11/08/2012 11:58 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

Dr. Toy's Tips on Toys and Play

Disasters happen. Coping is a challenge for everyone directly and indirectly involved. We are all connected and want to respond.

Here are some tips on play and toys, plus ways to help support children's well-being. Regardless of circumstances, children often need comfort and reassurance. Play can provide them with both and more. A teddy bear, puppet or soft doll can provide reassurance when child is especially concerned and struggling to understand something. These playthings and others offer tangible emotional comfort, and can be a friend to share a secret as needed.

With the holidays approaching, here is the first post in a series about toys and play.

Why are toys important for young children?

Play is essential to babies, toddlers, preschool and school-age children. Children need plenty of opportunities to play with a variety of good toys and materials and use their imagination. We need to respect and understand more about the world of play and its great value for all babies and children (and adults as well). Toys are an important part of every child's life. It is a wonderful feeling to give the right toy. Choosing the right toy from among the many possibilities can be very rewarding to both adult and child.

What questions should parents ask before selecting a toy or children's product?
1. Is the toy/product safe? Are there any potential hazards? Is the product too small? Does it have any sharp edges or loose ties? Is it nontoxic? Will it take rough treatment? Can it be easily cleaned? Does it meet consumer product safety Standards? Is there a warranty?

2. Is the product fun? A toy or child's product is supposed to entertain the child. It should amuse, delight, excite, be enjoyable and allow the child to develop and practice skills.

3. Is the product appropriate? Is this toy or product significant now? Does the toy fit the child's age, skills and abilities? Will it hold their interest? Will the child be happy using the product?

4. Is the product well-designed? Is it easy to use? Does it look good? Feel good?

5. Is the product versatile? Is there more than one use for it?

6. Is the product durable? Will it be something that will last a long time? Children play hard and subject their toys to a lot of wear.

7. Is the product enticing and engaging to the child? Does it offer an opportunity for fun, to learn and to think?

8. Will the product help the child expand creativity? With the right products, the child can expand imagination in art, crafts, hobbies, language, reading, music, movement and drama.

9. Will the toy frustrate or challenge the child? Will the child know how to use the product? Or will it be too difficult to use without adult assistance? Does the toy offer something new to learn, to practice or to try?

10. Does the product match the package and the package match the product? If the toy does not match ads or packaging, it can be disappointing. Is age-grading clear? Is the item in the store like the product shown in the print media or TV advertisement?

11. Will the toy help nurture childhood? Does the product help the child express emotions, experience concern for others and practice positive social interaction? Does it provide value to childhood? Or are there any violent, sexist or other negative aspects to product?

12. What will the toy teach? Does it help expand positive self-esteem, values, understanding and cultural awareness? Does it offer practice in skill building? Eye/hand coordination? Fine and large motor skills? Communication? Does it educate the child about the environment? The community? The world? History? Science and/or technology? Other skills?

13. Can the product be cleaned and reused? If it is not washable, can it be cleaned in a practical way?

14. Is the toy affordable?

15. Does the price match the value received?

What are "open-ended" toys, and why are they important?

Open-ended toys and activities like blocks, puppets, dolls and art supplies stimulate creativity, a sense of humor, a sense of discovery, wonder, reasoning, social development and much more.

What's the role of fun or joy in selecting toys, or should a parent always be thinking of "education"?

Being a fully-developed person requires a good combination of thinking, common sense and experiences. We must also experience a full range of emotions to be fully human. It would not be good to be lopsided to one degree or another. It's better if we can solve problems, make good choices based on character and values and feel glad and proud about finding solutions. Certainly, children need to solve problems, express their feelings and spend time each day in playful activities.

If we are only rational and don't allow ourselves to express feelings, we drastically reduce and diminish the full human experience of joy and discovery. The world of toys provides learning and fun, surprises and skills, emotional growth, experiences of all kinds and much more. Enjoy smart play and smart toys for a lifetime. Toys, puzzles and games are good for children -- and seniors. Playtime is, after all, good for a lifetime.

Turn off the TV and Turn on playtime for more fun, memorable and meaningful family time. When the power goes off, new connections are made. Children can rediscover their own inner creativity and power. Everyone can have fun and share good times together. Let's play!

© 2012 Stevanne Auerbach, PhD / Dr Toy