Some experts consider play time to be work for children, a critical part of their development. As work, kids need the right tools to get the job done well: good toys. We've selected some helpful Web sites that can teach you the importance of "child's play" and how to equip your kids with safe toys that will keep them happy, engaged, and active.
Finding great toys for kids isn't exactly rocket science but it does take some thought. The age, interests, and abilities of the child are all important considerations because a toy that's too advanced may become frustrating, and toys that are too simple may quickly get boring. The sites in this section discuss childhood development and can help you assess what toys may be a good fit for your child.
- Publications like Parents magazine and Parenting magazine devote entire sections of their sites to child development and toy selection for kids.
- Product reviews can tell you a lot about an item before you purchase it, and most online stores include customer ratings and comments. If customer reviews are sparse at the site you're using or you'd like some professional reviews, see our findingDulcinea Product Reviews Web Guide for some excellent review sites.
- Online toy stores divide their toys into categories in several ways, including age group, gender, and type of toy. Many also have a "most popular" or "best sellers" section that may help you narrow down your options if you aren't sure what toy to buy or if you can’t remember the exact name of the trendy toy your child has been asking for.
- Part of choosing safe toys involves being a diligent label reader. However, this article from Forbes warns that too many "blanket warnings" on products (eg., toys with small parts pose a choking hazard) could ultimately make the warnings seem meaningless.
For general guidance …
The Toy Industry Foundation
presents "Fun Play, Safe Play," a free, downloadable pamphlet that explains the importance of play time for children and discusses the interests and abilities of various age groups. Don’t miss the age-based toy buying guide in the pamphlet.
talks about how children use toys, what makes a good toy, and when you can reasonably expect your young child to be good at sharing toys. Use the small arrow near the bottom of the page to navigate to the following sections.
For toy safety considerations …
is a nonprofit organization that tests the safety of many consumer products. Look for ratings of a multitude of children’s products, including toys, in their "Babies & kids" section.
is a site from the Nemours Foundation. Find general guidelines for choosing children's toys with age-appropriate safety in mind.
The National Network for Child Care
has a helpful chart divided into specific categories of toys to choose and toys to avoid for children from newborn to 12 years of age. The chart was designed with safety considerations for each age group in mind.
For children with special needs …
United Cerebral Palsy
has a helpful article about choosing toys for children with physical limitations or other special needs. Find a list of several toy stores and other online resources where adaptive toys are available.
reviews toys for children with special needs. Start by reading the information under the "AblePlay Rating System" category to learn how the rating system works, what the ratings mean, and what an AblePlay Product Review includes. Use the “Search AblePlay-Rated Products” section to search for and purchase products rated by AblePlay.
If you’ve ever tried to navigate a toy store with children in tow, you understand the pleasure of buying toys online: no lines, no parking hassles, no trips to the bathroom, and best of all, no whining. Whether you’re shopping for your kids, someone else’s, or yourself, the following Web sites can help.
- When shopping online, make sure there is a padlock icon on the lower right of the browser (indicating a secure connection) before entering any personal or financial information. Also, look for Web site addresses that begin with “https” rather than just “http.” The “s” stands for “secure” and won’t typically appear until the checkout process. For more tips about becoming a savvy online shopper, visit our findingDulcinea Shopping Web Guide.
- Before doing business with an unfamiliar online company, check its reputation with an organization like the Better Business Bureau, which works to protect consumers from fraudulent business practices.
- National chain stores such as Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us all maintain Web sites where you can purchase toys, but don't limit yourself to the large franchises. The Web site for your favorite “Mom and Pop” toy store can be less overwhelming and may carry some items that the big box stores don’t.
- You might not be thinking about buying an outdoor toy when winter is setting in, but doing so could save you some money. Brick-and-mortar stores have to clear their shelves to make room for inventory that's in season, but that's not an issue for online businesses, where you’re more likely to find an off-season bargain.
- Not sure what to buy? Gift cards may be your answer. Most toy store Web sites sell gift cards and you'll probably even get free shipping when you order one.
For online toy stores …
Toys “R” Us
is packed with toys available for purchase, but you shouldn't have any trouble finding something specific. Toys are sorted by type, brand name, age group, character, and even customer favorites. Check the "Clearance
” category for bargains, and even create a baby registry at this site.
is very similar to other online stores with the categories of toys it offers, but it also features a "Creative Play
" section full of toys meant to spur a child's imagination. Review the "Customers’ Top Rated Toy Products
" page to see what other customers like best in each category.
now operates its own toy section after years of partnering with Toys “R” Us. The site adds "Toys for Girls
" and "Toys for Boys
" to its categories of available toys and has a "Most Gifted in Toys
" section to showcase popular items. For a toy that might be a little less mainstream, browse the "Specialty Toys
" section for categories like "Collectible Toys," "Hobby Heaven," and "Ultimate Gameroom." Many but not all of the site’s toys qualify for free shipping.
The USA Toy Library Association (USA-TLA)
is a national network that promotes toy lending libraries across the country so that kids have a chance to play with new and different toys without the usual expense. The TLA aims to educate parents and children about finding and selecting safe toys, and also teaches about what toys offer the most play value. Go to the “Online Resources
” section to sign up for membership with the TLA or order some of the publications available (prices range from $5 to $20 for TLA members, double for nonmembers), or search for a toy library
in the directory.
The value of toy stores that specialize in a certain item is that their selection and pricing options are often better than more mainstream stores. This section highlights some of the more specialized genres of toys available online, and the best places to get them.
- It's easy to get overwhelmed by the abundance of toy sites on the Internet. If you’re looking for something specific, use a specific search term: for example, "antique toy cars" or "handmade wooden toys." Remember that using quotation marks around your search term tells the search engine to find a site that contains that exact phrase. Otherwise, you may get sites with any arrangement of words from the phrase you type in.
- If you’re looking for video games, music and movie stores like Amazon.com often have the best prices for new games, but you can do even better buying used games from video game specialists like the ones mentioned below.
For educational toys …
The Discovery Channel Store
offers a wide range of learning toys for all ages from young children to adults. Look for toy categories like "Animals & Bugs," "Models & Model Kits," "Music Toys," "Robots & Tech," and "Space & Flight Toys."
sells learning toys and games that focus on many of the subjects a child studies in school. Use the “Gift Finder” feature on the site to easily sort the toys and games by product type, skill level, or age group. Or purchase LeapFrog toys at most major toy stores.
For classic toys …
The Classic Toy Museum
sells modernized versions of many classic toys that are still popular today and even offers a bit of history about each toy. In some cases, the history tidbits are all you'll get as there isn’t always a purchase option, but that may not be a bad thing if you're just in the mood to feel nostalgic.
has a tremendous selection of toys available online but its “Classic Toys & Games” section is especially good. Click on a toy category for a more extensive listing of the toys available.
Back To Basics Toys
offers classic toys many parents may remember having when they were younger, as well as toys that are nonviolent in nature. Scan the categories along the top of the page to find the type of toy you want.
For vintage toys …
is a popular auction Web site with thousands of vintage and antique toys available for purchase. Trim your many options by searching the categories in the "Narrow Your Results" section on the left of the page.
sells antique toys and collectibles from the 1850s through the 1960s. Search the toys available for purchase, request toy appraisals, or learn how to grade the quality of vintage toys.
specializes in vintage tin toys of all types (but they are modern reproductions of older versions). Browse the many options under the "Categories" menu to see what's available, or learn more about the site and the products offered in the "Information" section.
For art supplies …
Creativity for Kids
supplies nontoxic art materials for kids. Find art project ideas that encourage them to put those supplies to good use.
For video games …
operates stores all over the country under the names GameStop, EB Games, and Electronics Boutique. Look for both new and used video games, browsed easily by console or genre through tabs at the top of the page. Also search by ESRB (maturity ratings) using the “Shop By ESRB” box on the left. Scroll down to find new releases, top sellers, and upcoming releases at the bottom, with links to purchase or preorder.
sells games for all consoles but is especially good for computer games. Find current prices for top sellers on a variety of consoles listed on the site’s homepage.
For toys that show diversity …
offers a selection of dolls with African American, Hispanic, Asian, and other ethnic characteristics. Navigate the site using the tabs at the top of the page, or scan the "Quick Look" section of the homepage to go straight to a specific type of doll.
The Pattycake Doll Company
sells dolls that illustrate diversity in more ways than one. Find not only a selection of dolls of different ethnicities, but also dolls with special needs, such as dolls in wheelchairs or with Down syndrome.
For wooden toys …
specializes in quality wooden toys that are handmade in various countries around the world. Search for toys by brand name, the country in which they were made, type of toy, or age group.
For other specialty Web sites …
sells a large collection of BRIO and Thomas the Tank Engine toys and compatible brands. Browse the site using the menu on the left or use the search box at the top of the page (which may be easier if you know specifically what you’re looking for.) Type "recall" in the search box to find facts about post-recall trains and other notices about recalled products.
takes rocking horses to a new level with rocking dogs, rocking sheep, rocking airplanes, and a multitude of other rocking furniture. (Don't despair if you just want a rocking horse; you can find those here too.) Visit the “Kids Furniture
” section for more basic furniture such as toy boxes, bookshelves, and children's desks.
specializes in unique and challenging puzzles, games, and brain teasers. Make sure to browse the "Under $15
" section and the "Clearance
" page for great prices on these less common gifts.
keeps kids busy with a large supply of how-to books filled with crafts and projects for them to make or build, complete with all necessary supplies. Browse through books of art projects, science projects, games, and skills like magic and juggling. Or get completely original and make your own book with the supplies available from the "build-a-book
encourages technical thinking in kids with kits they can use to assemble their own robots or put together robot models. Discover toys for kids at a variety of skill levels, so you don't have to worry about whether something is too simple or too advanced here.
Homemade toys are generally more economical than store-bought toys, and likely come with a little more sentiment attached. If you’re feeling crafty or looking for a great project to do with your kids, use the sites we recommend here for ideas and instructions to make great kids toys at home.
- If you search for "homemade toys" on the Web, your results will be very scattered. Be much more specific with your search terms, using phrases such as "toy car patterns," or "doll patterns," for example.
- If you watch any craft or do-it-yourself shows on television where you've seen homemade toys constructed, check the show's Web site for project patterns and instructions available online for purchase or even for free.
- Just as when you are searching for the right toy from a toy store, homemade toys must be chosen and fashioned with the same eye toward safety. Look for Web sites that tell you the appropriate ages for children to safely make or use a particular homemade toy.
- For additional ideas about homemade toys and other projects kids can create from home, read The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions. With the help of a few common household ingredients, kids can make their own stickers, a snow globe, scratch-and-sniff watercolors, and more.
has a multitude of ideas for homemade toys and other crafts for kids. Look for ideas organized by age group; this way, you can help your children choose a project that will be appropriate for their abilities and safe to use.
has a list of seven toys to make for babies. Find instructions for these simple projects, usually involving just a few steps to complete.
provides links to instructions for making several different types of "dime store games." Look for photos and directions on how to play them.
If you’ve ever walked barefoot into your child’s room and stepped on a pointy toy, you understand the irritation that comes from owning more toys than your kids know what to do with. Before you add another room onto the house to accommodate your kids’ stuff, review the following Web sites for ideas about organizing the toys in your home and getting rid of the unused toys.
- Many state and local programs request toy donations for kids. Type your city or state name and "toy donation programs" into a search engine to find a program in your area. Also check with hospitals or charities such as the Ronald McDonald House, which may also need new or gently used toys.
- If toys aren’t the only things in your home that could be better organized, see our findingDulcinea Home Organization Guide for other helpful tips about organizing your child's room (and the rest of your home).
For storage and organization ideas …
offers several tips for keeping playrooms organized and spacious enough that kids actually have room to play in them. Discover specific organizational tools you can use to follow each tip, including the prices of those tools and links to Web sites where you can purchase them.
teaches how parents can implement (and actually keep using) a toy organization system for their kids in this helpful article.
For unused toys …
is a nonprofit organization that aims to make volunteering quicker and easier. Look for several resources about how and where to donate toys to sick or needy children.
Best Child Toys
has a page of tips for storing old or unused toys in an organized manner. Find a page with storage advice for specific types of toys
, such as puzzles, bath toys, and large toys.
is the online home of The San Francisco Chronicle
. Take a look at this blog entry highlighting one parent's chagrin when his child received more toys for Christmas than he could reasonably play with. See the reader comments below the entry and maybe find just the tip you need to avoid the problem of having too many toys in the first place.
In the wake of numerous toy recalls and problems with lead paint in toys, many parents are especially concerned about choosing toys that their children will be safe using. But with the abundance of recall reports and news stories, finding up-to-date, reliable information about toy safety can be a challenge. We've chosen some of the most credible Web sites for current recall information and toy safety advice.
- Many toy makers will indicate if their toys comply with the standards of ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials), an international organization that develops global safety standards for a variety of products, including toys. Adherence to these standards is voluntary, but seeing this notice on the packaging of a toy may offer a little more assurance about the toy's safety.
- Make the information come to you if you don't have enough time to search for news about recalls. Some toy companies and government agencies have e-newsletters and e-mail alerts you can subscribe to in order to stay on top of any developments.
- Buying only American-made toys is one way to ensure you have purchased items manufactured under strict safety standards. This can be hard to do because not every online or offline toy store specified where its toys are made. However, findingDulcinea has created an online toy store filled with American-made toys from Amazon.com.
- Beyond the Headlines, a section of findingDulcinea, explores Chinese-made toy recalls as well as lead poisoning symptoms and testing.
- USA TODAY reports that, due to the toy recalls in 2007, the price of toys is likely to increase in the near future because of intensified efforts to make them safer.
For toy recall information …
is a federal government resource for product recall and safety information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other government organizations. Use this page to sign up for e-mail alerts about recalls from one or all of these agencies.
To learn about lead paint in toys …
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
explains what you should do if you are worried about your child's exposure to lead. Access tips for preventing lead exposure from toys and keep up to date on lead-related recall news.
The New York Times
explains why and how Chinese toy manufacturers used paint with high concentrations of lead in manufactured toys despite regulations and health concerns.
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