The Best Developmental Toys for Toddlers

By: Bridget Hobbs, PT, DPT

Perhaps you have a toddler’s birthday coming up or with (I can’t believe I’m saying this) the holidays just around the corner, you may be thinking about finding gifts for the little ones in your lives.  As a pediatric physical therapist, I often get asked about best toys for development.  Since I have a soon-to-be toddler at home, and because this age can sometimes be difficult to buy for (past rattles but not quite to the Barbie stage), I thought I’d share the best toys to encourage their development.

Blocks: Toy blocks might not be as sparkly or fancy as the tech-geared toys on the market.  However, they have stood the test of time for a reason.  Dating back to Piaget, numerous studies have proven the positive effects of block play with math skills later in life.  An author of a recent study that was published in the journal Child Dblocks2evelopment states “Research in the science of learning has shown that experiences like block building and puzzle play can improve children’s spatial skills and that these skills support complex mathematical problem solving in middle and high school,” explains Brian N. Verdine, one of the studies’ authors. You can read more of the study here. 

Play kitchen: I love a play kitchen not just for the imagination and sequencing aspect of preparing a meal, putting it on aplay kitchen plate and serving it to others, but for the gross motor benefits as well.  As seen below in the picture, there are many different levels to a play kitchen.  A child has to stand up to get a plate, squat down to put a pretend pie in the oven and walk side to side to put things in the sink.  All of these are dynamic movements that help to incorporate balance, stability and agility and helps toddlers build their confidence while navigating their environment.

Sound puzzles: Puzzles give little ones a jump on hand-eye coordination, help develop grasp as well as sequencing skills.  A bonus is the sound puzzles that make a sound, such as a helicopter motor or a cow mooing.  These puzzles teach cause and effect and can help TakeThreePhotography_05202010-62develop early sound development.

Small table and chairs: Children this age want to start coloring, drawing and delighting in their masterpieces.  An ideal chair for a little one would be one that helps their feet be firmly planted, with their hips and knees at 90 degree angles.

Shape sorters and stackers:  Shape sorters help a child with discriminating between different shapes, and figuring out how things fit together (think early engineering skills).  Shape sorters are a great way to encourage problem solving skills starting at a young age. Stackers, such as the cups shown below, assist a child with important concepts of placing things into a container and taking them out again.  shape stackers

Ride-On Toys: Try to avoid the expensive ‘power wheels’ type of toys that lose their battery after a week and take up loads of space in your house or garage.   A classic ride on toy will last riding toyyears or decades and will provide your child with balance and strengthening through propelling the toy and coordination through steering.

Often it’s the simplest, tried and true toys that are the best for child development.  So, if you recognize toys in the store that you had a kid, it’s likely that they are good for your child’s learning and motor development.   All of these toys listed above are enjoyable, educational and affordable.   They assist with gross and fine motor skills, language development and social engagement.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

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