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How to pick the perfect toy

A checklist for holiday shopping

December 3, 2011

The holiday season provides the opportunity to unabashedly spoil the children in your life. But with so many options for children these days, which toys are the best for helping them learn and develop while having fun?

The American Occupational Therapy Association offers some tips for selecting toys that will make the most of play time. The right toy can help to support a child's development and build confidence, all while having a good time.

The act of playing is an important tool that influences a child's life. The primary goals of childhood are to grow, learn and play. It is often through play that children learn to make sense of the world around them.

"Selecting a toy can be overwhelming," says Sandra Schefkind, MS, OTR/L, Pediatric Coordinator at the American Occupational Therapy Association. "These guidelines help consumers to be more contemplative about play when selecting a toy and can help consumers to evaluate a toy rather than making a knee-jerk purchase based on packaging or where an item is placed on the shelf."

Occupational therapy practitioners are experts in play and offer the following questions for consumers to consider as guidelines when gift-buying for children:

Is the toy safe and age appropriate?

Fact Box

AOTA will host a live Pediatric Chat on "Play and Toy Selection" at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6. To view or participate in the free discussion moderated by Schefkind, visit

Can the toy be played with in more than one way? Does the toy appeal to several senses?

Can the toy be used in more than one place? Can the toy be used in more than one position?

Does the toy involve the use of both hands? Does the toy include moving parts, buttons and gears? Does the toy encourage activity and movement?

Does the toy encourage thinking or solving problems? Does the toy promote communication and interaction?

Is the toy appealing? Is the toy worth the cost?

"Occupational therapy practitioners recognize play as an occupation because it is purposeful and meaningful to a child's development. Play can involve cognitive demands like problem solving, social demands like sharing and challenge motor and coordination skills to manipulate or activate a toy," Schefkind says. "This list promotes the opportunity to engage the child, challenge the child and support the child and his or her family in using play to further development."

Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide.



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