Overwhelmed With Toys? / by Laura Kett

10 Classic Toys for Little Ones and Ways to Expand Their Use

If you are not overwhelmed with toys covering your floor, maybe you do not need to read this.  However, if you want fewer toys that can be used for multiple purposes, read on! And while you are at it, forward this article to friends and relatives as a gift wish list.

Playing is a child’s “work” and delight as it gives them many opportunities to develop their visual-motor, language, thinking and imagination skills as well as independent play and social skills. You can have such fun interacting with your little ones while they are “working” their brain!

Here is a list of TEN basic toys for those first years.  Each of these appeals to more than one sense, can be used in different ways over a number of years, are classically appealing, and provide opportunity for growth across all areas of development.

1. Rattles: They are great for the really little ones–especially before they are moving around!

   They can be hung on mobiles or attached to strollers to encourage visually focusing and reaching out.

   Give little ones time to react when holding the rattles up for looking or touching. Do not initially overwhelm them with too many bells and whistles! 

   When your kids are on their tummies, these toys can help develop head turning, head lifting, visual tracking, reaching, banging objects together, and transferring from one hand to the other.

   Tip: don’t buy too many!  Rattles will soon be a less desired toy.  The ones that are more multifaceted will be favored for a longer period of time.  For example, choose rattles with sensory properties: like the one that vibrates when a string is pulled, or the one that has rings for those little finger to play with, one that is squishy or squeaks and feels good in the mouth. 

2. Music: It can sooth the savage breast. 

   Interesting Fact: did you know that even tiny babies have a discernible breathing pattern change with calm music?

   First musical toys can be shakers or drums or other simple toys to squeeze or tap.

   Singing and listening to music can be so soothing for a baby. And as they grow and gain head control, you can sit them on your lap to do interactive songs like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” They can bounce to music and eventually “dance” and sing along with you!

3. Books: Who could have too many of these?

   Start with board books as it helps them learn to turn the pages and allows some independence with books. If you have regular books, they are likely to tear the paper as they would with any paper or magazine because it's FUN!  They still might put the book in their mouth but try gently pulling it out and saying, "Let's look at the book" and model that way of using books.

   Choose books with photos or good pictures, but few words. They can be silly or sweet, have fun sound–try them all!  Get books you like because you will be reading them over and over and over (you get the idea).

   Read to them often on your lap or next to you. This is good for their visual attention, stimulation, language literacy and snuggles.

4. Wooden blocks: The possibilities are limitless. 

   Find the kind with a variety of shapes and sizes.  If you also get colored blocks, you can later use them for color, size and shape sorting.

   Stacking:  start out with stacking 2 for initial success. Just learning to release a cube is a skill to acquire. They will soon stack more and crash the tower.

   Building:  a road for play cars, a house, a barrier to crash into with cars or trains.

   Matching: shapes and colors.

   Stand some rectangular shapes on end in a wavy line to knock down (as with dominoes).

   Banging: this is going to happen so try to get them to bang on a bigger block instead of your nice coffee table.

   Check out block play research:  this NPR article discusses the advantages block play can give your child in the areas of cognition and language skills:

Check out this NPR article on Blocks:  Tools of the Trade :)

5. Stuffed animals:  Did I hear a groan? Every child will get them for gifts no matter what you say, so here are some ways to welcome a sane number into your home.

stuffed animals.jpg

   They are a great source of "friends” for make-believe play such as tea parties and trains and riding in boxes or larger cars.

   They can be cuddled, carried, soothed, squished (good alternative to squishing a pet or new baby), fed, changed and dressed. So many skills are learned this way!

   Hint for calmer bedtime: one or two may become a comfort toy for naps and bedtime, but too many can over stimulate.

6. Cars and trains:  Yes, they are for boys and girls!

   Crawling around or "driving" something is so much fun. They can go all through the rooms, over and under furniture and through the blocks!

   Tracks are fun and give little ones the practice of putting things together.  But this purchase is not necessary if you don't have the space or money.  It's fun to drive them through a channel of blocks or around and under furniture, too!

7. Lego Duplos:  The larger pieces are a source of fun through 3-4 years of age. They are a safer purchase as it is natural for toys to go into the mouth for the first year or two.

   Texture alone is great as there are holes on one side and pegs on the other for little fingers to explore.

   Building towers and shapes will begin to develop in the second year.  Before then they will enjoy clapping them together and pulling them apart. The pieces will be easier to pull apart if you start by putting them together at perpendicular angles.

   Extend the fun by giving them various containers for the blocks.  Putting in and pouring out is great entertainment.

8. Stacking cup set:  These have so many purposes! 

   Stacking is a great visual motor skill that can transfer from these cups to other toys. Of course, knocking the tower down is the best part.

   When practicing nesting, just use two at first, using only a large and tiny one for success.

   Use them as containers to put items into and then dump them out (again, the best part!).

   These can be used as bathtub or sandbox toys for scooping and pouring.

   Some versions can also be used for color sorting, counting or as stamps for playdough.

   Later these make great cups for tea parties.

9. Balls:  You might think a baby wouldn’t benefit, but balls are fun at any age!

   You can get nice textured soft rubber balls, balls with projections, or any non-toxic sports ball.

   They will try to mouth them initially, but you can show them how to roll the ball. This is a good interactive game which helps with visual tracking. Eventually, motor skills will advance and they will learn to pick it up and toss it (usually a pretty unpredictable arcJ).

   Balls can also be put in and out of containers and rolled down a slope.

10. Puzzles:  Too soon you think? Start with wooden puzzles with large basic shapes.

   At first they will just dump them and put them in their mouths.  At some point they will start aiming at the shape hole and enjoy doing the puzzle over and over.

   There are a multitude of skills a child learns with puzzles from problem solving, manipulating items in their hands, and asking for help if they are stuck

   Some of the chunky piece puzzles have critters which can be used for imaginative play as they stand on their own or can be put into cups or other containers.

   Tip: extend the challenge. After they are successful completing single puzzles, take two or three puzzles and dump all of the pieces into a container. Then have them pull out one piece at a time and match it to the correct puzzle.  This gives practice with visual scanning and problem solving.

As your child decreases mouthing behaviors, you can start adding in some more messy sensory play with sand and soapy bubbles.  And when they are developmentally ready, you can continue to increase the gooshy and sticky components with playdough, paint, stickers, paper tearing and gluing. Hint: use a tray with sides for paint, glue, cutting and playdough projects so they have a clear idea of boundaries and the mess is somewhat contained! 

Is this list missing your favorite toy?  Of course there are many others you may want to consider.  In fact, I was just thinking about how much fun a little pail and shovel is!  Just remember it’s not so much about the stuff as the joy found in play.

And this is only part of the fun!!  Social games, outings to the park, walks around the block or along the water’s edge or through a woods, playfulness during daily routines, playing “I Spy” on your outings, giving them a safe kitchen drawer to rummage through–these all add to the adventure of exploring and growing. 

Praise your child’s efforts as well as their accomplishments!  Enjoy their discoveries. Enjoy them!