So you're at the toy section, wandering amid all the colours, pressing different buttons to hear silly sounds, looking at different features, sizes, prices.
There are good toys, and there are bad toys. And there are bad toys which seem like good toys at the time, but really really aren't.
Bad toys, IMO, are ones that need a lot of time cleaning up. The pools of plastic balls, the lego sets, the blocks. While one of these is alright, try not to overdo it. In fact, don't buy them at all. There's a good chance some uncle or aunt or cousin who doesn't have children will see these toys and think, "Hey, let's get little nephew these."
In my opinion, the worst toddler toy out there is - Puzzle books. A toddler, once he figures out how to take the puzzle pieces out of the book, does just that. Page after page. And you get one huge mess of puzzle pieces that parents have trouble sorting through, let alone a two year old. Not that parents do sort through them. Once they're out, they're out. If you do take the half hour needed to sort through the puzzle pieces and put them back in (like anyone actually would), then they are all over the place again the next time the kid gets the book.
Before I mention the best toy, I want to say this. I went to Toys'R'Us, and they didn't have them. Walmart didn't have them either, or Zellers, or all the usual suspects you would think have a big toy selection.
I'm talking about a toy that a parent and a child can enjoy together. Something interactive, where a parent gets as much joy out of it as the child. A toy that a baby enjoys, a toddler, and right up to a teenager enjoys. Something you can grow into a collection. Some adults even make a living with variations of these toys.
What is it you ask?
In Kingston, ON, I buy them at a local specialty toy and education store called Play and Learn. It's on the corner of Princess and Gardners across from the shopping centre.
Think about it this way.
Dolls and stuffed animals are boring!
Kids play with them for a minute, go grrr, or make sounds, etc, then lose interest. But puppets! You can make them into real characters. There are pirate puppets, policemen, firemen, dinosaurs, crocodiles, pigs, you name it, they have it. There are puppet theatres, (which you can make your own out of cardboard and some cloth, or with wood if you want a bigger project.) And unlike all the countless useless toys lined up on the shelf and in the toy box, a parent can actually play together with the kids and have fun with a puppet.
Other toys I recommend.
Fridge sound and magnet toys - Keeps them occupied while you cook and clean.
Jack in the box - The classic pop gets them every time. They'll play for hours and not get tired. Best of all, it doesn't cost as much as the branded and highly advertised dolls etc.
Kite - Great for windy days. At less than $2 at the dollar store, you can't go wrong, even if it flies away after the first use. Some extra advice, attach a dog leash to the handle so if the child lets go, you have a backup. Oh, and stay away from trees.