Toys aren't just toys, they are marvelous tools. A toy doesn't have to be labeled as educational for a child (or an adult) to learn from it.
The best toys are those which can be used in more than one way---that allow versatile activity. For this reason, wooden blocks are a better toy than a play beauty shop (though that can have value as well).
The most suitable toys are going to depend on your child's developmental level, skills and interests. Use your judgment when assessing the true age level of a toy. Generally, you can subtract 6 to 18 months from the posted age recommendation to find the true "interest" age of the toy.
K'Nex are a plastic construction toy somewhat similar to Tinker Toys.
Lego, Duplo and Mega Bloks
The classic contruction toy -- interlocking plastic bricks.
Dolls, furniture and accessories. If my children could keep only one thing in their toy room, this would be it.
Pop-Up Tents and Toys
You've probably seen these self-pitching tents...you just open them up and toss them and they stand up by themselves.
Classic Brio train sets and accessories.
There are some good guides/reviews available. The most famous of these is the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio by Joanne Oppenheim and Stephanie Oppenheim. This is revised annually.
I have found Good Stuff by Rebecca Rupp to be tremendously useful. This is not strictly a toy book. The sub-title is Learning Tools for All Ages; toys are included. The reviews are divided by subject.
It appears that Good Stuff is out-of-print, but Rebecca Rupp has a newer title available: The Complete Home Learning Source Book. Although I haven't read the newer book, I feel confident in recommending it, as Good Stuff has been an invaluable tool to me for the last nine years.
Mostly I choose toys on my own. I make my selection based on my children's current interests and developmental levels, the quality and sturdiness of the toy, and the flexibility of use. I do not purchase toys that I find to be boring...if it is boring for me it is usually boring for the kids as well (after 5 minutes or so).
I find most toys in catalogs. These are a few of my favorites.
Resources for teaching foreign languages
Lists of recommended books and magazines.
We too had many pretty toys when young - William Butler Yeats
©2000-2013 Barbara L.M. Handley