Toys, toys, toys! During the holiday season parents are surrounded by thousands of options that can quickly make giving the gift of play overwhelming. Understanding your child’s developmental stage can help you focus your search on toys that your child will not only enjoy, but will also support their continued growth.
During the first six months of life babies are working on pre-locomotor development: vision and spine development, and hand-eye coordination. Simple toys that can be enjoyed by grasping, mouthing, and observing are most beneficial for young babies.
Look for brightly colored, high contrast books and toys that will catch and hold your baby’s attention. Small, soft toys with various textures are easier for your baby to grasp and allow him or her to explore different tactile sensations. Books, mirrors or play mats allow your baby to lie in various positions (tummy, back and side) while playing and strengthening neck and spine muscles.
Remember that at this age, simple is better. Avoid toys with small parts, loud noises and flashing lights, which can be over-stimulating.
7- 18 months:
At this stage babies are mastering fine motor skills, rapidly developing verbal and non-verbal communication skills, refining cognitive processes such as object permanence, and moving and exploring their world independently. During this time, babies enjoy toys in a wide variety of materials, shapes, colours and sizes, as they can now perceive three-dimensional objects and will begin to classify them into different categories.
Sorting toys allow little ones to practice putting toys in and out of containers, while stacking toys can be stacked and knocked down, supporting their fine motor skills and developing their understanding of cause and effect. Interactive board books (lift the flap or touch and feel) allow you to foster your baby’s budding language skills and spend quality time engaging with each other.
Balls encourage babies to continue to explore different ways of holding, throwing, catching and chasing, challenging their gross motor skills.
Sensory toys such as water or sand tables, finger-paints and musical instruments nurture your baby’s budding creativity and curiosity about their world.
Keep in mind that toys will still often end up being mouthed, so ensure they are non-toxic and free from choking hazards.
1.5 – 3 years:
Toddlers are becoming more aware of others emotions, developing an understanding of more abstract concepts and play, can follow simple instructions, speak in short sentences, and are adding more variety to their gross motor skills. Toddlers often crave independence when completing tasks, but may desire the closeness of a caregiver if they become frustrated when unsuccessful. Toddlers greatly enjoy engaging in imaginative play, however to them it is often blurred with reality.
Pretend play toys such as kitchens, telephones, tools, dolls and dress up clothes help toddlers experiment with social and emotional roles, increasing their self-esteem and problem solving ability.
Singing and dancing along to a variety of musical genres keeps little ones active, increasing endurance, strength and flexibility. They especially love it when you join in the fun!
Your toddler will enjoy playing simple board games with you, especially those that focus on cooperation and teamwork versus winning and losing.
Books that discuss feelings can help your toddler develop the expressive communication skills needed to help keep temper tantrums at bay and develop empathy for others.
Avoid electronic toys that do all the “playing” for the child at the push of a button. Your toddler may be entertained for a short period, but will quickly become bored and lose interest. The best play environments allow for independent exploration with the best playmate near by to join in the fun when invited: YOU!