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Helpful guidelines for selecting developmentally appropriate toys for children 1-10 years old!

Picture of a young girl playing with wooden animals. The text says How to select the best toys for your children.

The question I get the most when people want to create a playroom and toys that encourage independent play is, “How do I choose a developmentally appropriate toy that my child will actually play with?”  My most straightforward answer is to choose open-ended toys that are safe for your child's age.   

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While it may be tempting to buy an electronic toy labeled educational, your child will get more brain development and benefit from a low-tech toy.  

If you feel like the whole toy industry has totally lied to you, don't worry, I got you.  

Let me walk you through some helpful guidelines that will empower you to select developmentally appropriate toys that your kids won't be able to get enough of. 

What is an educational toy really?

When it comes to getting an education toy, you may think, “This electronic bear teaches all their colors, shapes, and numbers in 4 languages! This is the best education toy ever.”   

What if I told you that the little wooden animal your grandma wants to hand down to your toddler is even better?   

Research suggests that open-ended toys and traditional toys help kids develop better speech and social-emotional skills, specifically in larger vocabularies, more conversations with parents, and more parental responses to the child. 

Northern Arizona University did this exciting study in 2015 on 26 parent-child relationships with kids between 10 and 16 months.  I highly recommend reading it for yourself here.  

How do electronic toys help a child's development?

You may be asking yourself, “Okay, but what are the benefits of electronic toys on child development?”

To be honest…there aren't many benefits. If you don't believe head on over to this NPR article to read more.

If you are set on getting some electronic toys (or have relatives who are!) the best thing I can recommend is an Osmo. This tech toy is legit the only one we have (aside from a remote control monster truck…times two. Thanks, mom).

I appreciate that Osmo allows for kids to be more active when they play and the activities are education based–that said this is an app based toys so it isn't appropriate for all ages.

What toys can help a child's development?

It is better to choose traditional and open-ended toys for children of all ages. In today's world, your children will have more access and technology in their everyday life than any children before them. 

Yes, even if you just watched cartoons all the time when you were at home.  

Electronics are in their classrooms, their lunchrooms, doctor offices, even playgrounds.  

Traditional toys and open-ended toys lead to more communication between adult caregiver and child, and more adult initiated speech, a larger vocabulary, problem-solving, fine and gross motor skills, social-emotional skills, cause and effect relationships, more speech utterances by the child, and more imaginative play. And that isn't even an exhaustive list.    

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The difference between an electronic toy and a traditional toy is the traditional toy only entertains you if you play with it actively. 

With electronic toys, children can be entertained and their brains engaged without them even moving.  And that might even sound good, but the reality is that your child needs active engagement to develop their brains fully. 

How do I choose a developmentally appropriate toy?

You might be saying, “Okay, I got it. Traditional toys, good; electronic toys, not so good. 

But how do I choose a developmentally appropriate toy for my child that they will actually play with?”  I hear you, and I have some guidelines to make choosing developmentally appropriate toys easier. 

Pick Open-Ended toys that can be used in several ways.

Open-ended toys are a great place to start. I know I have said open-ended toys a lot already, but what does that mean? 

Open-ended toys are toys that can be played in many different ways and typically at many different ages. 

When choosing open-ended toys, go for quality because they will be toys that can even be handed down to your children’s future children or resold once your children do outgrow them. 

Purchase toys that will grow with your child

When looking for toys, look for something that will grow with your child. Toys that will last through many stages are a great way to increase the value of the toy. 

Things like a Pikler triangle will grow with your child from 6 months until they are 5 or 6 years old. While the initial investment can feel higher than a toy from the department store, in the long run, the toy 

Focus on toys that encourage their imagination

Toys that encourage your child’s imagination are likely to be more traditional and less electronic. This goes back to how electronic toys do not allow the child to do most of the engagement of play.  The more simple the toy, the more the child has to do the work of play. And play is the work of childhood. It helps their brains grow and develop.  

Open-Ended Toys for Young Children that are developmentally appropriate by age 

I rounded up some of my favorite open-ended toys.  Here is a list of developmentally appropriate open-ended toys broken down by age. 

Many of these toys span multiple age levels, so be sure to look above the list at least two age groups and above the list two age groups. 

Developmentally appropriate toys Newborns Through 6 Months

The first six months of a child’s life is possibly one of the most remarkable transformations in childhood. They go from not holding their head up to being mobile in such a short window. Here are a few toys that will help them improve their skills. 

Wood Clutching Toy is great for babies 2 months to 1 year old

Wood clutch toys help training your baby’s fine motor skills by letting them grasp objects. I like this one because it gives multiple directions the baby can grasp. The colors are bright. And it is made with non-toxic paint. 

Pastel Wooden Baby Cars for 3 months old to 3-year-olds to push 

Cars are such a fun toy for boys and girls. While younger babies will like swatting at it and watching it roll, older babies will start learning how to grasp it and move it around.  Toddlers will love this, too because it rolls easily and is uniquely shaped.  This works on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. 

Developmentally appropriate toys Ages 6 to 12 Months

The second half of your baby’s first year of life moves at the speed of light. They go from a baby who is a little unstable sitting up to sometimes walking and running at their first birthday. Their brain is growing fast and needs to be supported by the right items in their toybox. 

Clapping Roller fun toy that entertains 6 to 12 months olds and Dads alike. 

This toy makes a clapping sound as your roll it. It’s made of wood and is eco-friendly and child-safe. When we first got this toy, I am not sure if my husband or our son loved it more. Both were fascinated by it. This toy teaches things like fine motor skills, cause and effect and encourages curiosity.

Blocks are a must-have for every playroom.

6 months old is the perfect age to start introducing blocks to your toddler. Learning to stack blocks is a milestone, and stacking block towers of different heights is also a milestone. Stacking blocks requires concentration, determination, fine motor skills, and hand-eye coordination. 

Developmentally appropriate toys toddlers ages 1-3 year olds

The toddler years are years of continuous learning, changing, and growing. Toddlers start needing less help from their parents and start becoming more independent.  Here are some toys that are perfect for the growing mind of a 1 to 3 year old. 

Small World Items Help 1 to 3 year olds develop imagination and build language.

Toddlers and preschoolers love building small worlds with toys and any loose parts they can get their hands on. Small world toy items can include small animals, peg people, train tracks with trains, rainbow bridges, vehicles, scenery, small houses, and doll furniture. 

Having various playthings means that children could build their little farms, towns, schools, zoos, doctor offices, or whatever their imagination thinks of.  Many kids will start using small world play to work through scenarios they have encountered in real life. 

Pikler Triangle is appropriate for children 6 months old through 6 years old. 

If you are only going to get one gross motor skills toy, then the Pikler Triangle is the one you should get. Pikler triangles give your children a safe place to practice climbing.  While the Pikler triangle’s main benefit is safely encouraging gross motor development, it also helps kids become more resilient and confident. 

Developmentally appropriate toys for Preschoolers ages  3-5 year olds

Preschoolers are at some of the most critical stages of brain development. Good toys that support their brain development are a great choice. 

 Melissa & Doug Latches Board is made for 18 months to 4-5-year-olds.

Preschoolers love these latch boards. Working these helps with fine motor skills that your children will need when they start school. 

It is fun for kids to open up the door locks and latches to find fun pictures hidden inside each one. 

Playing with this toy develops fine motor skills and helps toddlers learn colors, numbers, and animals easily.

Dress-up Clothes for Preschoolers help them for a sense of identity.

Preschoolers love playing dress-up. Dress up helps kids to develop communication skills and improves vocabulary and social skills.  Dressing up can help them start thinking about who they are in the world. Are they a hero who rescues people? Are they someone who loves to serve people? 

Check out our absolute favorite dress up clothes here!

Developmentally appropriate toys Kids Ages 5 to 8 years old

A child during this stage enjoys activities that primarily involve the large muscles of their bodies, such as jump rope, bike riding, rollerblading, ball games, and hopscotch.

Children also learn to read, write, do math, and enjoy nature with the help of games and toys, and they develop an interest in friendship and belonging.

LEGO is the perfect fine motor skills toy for kids 5 to 12 years old

Kids who play with LEGO develop a stronger sense of spatial awareness, problem-solving, self-confidence, resilience, and communication skills.  

At 5, some kids may not be ready for complete LEGO sets, but they make LEGO Jr. sets that are fewer pieces and smaller sets to work with a younger child. If they have some fine motor skills delays, it may be better to start with Duplos. Duplos are also an excellent option for preschoolers and even some toddlers. 

Pretend kitchen and shop for 3 to 8 year olds 

Like small world play is an excellent activity for kids to reenact scenarios and learn about the world, pretend play extends that play.  Pretend play like toy kitchens and shops is a great way for kids to try on roles and grow their social-emotional awareness.

Play food, play money, and even a play cash register can make any shop or kitchen area. You don’t have to buy a particular toy kitchen or shop. You would be surprised at all the surfaces my kids have turned into shops.  The only downside to this is all the pretend meals you will likely be asked to eat. 

Developmentally appropriate toys Preteens Ages 9 to 12 years old

While 9 to 12 year olds are moving into adolescence soon, tweens still need to play.  While play may fluctuate between playing younger kids and skilled-based play, tweens are moving into learning who they are in the world and what they enjoy and are good at. Monthly subscription kits are a great way to introduce different activities to kids without too much commitment.

Games for Tweens 

Tweens are also getting good at games because they can work with a set of rules and expectations. Here are some top picks of tabletop games to play with your tween: 

In this strategy game, you build and settle and create a civilization. The best part of this game is you will never play the same playthrough twice. So it is always a new challenge. The playtime for Catan is about an hour, perfect for older kids with sustained ability to focus. 

In Catan Jr., the rules are simplified, and instead of settlers, you are playing as pirates building hideouts.   This game is suitable for kids who have low frustration thresholds.

In this board game, you use strategy to build your tracks across the United States. You can also get expansion packs to go with the original game to make gameplay even more fun and interesting.  This game is quick to learn and sure to be a family favorite. 

Grounded for Life is a game by the same people who made the game What Do You Meme?  It’s a lot like apples to apples, where players draw response cards to go with the topic card. It’s best for 3 or more players and kids 8 and up.  The funniest response each turn wins.  This is a great game to chase away the Monday blues. 

In our family, this game is a must-take for traveling.  We often play it when we are winding down in our hotel for the night.  This is great for kids 6 and up.  You have 10 questions you can ask to guess the animal a player has pulled from the stack.  While we love the animal game, there are Guess in 10 games for sports, cities, and more. 

Picking developmentally appropriate toys for your child doesn’t have to be difficult!

The best advice when choosing age-appropriate baby and kids toys for young children is to keep it simple.

When toys are too specific, they can deprive the child of the chance to use his/her imagination. The best toys for children can often be the simplest because simple toys allow kids to be creative and spontaneous.

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