Toddlers learn by doing and playing gives your child a great opportunity to develop and practice new skills at his/her own pace by following unique interests. The toys and playthings your toddlers have available to them can shape their development in important ways.
Choosing toys for toddlers should be easy, but it’s also as easy to get overwhelmed by the huge array of toys that have been developed for the toddler market.
How do you choose which toys are right 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 toddlers, challenge them and nurture their overall development ( thinking, physical, language and social-emotional skills).
Guidelines for Choosing Toys for Toddlers
1. Choose toys that can be used in a variety of ways
Toddlers love to take things apart, put back together, pull out, put in, add on, and build up. Choose toys that are “open-ended” in the sense that your child can play many different games with them. For example, chunky plastic interlocking blocks like Lego blocks can be used to make a road, a zoo, a bridge, or a car. 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
2. Go for toys that will grow with your child.
You’ve probably had the experience of buying a toy that your child plays with for two days and never touches again. You can prevent that by looking for toys that can be fun at different developmental stages.
Examples: Plastic toy animals and action figures, toddler-friendly dollhouses, trains and dump trucks (and other vehicles), stuffed animals and dolls
3. Search out toys that encourage your child to be active.
Toddlers are doing all kinds of physical tricks as they grow stronger and more confident with their bodies. As a parent, it’s your job to be an appreciative audience for your little one’s newest playground achievement! Look for toys that help your child practice 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 or some plastic gardening tools to dig and work with.
4. Select toys that encourage exploration and problem-solving.
Play gives children the chance to develop and practice new skills over and over again. We advise parents to get toys that give their kids a chance to figure something out on their own—or with a little coaching—build their logical thinking skills and help them become capable at solving problems. These toys 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 play-dough
5. Seek out toys that spark your child’s imagination.
About the period your child turns 3, his/her creativity is really 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 actually something else (like a piece of cake or a castle). Look for toys that your child can use to develop and act out stories. This kind of pretend play builds language and literacy skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to 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 stethoscope and pretend-doctor tools for your little doctor.
6. Give your child the chance to play with “real” stuff—or toys that look like the real-life items
Your toddlers are getting good at figuring out how objects in their world work—like television remotes or light switches. They have also become interested in playing with your “real” stuff, like your cell phone, because they are 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.
Examples: Plastic dishes and food, toy keys, toy phone, toy kitchen utensil sets, dress-up clothes, musical instruments, child-size brooms, mops, brushes and dustpans
7. Mix in some “getting ready to read” toys.
Toys like 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 books, newspapers or magazines are fun for your child to look at and play with and also build familiarity with letters, text, and print.