This time of year parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are trying to decide what to gift their favorite youngsters. Since there are definitely some toys that will benefit children’s cognitive, social, and communication development, we thought we would compile a list of some suggestions for toys and games we know provide long lasting enjoyment as well as help children develop, learn and grow.
The best toys are ones that allow open-ended play. This allows children to play in multiple ways, using (and thus developing) their imaginations and creativity. Toys that encourage social interaction (taking turns, playing roles, sharing) are wonderful and meaningful alternatives to video and computer games.
For babies and young toddlers, look for toys that allow exploration via all their senses, i.e. toys that can be squeezed, dropped, twisted, thrown, touched and put in their mouths. Some classic toys for this age group include:
1. Stacking rings – a variety to include ones that are soft, multi-colored and flexible, make noise, to those that are larger and don’t all fit if put on in the right sequence (teaches problem solving skills!)
2. Mirrors – there are loads of non-breakable mirrors and children this age love to look at themselves.
3. Books – simple books with bold pictures and few words per page are excellent beginning books. These provide caregivers with opportunities to talk about what is on each page, describe it, name it, and categorize it. The cardboard books with just a few hard pages, in sizes small hands can hold themselves, are great and durable. Also good are vinyl books that can go in the bath (or the mouth), flip open the flap books (what is under the flap is a great interactive game) and books with no printed words so you (and your child) can make up the stories.
4. Blocks – begins with soft blocks to stack, toss, or build. Later on blocks are wonderful to develop imagination, spatial and fine motor skills.
5. Shape sorters – these teach spatial thinking, the concepts of color, shape, and size, and help develop visual and fine motor skills. Shape sorters can be soft (for younger babies) and hard. The easiest ones have just a few simple shapes (circle, triangle, and square) and more advanced ones have many shapes.
6. Balls – children love balls. A variety of balls in different colors, sizes, textures is best. Balls can be rolled, thrown, and kicked. Balls are great for solitary play, and even better to teach interactions, turn taking, waiting, etc.
7. Musical toys – even simple rattles can be shaken in rhythm to a song or singing. Look for a variety of noises that are not too loud. Encourage children to imitate the “music” you make and imitate the “music” the child makes.
8. Vehicles – such as cars, trucks and trains allow young children to begin pretend play, develop fine motor skills and encourage language skills to develop.
9. Dolls and toy animals – these encourage pretend play and help develop language skills. A farm set is fun and provides opportunities to make animal sounds, “feed” the animals, and move them around.
10. Puzzles – earliest puzzles are “non-interlocking”. This means that each piece sits in the puzzle without touching another piece. For little fingers, non-interlocking puzzle pieces that have knobs to grasp onto are good. Puzzles can have various textures (e.g. a soft bunny or lamb). As children develop, puzzles with more pieces, and pieces that interlock add to the challenge and learning!
Here are some other suggestions that our speech language pathologists like for older children:
1. Doll house – with some furniture develops imagination, pretend play, role playing
2. Pretend play items such as cash register, kitchen set, train set, farm, tool set (ages 2 years and up)
3. Early Years Baby Farm Friends Bowling – ages 2 years and up (any other bowling sets are good too, just be sure the pins do stand without too much fine motor control needed).
4. Hello Sunshine Board Game – ages 1-3 years
5. What in the Cat’s Hat game – 3 years plus
6. Wh-bingo – 3 years plus
7. Any bingo games with simple pictures – 3 years plus
8. Sequence letters game – 3 years plus
9. Ned’s Head game – 4 years plus
10. Secret Square game – 4 years plus
11. Flamingo Bingo and Lotto – 4 years plus
12. Eeboo Picnic Game – 3 – 10 years
13. Boggle Junior – 3-6 years
14. Memory games – 3 years and up
15. Zingo – 4 years plus
16. Sequence letters – 4-7 years
17. Guess Who game – 5-12 years
18. Stone Soup game – 5-9 years
19. Grannies Candies game – 5 years plus
20. Headbands/Hedbanz – 7 years plus
21. Apples to Apples Junior – 9 years plus
22. Mr. Potato Head – all ages
23. Pretty Pretty Princess Game
When you are shopping, remember it isn’t the bells and whistles of the toy or game that make it worthwhile. Good toys encourage children to play (and children learn about their world through play) and develop skills. Good toys do NOT just amuse and good toys should require more than sitting and watching.
Wishing you a wonderful, healthy, imaginative and creative holiday season!