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Choosing Developmentally Appropriate Toys and Activities

Let’s talk about the importance of supporting your child as they learn how to play. There’s a first time for everything - children are not born knowing how to play!

Just like learning to use a fork or to drink from a cup, play is something that we need to teach our children to do. Providing toys may be the first step, but facilitating their play and introducing ideas is our second job in playing with our children. I commonly work with parents who express that their child has so many toys, but doesn’t show interest in them. This could be because they are truly not interested in the toy, but more commonly, it’s because the child doesn’t know what to do with the toy, or the toy is not developmentally appropriate.

It’s important to keep in mind that when a child is presented with even the most simple toy or game, they likely need support in knowing what to do with it. As an example, if we as an adult see a hammer and mallet toy, our world knowledge tells us that we should use the hammer to bang the pegs into the holes. A child sees the same toy and does not have past experience telling them what to do, so we need to show them!

It’s also important to keep in mind the developmental skills needed for a specific toy. Here are some things to consider:

  • Do they have the fine and gross motor skills needed to play with this toy?

  • Can they play with the toy independently, or will they need the help of an adult?

  • Is this toy too cognitively advanced or not challenging enough?

Some toys require advanced fine or gross motor skills that your child may still be developing. Lovevery is a subscription website that sends toys to your home as your child progresses through developmental stages. I mention this company not because it is something you need in order to help your child succeed in play, but because it has a wonderful framework and outlines toys/activities that are appropriate for your child at each stage of their development. Check out their website to learn more about “stage-based play”, and selecting toys that are developmentally appropriate for your child. Melissa and Doug is another company that does a wonderful job of creating toys for the different stages of development. On the website, you can choose to “shop by age”, which is a great place to get a sense of what kind of toys are appropriate for your child as they grow.

I’ve also created a Google Doc with examples of toys that are developmentally appropriate for children aged 0 - 36 months, with links to purchase them and links to helpful websites. This document also provides details about what makes a toy developmentally appropriate for a child at each stage!


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