The best thing about toys, in my book, is that anything and everything can be a toy. I learned this the hard way when I went on a toy shopping spree (with my grandmother’s credit card, of course) for my 20-month-old at Toys "R" Us. I came home with every shiny, sophisticated toy I could find in the store — toys that promised to accelerate his cognitive development by leaps and bounds. When I got home, I excitedly gave him the new toys, and watched in horror as my baby ripped off the packaging of each toy to play with … the packaging. Needless to say, I know better now.

That being said, there are things to consider when picking a toy for your child.

Firstly, make sure that the toy you have your eye on hasn’t been recalled for a choking or other safety hazard. I’m always shocked when I hear that certain toys have been recalled for containing lead paint -- I mean, come on, seriously! People are still using lead paint in kids’ toys? It gets me every time. You can visit the Consumer Product Safety Division website to find the latest toy recalls.

Secondly, look for toys that are built to last. Durability is key. Too often, I bring a toy home that only minutes after it’s opened — snap! — is broken. It seems that the plastic that toys are made of is getting flimsier and flimsier. And while we’re on the subject of plastic, try to look for plastic toys that don’t contain BPA or PVC, which are chemical additives that have been associated with numerous health risks. Many manufacturers have already phased out BPA from their bottles and food containers, but considering how much kids put toys in their mouths, it should really be phased out from kids’ products altogether.

Also, don’t collect too many electronic toys. The best toys are the ones that encourage exploration, not that do all the exploring for your child. When my son was a baby, we bought him a crib toy that, at the push of a button, would light up like the sky on the Fourth of July and make noises to match. I returned it immediately and found a crib toy that did not require batteries, with simple knobs and pulls that kept him busy when he woke up in the morning for almost an hour. Not only did it not give him a headache, but I’d like to think it helped lengthen his attention span, too.

The other benefit of non-electronic toys? No batteries to replace. When you buy an electronic toy, you always have to think not only of the immediate cost, but the long-term cost as well.

Finally, when purchasing a toy for your child, keep in mind that it should be age-appropriate. A 3-year-old will hardly enjoy a 500-piece puzzle (well, maybe your gifted and talented 3-year-old can handle that one …) but he probably won’t enjoy the stacking toys he loved as a baby either. The beautiful thing about your child’s mind is that it is always growing, changing and developing. I remember the block sorting toy I bought when my baby was 6 months old. For months, all he did was dump the blocks out and chuck them across the room. Then one day, he actually tried to get the square block in the shaped holes on top. To see the look of delight on his face when he finally got it in the right one? Priceless. The perfect toy at the perfect age. If he only ate his peas that night instead of chucking them across the room, it would have been a perfect evening.

Inset photo: ZUMA Press