How to Choose Good Toys for Your Toddler

CME WebsitesAppropriate Toys, Child Routines, Play Time, Resources

What Are Good Toys for Toddlers?

The definition of a toy is “something to play with”. Some parents feel that good toys must be store bought or require batteries, but if we broaden our horizons, anything can become a toy. Cardboard boxes, laundry baskets, pots & pans, empty containers, even flashlights, blankets & pillows can offer hours of entertainment for toddlers. In our June issue of entEISment we shared ideas for simple toys that do not require batteries.

Let’s go a step further and look at Cari’s criteria for buying a good store bought toy. Cari agrees with our theory that good toys absolutely do NOT require batteries and when looking for good toys parents should actually steer clear of battery operated toys altogether. Her theory is “the more a toy does, the less a child does” and we wholeheartedly agree. Toys with batteries do not require a child to use his own imagination or creativity. In general, look for simple toys that have a variety of uses and can grow with a child and toys which require more active than passive play.

This is Cari’s criteria for selecting a good toy for your child:

  1. Look for safety & durability
  2. Look for toys that are easily manipulated by tiny hands
  3. Look for toys that are made of natural materials and steer clear of cold, hard, plastic toys
  4. Look for toys that interest your child, but don’t be afraid to expose him to new toys
  5. Look for toys that interest you as an adult as well, so adults can play with their child
  6. Look for toys that have longevity & play value so the toy will still be interesting and age-appropriate for more than the short term
  7. Look for toys that encourage problem solving & natural exploration
  8. Look for toys that require imagination & creativity
  9. Look for toys that mimic the “real” thing
  10. Avoid toys that force feed academic skills to your child

Need some specific ideas for good toys for toddlers?

  1. Wooden blocks
  2. Stacking/nesting cups
  3. Peg boards/pounding boards
  4. Art supplies
  5. String beads/lacing cards
  6. Musical instruments
  7. Board books
  8. Wooden puzzles
  9. Shape sorters
  10. Toy food & dishes
  11. Dolls & accessories
  12. Cars & trucks
  13. Ride-on toys
  14. Tunnels & parachutes
  15. Mirrors
  16. Flashlights
  17. Bubbles
  18. Magnets
  19. Toy animals
  20. Action figures

Some fun “homemade” toy ideas Cari suggested include:

  1. Using muffin tins to sort or match by using different macaroni shapes or Fruit Loops.
  2. Covering shoe boxes with wrapping paper to make large stacking blocks
  3. Stacking & nesting empty food containers like yogurt cups, butter containers, etc.
  4. Bowling with empty plastic soda bottles
  5. Making music with pots & pans & wooden spoons
  6. Playing with cotton balls (art & crafts, blowing them across a table or filling a dish pan with them and hiding toys in them)
  7. Sock puppets
  8. Forts with pillows & blankets
  9. Using flashlights in the dark
  10. Opening junk mail, folding paper, stuffing envelopes
  11. Talking through paper towel rolls
  12. Cutting up magazines, toys catalogs or junk mail to make collages
  13. Playing dress up with mom’s or dad’s clothing
  14. Magnets on the fridge or washer/dryer or on a cookie sheet for travel in the car
  15. Tea party or picnic on a blanket on the floor or in the yard with real food
  16. Painting the house, fence, etc with a bucket of water & large paint brush
  17. Sidewalk chalk, bathtub chalk or simply chalk & chalkboard
  18. Singing songs with gestures like “Wheels on the Bus”, “Twinkle, Twinkle”, etc.
  19. Putting stuffed animals & cars down a sliding board
  20. Jumping in leaves & puddles and playing in sand/dirt/mud (kids should get dirty!)

Remember to always be creative and think outside the box. Don’t believe that toys labeled “educational” are the best toys for your child. Always follow your child’s lead and try not to direct his play. Remember that play is crucial for brain growth & developmentand far more important than academics for a toddler/preschooler. Play fosters learning, imagination & creativity. Play enhances a child’s concentration & attention and helps them learn to deal with frustration. There is no failure associated with play. All children learn best through play that is relevant and meaningful to their lives.

As a parent or educator, try to think of what you did as a child for fun and what some of your favorite toys were and share this joy with your own young children!

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”
Kay Redfield Jamison
Contemporary American professor of psychiatry

From the conference “The Power of Play: Effective Play-Based Therapy & Early Intervention” presented by Cari Ebert, MS, CCC-SLP in Pittsburgh, PA 8/8/12.