Choosing developmentally appropriate toys

The toys you choose for children affects different areas of child development.

Open-ended play refers to toys having the ability to be used in multiple ways without limiting a child’s imagination.
Open-ended play refers to toys having the ability to be used in multiple ways without limiting a child’s imagination.

There are many times we just don’t know what type of toy or game to purchase for a child. However, when thinking about children of all ages, it is important to choose the right option to enhance their playtime and overall developmental skills. There are many toys and games that increase and heighten a child’s developmental skills and abilities including physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. Choosing the right toy or game can increase independence, creativity and curiosity while exploring problem-solving, feelings and social interactions. When picking a toy or game it is important to keep in mind how it will enhance development and encourage exploration, experimentation and creativity.

The Toys R Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids offers many tips and developmentally appropriate ideas to help choose toys, games and activities based on skills in several developmental areas for children of all ages. The website also offers tips on using skill appropriate apps for multiple areas of child development. The Toys R Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids was developed as a collaboration with the National Lekotek Center “to identify items that help with the development of children with physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities. The organization reviewed hundreds of products to select those with exceptional qualities. Toys featured in the guide are suitable for children of varying skills and abilities.” Featured categories include: Auditory, Creativity, Fine Motor, Gross Motor, Language, Self Esteem, Social Skills, Tactile, Thinking and Visual.

AblePlay is another excellent website sponsored by the National Lekotek Center with developmentally appropriate product reviews with a toy rating system for children of all abilities.

It is very important to keep in mind the interests and abilities of the child you are choosing a toy or game for. Children have very different interests and preferences. Younger children, especially ages 18 months to 3 years, often enjoy toys that have a cause and effect nature. They enjoy turning switches, pushing buttons and activating lights and sounds. Puzzles and shape sorters tend to be popular with this age.

Preschool to kindergarten aged children tend to enjoy more advanced toys and games. They can be more social with their play and tend to move towards pretend toys that mimic real life objects such as vacuums, kitchen utensils, phones, computers and clothing. Costuming and pretend play at this age are a must, which greatly increase a child’s creativity, exploration and independence.

Michigan State University Extension emphasizes that toys and games made to develop creativity tend to increase a child’s curiosity of the world around them and they will often begin to show more interest in the daily activities of adults, such as cooking, cleaning and other daily chores.

When picking a toy, make sure to pay attention to its age appropriateness and to the skill level of the child. Though every toy has a recommended age, it may not be suitable for every child in that age group. It is most important to choose a toy based on the interests and abilities of the child rather than on what is just flashy and new. Ask the questions: Will the child enjoy this? Will the toy keep the child’s interest for a good period of time? Is this a toy the child will play with more often than not? At what age will the child no longer want this type of toy? How will the toy help the child grow developmentally, both individually and socially? When asking these types of questions, it will be much easier to choose a toy the child will enjoy and play with on a regular basis.

There are many items for children out there and it can be a fun adventure when choosing toys to enhance developmental skills. Many toys and games can only be used in a limited amount of ways (closed-ended); however, there are also a large amount of toys meant to encourage choice and creativity (open-ended).

Open-ended play refers to toys having the ability to be used in multiple ways without limiting a child’s imagination. For example, blocks can be used to build a house, make a freeway or create a robot. They can be used to teach shape, color and even texture. Children can paint with blocks, use them as stampers or just bang them together to create music.

Closed-ended play refers to toys that are very limited in their usage and are typically only meant for a small number of uses. Many board games are closed-ended as they have a specific set of rules for how to play. This type of play may be chosen for initiating new concepts or when learning to play together for the first time.

Whichever type of toy or game you choose, remember to keep the child’s interests and preferences in mind. You will often find that children will create a way to make play open-ended with all of their toys and games.

For more information about early childhood education and other topics, visit the MSU Extension website.

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