Lots of fun for tiny tots
More than mere playthings, toys have come to reflect a family's lifestyle and values. We talk to the experts for the latest trends in everything from eco-friendly plush toys to educational aids, and get advice on choosing the best product for every stage of your baby's development.
Victoria Thomas, head of marketing for Bloom & Grow, a wholesale distributor of baby and maternity products, sees a shift from plastic to more sustainable materials, such as wood, for toys.
'Parents want less plastic; they want to feel that they are buying something that is of a higher quality,' she says.
In Asia, in particular, high value is placed on educational toys and for succeeding in education, even from a very early age, Thomas says.
'Toys that can help stimulate education are always popular and are ever-evolving.'
Quality trumps quantity when choosing toys for infants to toddlers, Thomas says. 'When selecting toys it can be overwhelming - there are so many - and yet children are actually happy with a few simple toys. I would look for the longevity of a toy and ask myself if it could be used in various ways at different stages of a child's development. Gender-neutral toys are also good, as are toys that will stimulate your child through play and action.'
Zeno Ko, marketing executive at Mothercare, agrees that eco-friendly wooden toys and educational ones are popular.
'Parents should also consider how the toys help their children in both their physical and mental development,' she says. Mothercare's Early Learning Centre toys carry icons to indicate their function, such as 'Learning to Write', 'Social Skills' and 'Instils Confidence'.
Ko also advises that toys for infants to toddlers should comply with safety standards.
'Children normally will push toys down the stairs, throw them, jump on them, knock them over, poke fingers in them and even lick them. So, toys should be as tough as the children who play with them,' she says. 'Besides, children will put everything in their mouths for investigation, especially babies who are three months or above. Therefore, parents should pay attention to the toys with small parts which may cause choking.' Parents also need to consider a child's age when choosing toys.
'Children need different kinds of toys at various stages to match their development,' Ko says. 'For instance, a child's first three months are about the development of their sight and hearing, so toys with bright colours and sounds are suitable for infants.'
'We see a continuing trend for high-end plush toys which may rattle, blink, play music, sounds or talk back, as well as the classic plush toy of which a child can never have enough,' says Lucy McLennan, marketing manager of Bumps to Babes. 'Colourful, comfy and well-designed fabric play mats and soft-floor gyms make ideal introductory toys for an infant as do fabric toys and books as they learn to touch, hold and explore by putting things in their mouths.'
Eco-friendliness counts when parents choose toys for their infants or toddlers, McLennan says. 'We are also seeing an ever-increasing trend in eco-friendly toys, including organic fabric plush toys, lead-free baby toys and toys made from sustainable-management forests, or a renewable resource such as bamboo.'
McLennan also notes that toys should be bought from a reputable brand and carry one of the recognised safety standard symbols. 'Parents should observe the manufacturer's warning when a toy is labelled 'not recommended for under three-year-olds/36 months' and follow the age guidelines on the packaging for infants to toddlers,' she says. 'If toys become broken or parts become loose, it's time to discard them.'
When buying toys for your children, remember to also consider one that you can enjoy, McLennan says. 'The best toys are those that encourage interaction between parents and child. Playtime is so much fun, and rewarding for a parent to see their child develop and grow, so open the toy cupboard and enjoy being a child again yourself.'