When getting toys for little ones, it's a prime opportunity to buy something that they'll not just love to play with, but will help with their development.

"Play is primarily the way they're learning things," said Lauren Knickerbocker, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone's Child Study Center. "They're cognitively learning things about categorization, object permanence, receptive language. And fine motor skills are huge."

If you have a child who's about 15 months to 3 years old on your list, here are some do's and don't's to help find a gift that will nurture development.

DO

Shape sorters

"People often complain kids want to play with the box the toy came in -- they love putting things in bigger boxes and seeing where it went," Knickerbocker said. "It's the idea behind object permanence." Toys where kids have to put shapes through a hole can help develop that concept.

Playing house

"Two- to 3-year-olds really like toys that mimic the things they see around them all day -- play food, play babies, play household items," Knickerbocker said. "They like to imitate their caregivers."

Outside toys

"It is good for them to have that different terrain, as opposed to being inside on floors all the time," Knickerbocker said.

Building toys

These are the gifts that keep on giving. "As they get older they can build more sophisticated things and they still stay interested for quite a while," Knickerbocker said.

DON'T

Electronics

"Kids [under 2] don't necessarily know what's going on," Knickerbocker said. "They might like the bells and whistles, but it's not necessarily teaching them language or anything like that."

Paper books

Reading books to children is a better way to engage them with language, but look for sturdier books that don't rip, like Indestructibles, Knickerbocker said.

Expensive or elaborate toys

"You can never predict what a kid is going to gravitate toward, but they like some of the simpler things -- my son's favorite toy is a ball," said Knickerbocker, who is mom to a 15 month old.