Toys are very exciting to play with, yet difficult to buy. Well-meaning parents are always searching for stimulating, educational and fun toys for their babies. Most parents have watched their baby play enthusiastically with a friend's toy, but once they bring home that same toy for their baby, it goes ignored. What's a parent to do?

The toys you buy must be appropriate for your baby's developmental stage. A toy that is too advanced for your baby will cause frustration, while a toy that is too simple will be boring. Toys that interest your baby and the toys that interest your toddler can be quite different.

The toys you choose should have the right measure of complexity. A shape sorter with only three shapes is good for your one-year-old, but wouldn't provide enough of a challenge for a two year old. Nesting cups would frustrate your one-year-old, but keep your two-year-old interested. Make sure sizes are appropriate too. Babies learn about and explore new toys by putting them in their mouths. Small toys could pose a choking hazard.

Pay attention to the types of play that interest your child—they will indicate your baby's developmental stage. The type of play that engages your baby changes as your baby grows. A six-month-old baby enjoys toys they can bite and suck on or that make noise when shaken. One-year-olds learning about object permanence will enjoy a shape sorter where shapes disappear and reappear. Toys that incorporate the characteristics of your baby's developmental stage will interest your baby the most. When choosing toys, take into account the milestones and challenges posed by your baby's developmental stage, and choose toys that match and address them.

The best toys are versatile and open-ended; they offer an infinite number of ways to play and all of them are right. These toys stimulate your baby's imagination and encourage activity, cooperation, and dramatic play.

Babies are very tactile. Toys that are made of natural materials, such as wood, fabric, water, sand, and clay are pleasant to touch and encourage creativity. Remember how a pot of clay, some cookie cutters, and a dish set could keep you occupied for an afternoon?

When introducing a new toy, show it to your baby, place it in an area where your baby can reach it, and step back. Give your baby some time to explore and examine the toy. You may end up watching your baby stare at it for a while before attempting to touch or play with it, but let your baby decide when and what to do with the toy. It won't take long before you realize whether this new toy was a good investment.

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