Top ECE Approved Developmental Toys For The Early Years

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Toys are tools that children use to enhance their play and contribute to their development. But with so many options out there which ones will offer the most benefit to a child during play? As an early childhood educator I have played with a lot of toys and I am here to share my top toys for supporting your child’s development.

Learning Through Play

There are five areas of development; social, emotional, language, cognitive, and physical. These five areas are all interconnected and support each other. So while a toy may be more focused on one area, it can and often will support other areas of development as well.

Engaging in play will allow a child to learn and strengthen skills from each of the developmental areas. Skills in each area will vary depending on the age of the child. For example, gross motor could mean sitting up for an infant, balance for a toddler, or running for an older child.

  • Social:
    • Social interactions with others
    • Building social skills
  • Emotional:
    • Recognizing their own and others emotions
    • Managing emotions, self-regulation
    • Express their own emotions
  • Language:
    • The understanding and recognizing of a language
    • Communication
    • Literacy
  • Cognitive:
    • Thinking
    • Reasoning
    • Remembering
  • Physical:
    • Gross Motor – using large muscles
    • Fine Motor – using smaller muscles
    • Sensory – Engaging the senses
developmental toys

Educational Toys

When thinking of the best toys for development, you might think the ones advertised as educational will be best, however, that’s not always true. In my experience, many of the toys advertised as educational don’t always offer the same amount of developmental support as some simple toys.

Toys don’t need to be fancy with lots of buttons, lights, and sounds for children to learn from them. For the most part the more a toy does on its own the less it does for a child. The more open-ended a toy, the more creative a child becomes with it.

Play must be fun in order for a child to get the most benefit from it. Most things can be considered play for children as long as they find enjoyment out of it.

Top 5 Developmental Toys for Infants

A Ball

A soft ball is a great way to support an infant’s physical development. To encourage movement, try rolling it back and forth, placing it just out of reach for them to grab, or putting it at a further distance to encourage crawling. Even having an assortment of different textured balls can offer a tactile sensory experience or auditory exploration if you have one with a bell inside.

A Rattle

Music can have a significant impact on language development for children. Offer them a rattle to strengthen their grip and provide an auditory sensory experience. Infants will also engage in cause-and-effect exploration as they realize when they move their hand the rattle makes noise and this will cause them to repeat the action. Play a game “shake and stop” or have music playing to encourage them to explore the rattle.


Books are a must have for every child. I recommend books with black and white images for infants. High contrast books are essential during a child’s first three months when their eyes and vision are still developing. Books with real images can help a child make associations with the images and items in real life stimulating language development. Sensory books such as touch-and-feel or books with sounds will engage multiple senses while supporting a child’s understanding and learning. Check out your local library to get a variety of books.

Animal Figurines

Animal figurines are a great introduction to pretend play along with supporting an infant’s language development. Label the animals, make their sounds, and play with them. Did you know that animals sounds count as words for infants? Encourage your child to make the animal sounds during play.

Play Scarves

These are an open-ended toy and offer a variety of learning opportunities for children. Encourage them to grasp and shake the scarves for music and movement. Hide toys underneath the scarves and encourage your child to find them to support cognitive skills such as spatial problem-solving and object permanence. Use the scarves for a game of Peek-a-boo to build connection with your child and encourage social skills such as turn taking.

Top 5 Developmental Toys for Toddler

Musical instruments

Music is always a fun way to encourage movement and self-expression. Children can use instruments to create their own music or play along with songs. Encourage them to dance and move to the music. Make a pattern with the instruments and see if they can copy the sound, encourage them to make their own pattern. Along with supporting physical development, music can also help with language comprehension and acquisition.


Blocks are an open-ended toy which offer a variety of learning opportunities. Children can explore and use their creativity to increase sensory motor skills and spatial reasoning as well as provide exposure to early STEM concepts. For more STEM activities for toddlers click here.


Games and Puzzles

Board games and puzzles offer many opportunities to stimulate cognitive development through spatial exploration, problem solving, memory as well as hand-eye coordination. “First Orchard” by HABA games is perfect to introduce to your child to board games. As a cooperative game it will support turn taking and working together as well as colour sorting. Puzzles are available in a wide variety to styles and themes. Melissa and Doug brand is one of my favourites.

Art Materials

Paper, crayons/washable markers, glue, scissors are all basic art supplies that can stimulate a child’s creativity. Have a permanent art tray set up for your child to use. Crayons and scissors will also support their fine motor skills which will eventually contribute to writing.

Sensory Play

While not a specific toy, sensory play is so important for child development during the early years. Often you can use items you already have around the house. Bath time, outdoor play such as gardening or a sandbox, and sensory bins are all simple ways to engage in sensory play. Follow my 3 easy steps to make your own sensory bin.

  1. Start by choosing a container.
  2. Add a base, there are so many options available such as water, sand, play dough, rice, chickpeas, flour, dirt, shredded paper, different textured fabrics, polyester fiberfill.
  3. Then add toys to go with the base you chose (spoons/scoops, other kitchen items, cars, animal figurines, loose parts, items from nature, etc.). Check out more sensory play ideas here.
sensory play

Top Developmental Toys for Preschoolers

Of course by this time you probably already have a toy collection from the infant and toddler years. Any open-ended toys you have can still be used by your preschoolers.

Children have also begun to develop their own personalities and interests. They will begin to show preference for certain toys. It doesn’t matter how educational a toy is, if a child has no interest in it they will not learn as much from it compared to one they have an interest in.

  1. Open-ended toys offer a variety of way to play as they don’t serve only one purpose. Children don’t grow out of them they just come up with new ways to use them and play. Some examples are blocks, people/animal figurines, items for pretend play, loose parts( an assortment of materials/objects), scarves.
  2. Follow their interest because any toy a child has an interest in will encourage them to engage in play and learning.
  3. Board games are often an overlooked toy during the early years. Children can learn to cooperate with others, turn-taking, rule following and many other skills depending on the game. Plus its a fun way to connect with your child and have family time together. Count Your Chickens (3+), Hoot Owl Hoot (4+), and Outfoxed (5+) are some of my favourites.
playing a board game

Things To Remember When Buying Toys

Just because you don’t have a toy listed above doesn’t mean you need to rush out and buy it. Remember to live within your means and don’t stress about toys. These are just my recommendations about how to support your child’s development. Most toys will contribute to your child’s development in some way. Keep in mind that play needs to be fun and enjoyable for children to learn, the toys are just extra support.

For my five guidelines when purchasing toys click here.

Some of the best toys are ones you already have around the house. Use kitchen items for sensory play or make music with pots and pans. Make your own play dough, get my favourite recipe here. Use pillows and blankets to build a fort. Let them try on your shoes and clothes for dress up. Use cardboard and recycling for art.

Toys are an essential element to play but there are times your children won’t want to play with any of their toys. Don’t be afraid to let your children get bored. Often it is out of boredom that they become to most creative.

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