Toys for infants and toddlers have come a long way in the past 20 years. Soft, natural materials and whimsical designs make a trip to a toy store a visual and tactile feast. Yet not all infant and toddler toys are created equal. Some toys have more educational value than others. Electronic toys, with their lights, beeps, and noises, generally have little educational value and can overwhelm an infant’s developing sensory system. Another thing to consider is the quality of workmanship and safety of a product.
In general, we prefer simple toys that foster children’s developmental growth. These educational toys are usually open-ended and can be used in more than one way. They may build specific skills, such as language or fine-motor development, as well as critical thinking and creativity. Here are a few to consider.
Learning Toys for Toddlers and Infants
Children have an almost irresistible need to stack objects, as any parent who has ever had her kitchen cupboard ransacked by a toddler knows. Stacking toys, a precursor to building toys such as blocks, offer a predictable, but engaging, challenge for toddlers. As children play with stacking toys, they learn about size, shape, and sequence. Stacking toys are self-correcting; they topple over if not stacked in the right sequence. Try ring stackers, cardboard box stackers, or plastic stacking cups, which can also be used to dump and pour. Even a set of plastic food containers in various sizes will do the trick.
Shakers, Rattles, and Grasping ToysReaching for and grasping objects is one of the first developmental milestones infants achieve, which is probably why they enjoy shakers, rattles, and grasping toys so much. These toys for infants encourage fine motor growth and build a sense of confidence and mastery. Those with interesting sounds or textures offer an opportunity for sensory exploration.
Cause and Effect Toys
A door that opens and shuts, a button that squeaks when pushed, a ball that goes down a chute when nudged. Toddlers delight in the unexpected. These toddler toys help children begin to understand cause and effect and object permanence while building focus and observation.
Puzzles and Board BooksChunky wooden puzzles containing only three or four pieces are ideal for older infants and toddlers. These puzzles allow children to experiment with shapes and spatial relations, while building fine motor skills. Sturdy board books are usually small enough to fit in a bag and durable enough to let toddlers enjoy independently.
Push and Pull ToysYoung children need opportunities to move their bodies and explore their environment. Push and pull walkers, mowers, wagons, etc. encourage early attempts at walking. These toys foster an awareness of spatial relations (behind, forward, backward) and generally “grow” with the child, meaning that they can later be used for imaginative play. For example, a simple push toy for infants might become a pretend lawn mower or vacuum toy for toddlers.
Quality vs. QuantityYoung children don’t need a lot of toys. It’s probably preferable to have a few high-quality, thoughtfully designed toys rather than a whole playroom full of inferior products. And don’t overlook the materials you already have in your home, knowing that your child’s favorite play activity is anything that involves interaction with you. Transform a soft blanket into a fort or a game of peek-a-boo. Stack plastic bowls and cups or toss them in the bathtub to dump and pour. Sing songs, read books, and go on walks together. These experiences provide infants and toddlers with the rich, playful learning they need for healthy development.
More on Infants & Toddlers:
- While babies grow at their own pace, there are ways to encourage and support development. Here are some toys and books that will help your baby learn.
- With the holidays fast approaching, decluttering and cleaning out your child’s play things might be top of mind. But there are probably certain toys you wouldn’t dream of discarding. We list our favorite children’s toys that stand the test of time.
- Every year we read over 100 children’s books to bring to you high-quality selections for every age group. Here are the best children’s books of 2016 for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-agers.
- While today’s media might be sending less-than-ideal messages to your child, you can have conversations with them about making smart choices. Learn how you can develop and support critical thinking and reasonable expectations.