The Anachronistic Mom's page of
Toy Reviews
Thank goodness for toy reviews! If you can find the right ones, they tell you the names of great toys that you can then just search for and send to the kids!  Here are some.

Dr Toy's Guide on the Internet is great.

Have you heard of TRUCE?  That's Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment!  They have a website where they recommend healthy and good toys for kids (and tell you what's bad.) They also suggest what they call "shoe box gifts," where you buy project-specific small items and put them into a box for the child to use on project, like cooking, gardening, tub play, and so forth.  The formatting is a bit irritating, but here's their toy recommendation list.

How about GamerDad?  It's a dad who reviews games and gives you a dad's opinion on how good they are for kids.  Totally cool.

Favorite gifts for each age
I'm starting with what we liked, although we'd admittedly a little non-mainstream. Feel free to put different toys with different age groups though.

Age 1 month
Ahem.  We gave our son a plastic spatula (all in one piece) from Target, I think.  He loved it.  Used to alternately wave it around and bite it.  Looked very cute in the baby bucket, too.  I tried to find him a little chef's hat but couldn't (darn it.)

We also gave him a wooden lemon squeezer to play with when he was a bit older.  Nice for biting.

I'm fond of "pat mats."  I think they're cool.

My son had an alpaca rug that he played on.  Also, he had one of those sheep fur things to lie on, but wasn't wild about it.    To be perfectly honest, when he was still very young we took him to a hotel which had a velvet bedspread and he went gaga over it.  I think our son is a texture snob.

Age 5 months
From an email that I sent:
"I bought my son this really cool thing. (SUCH a great mother. I haven't the vaguest idea of what it's called.) It's one of those round plastic things with a hole in the middle. Through the hole is a cloth "seat" with holes in it, so the kid is in the seat, surrounded by a round play area. The round play area is suspended above a saucer. [Ed. note: ahem.  EXERSAUCER)

Hmmn. Well, your kid can sit in this thing, surrounded by activites, like a bee on a stem whose wings crinkle, and a flower that they can gum and a plastic thing that they can spin. The round sling seat in the middle turns around, so the child can turn. When your child first starts using it, you can flip feet out, which stabilize the bottom, but when they get used to can flip the feet in, so the entire thing rocks. And did I mention springy? Simon loves it.

You set the seat height so that ony the baby's toes are touching. Not sure if that's better on the hips or not. I got it at toys R us. I got the Evenflo super duper one (about 70 dollars I think), and I'm VERY happy with my choice. I'm glad that it has no fewer toys!"

[another note:  I got this one.  Reviews are here. (I like eopinions, but usually only use them after the fact!)  I would suggest NOT putting the batteries into the exersaucer, btw.  They're perfectly happy without the overstim.)

Age 6 months
- Classical Chorus Star Stacker by Fisher Price - about $13.00
- An activity table -- no electronics, just lots of different things to do. 
- A set of mini-maracas.
- Discovery Toys nesting cups
- V-Tech walker that has a play board with all kinds of  buttons/sounds/lights
- A big wooden cube that has the wooden beads on wires on top of it.
- Wood Building Blocks
- You can also just use household items.  We used a spatula.  Great fun.  Other people have used: measuring spoons (metal were best), pots and pans with spoons, old extra remote control, old extra telephone, baby wipe boxes and tissue boxes,
lotion sampler bottles, newspaper or phone books, and so forth.
- stuffed snake bought in the kid's department at Borders (about 3 feet long)
- Winnie the Pooh rattle
- "Mrs. Mustard's Baby Faces" (accordion book)
- sparkling symphony piano
- beanie baby toy
- car keys

Age 1 year
Awesome Floating Cook Set
This is a floating cooking set for about $15.  My kid adores it. He's 19 months and has started playing in an entirely different way using this set. Since it's in the tub, he's doing more extended play with one thing, rather than darting around or doing ultra physical stuff.
- push truck with sweep up roller in the front
- baby carriage, wagon, scarf for parachute/peekaboo
- baby hoover vacuum cleaner
- grocery cart, Elmo
- Little Tykes slide
- necktie
- curling iron to pull around by plug
- peaceful planet aquarium

Age 2 years
- puzzles
- stuffed gorillas from the san diego zoo (name: "Taco")
- toy lawnmowers
- tea set
- puzzles
- rescue heroes
- kitchen dressup costume
- kitchen stuff, pans, pots
- brooms, vacuum cleaners, rakes
- order book for taking restaurant orders (it's a real order book)
- big tub of water in the back yard, various plastic boxes (also filled with water), with this wonderful water coloring in it.  And things like ladles, turkey basters (large and small), and other ways to transfer the water.  (Note: this worked for the next 3 years or so, with me adding things like plastic tubes, and even plastic rain gutters (you can use them as a "color ramp")

Age 3 years
- bike
- Cozy Coupe little car from Little Tykes
- plastic playhouse in the back yard
- little people and rescue heroes
- dolls
- thomas the tank engine trains, blues clue's notebook)?)
- Oh my goodness.  FIRE TRUCK STUFF!
- Believe it or not you can go to Home Depot and just buy hoses!  We have discovered that about 4/5 hoses and some blue painting tape are a wonderful toy!  Our son is attaching hoses to everything!  The other day he taped his pet snake to the vacuum cleaner!
- It's funny, but "the experts" say that kids don't really dress up until they're around 5."  Well, they might get really good at it when they're 5, but I'm seeing it at 3, too.  Especially hats.  My son adores his train engineer hat.
- I have heard that some kids adore legos.
- Blocks are big.
Other ideas:
check out this toy for telling stories

Age 4 years
- Magnatiles makes really neat magnetic blocks
- These are a bit old for him (we were looking for the simpler ones) but the magnet tube thingies are a huge hit at this age.
- Out of all of the toys that we have lying around, I'd have to say that the zoob toys have gotten an awesome response.
My son wants to be a "witch" and loves wands.
Wears a cape every day. When we went to Paris, I took large silk handkerchiefs and knotted them around his neck.  So cute!
- If we would have gotten him a hot wheels this year, he would have been in heaven!  And by hot wheels, I mean those trikes with the huge back wheels, mildly recumbant, that they used to have in the seventies.
- picked up a three-wheeled scooter. He loved it.
- We have a big basket labeled "figures" with all sorts of figures in it for him to use in fantasy play.  He still uses this almost the most at age 7!

Age 5 years
- scooter
- foam architectural blocks--unit blocks

Age 6 years
- foam architectural blocks--unit blocks

Age 7 years
- In first grade, a few math games:  sleeping queens is a big hit. From the Gamewright people, who have a lot of fun math card games.  
- We might get Countdown, game by Cadaco
- Probably a little young (he's just a the edge), but the Green Machine by Huffy is a big hit.
All ages

Check it out.  Old Fashioned Blocks sells blocks!  They also sell individual blocks if you need specific shapes.