The Best Type of Toys For Your Child’s Development

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  • Post last modified:September 10, 2023
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There are so many toys available for our children how can we as parents filter through them all to find the best ones for our child’s development? Children learn through play. Play can be enhanced through toys, activities, and materials for them to explore. During play children explore and recreate their experiences to make sense of the world around them. As parents we can offer children the best type of toys to support this development as well as creating invitations to play that will engage their interest.

Children are natural learners. There are many skills we do not need to teach children because they learn to acquire them on their own but we can still offer tools to help them get there. For example most children learn to walk on their own but we can provide toys or materials such as push wagons or pull up bars to support this development.

This does not mean we should push our children to learn these skills before they are ready. Childhood not a race to see how quickly they can master skills and achieve their milestones. Let them be children and grow at their own pace. Let them enjoy childhood. There are many ways you can support development without pushing them.

What Do Children Learn During Play

There are five areas of development; social, emotional, language, cognitive and physical. For a more detailed description of each click here. During the first year of a child’s life, interactions with parents and caregivers is the most effective way to supporting their development. You want to establish positive relationships that make your child feel loved and safe to create an effective learning environment. When children feel unsafe, anxious, or even hungry it can reduce their ability to learn.

All five areas of development are interconnected and support each other. Play provides opportunities to build skills for all areas of development. While some toys or materials focus more on certain developmental areas, for example a bike mainly supports physical development, other areas may also be supported or engaged during these activities.

Providing toys that contribute to multiple developmental areas are a great way to support the development of the whole child. An example of this would be open ended art materials, it mainly supports emotional development through creative expression, but also physical development through engaging fine motor skills.

Open ended art materials can also engage cognitive development through representation in their artwork depending on the age of the child. As well as engaging language development through storytelling or using descriptive language to explain their artwork. A way to contribute to social development is to engage in cooperative play with your child and to share materials or create artwork together. Always keep in mind the age of the child will also determine which developmental skills are being engaged.

Play-Based Learning

Children learn best through play. There are two types of play-based learning that children can engage in to support their development, free-play and guided play. Free-play is child directed, it is an opportunity for children to have full freedom to play whatever they want. It gives them a chance to engage and express themselves, as well as use their imagination and curiosity to further build on their development.

Guided play has some level of involvement from an adult to facilitate or extend play. This may be preparing their environment for play, creating invitations for play through activities, or asking questions during their play to better understand their interests and way of thinking.

Research on play-based learning shows that “neural pathways in children’s brain are influenced and advanced in their development through exploration, thinking skills, problem solving, and language expression that occur during play.” (source)Providing children uninterrupted playtime during the day is essential to furthering their development.

Best Type of Toys

So what type of toys should we be providing our children to give them the best opportunity for learning during play? Well that depends, there is no one toy that is the best. Every child is different and will therefore have different interests. If a child is able to learn through their interests they will gain more enjoyment out of their play which will create a positive relationship with learning.

Another thing to remember is that just because a toy is expensive does not mean that your child will learn more from it. Children don’t need a bundle of expensive toys to learn. Most children will be happy with a cardboard box or dishes from the kitchen. Finally, the more things a toy does on its own the less the child will have to do, if all they have to do is push a button and wait it is not helping them build skills. The more they can do with a toy the more they will learn with a toy.

best type of toys

Follow these five guidelines when purchasing toys:

  1. Does it follow their interests? When purchasing toys for your child remember to follow their interests. Engaging with toys should be an enjoyable experience for children
  2. Is it affordable? Spend within your budget. A more expensive toy does not make it more educational. Children can be hard on toys, be sure the value matches the price.
  3. Is it versatile or open ended? A toy that is versatile can offer many uses to children which can allow multiple skills to be practiced. Open ended toys are a great way to allow multiple uses of toys especially as children grow and they discover a new way to use it.
  4. Is it developmentally appropriate? Be sure the toy is suitable for your child’s age, as well as their skill and ability level.
  5. Is it safe? Make sure the item is safe for them to play with and age appropriate. Be sure there are no choking hazards or toxic items.

Toy Recommendations

I have put together a list of our recommended toys to support development during play. Just because your child doesn’t have a toy on this list does not mean they are not practising the same skill in some other way. There are so many options available these are just a few.

Books: books are a great way to support language development, provide quality time together to build relationships as well as extend play with other toys. For infants use books with real images, high contrast books, and touch and feel sensory books. Board books are great for infants and toddlers and they are more durable to paper. Looks for books that have shorter stories, rhyming, or books that teach a lesson.

Blocks or connectors: This is a must have for every child. Whether you use wooden blocks, foam or plastic, magnetic tiles or another connector type children love using them to build and create. They are an open ended toy which allows for creativity and exploration. Among the many benefits for their development children will learn science and math concepts, spatial reasoning, and build sensory motor skills.

Games and Puzzles: With board games children learn to understand and follow rules, can be introduced to math concepts, and build language and reasoning skills depending on the game. HABA board games are great starter games for the early years. Ravensburger and Peaceable Kingdom also have great board game options for young children. With puzzles children engage in problem solving skills, spatial awareness and sensory motor integration. Melissa and Doug puzzles are a favourite in our house.

Art Materials: Open ended materials are great for children to explore their creativity and engage in self-expression. Some essentials are blank paper, scissors, glue, crayons or markers, paint, even household recyclables

Pretend Play: People or animal figurines, play food, dolls or other role playing toys allow children to engage in creative play and story telling. Dramatic play also engages children’s cognitive skills through representation to explore their experiences, ideas, and feelings in order to better understand them.

Sensory bins: During the early years children learn through their senses. Supplying toys or materials that engage their senses allows for sensory exploration and increased sensory motor integration. Water play is a favourite with children, as well as using sand, rocks or other items found in nature. Place the material in a bin and combine with animals or other tools to explore. Click here for our play-dough recipe, this can be used with kitchen tools for pretend cooking play.

Musical Instruments: Playing with instruments will support children’s sensory exploration and sensory motor skills, as well as build movement and expression skills as they move to music. As both music and language have rhythm and melody in their structure it is also a great way to support children’s language comprehension and acquisition. Listening to music, signing songs, and providing musical instruments, even homemade ones, are all fun ways to support this development.

Remember you don’t always have to spend large amounts of money on toys, there are so many alternative ways to support your child’s development. Libraries and other public programs, free-play outside, dollar stores, DIY with items at home and secondhand children’s stores are just some of the ways to provide educational materials for your child. Do a search to see if your area has a toy library. This is a great low-cost way to provide a variety of toys for your child to play with.

It is your job as parents to provide materials for children’s play as well as opportunities for uninterrupted play. Uninterrupted play gives children time to engage and build concentration while they are learning. If we are constantly interrupting their play we are also interrupting their concentration.

Children are natural learners and will get there eventually whether they have toys supporting them or not. Building safe and loving relationships and environments for children to learn in are the foundations of positive learning experiences. Remember there is no one toy that is best for your child. Follow their interests and whatever works best for your family.


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