As early intervention therapists we spend a lot of time down on the floor playing with young children, and we frequently get asked for toy recommendations. Here are some general tips for choosing the right toys and how to play with them.
We have also compiled a list of our favorites toys along with specific play ideas for each one. Please see the individual links below. These are non-sponsored posts and do not contain affiliate links.
Some toys and household items may contain choking hazards. Please be sure to check each product’s cautionary statements and age recommendations, and do not leave your child unsupervised.
1. Choose traditional toys over electronic ones
Children are often drawn to things that light up and make noises, and smart toys can seem like the new thing to help them learn and grow. However, they are not the best for promoting your child’s social language and ability to engage with others. Research shows that babies communicate less when playing with electronic toys. In addition, parents speak less and respond less often when they are playing with toys advertised as promoting language compared to traditional toys. The researchers hypothesize that electronic toys take over the parent-child interaction. The noises the toys make occupy the space that would normally be filled with meaningful exchanges.
“A toy should be 10 percent toy and 90 percent child, and with a lot of these electronic toys, the toy takes over 90 percent and the child just fills in the blank.” -Dr. Hirsh-Pasek, professor of Psychology at Temple University. Read more in this New York Times article: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/23/traditional-toys-may-beat-gadgets-in-language-development/?_r=0
Tip: Many toys on the market these days make at least some noise; you’ll frequently find us removing the batteries as soon as we get the toy out of the package.
2. Pick toys that fit your child’s current play skills
Remember the best way to maximize your child’s interest and learning opportunities is to start playing at their current level. Often parents tell us their child is uninterested in toys, and we find that the toys they have been trying are just too complicated for their child. It can be tempting to buy your toddler a dollhouse or a play kitchen, but they might not be ready for imaginary play yet.
Try and watch your child interacting with different types of toys on their own. What type of play are they primarily doing?
-Simple: If they are mainly holding objects or putting them in their mouth, you should start with some simple toys and play ideas. For example, rolling a ball, pushing a car, or crashing a tower of blocks.
-Combination: If they are combining two or more objects in play, you can start with toys that have multiple pieces or mix different toy sets. They might enjoy building magnet tiles into a tower and then putting animals inside. Other ideas include: putting people in a bus, sticking toppings on a toy pizza, or cutting toy fruit apart with a fake knife.
-Pre-symbolic: If they are acting out familiar actions like drinking from a toy cup, or feeding a stuffed animal, you can join them in simple imaginary play. Pick toys that you can use as agents like puppets, dolls, stuffed animals, or animal and people figures. Start by modeling basic actions they do frequently like eating, drinking, walking, and bathing.
-Symbolic: If they are setting up multi-step sequences pretending the toy has a life, pick toys that add new steps onto their routine. For example, if they are putting figures in a bed, covering them with a blanket and then pretending to have them sleep you can pick toys where they can act out getting ready for bed like a toothbrush, soap, towel, and pajamas. Another idea would be a baking set where they pretend to mix and stir ingredients and then cook the food in a toy oven.
3. Be flexible in how you play with toys
It’s easy to get caught up in your own plan for the toy and forget your child may have different ideas. If your child has an idea, take a step back and follow their lead. It’s ok if they aren’t playing in the way the toy was intended to be used. Let them put people in the toy microwave, fill the bus seats with puzzles pieces, or catapult objects off the pop-up toy.
You may also have to do the set-up and let your child complete their favorite step. They might not be interested in building the magnet tiles into a tower so you can build it and let them crash it. They have not be interested in creating a face for Mr. Potato Head so you can build it and let them pull the pieces out.
4. Everyday objects also make great toys
Sometimes the best toys are objects already in your home. We use salad spinners, Tupperware containers, and empty diaper boxes in therapy. In addition to traditional toys, we will be adding non-traditional toys and ideas for how to use them in the links below.
5. Have fewer toys available
Research has shown that access to fewer toys at a time is related to better quality of play. In other words, having only a few toy options encourages children to play with toys longer and to get creative with how they play with them. It can be hard to limit the number of toys in your house with so many exciting ones on the market (we had trouble narrowing down our favorites for this page!). One tip is to periodically rotate out your toys. Try packing away half them in storage, and then switch them out every month or so. Not only will you be supporting your child’s play, it will also help you limit new toy purchases because the ones that come out of storage will seem new and exciting to your child again!
Stacking Blocks Set with Sorting Shapes
|Stacking Ice Cream||Build-a-Track|
|Mr. Potato Head||Toilet Paper Tubes|
|Toy Sink||Play Bathtub||Cookie Set|
|Stacking Ball Ramp||Shape Sorter