Way back, when I was pregnant the first time, I looked at the list of toys we needed in order to have a superior child, or at least to avoid being sub-par parents. The list varied in length depending on which book or magazine I read, but I came away with just a few things that were MUSTS. One was blocks.
Well, let's fast forward to wee little Ezra sitting propped up in a high chair, offered a block or two to occupy him. At this point, blocks looked like a good choice, but if we gave him a napkin or spoon or bagel or cup, he was much more interested. The blocks were fine for him to manipulate, but in no way a formative experience for a 4- to 9-month-old.
By twelve months, the well-informed parent hopes Baby is stacking at least two blocks on one another. That makes blocks again seem very important; they help us know that Baby is growing well. But any parent who spends time with Baby can see whether he is beginning to put things together; there is not actually anything magical about blocks. And by twelve months, Ezra had figured out a much better thing to do with blocks- throw them. This became a discipline moment, and I worked on it and worked on it. We worked on it until he was about four when he suddenly did the thing with blocks that I figured he would start doing a year or two earlier, building.
The girls followed a similar trajectory with blocks, but this post is not all about blocks. What I really mean to say is we are sold toys repeatedly for younger children that these same children would enjoy more at a later age, especially if they were novel at that point. Legos are another fine example. Yes, most three-year-olds of my acquaintance can and will assemble Lego pieces, but six-year-olds can follow the instruction books for the smaller sets, they can then disassemble pieces by themselves. If you wait even longer, like until they're nine, for the more complicated sets, they can do the figuring for themselves, which will lead to them venturing into new constructions all their own.
I saw the same thing with dolls, doll houses, kitchen play, Play Mobil, etc. They make many things with extra bells and whistles for smaller children to try to get them to play with the toys the parents think they OUGHT to enjoy. It is good to remind ourselves that these people are trying to separate us from our money; they are not really all that interested in our children's development. The time we spend with our children is our most valuable tool is determining what they are actually ready for; no table of expected milestones or far removed expert can beat that.