Last year when we had our Christmas banquet we had a number of moms with small children in our parent room. The toys available then were mostly noisy, hard, and either the private stash of a particular child or only available in singlets. I have recently done some research and have found the following that will be useful in provisioning this year's youngsters and moms:
Young children (age two and under)don't need a great and diverse toy selection, but they do appreciate playing with the same toy as another child... so purchasing doubles of popular toys is suggested.
"Soft toys" can include toys that are more action-oriented than the teddies that usually stock Parent Rooms (largely chosen because they are cuddly and non-noisy if hauled into the sanctuary during the sermon.) There are a variety of interesting and appropriate 'soft toys' available, including kit-like Noah's Arks and even toy Churches. As well, soft building blocks and cars, etc., might be more attractive and diverting to some youngsters than stuffed animals.
Even some lovely educational-looking soft toys, such as a number of different sets of soft blocks distributed by Baby Einstein, have been recalled because of lead in the paint used. Because these toys are popular with parents (and day care centers, church nurseries, etc.), they will often show up in the Auction sites. Please be aware of the dangers of lead and choking parts-- these can cause discomfort, long-term disabilities, and even death. You can read a blog I recently did here that reviews some of the steps you can take to keep risky toys away from the kids. To see what toys have been recalled because of toxins or other dangerous attributes, go here.
After I check out the recall list I find it a whole lot less trouble to shop on-line for toys, and a lot cheaper, than going to the store in this time of "the Christmas rush". We're auction nuts in our household-- if you have never checked out eBay, you don't know what you're missing! For larger toys and equipment, you might want to save the cost of shipping and buy locally through other venues (such as Craig's List, Kijiji, on-line Garage Sale, and even Freecycle, which is a free recycling site), but I believe you still can't beat the variety and bargains on eBay.
Here is one of the top toys of 2007: Baby Alive