Milestones & More: Developmental Toys

Nora Hedgecock, OTR/L - May 4, 2020

There is so much more to play than meets the eye. Play is essential to children’s cognitive, social-emotional, sensory, and motor development as well as their overall well-being. Through play, children learn problem-solving skills and how to regulate their emotions, move their bodies, and manipulate tools. These skills begin developing in infancy as babies interact with the world around them. 

Toys are the instruments of play. The right toy sparks a child’s interest and nurtures their development. As occupational therapists, we look at several qualities of toys to help kids play and learn. Some of the questions we ask when considering toys include:

  • Is the toy safe?
  • Does the toy stimulate different senses to support sensory development?
  • Is the toy versatile? Can it be played with in multiple ways and in different environments?
  • Does the toy encourage movement and/or manipulation to support motor skills?
  • Is the toy something that the child can “grow into”, finding new ways to play with it as their skills develop?
  • Does the toy encourage exploration, creativity and imagination?

When toys are simple in their design, they invite the child to initiate play and get more creative in their play. Toys that have screens, make lots of noise, or move on their own play for the child and do not allow children to develop play skills in the same way. Wooden toys are often more simple in their design, encouraging imaginative play, safer for baby (free from chemicals in plastic), and better for the environment.

Here are some of our favorite toys for babies at P2P! Links included :)

Baby Paper (newborns through toddlers): This paper is crinkly, making it fun to reach for and squeeze. The exterior is fabric, stimulating baby’s tactile sense, and the striped pattern makes it visually stimulating.

Peanut Ball or Exercise Ball (3 months and up): This is an extremely versatile item to support your baby’s development that we use all the time at P2P. You may already have one that you used as a birthing ball! For younger babies, lying on the ball can make tummy time easier. As baby gets older, slowly rocking on the ball provides vestibular input to help them get comfortable with more movement. For toddlers and up, walking arms out while keeping their belly on the ball is a great way to strengthen the upper body and support fine motor skills.

Textured Balls (6 months and up): Since baby’s main way to play is to touch and mouth, these balls are great for exploring a new texture and developing grasping skills. Place them in water, or surrounding baby in tummy time as a motivator to look at and reach for. Try rolling the ball up and down baby’s arms and legs to stimulate their tactile system and support body awareness. As your baby grows, they can chase these balls in crawling, and eventually learn to throw and kick.

Edible Finger Paint (6 months and up): Finger paint is a great way to get your baby comfortable with different textures and develop their fine motor skills. We love this edible line made from vegetable powders so you don’t have to worry about baby eating it. This is a great activity to do with baby wearing only a diaper so they can feel the paint on their whole body – get messy!

Pop Up Toy (12 months and up): This cute and simple toy is a great one for to work on finger isolation, hand-eye coordination, and cause and effect! As baby gets older, this toy also works on color matching.

Stacking Toy (12 months and up): Another great toy for hand-eye coordination, bimanual skills, and matching, this ring stacker is durable and versatile. Place pieces around baby in sitting with base in front of them to challenge their core strength and sitting balance.

Coin Box (12 months and up): This coin box is great for working on grasping skills and hand eye coordination. This toy will also help baby learn the concept of object permanence, an important cognitive milestone, of knowing an object still exists even when it is no longer visible.

Mix-Up Animagnets (2 years and up): Introducing P2P’s own toy, the animagnets! This toy supports your little one’s ability to use both hands together and grasping skills. The simple design of the animals also allows your child’s imagination to run wild! Have fun learning matching skills or getting silly as you mix them up to make new creatures!

We hope you enjoy these toys as much as we do! And don’t forget about the many items at home that can become great toys for baby as well – turn a cardboard box into a tunnel or a half-full water bottle into a maraca!

Happy playing!