Toys for the Young Child

Cute little boy playing with a railroad train toy

With the holidays coming, many families are beginning to purchase gifts for their children. Here are some considerations for helping them buy toys that are appropriate for their young children.

  1. Is the toy safe? Is it sturdy, with no small pieces to break off? Will it be dangerous in the wrong hands?
  2. Will the toy last? We buy disappointment for children when we give them toys that break in a couple of days. Children see that they live in a throw-away world; they should be given things that last that they can depend on.
  3. Does the Toy Meet A Developmental Need?
    • Toys can aid in physical development by providing experiences in coordination and movement. Examples are: balls; toys to push, pull or climb on; toys that fit together; button books.
    • Toys can aid in mental development. They can encourage children to reason, solve problems and think creatively  Examples:  puzzles, games, blocks.
    • Toys can aid in language and social development. They can encourage imaginative play. Children need to try words and situations on for size such as books, dolls, puppets, cars people, dress-up clothes.
    • Toys can aid in discovery. Toys can foster creative expression and experimentation. Examples: open-ended art materials; natural toys–water, mud and sand; magnets, magnifying glasses and color viewers.
  4. Is the toy appropriate for the age of the child?
    • The Infant (0-1) is learning about herself, learning how to control her body and user her senses. She responds to touch, sounds and smells.  Infants need safe, simple toys that they can master; toys that are easy to hold onto that they can touch, feel, and watch. Suggestions: mobiles, rattles, teethers, board books, squeeze, textured, water, and musical toys; baby mirrors, and washable stuffed animals and dolls.
    • The Toddler (1-2) has learned about himself and feels confident in learning about the world around him. He is especially interested in learning how to control his world.  He recognizes others but is still self-centered  and prefers to play alone. This is a time of development of large muscle control and learning to imitate sounds and actions of others. He needs toys he can safely push, pull, climb on and take in and out. Suggestions:  wooden blocks; sand box with scoops; small cars, trucks, and people; large durable trucks to push; water toys; simple dress-up toys such as hats, scarves; balls; books; simple wind-up toys; beginning puzzles; stuffed animals and dolls.
    • Pre-Three (2-3) concerned with self-expression, beginnings of socialization. Suggestions:  same as the toys suggested for the toddler except she can now use small riding toys (not a trike); table -top easels; creative materials such as paper, crayons, watercolor felt marking pens, play dough; rhythm instruments; records; puzzles; books; play phones; small wagon.
    • Preschool (3-5) concerned with senses, coordination, self-expression, and has more of a social awareness of others. Suggestions: any of the previously mentioned toys plus tricycles, wagons, large blocks, balance beams, flannel boards, magnet boards, pencils, paints, scissors, past, collage materials, pounding toys, real tools, nuts and bolts, puppets, dress-up clothes, dolls and doll houses, play centers, hide-aways, sewing cards,. puzzles, learning games, magnets, magnifying glasses, storybooks.
  5. Is the toy nonsexist? Preschool children enjoy all types of toys and should not be limited by gender role toys and expectations.

This article was originally published in December 1995.

This article was contributed by Mary Perkins for the Early Childhood Express newsletter.