There are basically two types of xylophones for kids. One is a toy, the other is an actual musical instrument which is meant to be used in practice and performance either as a solo instrument or as part of an ensemble. Appearances are deceiving: xylophones for kids may be brightly colored and look like toys, but actually function as instruments. The difference lies in the tuning of the bars and the overall quality of the xylophone.
The bars of both toy and real xylophones for kids can be made of wood or metal. Technically, a small metal xylophone is a glockenspiel, also called bells, but sometimes the term xylophone is used. The bars may be painted, stained, or simply polished. In real xylophones, the material of the bars effects the timbre, or tone, of the instrument. Usually metal xylophones have a sharper and brighter sound than wooden xylophones.
Toy xylophones are usually much cheaper than real xylophones. The quality is lower as well, especially with regard to tuning of the instrument. Toy xylophones, typically, do not have a resonance chamber, so the sound will be thin and hallow. Real xylophones are made to create a full, rich sound, sometimes augmented by a box-style resonance chamber. Played correctly, the sound can carry over an ensemble with ease.
Since it is made for casual play, a toy xylophone is usually a single octave and inaccurately tuned. The housing for the instrument is typically plastic or wood and the bars are metal. Toy xylophones for kids usually come with one or two plastic or wooden mallets. When played, the bars will not play accurate intervals or a clear scale. Toy xylophones are not intended to be used as a solo or ensemble instrument.
Authentic xylophones are actual functioning instruments, tuned correctly, and are typically made of higher quality wood and metal. They may have a range of one to three octaves. Xylophones for kids are simply scaled down versions of real xylophones. There are some musical programs, however, like the Orff method, which uses both wooden and metal xylophones in its curriculum.
Orff instruments are sized for three to six year old children. Older children may also use them, especially if the instruments are elevated on a stand. Children are taught proper technique for playing with one or more mallets. The lessons focus on playing the instrument and learning theoretical facts later. As the children progress, the songs played during the lessons increase in difficulty tp challenge the technical skills of the players.