There’s a wild fascination with little kids and dinosaurs, although if you check the box office numbers for the Jurassic Park franchise, that fascination seems to last into adulthood. And there is no shortage of dinosaur toys, specifically handheld action figures, that will line your playroom in various configurations and entertain kids in the car for hours.
What to Look For
When it comes to choosing toys, in this case, dinosaur toys, you might think there’s nothing to it: Randomly select one that looks good online or on the shelf and call it a day. But, toys can be educational even if they’re not billed as such and they can help with motor skills development (making dinos stand up in preparation for an attack? That’s helping your kid learn how to balance a toy).
Simple Is Better
“Simple toys that do not have fancy lights, music, or movement are great because they are versatile,” says Liz Nuernberger, an M.A., CCC-SLP pediatric speech-language pathologist. “You choose what you want to do with them, and it gives you a chance to use your imagination.”
Experts from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) concur: “The less a toy does, the more the child can do with it,” according to ASHA. “The more the child can do with it, the more opportunities for interaction it allows.”
Quiet for Creativity
And as for that T-Rex that says rawr, here’s good news for parents and caregivers: When it comes to speech and language development for younger kids, toys that make noise are not the best option. Yes, you heard us right.
Letting your young kids make the animal noises themselves helps with language development and creativity. “Children learn everything at a young age through play,” says Nuernberger. “Whatever toys you have for your child, the most important thing is to get down to their level and interact and engage with them and the toys.”
According to a 2016 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, electronic toys—talking farms, baby laptops, baby cellphones, for example—were associated with decreased quantity and quality of language input compared with books or toys that don’t make noise.
Plus, quiet toys are easier on parents’ and caregivers’ ears. That’s not to say toys that make noise or have screens are a hard no. “Believe me, as a parent, [I agree] there is a place for these,” says Nuernberger. “Just make sure you’re interacting with your child. For example, you can narrate what they’re doing and expand on what the toy is doing or saying.”
How We Evaluated
Choosing the best dinosaur toy for your kid is no easy task. After all, where to begin? We talked with other parents and consulted catalogs for the hottest toys that will excite and educate. In addition to trying these items firsthand (or hearing from those who did), we scoured online product reviews to find out what works and what doesn’t.
As a parent of a 4-year-old son and almost 2-year-old daughter, I’m very picky about what comes into the house. Is it useless clutter? Will it expand their horizons? Will I step on it and destroy my foot? I also know my kids will get excited about any new toy, even if it’s from the dollar store, so your dinosaur pick doesn’t have to be the most expensive thing out there.