Where to Start
I've always found that a great way to start looking for toys is by browsing online with your kids. This gives you a great feel for what they like and don't like. Start with general browsing topics like: girls or boys toys, dolls, musical instruments, toy cars and trucks. You can use these to gauge your child's reaction. With the media today offering so many choices, it can make it tough to really find a toy that's going to be used for a good period of time versus the "flavour of the week."
Think Ahead About Cleanup
Something that I never thought about before buying toys was the cleanup. Boy, do I wish I could go back in time and tell myself a thing or two about this. Just remember, the smaller the toy, the more likely it and about 50 others just like it will find their way onto the stairs, the floor, into the toilet or pretty much anywhere you don't want to find it. As much as we'd love to pretend that our kids are great and clean up after themselves, let's face it, this just doesn't happen as much as we'd like. If you purchase slightly larger toys, they are easier to track down when lost and keep organized when not being used.
Look at Quality Versus Quantity
When it comes to looking for something that will last, there are certain key things to watch for. Just remember the more limbs or appendages, the more likely something is going to break off. Look at what they use to make the toy. Traditional wooden toys, even though simple by most modern standards, tend to last much longer just due to their durability. There are some great brands of wooden toys out there such as Melissa and Doug, Fagus or IKEA built items that may sometimes cost a little more but will last much longer than the standard plastic items when it comes to durability.
The Noise, The Noise, The Noise
I'll never forget when my sister decided it was a great idea to buy the girls a drum set when they were about 3 years old. They still love that thing and use it all of the time but there are other items on the market that may cause you to lose your sanity even quicker than raising the kids. As much as I think it's great to foster the musical aspect of learning for children, there are a ton of items on the market that come with a button or two that allows your child to play roughly two to three songs repeatedly, that won't stop. Ever. Before you know it you're humming the songs when picking up groceries and having them haunt your dreams to the point of waking up in a cold sweat. Just make sure you are prepared for whatever the toy's functions will do and don't put yourself through the often unbearable anguish with a bad purchase that you end up hiding out of reach in the closet.
Don't Buy Things You Wanted When You Were a Kid
I'm touching on this because I've made this mistake on multiple occasions. Just because there are some things out there that look pretty cool to you, doesn't always mean your kids are going to like them. I've had some items sitting out in the garage for years now that I thought would be great and probably ended up playing with them a couple times more than the kids before they hit the donation pile. Just remember, make sure you check with them and see if they like it before you jump on something and buy it.
Read the Reviews
The best thing going with sites such as Amazon are the customer reviews. This is candid feedback from other parents who have embarked on the same journey and found that some things work and some things don't. Use these to your advantage so you don't make the same mistakes they have in the past. Just remember, you're not the only one that has tried to figure out what works best. None of us know where to start and some will make the uneducated mistakes again without doing the proper research. These reviews have helped me avoid some major pitfalls when it came to certain purchases and I thank the people that take the time to write them. Happy hunting!