Picking the right toys for kids can be an overwhelming task for parents. With so many options lining the shelves, how do you know which ones are best for your child's age and development?
While every child develops at their own pace, experts agree that certain types of toys work best during key developmental stages. Following evidence-based guidelines can help parents and carers choose toys that are both safe and stimulating.
This article outlines the major developmental milestones from infancy through age 12. Under each age range, you’ll find examples of recommended toys and play activities known to promote healthy growth.
A newborn’s vision is still fuzzy, so opt for high-contrast toys in bold patterns. Black and white books, play mats with dangling objects in contrasting colours, and patterned rattles are ideal first toys to capture the baby's attention.
Since infants learn through all their senses, choose toys with different textures, sounds, and visual elements. Soft stuffed animals, crinkly books, mirrors, activity gyms, and rattles help strengthen their senses and coordination.
Around 3 months, babies gain control of their hands, and batting becomes an important developmental milestone. To build hand-eye coordination, give them lightweight balls, soft building blocks, and stuffed animals with taggies for grasping.
Tummy time play is essential, starting on day one. Help strengthen a baby’s neck, back, and arm muscles with baby gyms that have dangling toys to swat at or mirrors to gaze into while on their belly.
Once mobile, babies learn by interacting with their environment. Push-pull toys, pop-up toys, stacking cups, and shape sorters let them perfect newly acquired motor skills.
The one-year mark brings exponential cognitive gains. Babies understand cause and effect and seek out sensory feedback. Choose toys that respond to their actions with sounds, motions, or flashing lights. Activity cubes, pounding benches, and musical toys validate their budding powers.
Toddlers also use their fine motor skills to handle objects with increasing dexterity. Great toys for practising include chunky puzzles, shape sorters, nesting blocks, and push-pull toys.
Imitation play emerges around this age. Provide toys that incorporate role play, like toy phones, baby dolls, and shopping carts. Play kitchens and tool benches also feed their curiosity about the grown-up world.
The toddler years give rise to sociodramatic play. Kids interact with each other and materials by pretending and inhabiting roles. Stock up on dress-up clothes, playhouses, toy figures, dolls and stuffed animals to spark the imagination.
Around this age, children start playing cooperatively with others. Games and building toys promote sharing, turn-taking and joint attention. Big foam blocks, magnetic tiles, play dough, bowling sets, and ball pits are all fun toys for social play dates.
Kids this age also work on balancing and pedalling tricycles or other ride-on toys. If ready, a balanced bike without pedals can teach steering skills for the transition to a two-wheeler.
Four and five are the golden years for literacy, numeracy, and self-regulation, which are crucial for school success. Play is still the “work” of childhood, but these years require more structured executive function activities.
Lacing cards, pegboards, tracing, stencils, play dough, and scissors improve pencil grasp and fine motor skills. Letter and word games and musical keyboards teach phonics.
Puzzles, counting bears, dominoes and simple card games improve math skills. Games that involve taking turns, following rules, and winning or losing gracefully exercise self-regulation muscles.
At this age, kids form strong interests. Help them pursue their passions with personalised toys and activities. Readers love chapter books and word games. Future palaeontologists may need dinosaur excavation or rock polishing kits.
In development, fine motor skills should be advanced. Craft kits, origami, jewellery-making beads, sewing, weaving, and advanced art supplies are good toys.
Games and construction toys become more complicated. Strategy board games, chess, coding robots, and clay modelling are popular. Writing in journals, string games, and collecting appeal to the emerging independent streak.
Toddler play ends in elementary school. Older students prefer higher-level thinking toys over sports gear and outdoor games.
Programming, electronics, and robotics toys improve logic and computation. Microscopes, chemistry sets, crystal growing kits, and planetariums attract young scientists.
Tweens crave social connection, so multiplayer games and activities strengthen friendships. D&D, affirmative emoji pillows, and podcasting equipment satisfy this need for the community.
Finally, kids identify with their interests. Support self-concept development with specialised gear for aspiring musicians, filmmakers, gamers, designers, etc.
While every child develops differently, these age-based guidelines can help parents choose toys. Make sure the manufacturer's labels are age-appropriate.
Purchases should be tailored to each child. Consider their temperament, dexterity, attention span, interests, and skills. Has she had sensory issues? Advanced reader? Observation matters.
With so much to consider, prioritise safety. Check that toys meet current parts, paint, and noise standards. Supervise play, especially for destructive toddlers. With small children, check labels for choking hazards.
Maturation is predictable for all children, but individual differences mean no one toy fits all. Still, knowing play milestones helps choose development-enhancing toys.
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