Early Childhood Development Toys By Age

Finishing up last-minute holiday shopping? If you still have gifts to buy for the kids on your list, Cynthia Hockman, ARNP, MS, CPNP, UnityPoint Health, recommends the following developmental toys for babies and toddlers to make play fun and educational.

Infants: 0-4 Months

“Babies prepare for developmental achievements during their early months through a mix of motor, sensory and emotional experience,” Cynthia says. “Sensory toys involving textures, sounds and bright, contrasting colors are all great developmental choices for babies. By 4-months-old, babies can bring their hands together in the midline and use their eyes to coordinate hand movement.”

 Toy Suggestions

Developmental Benefits


 Build grip and tactile stimulation


 Improve focus on faces and objects (8-12 inches away).
Stimulate social and language development.

 Musical mobiles

 Stimulate hearing, stimulate infant to make sounds

Tripod gyms with dangling toys

 Enhance reach and grasp; keeping head in midline,
bringing hands together in midline

 Books with baby faces,
 animals, high-contrast

  Speech and language development,
social and cognitive development

 Colorful floor play mats

 Enhance tummy play, developing strength in arms/legs

Cynthia’s Personal Favorites:

  • Tolo Tumble Ball and Gripper Rattle
  • Small World Toys IQ Baby© Baby Buzz’r

Infants: 4-6 Months

“Babies hands are now open, and they’re attempting to reach and grasp objects purposefully. First teeth usually start to erupt around 6 months-old, and everything baby grasps is brought to mouth to teeth on. Objects need to be large enough to not fit completely in mouth to avoid choking,” Cynthia says.

 Toy Suggestions

 Developmental Benefits

 Textured and/or chilled teethers

 Cope with teething

 Soft squeeze toys of different size and shape

 Build grasping and manipulation

 Peek-a-boo toys

 Enhance object permanence

Infants: 6-9 Months

“At 6-months-old, babies can sit and manipulate objects with hands, and their movement patterns are more controlled,” Cynthia says.

 Toy Suggestions

Developmental Benefits 

 Baby blocks

 Build fine motor skills

 Toys that roll and make sounds when touched

 Encourage creeping/crawling movement,
enhance gross motor skills

  Peek-a-boo toys

 Enhance object permanence

 Busy box

 Manipulate objects and create cause/effect

Cynthia’s Personal Favorite:

Infants: 9-12 Months

“Babies are now able to get to sit and pull to stand independently, as well as start to crawl.
Push toys need to have a broad, stable base to support babies’ weight and prevent falling,” Cynthia says.

Toy Suggestions 

Developmental Benefits

 Sensory balls (textured)

 Promote gross motor and tactile skills, as well as grasping, coordination and crawling;
can also be used for relaxation and body massage

 Toys where baby can put items into containers

 Develop gross and fine motor skills

Pat-a-cake, peek-a-boo or toys/books that have hide and seek effect

 Enhance object permanence

Infants: 12-15 Months

“Around babies’ first birthdays is when we see their cognitive development really grow. Cause and effect toys are fun, yet challenging,” Cynthia says. Babies are starting to use words meaningfully.

Babies are now standing independently, walking and explore environment.

 Toy Suggestions

 Developmental Benefits

 Stackable cubes

  Increase fine motor skills, cognitive development of spatial relations

 Puzzles with easy-grasp knobs

 Build fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, enhance expressive and receptive language and cognitive development (giving one-step commands, as you talk about finding specific puzzle pieces)

 Cause and effect toys

 Enhance object permanence and challenge

Cynthia’s Personal Favorites:

  • Melissa & Doug Puzzles (such as barnyard, first shapes, etc.)
  • Tolo Pop Up Dinosaurs
  • Kidoozie Funtime Tractor

Toddlers: 24 Months to 3+ Years

Keeping toddlers busy can be tricky, and while Cynthia offers educational toy recommendations for this age group, she also reminds parents of the importance of reading – no matter what age.

“Books are the best toys, at any age, to enhance speech and language development, social and cognitive development and instill in a child the love of reading for a lifetime!” Cynthia says. Toddlers are starting to name colors, point and name pictures, make animal sounds, starting to count and carry on simple conversations. Make story time interactive and ask questions about the story and see what your toddler comprehends! Toddlers are becoming more independent and can be potty trained. 

Cynthia’s Personal Favorites:

  • “It’s Potty Time” books (assist with potty-training)
  • Tricycle or pedal toy
  • Melissa & Doug Cutting Food Set
  • Melissa & Doug Hide and Seek Puzzle
Cynthia also says technology definitely can assist with your child’s development. But, she encourages parents to promote a healthy balance of learning through technology and learning through creative play.

“There are many free, educational and fun preschool apps for toddlers designed to help them learn colors, shapes, counting, ABC’s and other activities that enhance their problem-solving abilities. However, as with any activity, moderation is the key to screen play. Children need time to play creatively, too,” Cynthia says.

For additional questions regarding your child’s development or child development toys by age, contact your UnityPoint Health provider or pediatrician.