How to select stimulating and age-appropriate toys

With the holidays right around the corner, people are searching their local stores and online vendors for the best possible gifts for the young ones, and we are often asked how to select toys that are mentally stimulating for kids, or that help them with physical development, or even better, toys that do a bit of both, while being age-appropriate.

It may seem like an obvious topic (just read the indicated age in the packaging, right?), but sometimes a little advise can come in handy. I recently had a mom who, after a couple sessions of physical therapy with her 9 month old baby, went home and put away a number of stuffed animals and took out a “sorting cookie jar”, a “crocodile piano”, and a set of “musical instruments” she thought her daughter was too young for, when the little girl was in fact eager to get creative with more interesting toys.

While toy recommendations vary greatly depending on each specific child, their interests, hobbies, preferences and individual development, here are a few of our favorite toys by age group, and we have indicated some of the specific skills these toys promote or help enhance.

Toys for Infants (Newborn - 18 months)  |  Discovering The Senses
0-3 months

  • Black and white cards  |  Eye focus
  • Black and white hard cover books  |  Visual tracking (side-to-side, up-and-down)

3-6 months

  • Rubber rattles for single hand  |  Grasp & release, wrist movement
  • Rattle or ring with 2 handles  |  Play with both hands at midline
  • Textured cloth animal design rattle  |  Play at chest level as hands and feet hug toy (abs strengthening)

6-9 months

  • Bucket and balls  |  Eye-hand coordination, grasp & release balls
  • Shape sorter  |  Eye-hand coordination, grasp & release balls
  • Stackers & Nests | Sitting balance as child reaches forward or sideways
   
  
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   Laugh and Learn Learning Piggy Bank

Laugh and Learn Learning Piggy Bank

 Laugh and Learn Cookie Shape Surprise (Shape Sorter)

Laugh and Learn Cookie Shape Surprise (Shape Sorter)

 Melissa & Doug Geometric Stackers

Melissa & Doug Geometric Stackers

 

9-12 months

  • Musical or educational ball  |  Promotes rolling, combat crawling, hands & knees crawling
  • Puzzles large knob  |  Side sitting, gross grasp
  • Puzzles medium knob  |  High chair sitting, 3 finger grasp
  • Puzzles small knob  |  Princer’s grasp
  • Learning piggy bank  |  Fine motor skills
   
  
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   Kidoozie Dress Me Emily Doll

Kidoozie Dress Me Emily Doll

   
  
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   VTech Catch-Me-Kitty

VTech Catch-Me-Kitty

   
  
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B. Toys Parum Pum Pum Drum

   
  
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   Brilliant Basics Boppin’ Activity Bugs (Fisher Price)

Brilliant Basics Boppin’ Activity Bugs (Fisher Price)

   
  
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   B. Toys Zany Zoo Wooden Activity Cube

B. Toys Zany Zoo Wooden Activity Cube

Toys for Young Toddlers (12 – 24 months)  |  Discovering the Whole Body

  • Activity table  |  Tall kneeling, independent play, cause & effect, exploration
  • Wooden blocks  |  Manual dexterity to stack them linear or upright, squatting to pick them up
  • Plate set, cup and spoon  |  Promote independent eating skills & begin use of utensils and cup
  • Dress-Me Dolls  |  Fine motor skills, visual motor, dressing skills
  • Catch-Me Kitty  |  Fine motor skills
  • Musical Instrument Set  |  Fine motor skills, sound awareness
  • Boppin’ Activity Bugs  |  Fine motor skills
  • Wooden Activity Cube  |  Fine motor skills
   
  
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   Go baby Go! Poppity Pop Musical Dino (Fisher Price)

Go baby Go! Poppity Pop Musical Dino (Fisher Price)

   
  
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   Duplo Building Set (Lego) 

Duplo Building Set (Lego) 

   
  
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   Screw Block Wooden Toy

Screw Block Wooden Toy

   
  
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   Radio Flyer Inchworm Ride-On

Radio Flyer Inchworm Ride-On

   
  
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   Wooden Ramp Racer

Wooden Ramp Racer

Toys for Toddlers (2 –3 years)  |  Burning Toddler Energy

  • Tricycle with back handle  |  Leg strengthening
  • Scibble Pad  |  Pen grasp
  • Mr Potato Head  |  Manual coordination
  • Play Doh  |  Hand strengthening
  • Kitchen or tool set  |  Upright standing, creative & role model play
  • Lego  |  Creative play
  • Poppity Pop Musical Dino  |  Fine motor skills
  • Duplo building set  |  Fine motor and visual motor skills
  • Screw block wooden toy  |  Fine motor and visual motor skills
  • Radio Flyer Inchworm Ride-On  |  Gross motor skills
  • Wooden Ramp Racer  |  Fine motor skills
  • Imaginarium Robot Claw  |  Visual motor skills
   
  
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Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It! Game (Wonder Forge)

   
  
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   Melissa & Doug Scoop and Stack Ice Cream Cone Playset

Melissa & Doug Scoop and Stack Ice Cream Cone Playset

   
  
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   Disney Pixar Cars Hopper Ball (Hedstrom)

Disney Pixar Cars Hopper Ball (Hedstrom)

   
  
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   InterStar Rings (Edushape)

InterStar Rings (Edushape)

Toys for Preschoolers (3–5 years)  |  Thinking and Creating

  • Mesh hoops  |  Overhead throw into target
  • Bowling pines  |  Underhand throw
  • Foam balls  |  Throw and catch
  • Rubber balls (8”)  |  Bouncing and kicking
  • First Desk  |  Sitting still and playing with educational toys and arts & crafts
  • Play Doh  |  Hand strengthening, creative play, manual dexterity
  • Books  |  Early literacy, attention span
  • Coloring books  |  Self control
  • Train set  |  Motor planning
  • Dolls  |  Motor planning, role playing
  • Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It!  |  Fine motor skills
  • Ice Cream Cone Playset  |  Fine motor and visual motor skills
  • Disney Pixar Cars Hopper Ball  |  Gross motor skills
  • InterStar rings  |  Fine motor and visual motor skills
   
  
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Let’s Get Learning Activity Mats (Lakeshore Learning)

   
  
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Magic Mic (Toysmith)

   
  
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   Pop Up Pirate! (Tommy)

Pop Up Pirate! (Tommy)

 

Toys for Younger School Kids (6–8 years)  |  Elementary Learning

  • Pop-Up Pirate!  |  Fine motor and visual motor skills
  • First bike  |  Full body coordination
  • Baseball gloves  |  Hand strengthening
  • Small legos  |  Finger & pincer’s grasp
  • Basketball  |  Full body coordination
  • Lacing  |  Hand dexterity
  • Magic Mic  |  Speech and communication
  • Let’s Get Learning Activity Mats  |  Cognition and learning

Toys for Older School Kids (8–10 years)  |  Getting Active and Crafty

  • Jump rope  |  Arms and legs coordination
  • Skates  |  Arms and legs coordination
  • Pottery / Ceramic Kit  |  Creativity, manual dexterity

Toys for Early Adolescents (10-12 years)  |  Growing Up

  • Hockey sticks  |  Dynamic and fast action
  • Baseball bar and soft ball  |  Eye-Hand coordination
  • Pool and swimming gear  |  #1 Exercise, a favorite of the A+ Therapy team
  • Board Games  |  Taking turns, social interaction, motor planning, team playing
  • Jewelry creations  |  Creativity, manual dexterity
  • Keyboard  |  Harmony, musical awareness
  • Karaoke set  |  Verbal skills, phonics, use of diaphragm, core strengthening

Toys for Adolescents (12-14 years)  |  Creativity, Self-Expression and Self-Esteem

  • Tennis racket  |  Promotes interest in sports
  • Snorkeling equipment  |  Breathing control, full body workout during growth spurts
  • Books (series)  |  Mental and visual endurance
  • Hobbies (Model airplanes or cars)  |  Attention span, concentration, creativity
  • Painting easel  |  Upper body posture and strengthening, fine motor strokes
  • Camera / Video recorder  |  Imagination, mental relaxation
  • Guitar  |  Self expression, musical interest, creativity
  • Diary / Journal  |  Self expression, emotions
  • Clothes / Fashion  |  Self esteem

Holidays beyond toys

While toys are fabulous gifts for children around the holidays, don’t forget that there are many ways to provide fun and entertainment with minimal investment, children often crave a bit of special time with their loved ones doing the things they like. Here are some of our favorite activities:

  • Spend an afternoon at a park and enjoy crisp winter weather
  • Visit a local children’s museum
  • Spend time at an art studio painting pottery or canvas
  • Do a fun science experiment with your child like making slime or organic play-doh from ingredients you have in your kitchen. Kids love "getting dirty" and they can also experiment with textures, smells, and learn about measuring
  • Build an obstacle course in the backyard where kids have to complete a set of activities. Make it more challenging by timing them. Make it more fun by being the “grown-up” participant.
  • Play some outdoor favorites like racing from point A to Point B balancing and egg on a spoon

Happy shopping to everyone who’s looking for the perfect, and above all happy holidays, may you all find a few minutes during this busy time of year, to pause and spend quality time with your families.

Susan

Puzzles offer playtime fun for all ages

 

We love puzzles for playtime, and while many people feel inclined to wait until about babies are a year old to bring them out, we find that babies as young as 8 months old can already work with certain kinds of puzzles.

Babies are often curious about recessed puzzles which have large knob wooden pieces that fit into specific slots on a board and feature different knob sizes that are easy to manipulate. Even if babies are too young to put the pieces back in the right place (the lobster in the lobster “hole/slot”), pulling them out and handling them helps in so many ways such as hand-eye coordination and finger manipulation from full palmar grasp to tripod grasp to a more sophisticated pincer grasp. 

These are some of the advantages of encouraging babies to handle and play with puzzles:

  • Build fine motor skills by grabbing pieces by the handle, knob or peg.
  • Develop hand-eye coordination that will create a cerebral/intellectual problem-solving learning environment.
  • Exercise core rotation and side-sitting when puzzle is placed off from the center. Core rotation is very important for strengthening abdominals and core muscles. Applying upper body weight over one arm during side-sitting and reaching for a puzzle piece will enhance the next most important milestone—crawling.
  • Verbal skills can also be encouraged as parents model sounds when handling specific puzzle images; for example, while using a farm animal puzzle set with a cow image, caregivers can say a “MOO” sound for an 8 month old; “COW” word for an 18 month old; “WHITE COW” for a two year old.

In many ways we find that a baby playing with puzzles is actually doing Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy (PT, OT, ST), all in one!

From this point forward the possibilities are endless and puzzles continue to be amazing toys and exploring tools for children and grown-ups of all ages. Older toddlers can begin to use their imagination, pretend play, count and sort into categories (shapes, animals, fruits, etc.). They can also learn how to put basic jigsaw puzzles together. Preschoolers love the challenge of more pieces in their jigsaw puzzles and oversized floor puzzles, and they can also practice teamwork when working as a group on the bigger puzzles.

I recently spent a few days at a sunny Florida beach with some friends and the central entertainment was a 1,000 piece puzzle which featured a beautifully illustrated map of Florida complete with county and city names and full of highlights of our State. Grown-ups spent hours chatting over coffee and piecing together our major highways, while children loved seeing manatees, alligators and flamingos slowly come together, and this was a great reminder of the fabulous stimulation that puzzles provide for all ages and the whole family from siblings to grandparents.

Happy puzzle playing!
Susan