Children are little explorers who learn by doing. Play gives children great opportunities to develop and practice new skills, at their own pace by following their own unique interests. The toys and playthings children have available to them can shape their development in important ways. In our learning environments we use toys to help with the learning process. We use toys to help support development in children through physical, social and emotional, and cognitive interactions.

Play is enjoyed by children of all ages. Providing the proper toy selection to support developmental milestones in infants and toddlers can be a difficult and overwhelming task especially for new parents or caregivers. Select toys that encourage age appropriate development within and across the domains of childhood development such as language, fine motor, gross motor, social, emotional and cognitive skills. Here are suggestions to make the right choices when it comes to using toys to support development in infants and toddlers:

  1. Choose toys that can be used in a variety of ways.

Children love to take apart, put back together, pull out, put in, add on, and build up.

  • Examples:
    • Blocks
    • Interlocking blocks
    • Nesting blocks or cups
    • Toys for sand and water play
  1. Look for toys that grow with the child.

We all have had the experience of buying a toy that our child plays with for two days and never touches again.

  • Examples:
    • Plastic toy animals
    • Action figures
    • Toddler-friendly dollhouses
    • Trains and dump trucks
    • Stuffed animals and dolls
  1. Select toys that encourage exploration and problem-solving.

Toys that give kids a chance to figure something out on their own or with a little coaching.

  • Examples:
    • Puzzles
    • Shape-sorters
    • Blocks
    • Nesting blocks or cups
    • Art materials like clay, paint, crayons or play-dough
  1. Look for toys that spark a child’s imagination.

Creativity is taking on the role of someone or something else.

  • Examples:
    • Dress-up clothing
    • Blocks
    • Toy food and plastic plates
    • Action figures
    • Stuffed animals and dolls
    • Trains and trucks
    • Toddler-friendly dollhouses
    • Toy tools
    •  “Real-life”-wrapping paper tube, large cardboard box, paper towel tube
  1. Gives children the chance to play with “real” stuff or toys that look like the real thing.

Children are always interested in playing with your “real” stuff because they are eager to be big and capable like you.

  • Examples:
    • Plastic dishes and food
    • Toy keys
    • Toy phone
    • Dress-up clothes
    • Musical instruments
    • Child-size brooms, mops, brushes and dustpans
  1. Toss in some “getting ready to read” toys.

Books, magnetic alphabet letters, and art supplies like markers, crayons, and finger paints help children develop early writing and reading skills.

  • Examples:
    • Take-out menus
    • Catalogs or magazines


  1. Seek out toys that encourage your child to be active.

Look for toys that help children practice current physical skills and develop new ones.

  • Examples:
    • Balls of different shapes and sizes
    • Tricycles
    • Three-wheeled scooters
    • Plastic bowling sets
    • Child-size basketball hoop
    • Pull-toys
    • Wagon to fill and pull
    • Gardening tools to dig and rake with
    • Moving boxes- to make tunnels to crawl through
  1. Look for toys that nurture cross-generational play.

Some toys are designed for adult participation.

  • Examples:
    • Memory games
    • Matching games
    • Early board games

Basic, household materials can stimulate play and encourage infant and toddler development across all domains. Finally, simple play materials for infants and toddlers to encourage cause and effect skills, tactile input, vocabulary development, motor skills, and more include:

  • Construction type toys – shoe boxes, cereal boxes, fabric blocks, plastic blocks, wooden blocks, etc.
  • Open ended toys – large cardboard boxes to explore, scraps of fabric to pull and touch, fabric for peek a boo games, pots and pans, plastic “tupperware” type containers, etc.
  • Books – Board books are wonderful for little hands to explore.
  • Puzzles –include fitting an object into a muffin tin, a ball into a basket or stuffed animals into shoeboxes.

The goal would be to select toys that are safe and suited to the child’s age, abilities, and interests. When caregivers and parents are informed about proper toy selection, play and developmental skills are encouraged across all domains.

Heather Gordon, Infant/Toddler Specialist

If you would like more information on how toys support development, contact Heather at 815-484-9442 Ext: 228



Zero to Three

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