What makes a good toy?

What makes a good toy? As a Mom on the Play Panel at Fisher-Price, I recently was on a conference call with Dr. Kathleen Alfano. She is widely regarded as an expert in early childhood development. Dr. Alfano is the Director for the Fisher-Price Child Research Department, which is the toy industry’s most respected Center for research on childhood development and play. Dr. Alfano holds a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degree in Elementary Education as well as a Master’s degree in business administration.

According to Dr. Alfano, a good toy:

  • Is safe, durable, interesting and fun to use.
  • Stimulates creativity and imagination.
  • Encourages inquisitiveness and resourcefulness.
  • Is a tool for learning (challenging, yet not frustrating).
  • Invites repeated use.
  • Involves child interaction.
  • Addresses developing needs and emerging skills.

When I had a chance to speak with Dr. Alfano, I had a very specific question in mind. In fact, it’s a question which has been on my mind for quite some time. You see, I’m a Mom who likes to maintain organization and order in the household {heh, as much as I can anyway}. We all know that toys can overtake a household, and I look forward to those days when I get motivated to clear some of them out. But, which toys do you leave behind?

My question for Dr. Alfano:

Q: How can parents equip a good variety of ‘good toys’, when ages of children are so diverse or wide spread? Myself, I find that my 3-year-old twins can still play with ‘baby rattles’ as much as the do with my almost 7 year old’s ‘handheld game systems’. So, does a parent always reach for the next level and leave behind the ‘younger toys’, even if they still provide entertainment?

A: Here are the key points that Dr. Alfano suggests if this is a problem in your home:

– When there is more than one child in the home it is more than likely that the younger child will want to play with the older child’s toys.
– Safety reasons become an issue because the older child’s toys has not passed the safety test (sharp edges, small holes).
– If you are going to allow your child that is under 3 play with an older child’s toy you should always watch them. If they are over 3, they can most likely handle the toy if it is not too complex and if they do not become frustrated with it.
– It comes down to safety and appropriateness.
– 4 & 5 year olds play with younger toys in a different way. It is more of a memory for them as it makes them feel bigger.

And along the same train of thought….

Q: Is it wrong to offer higher aged toys for infants/kids – hoping they will be more challenged (and learn more sooner?). Or should parents stick to age-specific toys?

– If a toy is challenging and it brings the child back to it again and again then it is a good toy.
– If a toy proves to be too challenging, it is up to the parent to be the child’s cheerleader to encourage them to try again.

When do you decide to move onto the next stage of toys for your children? {other than when you can no longer walk through your house without stepping on them and feel it’s time to clear some out} 🙂

Follow the Play Panel at http://www.fisherpriceplay.ca

Disclosure: I’m part of the Fisher-Price Play Panel and I receive special perks
as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.



  1. Great article, much like yourself I have a busy house and wonder too how the levels of play work. When all 3 kiddies can enjoy a baby toy. But at the same time the 22 month old gets kicks out of playing barbie with his big sister. ? If they are learning having fun and quiet its a great toy no matter how old the child. 🙂

  2. Good questions Tammi and great advice.

    I have a question,,, I find that my daughter is only engaged in a toy for about 2.5 seconds and is on to the next thing… It’s hard to find good quality toys that will keep her engaged. Is this normal?


    thanks love!

  3. These are great tips!

    I had a whole paragraph typed about age-appropriate toys, but I think it all boils down to this: Toys can be challenging and help children to advance, but don’t give them a toy before they are really ready for it, even to be challenged by it.

    example: Giving a tricycle to a 9-month-old kiddo isn’t appropriate, and the tricycle likely won’t be appreciated by the time the kiddo is big enough to use it. But waiting to give a tricycle to a 2 or 3 year old will be worth it for both you and the kiddo because they’ll probably love it and ride the wheels off of it! I think parents can get excited about that next stage TOO soon. Let them be little as long as they can be! 😀

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