We've all been there - you spend a small fortune getting a toy that looks great on the shelf, only for it to be abandoned once the initial enjoyment wears off. While it's easy to go for the toys that have the loudest adverts and the brightest packaging, doing a little research into age-appropriate toys can work wonders; and great toys don't have to cost a lot either.
Our Good Toy Guide has hundreds of toys to suit all budgets, tested by children and independently endorsed - so not only do you have plenty to choose from, but you can buy with confidence too.
The Good Toy Guide experts have also put together some handy gift guides for each age, so whether you're buying for baby's first birthday or a reluctant tween, we've got you covered. We've suggested some good toys in each guide, but there's also plenty of information so that you can go present shopping knowing what to look out for.
Of course, every child is unique - we have given some ideas for presents that a child at each age might enjoy, but keep in mind that the child you are buying for could have different preferences.
Buying for boys and girls
Toys tend, somewhat controversially, to be divided into girls toys (dolls, kitchen sets, etc.) and boys toys (cars, guns, etc.). Nature studies suggest that this is partly a biological preference, however children are certainly influenced by their environment (the toys they are given and the reactions from others) too. In other words, it is absolutely fine to give a doll to a girl or a toy car to a boy, if that's what they'll enjoy.
But you needn't jump straight for the girly or boyish choice, and choosing toys that challenge stereotypes can actually help overcome gender differences. Boys are known to develop social skills slower than girls in general, for example, and giving them role-playing toys - such as small farm sets - can help with this development. There is also a push at the moment to get more girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, and giving them science kits to play with can nurture an interest from a young age.
Babies & toddlers
Babies aren’t as fussy as older children about what they get, but can be difficult to buy for if you don’t know their level of development – i.e. what they are actually able to play with and enjoy yet. Infants are just starting to explore the world, so we recommend toys that can stimulate their various senses e.g. toys with lights and sounds.
Toddlers will be starting to have interests – particularly familiar brands from TV, themes such as dinosaurs, or favourite colours, where it doesn’t matter what the toy is, as long as it’s pink or red or blue etc. They will be playing more independently and starting to enjoy pretend play.
By the time they are approaching school, children are likely to know what they want and will have favourite brands and interests that guide their preference for toys. Their skills will have developed to a point where they are able to use more difficult toys such as puzzles and simple craft sets.
As children get older and their skills improve, they will enjoy more challenging activities such as puzzles and arts & crafts. Board and card games are really popular and a great way to encourage families to communicate with each other.
Older children and tweens
At this age children will really start caring about fitting in with their friends, and may be growing out of toys that they now deem uncool. Tech toys including tablet devices, are popular and children of this age will still enjoy age-appropriate board games. Arts & crafts that can be personalised let children this age express their developing identities.