Toy Dos and Don’ts

Throughout the year, for holidays or birthdays, many of us are shopping for toys and thinking about what’s best to buy. When it comes to little ones it can be easy to fill the literal or virtual shopping carts right up. Before you shop, read this list of dos and don’ts so that you’ll be getting the most fun and learning out of what you buy:

1) DON’T get hung up on gender.

Parents get so hung up on what are girl versus boy toys, but I’d like to make an announcement, “DOLLS ARE FOR BOYS TOO”! So are dollhouses. AND, so are kitchen sets. These toys have been given a gender assignment that makes no sense developmentally. Young children beginning to develop pretend play know about things like feeding, washing, sleeping, and cooking because this is what they experience all day.

Realistically, most boys haven’t experienced too much about real race cars, trains, and outer space. While those subject areas are certainly of interest and will most likely develop at some point, early learners are concrete, not abstract. Those subjects your child has not yet lived. Little ones can play the most about the things they know the most about and those are things that go on around the home.

Plus, don’t we WANT to teach our boys to hold babies and to rock them, to make soup, or give the dog a bath in the bathtub? Fathering is an important part of learning to grow up for boys and we shouldn’t be steering them away from that initially.

2) DO pick toys that will grow with your child.

You know those push button, noisy toys, that target a specific skill? You know how you can’t wait to get them out of your house once your child has tired of them? Well, don’t bring any more of those into your house then.

You want toys that will last with your child as he grows and as his play and language grows. With good toys you can target endless words and fill endless pages of your child’s story. A noisy toy may just target letters and colors. A really great toy like a dollhouse will work on “eat”, “sleep”, “upstairs”, “refrigerator”, “daddy’s sleeping”, “the dog is dirty”, “the mail is here”, “what should we have for dinner”,  and “where should the baby sleep?”.

3) DO pick toys that your child can do things to, but DON’T pick toys that do too much stuff on their own.

With all of those noisy, push-button, toys it’s assumed that your child is pushing the button and then staying around, tuning in, and comprehending what the toy then says or does in order to “teach” your child one of the SCLANs (shape, color, letters, and numbers). Instead let’s pick toys where our child can DO more than push a button. Let’s pick toys where our child can stack, put in, ride, shake, stir, talk, pick up, look at, read, and pretend. Doesn’t that sound more like play then pushing a button? Doesn’t that sound like a toy your child could actually learn something from?

4) DON’T get hung up on SCLANS.

Have I convinced you yet not to worry about SCLANS? I don’t want to bash them, but parents are just so inundated with the message that teaching their child means bombarding them with academic concepts. It’s just not true. So much more goes on in language development. So unless your child has a solid vocabulary of at least 100 words and is using 2 word phrases, forget the SCLANS. Instead pick toys that let you focus on filling the pages for really powerful words like “open”, “eat”, “drink”, “up”, “go”, and “shoes”.

5) DO be a minimalist.

I love The Minimalist Mom’s blog. It’s a reminder that having less stuff can give you more happiness, as you’ll have more time, money, and space when you don’t give all of those things away to your belongings! I will be referencing her later this week when we talk about what the play areas should look like in your home, but for now just start thinking about how less is more. When your child has fewer things, he takes more time with each thing and gets a deeper understanding of that object. Your child gets more marks on that page, instead of fewer marks on 100 different pages. Think about what your child REALLY would enjoy, learn from, and will be lasting, before you buy too much stuff.

Basically, these are the Toy Rules…


And where should you shop? I love Beyond Play (great for typically developing children as well as children with developmental delays), Nova Natural, and Plan Toys.

If you enjoyed this post about toys, stick around. We write a lot about toys so why don’t you follow us on Facebook so you don’t miss a thing. You may also want to check out these posts…

After reading this post, would you consider buying a boy a doll or dollhouse? Where’s your favorite place to shop?

  1. Jessica S. says:

    Yikes! I’m totally guilty of cluttering my home with SCLANs. I think if I got rid of all of them my child would have nothing left. Any suggestions?

    • Kim says:

      I sure do!
      1) Don’t get rid of all of those SCLANs. But really your child only needs one SCLAN related toy out at time.
      2) Remember you really don’t need many toys. You can be a minimalist! So start replacing your toys slowly and thoughtfully.
      3) Use what you have around your house. A stuffed animal, small bowl, baby spoon, and washcloth are all you need to act out a full feeding and sleeping pretend play scheme!

  2. Angela McClenan says:

    Great ideas! I’m forwarding this post to the grandparents!

  3. Rick says:

    I’m forwarding to the grandparents too! I completely agree about avoiding gender worries. Remember “My Buddy” back in the 80′s? I totally had one.

  4. Sofia says:

    Great ideas! And love the minimalistic approach alot. Not just from the perspective, that your child can learn so much more from a few toys than having a whole room full of stuff, but also from the cleaning perspective:) …. We do have more toys than I would like, but most have been given to us so try to keep some toys in the attic and rotate. It’s like Christmas every time we bring down some new/old stuff :)

    • Kim says:

      Sofia, you are so right about cleaning. It takes a lot less time with less stuff. My daughter knows we put all of the toys away before nap, before bed, and anytime we leave the house. It makes me so less stressed to not feel like I have to do that every time I get a break. Also, you are going to love my Friday post on rotating toys. I hope. Please add suggestions to it and I’ll let you know when that post is up!

  5. Lacy says:


    I also had a lot of SCLAN toys. What I did was intead of leaving them in the room just to be pushed and left. I used them as “table time toys.”Meaning, I sat down at the table and played with him and the SCLAN toy together. I used them to help interact and we would also say the word and do the activity together. It kept his interest longer because they weren’t out all the time.

    What do you think about that idea?

  6. Sarah says:

    I love this discussion. So many kids homes look like mini Toys r Us’s! I think parents sometimes feel the need to buy lots of toys so that their child has just as many opportunities to learn as the kid next door, without realizing that the quantity isn’t what matters. Like you said, it’s the quality of the toy and how a child can use their imagination when playing with it that matters.

  7. Carmen says:

    Great post; I’ll be sharing it with a few of my families soon!

  8. Kristy says:

    I feel relieved to hear what you wrote about SCLANs. I have feared that my daughter doesn’t have enough of those things. She really only has an old fashioned building block set and she has outgrown her shape sorter. She mainly plays with books, blocks, paper and crayons, stuffed animals and barnyard figures. She does have a jumbo lego set that she loves, but that’s about it. I could probably clear out some of the animal clutter, but I am guilty of loving stuffed animals too! Thanks for the shopping suggestions!

  9. I love this post! I’m sharing it on my FB page!

  10. Amanda says:

    I wish more people understood the SCLAN thing. Especially non-parents who think they’re doing a good thing by buying Leap Frog or V-Tech birthday gifts. My toddler has a few and doesn’t play with them nearly as much as she does active toys like balls, cars, shape sorters, blocks etc. Yet it’s blinky, noisy toys that fill the shelves at Walmart. Even TRU.