For some reason Christmas shopping starts sooner and sooner each year. I noticed that before Halloween had even come, Christmas stuff was already out. When I was younger, I would always go shopping with my mom, sister, and other female relatives the day after Thanksgiving. We would shop hard and hunt for the best bargains. We would have a car full, and had finished off at least half of the list in an 8-hour period...how exhausting! So, instead of fighting off that shopping starts earlier, I'm going along with it. Last year, I had everything purchased by the first week of December. Boy, was it relaxing to enjoy the rest of the time to absorb what Christmas is all about. I attended church plays, parties, and other events from mid to late December without the worry of not having completed my shopping.
Even though I get an earlier start, I don't always find it so simple to know what I'm buying for whom. I don't like to charge too much money, and I like to pay off things, which means I get gifts that are thought-provoking but not huge money items (e.g. TV, vehicle, etc). I'm finding it a bit hard to find toys for my 17-month old son. Because alot of "boy" toys are more for two year olds and older. Unfortunately, he still mouthes toys. However, his imagination is emerging and he likes to roll cars as he makes car noises and places the Little People (R) animals in the farm; he seems to have fun doing these things. He stacks blocks and similar things, but he gets bored with simple toys. If he could learn to not stick toys in his mouth, we could advance to more complex toys.
Now, as hard as I find it to know what to buy whom, I know that it is even harder for parents, friends, and relatives of a developmentally delayed child. My suggestion for those families is to ask the parents what to get the child. Because a 2 1/2 year old (chronologically) child, may only be developmentally at a 1 1/2 year old level. For parents who aren't sure what to get, ask your child's clinicians: speech, occupational, or physical therapist, as well as preschool teachers. Also, go to websites such as Target (R) or Toys R Us (R) and look up toys that are at the child's developmental level, not chronological age. I think that some sites out there on the Web even have kid's gift registries. What a great idea for a child with special needs! Whether you are part of a registry or not, start to write down some ideas from these sites. I also frequently go to consignment (used) stores for kids and can find some amazing bargains. That way if the child doesn't like the toy, I didn't spend too much. You have to go to these places often to get the better items because toys such as train tables, doll houses, and other popular gifts don't last long. The local store that I go to only takes items that are in good shape and won't resale them unless they have all of the pieces. Another option for bargains is garage sales and toy exchange programs (rental).
Also analyze the toy for what it does or doesn't do. If you have a delayed child who isn't speaking yet, then musical or speaking toys may be good stimulation for them. If you have a child who doesn't know how to play with toys, then try open-ended items such as blocks, cars, Tinker Toys (R), Bristle Blocks (R), and balls, then as they progress doll houses, Barbies (R), action figures, etc. may be more beneficial. Also, buy toys that expect skills that are slightly ahead of where the child functions presently, in order to challenge the child. Now saying this, I do believe toy size and material should be taken into consideration- foam blocks may be chewed on, but plastic ones wouldn't. A simple "swallow" test for toddlers is to get the cardboard insert from a roll of toilet paper and try to fit the toy in it. If it fits, then it is too small for a child who still "eats" toys. The insert is supposedly similar in size to the throat. Finally, check out information on development at www.zerotothree.org website, which has information mainly in English and some in Spanish; it even has printable handouts on how to play with children during everyday activities.