Every toy we sell is marked with an age recommendation, and every day we get questions about how accurate they are. And that’s a good question! Because sometimes they’re right on the mark, and sometimes, there’s some wiggle room – so much depends on the kid you’re shopping for. So I wanted to break down why a few things are recommended (and are good recommendations) and when it is okay to ignore those recommendations.
Shopping for babies
Based on my experience with kids and in the store: if you’re buying for a child under 12 months old, the recommendations are spot on. They roughly follow what each milestone the child will go through and what motor skill they will most likely be working on.
What are babies doing the first three months of their lives? Not a whole lot. Most toys purchased for a child during these times will not be touched by the child until they’re at least 3 months old (which is when the grasping milestone comes about, and suddenly everything is in their little ninja hands!). It is usually between 4 to 6 months that they start to actually pick up objects, which is why stacking toys are usually recommended for 6 months and up. But you can easily buy a 3-month-old child a toy marked for 6 months and up, because even if they are not using it right away, they will soon. It is the recommendations that are for the older kids that things can get a little hairy.
Jumping way forward in age: LEGO sets can be confounding with their age recommendations. The large Lego sets we carry are usually recommended for ages 9-14, among the highest ages in the store. This is in relation to the amount of pieces in the box/the difficulty there is to put it together. Can someone younger than 9 put a large Lego set together? Absolutely. Can someone older than 14 still enjoy putting a Lego set together? You better believe it. My nephew was putting together those sets in his sleep by 6 years old (granted, his father may have started him on LEGOs as soon as he could grip his little baby hands on a piece).
Basically: shopping for LEGO sets requires some knowledge of the child you’re buying for. If you know the child then you know what they will be able to handle. A gigantic LEGO set may be a lot for any kid regardless of age, but some kids, like my nephew, will be completely undaunted by the size (and delighted to take on the challenge). Knowing the child’s abilities will make the age recommendation something you just glance at.
Magnetic building sets
Another age recommendation that we have seen trip up some people would be the Magnatiles and the Magformers. Magnatiles are flat, thin plastic shapes that have small magnets in the corners, allowing for some 3D building. These are recommended for ages 3 and up. Magformers are smaller in size (still not choke-small) and are not a solid piece, but have the center of the shape cut out, making it easier to grip and make more intricate 3D objects with the magnets along the edge; they also have slightly stronger magnets, which is great for avoiding frustration when younger kids are building something that doesn’t want to stay built. But these are recommended for ages 6 and up.
While Magnatiles are something kids in Brookline (at least) know all about, many people are not as familiar with Magformers because of that dreaded 6+ recommendation. We have had both in our Playspace, and both were played with very heavily (unfortunately they are not compatible with each other, but that never stops kids from trying). I saw more kids of all ages playing with the smaller Magformer pieces than the Magnatiles. In Australia, they are recommended for 3+ because of this type of feedback. So, if you are looking for an awesome gift for a 3 year old that can hold their attention for years (there are so many different sets and ideas), Magformers are amazing. Seriously! Ignore that age recommendation!
Toys marked for younger kids that are great for older kids
Too many times have I seen people pass up really great items because the number on the box was smaller than their child’s age. We have several cool remote control cars that say 3+, and I see kids and parents alike turn up their nose to them. Let me tell you: they are awesome. If 20-somethings can play with them until the batteries run dry, a 6 year old can do the same without insulting their intelligence. Do not be swayed by the 3+ sticker! It’s an age minimum based on when a child can operate the buttons.
And Calico Critters have a huge age range! I bought my niece her first set of Calico Critters for her 8th birthday, despite the 3+ on the box because I knew she would love them (and she does! I got pictures and a video of her thanking me for them!). Calico Critters are still awesome and even I catch myself eyeing them (they are just so cute). Even our Kate Kiley recently mentioned how awesome they are.*
Not sure how the age recommendation guessing game is going to play out with a gift you’re looking for? Ask the store associates here at Magic Beans! Spending time in the store gives you plenty of insight as to how age recommendations actually play out in real life. I’ve seen 3-year-olds dominate at Snap Circuits (8+) and I’ve seen a 26-year-old get stuck on a challenge in the Bunny Peek-a-Boo game (2+) (don’t worry, your secret is safe with me). I’ve even seen 6-year-olds infinitely entertained by Neotobbles (6mo+), and grownups who can’t stop playing Rat-a-Tat-Cat (6+). I am not ashamed to admit at 23 that many of my favorite games and activities have a big ol’ 3+ mark on them. Some things are just too good to pass up!
* Editor’s note: And I had a ball customizing and posing Calico Critters for the intro for our last catalog, and, as demonstrated in the photos above, have continued to have fun with them ever since. Calico Critters really are the best!