I often thing about the toy question. Normally, it wouldn't really bother me, and I'd be kind of anti-toys, but since my child will not attend kindergarten, she will only have the toys, games and crafts I offer her (or the ones she will play with on occasion at her friends' houses).
I had a conversation with a friend about this topic a while ago and really liked what she said. She said she wasn't too keen on getting too many toys, but she added there cannot be enough creative material. By this she meant craft stuff: paint, clay, chalk, pencils, colorful paper etc...
Parents' attitudes towards toys seem to be greatly influenced by how they were raised, toy-wise. Figuring this out is a huge step in the right direction.
I myself have been raised with a fairly minimal amount of toys, and more importantly, one of the rules was: no big toys. I remember going to my friends houses on play dates and oogling their fruit and vegetable shops, their big barbie houses etc... So for my daughter, I know I really want to get or make those big toys, so she doesn't feel like she's missing out as I felt when I was little. This being said, I am still quite reserved when it comes to toys. My daughter actually has quite few toys and when I set out to buy some, I always end up turning down most of them. Actually, for her first year of life, we bought no toys ourselves whatsoever, except for christmas and her birthday. I figured, with the gifts she got, she had more than enough. To be honest, most of the time she does just play with sticks and stones and flowers outside, so there is little use to get a huge pile of things she won't play with.
I am now slowly adjusting my attitude, because at 20 months, I see there are some toys and games she does get a lot of 'mileage' out. And when I went through her toys this weekend, I found out that most of the things in her boxes weren't adapted to her age any more.
When you end up buying a toy or game, bare in mind that you are buying it for your child, not for yourself or for your expectations of your child. Toys shouldn't fill a void in your life, they shouldn't make up for what you missed out on as a child. Nor will buying your child a heap of toys make up for your absence. The first and foremost thing your child needs is your presence, love and support. Toys can't replace that.
Neither should you buy toys because they will teach your kid math/motor skills/... Don't think of toys as something to 'occupy' your child.
A good way for me to buy the right toys is to look at what she plays with at friends' houses. I soon discovered she always goes for the same things, and really enjoys them, so we set out to get her those toys.
Another good thing to do is to take your child to the toy store. When you find something you would like to get, present it to them and see how they react. This week, I wanted to get her a stroller. So I took a look at some of the models the store had to offer, picked one and had her try it out. Good thing I did! We ended up trying out all the strollers they had and found out they were all too small for her. Another thing I really loved was a rocking horse, but when I put her on it, she got really scared.
When they're a bit older, they can run free and pick what they like (my daughter also runs free, but she's too small still to get things off the racks).
Toys are there for play and for fun. But they aren't a necessity. It is equally - or even more - important for a child to be able to play with the things he finds in his/her surroundings. Fallen leaves, sand, stones... al make wonderful 'toys'. Children are extremely creative and find play wherever they are. Don't anguish about not having brought toys when you go out, let your child discover its surroundings, you'll be amazed at how nicely they can play without all those toys. Remember, toys are a fairly modern invention and only a small part of the world's children have access to them, yet, that doesn't prevent them to play.
I get the heeby jeebies from those modern day sound and light toys that drive you crazy after two minutes and leave no room for imagination and creativity. I'm not a fan of things like dining sets and fake fruit etc. To me, they can just as good play with the real kitchenware and a bag of rice. She does have a couple of electronic song toys (that don't drive me too crazy) and really enjoys them. Plus she has been playing with them for over a year now, which at that age, is quite a while.
I cannot, an will not give you a list of toys, games and craft stuff your child should have. There is no definitive list of such things. Yet again, every child is different and has different likes and interests. Choose their toys with that in mind.