The Best Advice on Children's Products


What Makes A Good Toy

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

Things to think about when shopping for your children’s playthings:



Toys are an important part of every child’s life. It is a wonderful feeling to give the right toy. Selecting one that’s a hit is a challenge. With more than 300,000 toys and children’s products, choices can be overwhelming.

As a mom you want to find the best products you can for your child. Most important of course is how the child plays with the product and the time you spend together at play. A lot of guidance is available in my Club Mom articles, in my book, Smart Play/Smart Toys and on this website to assist you in selecting the best product and playing effectively (and joyfully!) with your child at any age.

Before you purchase toys, think about:

Your child’s age
Their skills

Thing your child need practice with or skills he needs to develop:

Specific interests.

Select the toy or other product that fits your child right now, not in a few years or a few years ago. Ask yourself: Can my child benefit from this product?
Is it the right product to match their interests and abilities?
Will it help him or her learn a skill?
Will she enjoy it and have fun?
What abilities does he or she need to make the most of the toy?

Select toys that offer a good balance to your child’s activities. A good variety of toys provide activity, creativity, and learning.

You want to help your child find that balance in their day so that they are involved in play that is as healthy as possible.

Activity Toys develop coordination and improve small and large motor skills and balance. Begin with balls and beanbags; add a trike, bike, and skates. You can find a Jump rope, HULA HOOP®, and a kite for more active fun. Check whether your child is ready for the activity and knows the safety rules before setting him loose with the toy.

Creativity Toys stimulate your child’s self-_expression. Your child can draw pictures anytime with crayons, finger-paints, and watercolors. Put your child’s pictures up on a wall so others can admire his or her artwork. This helps also to reinforce your child’s feeling good about their creative _expression and helps them to understand the value of looking at art work. Your child will find clay, crayons and PLAY-DOH® additional fun and of benefit. Craft sets as they grow more able will provide a lot of play value and learning. Children will learn to follow directions, a sequence of activities and enjoy the results of their creativity.

Learning Toys help us to remember that learning takes place in many ways. Books, tapes, software, CDs, puzzles, and board games all contribute. Your child should read books (alone and with you), listen to tapes and CDs and also learn to use computer software. Take time to read stories together as much as possible. Reading together before the child goes to sleep is a great way to end the day. Discuss the programs your family watches on TV. Play games and do puzzles together whenever you can. “Family Time” will be more fun if you find new things to do and new products to play with.

Finding the right products and creating time for a variety of playthings promotes balance in your child’s day and gives them many activities to enjoy. The right toy at the right time can make a big difference.

Let’s play!

Film: Wooden Toy History

Wooden Toy History, a short promotional video for our History of Toys DVD, which is available from Crowe Productions.

The History of Toys is ideal for educators museums and parents everywhere. Also available via Little Wood Studio, CV8 1NG, England UK.

Toys That Nurture or Why Basics Are Better

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new children’s toys and products in the marketplace. You have more to think about and consider then ever before. Before you feel overwhelmed, consider the importance of basics. What did you enjoy playing with as a child? Your child will enjoy those toys, too.

While you search for the new toys, keep in mind the ones you still remember years later. Do you remember the fun of playing with Etch-A-Sketch®, Slinky®, or a yo-yo? I can still recall the fun of trying to pick up all the Jacks on one bounce of the ball. I played until I finally had splinters in my fingers.

Do you recall Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head®, Tinker Toys, ERECTOR® sets, and your Lionel trains? Can you still swing a HULA HOOP®, use ajump rope or Pickup Sticks?

These are just a few of the basic toys that can make it to your child’s “Toy Hit Parade”.

What makes a toy a classic? What qualities endure? Teddy bears never go out of style. They grow with the child. Beautiful dolls from Raggedy Ann to American Girl Dolls come in all sizes, colors, and styles to last a lifetime.

Puppets are great fun, plus they help your children learn and improve communication.

Books are essential and open up a world of possibilities.

Marbles develop enduring skills.

Chess and checkers help to improve logical thinking and are fun to play anytime.

Bubble pipes are always enjoyable, especially at bath time.

Beanbags can be tossed inside on a rainy day. Use a clean garbage can or bucket for target.

Board games and blocks never lose their appeal. Playing board games provide a lot of fun, learning, improve strategy and communication skills.

So, while you feel pressured to buy the newest, shiniest, most impressive new high-tech products, remember that your child always benefits from the low-tech basics. Your child, like mine, will enjoy hearing about the fun you had with a toy. They want to hear about your ‘Easy Bake Oven,” or learn about the doll house you and your father built. Your child will want to imagine the doll or dollhouse you cherished.

When you can easily recall how you felt about your toy friends, it is easy to understand the special place toys have in your child’s life. You can learn more about the best classic toys and the history of toys on this website.

Let’s play!

Dr. Toy’s Tips for More Valuable Playtime

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

Dr. Toy offers these suggestions for getting even more value from play. These guidelines are good anytime of the year to enrich your child’s experiences with toys and games and other products and will help you to make the time even more balanced and fun for your child:

  1. Locate a good variety of challenging toys games puzzles and other products appropriate for age and interests.

  2. Arrange toys and playthings to be easily accessible and easy to store away.

  3. Create a variety of interesting and varied activities for your child to be engaged in so they are not bored or sit in front of TV.

  4. Be sure to create a good mix of indoor and outdoor play.

  5. Children should play with age appropriate products and have your supervision so they do not have accidents.

  6. Encourage children to learn how to make something useful like a craft project, or to learn to assemble a puzzle, something to enjoy at home or in transit.

  7. Encourage and express recognition and accomplishment. Children thrive when their talents are recognized and nurtured.

  8. Gather an assortment of creative projects and various materials in a storage box along with easy to follow directions. Arrange an assortment of paper, glue, safety scissors, and magazines to easily cut pictures for collage and scrapbooks in an accessible box. Another box can be dress up clothes. Add a table and chairs and a teddy bear for a fun tea party.

  9. Take time to do creative and fun projects with your child and spend the time focused with your child and not watching TV or talking on the cell phone. Time together is precious so make the most of it.

  10. Create projects that result in planting, making or learning things have extra long lasting value.

  11. Take time to read aloud each day with your child and add a hand or finger puppet to enrich the experience and make it even more fun.

  12. Read the directions carefully before you play a game so everyone knows the rules.

Let’s play!

ICR Publishes Latest Book by Children’s Play Expert ‘Dr. Toy’

Completely updated ‘Smart Play Smart Toys’ gives parents and teachers new advice on using playtime for learning development.

Institute for Childhood Research (ICR) has partnered with renowned toy expert and child development specialist Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, better known as “Dr. Toy,” to publish the newly revised and updated book title Dr. Toy’s Smart Play Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child with a High PQ. This comprehensive guide helps parents select the best toys and games for developing “Play Quotient” (PQ), the extent to which a child plays.

“Many people think play is trivial, but it isn’t,” said Dr. Toy. “Play is vital for the developing mind because it allows children to extend their imagination, resourcefulness, social interaction, problem-solving skills and resilience.”

The book helps parents navigate the thousands of toy and play options available, offers tips on how to evaluate toy safety, and provides 160 activities that enhance PQ. In addition, it identifies gender-specific and age-appropriate toys, important craft supplies for playtime and hundreds of ways to make play a life-long and nurturing experience.

About Dr. Toy

Trained in education, psychology, and special education, Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D. has spent more than 25 years working in toys and children’s services. She produces a syndicated column, “Dr. Toy,” distributed to newspapers world wide). Her “Best Products” awards for the best educational, developmentally appropriate toys and children’s products and other features are online at

Cooperative Games: Returning to the Essence of Play


by Anne Mijke van Harten, contributor to

In cooperative games people play together instead of against each other. This results naturally in a win/win situation for all players. In less then no time, the focus has shifted from each one for themselves and trying to be the best, to working together to attain the set goal. The challenge of cooperative play is for each participant to explore and discover their own potential and to express that potential in the game, which then naturally adds to the potential of the group. The atmosphere during this kind of games often is a mixture of happiness and creative thinking, in which everyone is involved.

A sense of belonging

In our society the last century placed much emphasis on individuality and distinguishing oneself from others. This is easily to observe in the kind of games that were played. Competitive games teach us to be the strongest, the smartest, the fastest… But there can be only one winner, which evidently makes the other players all losers. This creates a feeling of separation instead of feeling welcomed and connected to others and the world around us.

It is my belief that by nature we feel inclined to belong. Not even so much in order to reach a goal, but simply because it is enjoyable being together. The structure of cooperative play encourages children to work together and to support each other. Since everybody-wins-or-everybody-loses in cooperative play, children can relax and appreciate everybody’s role in the game- no matter how small or big. During these kind of games, children are open, moves are discussed and children from different age groups or children and adults can easily play together. Children’s positive characteristics and behavior are strengthened and conserved by co-operative play, characteristics that are very valuable for our current society.
Co-operative musical chairs

Just as in ordinary musical chairs, a chair is taken away in each round. Yet all players continue playing. When the music stops, they have to make sure they seat themselves on the remaining chairs. This calls for co-operation and creativity. The music will only start after everyone is seated (so no time pressure, no stress). Then another chair is removed. A variation for advanced players is no feet touching the floor. Beware of everyone’s safety and choose chairs that are very solid!

The nature of play

Play is an expression of children’s natural desire to explore the world and themselves. This can be observed all the time, where, through their playful exploration, children test the limitations and possibilities they meet along the way. Quite effortlessly, they create all sorts of games in this discovery process, in which basically nothing more is needed than their imagination and whatever materials or resources are available. To children, everything is play and it is through playing that they love learning and learn quickly. To play is to have fun!

From a certain age onwards, children start to experiment with making and applying rules in play. In their own play, they create their own rules, such as- ‘we must stay behind this white line’ or ‘we must keep our eyes closed’. Those rules are not fixed but played with- experimented with… In this kind of play all participants are free to introduce new rules.

Also, children encounter forms of play in which the rules have been set beforehand (the games we buy in the shops, a lot of circle- or group-games as well as all sports). In these mostly –competitive- games the goal is that one individual or one group must win and the others must lose.

I am caught by the fact that all these games, so carefully designed by adults, encourage children to oppose each other. When we are aware that play is a child’s most important learning tool, we may ask ourselves if what we teach children through competitive games– to tolerate the uneasy feeling of being beaten, to pinpoint others’ weak spots in order to be able to beat them, to acquire the notion that it is ‘nice’ to beat others even if they themselves do not enjoy being beaten – really are the values we want to teach and instill in them.
Healthy competition

In competitive games, apart from things like learning the games and social rules involved, children also have to deal with the effort required to handle their feelings in losing or winning a game. Children lose a lot of energy in this, which otherwise could go to fully experiencing and engaging with their play, Many parents ask themselves how a child that has difficulty losing can be helped to handle this aspect of life. Often games result in children screaming angrily that the proceedings ‘were not fair’, not to mention the many times boards and bricks end up flying through the room! Even now, as a ‘grown-up’, you may still remember how unpleasant it was for you to be the last one chosen for a game. The certain possibility of failure creates stress and often makes children nervous and tense. And it’s not only them; observe grown-ups at soccer matches! Feelings of enmity are quite observable- they just seem to pop-up when people compete. Nevertheless, we still somehow feel that competition is ‘healthy’ for us. With competitiveness so deeply ingrained in our society, co-operative play encourages us to engage in new, and different ways of thinking.

Returning to the essence of play

At this moment there isn’t much choice in the kind of games that we can offer our children. Try this: go to a regular toyshop and ask for a game in which children play together, not against each other. You will quickly find that more often than not competition is involved. In my point of view, we encourage a one-sided development in society by the games we offer our children. When we see cooperation as a more natural way of being together and integrate this into our schools, homes, daycare-canters, etcetera, playing together instead of against each other will soon become a matter of course.

In a playful manner children will begin to see their own and other people’s strong points, their self-esteem will rise and they will discover the fun of being successful together. They will joyfully engage play in its full potential. Imagine more and more children who have learned to be cooperative and truly playful, growing up to be adults, and taking their places in society… We can contribute to this positive current by simply starting with offering a choice in the kind of games we teach our children.

As a facilitator in the area of play, Anne Mijke van Harten is the founder of ‘Earthgames’ in the Netherlands. She develops playful materials, writes articles and is giving workshops about the benefits of cooperation in education and society. Anne Mijke is educated as a social worker, play therapist, and is a Heart Focus trainer. She is a representative for the International Council for Self-esteem.

More information

Cooperative Play from Bag-O-Loot

Has this ever happened to you? You finally get the family around the table for game night and you are faced with two choices. You can play a game that is made for kids, but you would never play on your own; or you can play a game that you like but the kids can’t really enjoy without a lot of help and coaching.

This dilemma is resolved with the irresistibly fun card game, Bag-O-Loot. Basic play of Bag-O-Loot is similar to a rummy-type card game. You match cards and put them together in groups called collections. Collect five matching cards and you have a Bag-O-Loot. Simple enough, right?

But imagine the added dimension of fun if players can take these collections from each other by playing a matching card. You can just hear the laughter and the groans, can’t you? Bag-O-Loot is all about the player interaction. That is what makes the difference between a good game and a great game that you will want to play again and again.

Currently there are two versions of Bag-O-Loot — the Classic edition which is designed for ages ten and up and the Junior edition which lets kids as young as six get in on the fun. The Classic edition adds a bluffing element which delivers a level of strategy and intrigue that is not particularly obvious when you first learn the game. The bluffing is what makes Bag-O-Loot such an excellent game for adults to play with or without the kids. (more…)

Dr. Toy’s Toy Assembly Tips

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

Giving gifts should be fun experience, not complicated by worrying about how to put the pieces together. The assembly of toys itself can be an enjoyable, creative process, if you follow these suggestions from Dr. Toy.

First, plan the project and gather tools you may need:
Scissors. (You need these for cutting through those hard to open packages.)
Screw drivers, with the needed straight, star, hex, or Phillips head bit. (Needed to install some batteries.)
Pliers or an adjustable wrench.

Add Value:

A fun way to add value to the project is to give your child a chance to trace an outline of each tool and identify it with a name. This is a good way for a child to learn about tools and how to use them. You can also tape the name of the tool on the handle for reinforcement.

Take an Inventory of the Parts:

At the outset, read the directions to see all the pieces that should be included. Carefully account for all the parts to assure you have all you need. Then place the smaller pieces in a container (a box or storage bag) so you don’t loose any.

Nothing like starting and then not being able to find the critical screw you need.


Get the number and size of the batteries you need. For gifts that need batteries, install them before wrapping. This assures instant enjoyment with the new present.


This is a good way to share the project with your child. Read the instructions out loud and follow them together. This is a good time to go slow and not be frustrated. Some stores offer the assembly for extra cost, but look how much fun you might be missing. Kids, depending on their age, will have fun reading the instructions out loud. You can discuss following instructions and putting things together. All good skills for children to learn.

Special Assembly Project:

Some gifts should not be put together in advance—for example, a tricycle. Dad (or grandpa) and an eager child will have a great time putting the new tricycle together. (Of course, paper and a ribbon around the box are fine, but doing the entire assembly together is a terrific shared experience.) The entire process of seeing how the tricycle is assembled is a great learning experience for the child and even more fun when happily shared by adult and child together. Great photo op from box opening through assembly—from reading instructions to the excitement of the first ride.

Wrap Assembled Toys:

Toys that require assembly should be removed from the original package and put together ahead of time. Then you should wrap them so they are ready to play with when they are unwrapped. What is extra fun is to leave a part sticking out from the wrapping so child can play a game of “three guesses” as to what it is. A game can add to the excitement. You can also create a “feely bag” with small toys inside and play “guess what it is!”

Select the Right Products:

Always include gifts like blocks and construction toys that children use to create and assemble by using their imagination. Puzzles and games are gifts they enjoy and participate in playing together with the whole family.


Save wrapping paper and ribbons in a scrap box for re-use later for collages and other creative projects.

Most of all have a great holiday full of adventure and fun each day. Memories are made of these experiences. We long remember the fun we had opening presents but most of all the satisfaction of putting things together as a family.

Let’s play!

What’s Right for Baby

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

New babies need gentle stimulation, selective entertainment, and constant safety. These criteria need to be an essential part of your attention each and every day as well as anyone else who helps you care for and nurture your baby.

Balance between play and stimulation, quiet and rest, nutritious food and liquids, good music and the avoidance of TV blare are all part of the natural process of nurturing baby.

Parents are the baby’s “First Big Toys.” Talk, laugh, sing, play games, and have lots of fun together. Add some special items to your baby’s experiences when he or she is ready from small musical toy, soft hypoallergenic plush, and a teether with ring.

There are many good resources that give you plenty of support and guidance as a new parent. Check Club Mom and for parenting resources to give you support and answer your questions.

Take time out each day to enjoy the fun of playing together. Remember that you are your baby’s first “Big Toy” and knowing that you provide the first and most important stimulation, mental, physical and emotional support.

You can find simple and inexpensive toys to use at home, in transit, and when you are visiting others. Create in your Travel Tote Bag a good variety of items that will amuse, delight and gently stimulate your baby. Keep a variety of safe and fun toys in your baby travel bag. This bag should contain the essentials you need whenever you are away from home.

Select the products you choose for baby carefully. You can create a suggested “New Baby Gift List” for others who will enjoy making a contribution to your baby’s playtime as they grow. This list is handy as a reference for you to share with friends and family who are looking to find just what you and baby will enjoy the most. It is handy for your baby shower or family gatherings such as your baby’s first birthday.

Here are some of the basics for your gift list:

A mobile with its bright colors and soft shapes helps baby focus and provides gentle stimulation while awake in the crib.
A rattle gets the baby’s attention and helps sooth an upset.
A rubber ducky eases baby’s bath time and makes it more fun.
A wonderful soft, washable and hypoallergenic stuffed animal is…?
A music box, tape, or tape recorder relaxes the baby and induces sleep with no fuss.

As babies get older and more coordinated, they’re ready for toys that offer more interaction.

A mirror is a great way for the baby to enjoy its image and be entertained. It helps build recognition and social interaction.

Cloth blocks are eagerly gripped and provide easy exercise.

A Crib Gym builds small muscles and coordination. A flexible playmate with overarch can provide safety and stimulation also on the floor.

A Flutter Ball or Chime Ball amuses and focuses attention in the direction of the sound.

When children start walking, they happily use push-and-pull toys as they build those leg muscles.

Shape-sorting boxes teach and give practice with eye-hand skills.

Look for quality products from companies such as Brio, Haba, Fisher-Price, Playskool, Sassy, and Tiny Love.

Examine the product’s box for its tested, recommended age range. Be sure your baby is ready for the product.

Some specific safety tip reminders for your baby:

Watch as the baby reaches out and make sure there is nothing hazardous it can grab hold of.
Always make sure there are no dangerous small pieces, loose ties, or ribbons within reach.
Don’t allow an older child to give the baby a small object.
Keep the space around your baby safe at all times.

The right toys at the right time will help your baby grow up happy and healthy. My book, Smart Play/Smart Toys, will provide more details on products that are best for baby.

You can find more about the best new toys for babies by frequently reviewing this website for specific suggested products.

Let’s play!

What’s Right for Toddlers

by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

Toddlers actively explore their world and want to touch, smell, and taste everything. Watch carefully and child-proof the play space. This age is a great time for lots of good, safe toys, and varied play experiences.

The right toys help toddlers learn about color, shape, size, and weight. As they check things out, play helps them develop strong muscles and minds. With blocks they gain small muscle strength and counting skills. It’s fun to build up blocks, knock them down, and then rebuild. Your toddler will laugh at his accomplishments.

The toddler enjoys a soft doll or plush animal, a pail, a shovel, push-pull toys, a jack-in-the-box, a bubble pipe, pounding sets, ring stacks, puzzles, books, and tapes. Toddlers love to play with household objects such as plastic dishes, pots, pans, and cups. A small broom gives the toddler a chance to sweep.

When selecting toys, consider their durability. How long will the toy last under “toddler testing”? Is it child-proof? A product should be long-lasting, substantial, and made of good, strong materials.

Stuffed toys must be hygienic and washable; with no fluff the child could pull off and put into its mouth. Protect the child from small parts or anything tiny that could cause choking. All products must be nontoxic.

Look at toys by Brio, Fisher-Price, MEGA BLOKS, Playskool, Discovery Toys, and Little Tikes.

The toddler plays with or near other children, at its own pace. Contact with other children is important, so play groups are excellent for socializing. Observe how the child interacts with people and objects. This is the time to build confidence and self-esteem. The way a child feels affects its physical, emotional, and mental growth.

The toddler comes to learn about cause and effect: hit a peg with a mallet and it falls into the hole; push a button and music plays or a doll dances; turn a handle and a jack-in-the-box pops up.

Interesting new sounds come as the toddler creates words like “ma ma, da da, and bye bye.” An understanding of words expands as the toddler picks up your tone of voice and your meaning, and becomes aware of your feelings.

Playing games with you is a favorite pastime. Patty-cake, peek-a-boo, and clapping to music are new entries to the toddler’s repertoire. People and animals fascinate, and the toddler loves to make sounds, laugh, giggle, act silly, and be surprised. Toddlers love to play.

The toddler is very much attached to the people who are closest. Relationships formed during the earliest months influence emotional progress and the connection and friendship between toddler and parent is the basis for moving into the larger world of friends and other players.

Parents who play and respond to their children are more important to their offspring’s health and well-being than any toy.

You can see moods reflected in the activities a toddler selects. Give the toddler freedom to express these moods, and make whatever adaptations to the play area that is needed. Be ready to change the toy, offer a snack, or take time out for a nap.

Time has no importance as the toddler will be absorbed in the activity of the moment: pouring water, rolling a ball, or watching a spinning pinwheel.

The age at which a toddler begins to sit up, stands while supported, and walks about holding on to the hands of others is a highly individual thing and depends a great deal on height and weight.

At the beginning of the second year, your toddler’s attention span is not great. A toddler has a natural curiosity and is interested in watching, exploring, moving, and knocking things over. The toddler’s world is opening up. If not carefully supervised, injuries can happen. For example, the toddler will open bottles or boxes to touch or taste. Anything that is potentially dangerous must be placed in locked cabinets and well out of reach.

Your toddler usually…

Imitates the actions of others: tries drinking from a cup, talking on a telephone, hammers with a mallet on wooden pegs after seeing daddy drive a nail or mommy tap a tight jar cap to loosen it.

Likes to experiment for reactions to objects that bounce, make noise, light up, or change colors.

Delights in fitting things together and stacking blocks, toys, and cups.

Likes to assemble and disassemble–all the while learning sizes, shapes, colors, weight, and sequencing.

Enjoys quiet play, like a picture book that includes talking about the pictures, pointing to them, and learning new words.

Likes to listen to music and imitate the sounds from toys, CDs, records, or tapes.

Tries to understand your words.

Shows excitement when a favorite toy is seen or a favorite animal appears in a book.

Likes building things, creating art, digging in sand, looking at and pasting pictures, playing with animals, squeezing objects, taking walks, going on rides, throwing things, and water play.

Always take along interesting small toys for your toddler to play with when traveling. He will be happier and so will you.

Let’s play!