Holiday toy tips from an education professor and child development expert

The sheer number of toys and stores and websites give shoppers looking for kids' presents bountiful options, but according to education Prof. Roberta Golinkoff of the University of Delaware, not all toys are created equal.

Golinkoff specializes in child development. She suggests shoppers move right past many electronic and “educational” toys, and instead, pick up simpler (and cheaper) items like blocks and puzzles.Too often, she notes, electronic toys seek just one right answer. Toys without instructions enable creativity and allow children to consider solutions to problems.

Other recommendations from Golinkoff:

Receiving too many gifts overwhelms children. Parents should give just a handful of gifts or put some presents aside until later in the year.

Get an appliance box. This free item gives the gift of endless possibilities. With a few crayons, kids can transform it into a fort, a house, or even a spaceship.

Take adult clothes and alter them so children can wear them without tripping. Young children will spend countless hours playing dress up, engineering their own make-believe worlds.

Give older kids puzzles or construction sets so they can discover new things and engage their minds.

Don't fall for the claims of some “educational” toys and learning programs. Ads that promise your infant can learn to read won't give your child an advantage, says Golinkoff. Your baby will gain more through human interactions.

Even with so many toys on shelves, no matter how much you shop, you won't find the best present in stores.

“You are your child's best toy,” Golinkoff says. “Make a vow that you are going to sit down half an hour every day and follow your child's lead -- and make sure to turn off your electronic device.”

Professor Roberta Golinkoff is available for interview – contact [email protected]