How To Select Age-Appropriate Toys To Foster Development

image credit: David Goehring

image credit: David Goehring

Providing an age appropriate toy is essential for gross and fine motor skills, sensory experiences and learning. For infants and toddlers, safety is a primary concern. For children who still mouth toys, make sure the object cannot fit inside a toilet paper roll. If it can, that means it can fit in their mouth.

When purchasing toys, know the purpose of the toy. Think about the following factors: does it have multiple functions, is it portable, does it encourage movement, does it promote thinking, does it provide a challenge and do you already have something similar.

Here are some age-appropriate toys to cultivate development.

0-3 months. Your baby is looking at contrasting colors and faces.

  • contrasting colored toys
  • mobiles
  • fabric books
  • colorful activity mats
  • light weight rattles
  • music toys
  • unbreakable mirrors

3-6 months. Your baby is getting stronger and needs encouragement to stay on his tummy so he can learn to roll and move or pivot. Lie on the floor next to your baby and enjoy some tummy time together.

  •  teething toys
  • 3 dimensional toys that can spin and be touched
  • toys that roll or encourage baby to move
  • toys that can be played with on the floor during tummy time such as activity play mats

6-9 months. At this age your baby is getting better at sitting, he can play with both hands and explore toys more. He is beginning to crawl on hands and knees. Toys that move away will encourage crawling and rolling. Peek-a-boo with your hands will have him belly laughing!

  • big soft blocks
  • balls
  • board books
  • more teethers
  • toys that require both hands
  • toys with different textures (crinckly, bumpy, soft, and cause and effect toys)

9-12 months. Your baby is now trying to stand to pull up on objects and cruise and walk. Encourage these activities by putting toys along a sofa. Push toys provide arm support and allow your baby to practice walking.

  • multi colored shape sorter
  • board books
  • play tables or cubes that can be played with on multiple sides in sitting
  • kneeling or standing positions
  • stable tables that baby can pull up on and move away from for standing and walking

1 and 2 year-olds. At this age your child can stand and is mobile. Toys that enhance coordination, thinking, balance, visual and fine motor skills are fun and often serve multiple purposes. Pudding can double as finger paint.

  • toys that challenge balance
  • slides
  • sit and spin
  • kid friendly musical instruments
  • stacking cups
  • balls that roll down shoots & slides
  • balls for kicking, throwing & rolling
  • ride on toys
  • large piece puzzles

3 and 4 year-olds. Your child is becoming more independent and can enjoy more challenges from thinking to balance skills to pretend play and fine motor skills. Your child can take turns at memory card games and board games. A container with rice or beans and guess the object by touching it, can be lots of fun. A game of I spy can pass the time while in the car or waiting in line.

  • arts and crafts
  • bubbles
  • tricycle
  • sit on hoppy ball
  • finger paints
  • activity or yoga cards
  • lacing cards
  • puzzles with more pieces (24-48)
  • dress up with zippers & big buttons
  • balance bike
  • bath foam
  • building blocks
  • books
  • big boxes are great for imaginative play

5  and 6 year-olds

  • fine motor activities
  • arts and crafts
  • play dough
  • clay
  • marbles on tracks
  • building with smaller blocks
  • puzzles with more pieces
  • A Jump rope, hula hoop, hop scotch, sidewalk chalk, balls for catching and kicking make for great outdoor fun.
  • Bicycle riding is also a great activity.

A toy should encourage thinking, playing, and moving. With proper toy selection kids will have fun and learn and grow.

–Amanda Froling, MPT and Carol Buell MPT 

Sources: AOTA How To Pick a Toy: Checklist for Toy Shopping, Tips for Living Life To Its Fullest (2011) Age Appropriate Toys, Reviewed by Baby Center Medical Advisory board 2011

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