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Using Toys to Support Development in Infants and Toddlers

Using Toys to Support Development in Infants and Toddlers: Children develop physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively through play.  And of course, children of all ages enjoy playing with toys. Providing the proper toy selection to support development in infants and toddlers can be a difficult and overwhelming task especially for new parents, therapists or teachers.  Here are suggestions to make the right choices when it comes to using toys to support development in infants and toddlers:

The main goal is to select toys that are safe and suited to the child’s age, abilities, and interests.  Here are several questions to answer to determine if a toy is appropriate for a specific child:

  1. Is the child interested in the toy? The child must be motivated to actually use the toy.
  2. Can the child physically use the toy (adapted if necessary)? If the child can not independently or with minimal assistance use the toy the child may not be motivated to explore the toy.
  3. Is the toy appropriate for the child’s cognitive level?
  4. Is the play space at home or school appropriate for the toy?

Select toys that encourage development within and across the domains of childhood development such as language, fine motor, gross motor, social, emotional and cognitive skills.

Creativity using basic, household materials can stimulate play and encourage infant and toddler development across all domains.

In order to facilitate childhood development, toys selection should be intentional.  For example, select simple play materials for infants and toddlers to encourage cause and effect skills, tactile input, vocabulary development, motor skills and more.  Try the following ideas to start:

  • Construction type toys – i.e shoe boxes, cereal boxes, fabric blocks, plastic blocks, wooden blocks, etc.
  • Open ended toys – i.e. large cardboard boxes to explore, scraps of fabric to pull and touch, fabric for peek a boo games, pots and pans, plastic “tupperware” type containers, etc.
  • Books – Board books are wonderful for little hands to explore.  Read to children starting at birth at least 20 minutes per day.
  • Puzzles – For young children, a puzzle can be trying to fit an object into a muffin tin, a ball into a basket or stuffed animals into shoeboxes.  For older children, you can increase the difficulty but decreasing the size of opening.

When parents, day care providers, teachers and therapists are informed about proper toy selection, play and developmental skills are stimulated across all domains.

If you need more information about infant and toddler development check out these great resources:

The Infant and Toddler Handbook, written by Lauren Drobnjak PT and Claire Heffron MS, OTR/L,  is a 30-page downloadable ebook packed with reader-friendly information about the developmental motor milestones you can expect in kids ages 0 through 5.

The second half of the book is full of development-boosting fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities divided by age range so you can find exactly what you’re looking for depending on the ages of the kids in your therapy practice, classroom, or home.  Find out more.

Developmental Milestones Handout PackDevelopmental Milestones Handout Pack, written by Lauren Drobnjak PT and Claire Heffron MS, OTR/L, is the ideal resource for sharing information about baby, toddler, and preschool development with parents and caregivers.  Find out more.

Reference:  Guyton, G. (2011). Using toys to support infant-toddler learning and development. YC Young Children, 66(5), 50.

Using Toys to Support Development in Infants and Toddlers