Okay so there are hundreds of articles on the internet about this, but I’d like to drop in here with my two cents about finding the best toys for your little one, that can also impact development.
You are not going to find a list of toys you should go out and buy, because every child is different, every family is different, and everyone has different needs. What I will give you, however, are the guidelines to follow to choose the best toys for your child’s development.
When I look for gifts for children, I break them into 4 categories: cognitive, language boosting, gross motor/fine motor, or STEM. Bonus points for toys that can fall into all the categories at once. Even more bonus points for toys that can grow with a child. So, where do you begin?
Start with a Number
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but more is not better. In fact, having too many toys available can be overwhelming to a child. Think about it. When you walk in to your kitchen and there are dishes all over the place, do you want to hang out in the kitchen and start cooking? Probs not.
The same will happen with a child. Seeing too many toys will result in fatigue, avoidance, or lack of functional play (and we know that play=language, so decrease in language, too). Many child development experts say that a toddler should have access to no more than 10 toys.
I know, I probably just made your brain explode.
If you have more, that’s okay, just make a plan. Try to limit the amount of toys available by choosing a few to stash in a basket high up and out of reach. In a few weeks, you can swap them out and it will feel like Christmas morning all over again (I’m Jewish, but there’s no cool term for “Channukah morning”…)
Know Your Child’s Learning Style
This is a topic I just can’t seem to get enough of.
If you want to make sure you are choosing the best toy for your child, you need to understand what is motivating to them. The most popular and sought after toy might not be the one that is best suited to your child, and although it will be all fun and games when it is first unwrapped, its joy will be short lived.
Choose a Toy Type for Your Child
As I mentioned, I like to break toys into 4 categories. What are each of the categories and which one is best for your child’s development?
Contrary to popular belief, you do not actually have to target colors, shapes, and letters for your child to learn those things. Cognitive toys are ones that make a child think, problem solve, and process. These include toys like a pop-up toy (cause and effect), shape sorters (trial and error) and mazes (plan and process). These toys are going to be great for the relaxed child, who may have more patience for figuring things out, and the adventurous child, who might even sit still for the challenge.
Although language can be incorporated into ALL activities, there are certain toys that definitely lend themselves to more talking. These toys are generally open-ended, meaning your child is open to create their own plans and scenarios, with the language skills needed ever evolving. Some of the best language boosting toys are pretend kitchens, doctor kits, and play food. These toys are great for the entertainer, and surprisingly, the shy child, who will play by using non-verbal communication first before putting words to what they are doing.
Gross Motor/Fine Motor
Motor based toys keep your child active and moving, whether they are inside or outside. Movement is such an important piece of learning, especially for young children.
Movement can be broken into two categories: fine motor (i.e. finger control) and gross motor (arms and legs). Fine motor activities include things like stickers, drawing, and puzzles, while gross motor games are things like tunnels, obstacle courses, and stomping games. Obviously, these activities are ideal for the explorer, but you might also be surprised to see the relaxed child gravitating towards gross motor games, while the entertainer and shy child love fine motor activities.
STEM is a trend that isn’t going away any time soon. STEM (which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are toys and activities geared towards figuring out how things work. Did you ever create a track for Mouse Trap as a young child? It’s that…but on steroids.
I’m not surprised that all kids enjoy playing with STEM toys. They combine the best of the three other categories to create some SUPER toy, beloved by all.
Ask Yourself These Questions
Okay, mama! Do you feel prepared to choose the best toys for your child’s development? Make your list, check it twice, and make sure you can answer these questions
- What is my budget? Kids don’t have any concept of money, and most toddlers would be just as happy with a box as they would be with what is inside. Perhaps you can choose one item to splurge on, but make sure it is packed with value.
- If I have a lot to give, can I replace toys with experiences? For parents that like to use the holidays as an opportunity to splurge, or for those who have a ton of relatives who wish to give gifts, ask yourself what types of experiences would be valuable to your child. Some favorites of mine are swimming lessons, art classes, and sing-alongs.
- Is the toy I am choosing in alignment with my child’s learning style? This is probably the biggest game changer. Once you understand how your child learns best, you will be able to choose the toys that are motivating to them and that they actually want to play with day after day.
- Will this toy be able to grow with my child? Think of toys as investments. When you go shopping for clothes, you may find one piece to splurge on that you will wear season after season. The same is true with toys. You want this to be something your child returns to, season after season.
- Am I providing a diverse set of experiences for my child? If your child is an explorer, you don’t have to provide only gross motor activities. Exposing children to activities outside of what they see and know in daily life is important to raising well-rounded children.
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Did you find this helpful? Share it with a friend. I would love to hear what toys you are investing in this year!