropriate for your child’s development is to look at the listed age range. That being said, you know your child best, so use your own judgement, too. For example, we were gifted a puzzle for 4-5-year-olds, but my 2-year-old was a pro at it.

When in doubt, get something that’s a little older in the age range than your child. If it’s too difficult for them today, someday it will be perfect! And it’s better to err on that side than to pick a toy that will be too easy for your child. You don’t want him to get bored; it would defeat the whole purpose.

pay attention to developmental appropriateness of toys

Active vs passive toys

We’ve all seen the “exciting” toys with buttons, screens, and/or artificial battery-operated sounds. They are tempting for kids and adults alike, because they look so cool and flashy! Rest assured though that these active toys turn out to be the most boring toys for kids, and the sounds drive parents mad.

Resist the exciting electronic toys. Gadgets like this provide entertainment that quickly wears off, because the toys are the ones doing the playing, while the child mostly observes passively.

Opt instead for simpler toys that require your child to use his imagination and creativity. In this case, it is the toy that is passive, and your child is actively engaged in play. Passive toys like this often stick around longer in your home because as your child develops, he will come up with different ways of playing with them!

Check out this great article from My Little Robins with some examples of active toys and their passive counterparts so you can see the difference.

Toys for all seasons

If you’ve made it this far, clearly you can see that I’m advocating for quality over quantity. Don’t give in to the temptation to buy your kids ALL THE TOYS thinking you’ll be able to keep them busy longer.

The truth is, kids don’t need toys. The more time goes by, the more I realize that adults need toys for their kids when they don’t know what else to do with them.

That said, it’s perfectly natural, given our social and cultural norms, to want to offer your baby or toddler a toy, especially this time of year. I hope that my article inspired you to shop responsibly. Pay attention to where the toy is manufactured, what materials were used, and how your child will actually interact with it.

Still shopping for mama and baby products? Check out my other articles here on Mamas Café Society:

What toys are you getting your kids this holiday?


About the Author

photo of me

Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !

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what to look for when shopping for baby toys

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