There is significant evidence toys play a vital role in a child’s development. Children learn through play, whether playing with blocks or dolls or pretending to be astronauts. The learning process starts early in life and continues throughout our lives. Whether learning how to count with blocks or practicing good manners by playing house, toys help us grow into adults who know how to think critically about our world.
Of course, some toys are better than others for encouraging physical development. Toys should be designed so that children can interact with them on their own level. Knowing how kids play at each stage of development can also help you decide what toys will benefit your child most.
A good rule of thumb when choosing toys is that they should be age-appropriate. Toys intended for a tot won’t be much fun for toddlers and vice versa! Children will get much more pleasure out of something they can use than something they’re not quite ready for yet (even though you might want to buy something).
Toys for children come in stages. The three age-related toy stages determine what toys suit your child’s development.
Play is about exploration in the first year of a baby’s life. It becomes more coordinated and complex when your tot develops new motor skills. At around four months old, babies begin to reach for and grasp objects like a rattle. By about 9 months, a newly developed pincer grasp makes it easier for babies to pick up more minor things, like blocks and other small age-appropriate toys.
The most important thing is to let your child choose how they play. She may put a ball in her mouth for a few days before she rolls it across the floor. Kids may even use blocks as a hammer or a tool for looking through rather than building a tower. This is common and fine. But do make sure that you play alongside your kids– making sounds and movements together — so that they have the chance to interact with you.
- Nursery mobile: Introduce your baby to high-contrast images for early visual development with an object dancing over your little one’s head while lying in a crib. These high-contrast baby toys with different shapes give visual stimulation and develop attention.
- Mirrors: Mirrors are one of the first toys that babies enjoy exploring. At first, your baby will be fascinated by the faces of parents and friendly visitors but also enjoy seeing all types of faces in books and on TV! Eventually, they will learn they are seeing their own face and start to recognize their reflection. As parents, you can take advantage of this chance to help develop your child’s vocabulary. Point out different parts of her face while saying them out loud.
- Ring stack: This classic stacking toy offers many benefits, and it’s a popular choice for a good reason. Initially, babies enjoy holding and mouthing the rings. Later, they help develop eye-hand coordination, practice fine motor skills and encourage problem-solving by fitting the rings onto the cone. Toddlers also learn about color recognition and size sequencing as they stack them.
- Push and pull toys: help balance and build muscles in their arms, trunks, and legs as they move from a couch surfer to a walker. The more your little one pushes and pulls, the more they work the muscles vital to turn them into climbers, runners, and jumpers. Later on, in toddlerhood, kids can use these toys to help control their increasing pace.
- Book: Baby books are also beneficial as you introduce toddlers to everyday activities. Books are essential to basic language skills and profoundly expand their vocabularies—much more than any other media. If you introduce some basic concepts, they’ll recognize them when they come across them in the classroom. For example, a book about a cat, bear, elephant, and other animals will help your child associate the picture of that animal. They’ll also become more familiar with books, new ways to think and ideas, and how words look in books, so you can set them up for learning to read.
Around 2+, children begin to play pretend, often have imaginary friends, and believe in fantasy beings like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. And obviously, young kids have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. But by age 3, they gradually become more sophisticated in understanding the difference.
They start to understand storylines and can think more abstractly in their play. They use imagination games and pretend toys such as dolls and puppets to act out stories they hear or create themselves. Kids create worlds with their toys; they’re capable of planning and negotiating to pretend scenarios with peers. Expect a lot of repetition, as this is how children master new things and learn they have some control over their surroundings.
- Balls. A ball is a simple, engaging, and powerful development toy for babies and toddlers. Bounced, rolled, caught, or thrown, balls encourage spatial awareness, gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and language skills. SO, help your little scientist to do their own experiments with shape-sorting toys like pegboard puzzles, nesting cups, blocks, and buckets with holes.
- Mechanical toys. Toddlers are generally curious about how things work. These toys don’t require much instruction on how to piece components together to make the things they want to happen, happen. “Pop-up toys and “busy” boxes with controls, knobs, and levers boost fine motor skills and problem-solving and teach cause-and-effect.”
- Role-play toys. ‘Children benefit enormously from imaginative play, says child’s development expert Dr. Amanda Gummer. They learn much through it—how to understand and manage their emotions, think critically, problem-solve, and interact with others. Playing with toy kitchens, medical kits, and golf sets helps children learn about the world by mimicking the actions of you and other people. Dolls and stuffed animals (like a teddy bear’s tea party, perhaps?) also teach kids how to care for something they love.
- Real objects, toys. By age 1, your toddler is getting good at figuring out how things in their world work. They are also interested in playing with your “real” stuff, like your cell phone, because they want to be big and capable like you. Toys like toy keys, toy phones, dress-up clothes, child-size brooms, mops, brushes, and dustpans help children problem-solve (learn how things fit together) and develop fine motor skills.
- Arts and crafts. As fine motor skills improve, activities like drawing, cutting with scissors, or forming letters with Play-Doh will be more comfortable for your child. Drawing with attributes is also a good way for kids to express themselves creatively, strengthen coordination, and foster self-esteem.
- Shape-sorting toys. This is a great way to promote your child’s cognitive development in preschoolers and kindergarteners. Toys like nesting cups, pegboard puzzles, and shape sorters are great for teaching hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, and matching and counting skills.
Playing and interacting with other children teaches kids social skills like cooperation and turn-taking. By age 4 and 8, kids usually have an imaginary friend who’s always around when they play alone but is never seen by others. They’ve also understood the world around them and are now moving toward mastering skills that once challenged them. Ask your child about his imaginary friend. You’ll get insight into his life that can help you nurture and support his development and learn what kinds of games he likes to play with his special companion.
Skip rope. Jumping rope is an excellent exercise and a quick way for kids to get creative while they move. It can be a fantastic solo activity or a fun game to learn how to take turns and get along with peers. All that jumping at different speeds and the coordination required support gross motor development and problem-solving skills.
Board and card games. Games like “Candy Land” or “Spot it Junior Animals.” and board games like chess or checkers teach about strategy, turn-taking, negotiating rules, observation, reflexes, and fair play. SO, encourage cooperation and help your child learn to manage the emotions of winning and losing. Kids enjoy playing them, and card and board games are opportunities for families to play together. And when you’re playing, you talk about the game, and conversations about broader topics often develop from there.
Puzzles. A favorite toy of parents AND educators alike, puzzles are deceptively simple. Jigsaw puzzles help children develop finger strength, coordination, and problem-solving skills. As your kid picks up and positions pieces, they also learn about spatial relationships (where things are about other things) and logical thinking.
Musical instruments. Learning to play piano, violin, guitar, or another device can change brain cells and their function for the better. It can improve functions like memory, abstract reasoning, and attention skills, which are vital for math and science. Music, in general, helps calm your kid’s nervous system, lower cortisol levels, and bring balance and harmony to one’s life. Children who learn to play a musical instrument also have an outlet for creativity and emotions. Try the Baby Einstein Baby’s First Music Teacher.
Science toys. Science sets, telescopes, binoculars, or other science toys promote memory retention, motor skills, and hand-eye coordination. It further increases literacy, math, and science skills and helps develop imagination. These toys are mainly designed to impart knowledge because they provide detailed and subtle facts on various aspects of life and physical sciences.
Kids can have a lot of excitement playing with their toys. However, it’s essential to remember that safety should be the first priority when buying toys for your child.
- Read the label. The manufacturer should provide information about how to use the toy and the ages for which it is appropriate. Be sure to show your youngster how to use the toy correctly.
- Avoid toys that shoot objects into the air. They can cause choking if swallowed or severe eye injuries.
- Think LARGE. Ensure all toys and parts are more significant than your child’s mouth to prevent choking.
- Avoid toys that are too loud to prevent hearing impairment in your child. Or put water-proof tape and tape over the volume control to mute the sound.
- Buy sturdy plastic toys. When buying a toy for a baby or toddler, ensure it’s durable and robust enough to withstand chewing. Toys made of thin plastic can quickly break into sharp shards.
- Avoid toys with potentially toxic materials that could cause poisoning. Children could be exposed to toxic materials like BPA, lead, and phthalates by putting plastic toys in their mouths, chowing plastic toys, or eating off plastic bowls.
- Electric toys should be “UL Approved.” Check the label to be sure.
- Look for stuffed animals that are well made. Ensure all the parts are tight and the seams and edges are secure. This should be machine washable as well. Remove any loose ribbons or lines to avoid strangling. Also, avoid toys with small bean-like pellets that can cause choking.
- Look for toys that will develop with your child. We’ve all bought a toy that our child plays with for a few days and never touches again. You may avoid this by opting for enjoyable toys at different developmental stages. Plastic toy-like animals and action figures, toddler-friendly dollhouses, railroads and dump trucks (and other vehicles), and plush animals and dolls are just a few examples.
When choosing toys for your child’s development, it’s essential to study developmental benefits and safety concerns. But if you decide on toys carefully, you can easily avoid hazards and give your child something entertaining to promote developmental skills. And ultimately, that’s what we all want—for our kids to be safe and happy while they’re busy exploring the boundaries of their world.
Anyway, the perfect toy is you! Don’t underestimate your role. Get in, play with your kids, color, paint, or read stories. Your children need to feel loved and secure, so give them the attention they need to build their self-esteem. It’s part of the adventure of being a parent.