Parents, you have your hands full. Between cooking, cleaning, and the never-ending laundry pile, it’s easy to lose sight of what toys your 2-year old is playing with.
How do you choose which toys are suitable for your child? This article offers some ideas for choosing toys that will grow with your child, challenge her, and nurture her thinking, physical, language, and social-emotional skills.
Toddlers are little explorers who learn by doing.
Play gives your child an excellent opportunity to develop and practice new skills at her own pace by following her unique interests. The toys and playthings your child has available to her can shape her development in meaningful ways.
While it may seem like choosing toys for toddlers should be easy, as you walk into a toy store today, the only easy thing is feeling overwhelmed.
There is a vast array of toys that have been developed for the toddler market.
How do you choose which are suitable for your child? How can you tell which are high quality and which will last? Which will engage your child’s interest for more than a few days or weeks?
Below are some ideas for choosing toys that will grow with your child, challenge her, and nurture her overall development (her thinking, physical, language and social-emotional skills).
In addition to being safe, good toys for young children need to match their stages of development and emerging abilities. Many safe and appropriate play materials are free items typically found at home.
Cardboard boxes, plastic bowls and lids, collections of plastic bottle caps, and other “treasures” can be used in more than one way by children of different ages.
As you read the following lists of suggested toys for children of different ages, keep in mind that each child develops at an individual pace. Looking for baby nursery storage solutions. Check out the range at My Baby Nursery.
Items on one list—as long as they are safe—can be good choices for younger and older children than the suggested age range.
Guidelines for Choosing Toys for Toddlers
Choose Toys That Can Be Used in a Variety of Ways.
Toddlers love to take apart, put back together, pull out, put in, add, and build up.
Choose toys that are “open-ended” in the sense that your child can play many different games with them. For example, wooden blocks or chunky plastic interlocking blocks can make a road, a zoo, a bridge, or a spaceship.
Toys like this spark your child’s imagination and help him develop problem-solving and logical thinking skills.
Examples: Blocks, interlocking blocks, nesting blocks or cups, and toys for sand and water play
Look for Toys That Will Grow With Your Child.
We all have had the experience of buying a toy that our child plays with for two days and never touches again.
You can guard against that by looking for toys that can be fun at different developmental stages. For example, small plastic animals are fun for a young toddler who may make a shoebox house for them, while an older toddler can use them to act out a story she makes up.
Examples: Plastic toy animals and action figures, toddler-friendly dollhouses, trains and dump trucks (and other vehicles), stuffed animals and dolls
Select Toys That Encourage Exploration and Problem-Solving.
Play gives children the chance to practice new skills over and over again.
Toys that give kids a chance to figure something out on their own—or with a bit of coaching—build their logical thinking skills and help them become persistent problem-solvers.
They also help children develop spatial relations skills (understanding how things fit together), hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills (using the small muscles in the hands and fingers).
Examples: Puzzles, shape-sorters, blocks, nesting blocks or cups, art materials like clay, paint, crayons or playdough
Look for Toys That Spark Your Child’s Imagination.
During your child’s third year, his creativity is taking off as he is now able to take on the role of someone else (like a king) and imagine that something (like a block) is something else (like a piece of cake).
Look for toys that your child can use as he develops and acts out stories.
Pretend play builds language and literacy skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to sequence (put events in a logical order).
Examples: Dress-up clothing, blocks, toy food and plastic plates, action figures, stuffed animals and dolls, trains and trucks, toddler-friendly dollhouses, toy tools, and “real-life” accessories such as a wrapping paper tube “fire hose” for your little firefighter.
The all-purpose large cardboard box is always a big hit for toddlers and is free. (Call an appliance store about picking up one of their refrigerator boxes). Packages become houses, pirate ships, barns, tunnels—anything your child’s imagination can come up with!
Give Your Child the Chance to Play With “Real” Stuff—or Toys That Look Like the Real Thing.
Your toddler is getting good at figuring out how objects in her world work—like television remotes or light switches.
She is also interested in playing with your “real” stuff, like your cell phone, because she is eager to be big and capable like you.
Toys like this help children problem-solve, learn spatial relations (how things fit together), and develop fine motor skills (using the small muscles in the hands and fingers). Check out our range of tables and chairs for baby nursery here.
Examples: Plastic dishes and food, toy keys, toy phone, dress-up clothes, musical instruments, child-size brooms, mops, brushes and dustpans.
Toss in Some “Getting Ready to Read” Toys.
Books, magnetic alphabet letters, and art supplies like markers, crayons, and fingerpaints help your child develop early writing and reading skills. “Real-life” props like take-out menus, catalogues, or magazines are fun for your child to look at and play with and also build familiarity with letters, text, and print.
Seek Out Toys That Encourage Your Child to Be Active.
Toddlers are doing all kinds of physical tricks as they are stronger and more confident with their bodies. Your job is to be an appreciative audience for your little one’s newest playground achievement! Look for toys that help your child practise current physical skills and develop new ones.
Examples: Balls of different shapes and sizes, tricycles or three-wheeled scooters (with appropriate protective gear), plastic bowling sets, child-size basketball hoop, pull-toys (e.g., toys that your child can pull on a string), wagon to fill and pull, gardening tools to dig and rake with, moving boxes (open at both ends) to make tunnels to crawl through
Look for Toys That Nurture Cross-Generational Play.
While adults and children can play almost anything together, some toys are designed for adult participation.
As your child approaches age three and beyond, early board games—that involve using one’s memory or simple board games that do not require reading—are fun for all ages to play.
Consider starting a “family game night” when all of you play together.
Board games encourage counting, matching, and memory skills and listening skills and self-control (as children learn to follow the rules). They also nurture language and relationship-building skills.
Another significant benefit is teaching children to be gracious winners and how to cope with losing.
Keep Them Simple.
Toys that do too much don’t allow a child to use their imagination.
Dolls and stuffed animals that talk or sing or direct kids to press certain buttons essentially take charge of the play situation when the child should be the one directing the action.
When a toy is too specific, it’s limiting, and it denies the child the ability to use her imagination.
The best toys are often the simplest ones — like blocks — because they allow children to be creative and spontaneous.
Set Limits on Electronic Toys and Video Games.
We live in an electronic age, and any parent who thinks they can keep their child — even a toddler — away from computers and the like forever is kidding themselves. But for young kids, especially, it’s crucial to set limits.
Research has suggested that electronic toys pose several possible dangers for children’s health and development, including hearing loss (from loud toys), weight gain (from being inactive while playing), and language and developmental delays.
One recent study showed that toys that don’t require a child to do anything but watch promote a passive learning style, which can interfere with learning to think independently.
Electronics can also affect a child’s attention span.
Toys that have flashing lights and constant changes and movement don’t require a child to pay attention to any one thing for very long.
Kids who use these toys frequently can find it difficult to focus on something like a book or non-moving toy.
Toys for Young Infants—birth Through 6 Months
Babies like to look at people—following them with their eyes.
Typically, they prefer faces and bright colours. Babies can reach, be fascinated with what their hands and feet can do, lift their heads, turn their heads toward sounds, put things in their mouths, and much more!
Good Toys for Young Infants:
- Things they can reach for, hold, suck on, shake, make noise with—rattles, large rings, squeeze toys, teething toys, soft dolls, textured balls, and vinyl and board books
- Things to listen to—books with nursery rhymes and poems, and recordings of lullabies and simple songs
- Things to look at—pictures of faces hung so baby can see them and unbreakable mirrors
Toys for Older Infants—7 to 12 Months
Older babies are movers—typically, they go from rolling over and sitting to scooting, bouncing, creeping, pulling themselves up, and standing. They understand their names and other common words, identify body parts, find hidden objects, and put things in and out of containers.
Good Toys for Older Infants:
- Things to play pretend with—baby dolls, puppets, plastic and wood vehicles with wheels, and water toys
- Things to drop and take out—plastic bowls, large beads, balls, and nesting toys
- Something to build with—large soft blocks and wooden cubes
- Something to use their large muscles with—large balls, push and pull toys, and low, quiet things to crawl over
Toys for 1-Year-Olds
One-year-olds are on the go! Typically they can walk steadily and even climb stairs.
They enjoy stories, say their first words, and can play next to other children (but not yet with!). They like to experiment—but need adults to keep them safe.
Good Toys for 1-Year-Olds:
- Board books with simple illustrations or photographs of natural objects
- Recordings with songs, rhymes, simple stories, and pictures
- Things to create broadside non-toxic, washable markers, crayons, and giant paper
- Things to pretend with—toy phones, dolls and doll beds, baby carriages and strollers, dress-up accessories (scarves, purses), puppets, stuffed toys, plastic animals, and plastic and wood “realistic” vehicles
- Things to build with—cardboard and wood blocks (can be smaller than those used by infants—2 to 4 inches)
- Things for using their large and small muscles—puzzles, large pegboards, toys with parts that do things (dials, switches, knobs, lids), and large and small balls
Toys for 2-Year-Olds (toddlers)
Toddlers are rapidly learning language and have some sense of danger. Nevertheless, they do a lot of physical plays.
- Jumping from heights
Ay. They have reasonable control of their hands and fingers and like to do things with small objects.
Good Toys for 2-Year-Olds:
- Things for solving problems—wood puzzles (with 4 to 12 pieces), blocks that snap together, objects to sort (by size, shape, colour, smell), and things with hooks,
- buttons, buckles, and snaps
- Things for pretending and building—blocks, smaller (and sturdy) transportation toys, construction sets, child-sized furniture (kitchen sets, chairs, play food), dress-up clothes, dolls with accessories, puppets, and sand and water play toys
- Things to create with—large nontoxic, washable crayons and markers, large paintbrushes and fingerpaint, large paper for drawing and painting, coloured construction paper, toddler-sized scissors with blunt tips, chalkboard and large chalk, and rhythm instruments
- Picture books with more details than books for younger children
- CD and DVD players with different music (of course, phonograph players and cassette recorders work too!)
- Things for using their large and small muscles—large and small balls for kicking and throwing, ride-on equipment (but probably not tricycles until children are 3), tunnels, low climbers with soft material underneath, and pounding and hammering toys
Toys for 3- to 6-Year-Olds (preschoolers and Kindergarteners)
Preschoolers and kindergartners have longer attention spans than toddlers.
Typically they talk a lot and ask a lot of questions. They like to experiment with things and with their still-emerging physical skills. They want to play with friends—and don’t like to lose!
They can take turns—and sharing one toy with two or more children is often possible for older preschoolers and kindergarteners.
Good Toys for 3- to 6-Year-Olds:
- Things for solving problems—puzzles (with 12 to 20+ pieces), blocks that snap together, collections and other smaller objects to sort by length, width, height, shape, colour, smell, quantity, and other features—collections of plastic bottle caps, plastic bowls and lids, keys, shells, counting bears, small coloured blocks
- Things for pretending and building—many blocks for building complex structures, transportation toys, construction sets, child-sized furniture (“apartment” sets, play food), dress-up clothes, dolls with accessories, puppets and simple puppet theatres, and sand and water play toys
- Things to create with—large and small crayons and markers, large and small paintbrushes and fingerpaint, large and small paper for drawing and painting, coloured construction paper, preschooler-sized scissors, chalkboard and large and small chalk, modelling clay and playdough, modelling tools, paste, paper and cloth scraps for collage, and instruments—rhythm instruments and keyboards, xylophones, maracas, and tambourines
- Picture books with even more words and more detailed pictures than toddler books
- CD and DVD players with different music (of course, phonograph players and cassette recorders work too!)
- Things for using their large and small muscles—large and small balls for kicking and throwing/catching, ride-on equipment including tricycles, tunnels, taller climbers with soft material underneath, wagons and wheelbarrows, plastic bats and balls, plastic bowling pins, targets and things to throw at them, and a workbench with a vice, hammer, nails, and saw
- If a child has access to a computer: programs that are interactive (the child can do something) and that children can understand (the software uses graphics and spoken instruction, not just print), children can control the software’s pace and path, and children have opportunities to explore a variety of concepts on several levels
Safety and Children’s Toys
Safe toys for young children are well-made (with no sharp parts or fragments and do not pinch); painted with non-toxic, lead-free paint; shatter-proof, and easily cleaned.
Electric toys should be “UL Approved.” Be sure to check the label, indicating that the Underwriters Laboratories have approved the toy.
In addition, when choosing toys for children under age 3, make sure there are no small parts or pieces that could become lodged in a child’s throat and cause suffocation.
Expected Questions on Choosing Toys for Toddlerswhat Are the Benefits of Sounds, Lights, and Music?
Many toys for toddlers are ablaze with buttons, levers, lights, music, etc.
Often these toys are marketed as “developmental” because the toy has so many different functions.
Unfortunately, this usually has the opposite effect on the child. The more a toy does, the less your child has to do.
If your child can sit and watch the toy “perform,” it is likely more entertaining than educational.
In addition, these toys can be confusing to a child who is learning cause-and-effect.
If a toy randomly starts playing music or unclear which button made the lights start flashing, your child does not know which of his actions (the cause) produced the lights and music (the effect). In short, the most valuable toys are those that require the most effort on the part of a young child.
The more children have to use their minds and bodies to make something work, the more they learn.
Can Toys Actually “Make My Baby Smarter,” as the Packaging and Advertisements Often Claim?
Proceed with caution.
Most products that make these claims have not been proven to increase children’s intelligence.
Safe household items (plastic bowls for filling and dumping, pillows for climbing and piling up to make a cave, old clothing for dress-up) are often the best learning tools. Online baby product directory at My Baby Nursery.
Remember, the more your child has to use her mind and body to problem solve and develop her ideas, the more she learns.