The holiday, gift-giving season is upon us once again. And while you’ve probably already read 10 different lists about what to buy for your infants and toddlers, I thought I’d throw in my thoughts about fun, but developmentally-appropriate toys. Toys that are developmentally appropriate are designed keeping in mind the way in which children develop, reach milestones, and learn. They take into account different learning styles and needs, as well as children’s strengths and interests. For the purpose of this article, I’ve chosen items I’ve found to be most popular with children whether they are boys or girls, are typically developing or have special needs.
Infants and Babies: They learn about the world through their senses, so items for this age need to smell, taste, look and sound appealing.
Under $25: I recommend musical instruments and “lovies.” Musical instruments that are light in weight and can be held easily by infants and babies (think maracas and rain sticks), introduce the concept of cause and effect. “Lovies” give children a sense of safety and security, and help them learn to self-soothe.
Under $50: Book sets. It’s never too early to contribute to a young child’s love of books. Sandra Boynton, Karen Katz, Tana Hoban, Eric Carle, and Scholastic make great board books for children in this age bracket.
Under $100: Buy a Gymini or other play mat! This is a great spot for working on tummy time. It also supports babies as they start reaching for the hanging items. An attachable mirror and kick-started music encourage learning and exploration, as well.
Splurge-Worthy: The Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Home is a personal favorite. Babies who are sitting can enjoy the cause and effect component of the light switch, door bell, radio, shape sorter, and ball track. Crawlers will love all of those activites plus opening, closing and crawling through the doorway!
Perfect for one-year-olds: Completing the first year of life deserves a present, right?!
Under $25: Rubber blocks are easy to stack and a blast to knock down, two concepts children are working on at this stage.
Under $50: A set of Melissa and Doug wooden puzzles is perfect for aunties who are looking to spend a little more, but are still on a budget. Puzzles support hand-eye coordination and the pieces make a great noise when you bang them together!
Under $100: I recommend a baby doll (yes, even for boys) and a doll stroller or shopping cart. Children at this age are beginning to be more social, can engage in pretend play and like to feed, cuddle and walk with their babies.
Splurge-Worthy: Finally, a favorite of mine, though not an official “splurge,” is the Plan Toys Baby Walker. This is a great item for toddlers learning to take their first steps and can be used indoors and out. The walker is sturdy, can be customized for handle height and speed, and supports children’s physical development, while also encouraging pretend play. If you want to bulk up the splurge-factor, fill it with the other items on the list before you wrap it!
For Two-Year-Old Tots: At two-years-old, children have better control over their fine motor muscles, have more language, and are beginning to be able to use their imaginations during play.
Under $25: Bristle blocks are great for encouraging dexterity and hand strength, while also supporting creative play and building skills.
Under $50: The Fisher Price farm fits the bill. This long-time favorite introduces animals and animal sounds, and gives children a platform for pretend play centering on farm life. Sing “Old MacDonald’s Farm” to further enrich language learning.
Under $100: I recommend a tabletop easel, finger crayons, and Do-a-Dot markers. As far as I am concerned, open-ended art exploration is essential for all children. I particularly love that this easel has two sides so you can both be busy and chatting about what you are working on. Art activities allow children to be creative, use their imagination, and practice pre-writing skills.
Splurge-Worthy: Perhaps the easiest pick for me, out of all of the gifts on this list is the splurge-worthy two-year-old present…a pretend kitchen and play food. Children love to cook lunch for the grown-ups in their lives, pretend babies, and stuffed animals. A kitchen set is the ultimate opportunity for working on language, cognitive, creative and social skills.
Keep an eye out for more recommendations as the holiday season progresses! And remember, no toy, at any price, replaces quality time with the child you love.