Early Childhood Development Toys By Age

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Cynthia Hockman, ARNP, MS, CPNP, UnityPoint Health, recommends the following developmental toys for babies and toddlers to make play fun and educational.

Toys for 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.”

  • Rattles - Build grip and tactile stimulation
  • Mirrors - 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

Toys for 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.

  • Textured and/or chilled teethers - Cope with teething
  • Soft squeeze toys - Squeeze toys of different sizes and shapes build gasping and manipulation skills.
  • Peek-a-boo toys - Enhance object permanence

Toys for 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.

  • 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

Toys for 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.

  • 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
  • Peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek toys - Toys that have a hide and seek effect enhance object permanence

Toys for 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.

  • 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

Toys for 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 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.