The verdict on educational toys is still out.
In January this year, a study done by the Joan Ganz Cooney Centre at Sesame Workshop found that only two out of 69 educational video games surveyed were based on educational content.
An earlier British study which followed 370 families found that high-tech gadgets like toy computers were no more effective in teaching tots the basics than traditional toys.
However, some child developmental experts believe that educational toys can have beneficial effects on a child's learning.
A 2004 study published in the online edition of science monthly Nature Neuroscience found that toys that make noise, encourage poking or present the world in radical ways may benefit young brains for the rest of their lives.
Dr Tang Chien Her from the department of paediatrics at the University Children's Medical Institute at National University Hospital said that depending on the intended purpose and design of the toy, it can stimulate the child's various developmental domains like motor skills, language and social skills.
Asked what can be defined as an educational toy, Dr Tang said that all toys that are safe and can be handled comfortably by the child can be considered educational.
He added: 'With the caregiver's active participation and guidance, even simple blocks can be a great educational toy and fill play-time with fun and imagination.'
Tots between one and two years old are keen to explore their surroundings and find out how things work. Toys like picture books, large building blocks and wooden jigsaw puzzles with large fitting parts can help develop their learning capabilities.
When children hit the two-year mark, parents can help develop their hand-eye coordination by giving them stacking toys, toy musical instruments and building sets.
As children turn three, they begin to explore their creative side and usually like to play make-believe. Parents and caregivers can encourage children to exercise their imagination through the use of toys like doll houses, play dough and finger puppets.
Not all toys are made equal though. Some children may adore playing with their dolls at home but become bored with their plastic charges halfway through a long travel journey.
Take 4 1/2-year-old Joel Yip for instance.
His mother, Ms Alderline Wong, 31, a housewife, takes two paper bags stuffed with travel board games, crayons, toys and books to keep him occupied on the family's monthly car trips to Malaysia.
She said: 'He gets restless sometimes and each toy or game can keep him interested for only 15 minutes at a time.
'When he's really fidgety, I'll breastfeed him and he goes to sleep.'
Dr Tang said: 'Children by nature are active and it is difficult for them to remain seated for long durations.'
He advised parents intending to make long journeys with young children to plan ahead and to anticipate potential issues.
He said: 'For young infants and toddlers, handheld toys would be best.
'For older children, you can chat or sing along with them or talk about what they are going to do later.'
This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times on Nov 6, 2008.