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The Best Toys For Kids: Picking Right This Holiday Season

If you're in the toy business, then this time of year is like, well, Christmas to you. After all, there's no other point in any 12-month period when every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle and anyone else affiliated with children will all be looking to you for inspiration at the same time.

There have been plenty of 'best of' lists for the hottest holiday toys distributed over the past couple of weeks, and they certainly start you in the right direction. But how can you know if that robot is really appropriate for your four-year-old godson, or whether that puzzle is just begging to be eaten by your 2-year-old niece?

The Neighbourhood Toy Stores of Canada (NETS), consisting of independent toy retailers across the country, is celebrating the first annual Neighbourhood Toy Store Day on Saturday, November 12, with discounts, crafts and a lot of local love. These small businesses are filled with staff who have years of experience in the toy business, and the organization has put together some suggestions for questions to ask yourself when choosing toys for the kids in your life.

Is The Toy Appropriate For The Personality Of The Child?

All children are unique. Arm yourself with as much information as you can about the child, or just think about what you have seen them do. Does she love fantasy, or is she a junior scientist? Will he sit quietly solving puzzles, or is he always on the go? Look for something in the child's area of interests, or ask for a "sure bet" for that age range.

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NETS nominates ten top toys for 'Gold Stars' each year, judging them based on play value and the longevity of children's engagement. Check out the top ten here:

Is The Age Range Appropriate?

Pay attention to the age suggested by manufacturer -- don't be tempted to get something that is too far from the child's age range. Find a craft, for example, that is simple enough for a younger child to do mostly on their own. Likewise, a building project may end up being mostly a parent experience if it requires a lot of patience or fine motor skill. Very young scientists want an "oh wow" experience, while older ones want to find out "why".

Is It Good Value?

There are certain well-made toys that children return to over and over again, and these end up costing pennies "per playtime". All toddlers love pull toys and balls; all children love blocks; everyone needs a special cuddle friend. No batteries required!

Will It Inspire?

Does it stimulate creativity, spark the imagination, and build self esteem? Instead of asking, "What will this toy do?" ask, "What can a child do with this toy?"

Is It Fun?

Will the child enjoy receiving the toy? Are you happy to have chosen it? Can you picture the child genuinely enjoying playing with the toy? Sometimes kids are convinced by advertising that they want an item, which you haven't heard of, don't like, or are sure won't last very long. Reassure children that while they might not get exactly what they asked for, they will get a present chosen with love and thoughtfulness.

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