The best toys for children spark their imagination by encouraging open ended play as well as providing valuable learning opportunities. Most of all, when they are just playing, they are learning so much without even knowing it as it’s such an enjoyable experience. Plus, did you know that the best toys don’t have to be the overly hyped marketed toys as generic toys stimulate more imagination as they haven’t been stereotyped by the cartoons. They are also usually cheaper!
We’ve listed some of our favourite toys that are perfect for young children and inspire extended pretend and creative play as well as key developmental skills, all whilst having fun.
Blocks are a humble toy but one that come with so much as they can be used for a wide variety of play and learning over several years. Playing with blocks helps young children develop fine motor and thinking skills and sorting blocks by size, shape or colour builds early math concepts. Working out the number of blocks required and using size and shape concepts encourages this learning.
Blocks are great for babies too, as they start to learn to place one block on top of the other they learn about position and refine their placement skills. If you’re looking at buying blocks for younger ones, try providing a range of different sorts of blocks such as wooden, plastic or textured.
As your child grows, blocks provide opportunities for children to design, plan and build increasingly complex structures to work in with play schemes e.g. building a farm, house or imaginative world.
Toy vehicles are not only a lot of fun, they also offer lots of learning opportunities from babies through to children.
Rolling vehicles are excellent motivation for tummy time, which helps babies develop movement control by strengthening their head, neck and body muscles. Pushing the toy just out of reach can encourage your baby to reach out and move. Some babies will enjoy watching the car move around and start to follow it with their eyes (tracking) which builds their visual skills.
You will find that toddlers will be interested in push and pull along vehicles of all kinds. This fascination is a brilliant springboard for toddlers learning about movement and direction. And pushing and pulling toy vehicles helps toddlers learn what they can do with their hands and how to make things go!
Older kids will love to design roads or ramps or even start playing with vehicles in other ways like having a ‘car wash’ or use them on different surfaces such as sand or in rice. When children crawl across the floor while pushing a toy vehicle they are developing their arm and shoulder strength and stability and developing muscles in their hands which is important for learning to write when they get to school.
We’ve written previously about why reading to your children is so important, and gifting a book is always a great idea, no matter the age!
Lift the flap books help babies develop eye-hand coordination, dexterity (finger movement and control) and cognitive (memory and thinking) skills. And since babies learn through their senses, books with colour pictures, different textures and noises are the best choice!
Books with simple themes help children to better understand the world and are a great way to help your child deal with new events or social situations like starting kindy or going to the doctor.
By about 3 years old children can usually attend to a story for around 5 minutes at a time. Adding language like asking your child “what kinds of fruit did the hungry caterpillar eat?” or talking about letters or sounds helps build concepts for reading as well.
Puzzles are another great gift idea for little ones. They are good for developing both motor and thinking skills and help develop essential visual perceptual skills for handwriting and other important daily activities later on!
Puzzles also help develop concentration, memory and problem solving and are a wonderful way for children to feel a sense of achievement once completed.
It is important to match the difficulty level of the puzzle with your child’s stage of development – children can lose interest in puzzles that are too easy and become frustrated and give up if puzzles are too difficult. So remember, having fun is KEY!
Always a favourite, dolls provide lots of opportunities to develop fine motor, cognitive, social and self-help skills.
Babies are attracted to faces so dolls can be a perfect comfort object. Soft dolls can provide your baby with practice at grasping objects with their hands and are more manageable than large, heavy dolls.
Dolls are fantastic toys for both boys and girls and opens up wonderful pretend play opportunities.
Playing with dolls or action figures is important in helping children to learn about themselves and their world – miniaturizing the world to their size helps them make sense of it, control it and learn the different roles people play.
Who doesn’t love playing with animal toys? From around 8 months, most babies will start to copy sounds which is an important step towards using words themselves and animals are a great way to encourage this. Naming animals and connecting the sounds they make is a nice learning opportunity.
Using toy animals to make farms or zoos helps little ones practice their fine motor skills as well as developing their imagination and creativity. A sand or water tray is great for creating settings for different animals.
This list has been adapted from our online Play Ideas – a wonderful resource that explores play opportunities for babies, toddlers and children, developed by the Enhanced Transition to School Team.