Eight must-haves toys and activities for increasing your preschooler’s developmental skills

Choosing appropriate toys, games and activities to enhance preschooler growth and overall development.

When choosing what to get for a preschooler, keep in mind the aspects of safety, durability and playability.
When choosing what to get for a preschooler, keep in mind the aspects of safety, durability and playability.

Whenever looking for toys, games and activities for preschoolers, it is very important to focus on items that will enhance overall skill levels in areas such as motor, language, social and emotional development. There are many options out there to choose from and children will typically play with just about any type of toy they get the chance to interact with.

When choosing what to get for a preschooler, keep in mind the aspects of safety, durability and playability. Choose items that offer preschooler engagement and the chance for cause and effect learning. In addition, choose toys, games and activities that offer open-ended play and the chance to use imagination. Often times, the classic toys of the 60s and 70s are still being produced and are tried and true examples of helping increase skills for preschoolers.

Below you will find a list of eight toys or items in no particular order that work to increase child development in multiple areas.

  1. Hula-hoop. Hula-hoops are great for increasing gross motor, social and emotional development. They are wonderful toys for engaging in physical and cooperative play. Practice jumping in and out of the hoop, or if you have more than one, hop from one hoop to another. Children can roll the hoop back and forth or just roll the hoop and chase after it. Preschoolers have great imaginations and will come up with multiple games and ways to use a hula-hoop that we may never think of as adults. Most of all, they will definitely be physically active.
  2. Puzzles. Puzzles are great to develop social, motor, cognitive and emotional skills. Puzzles are also a great way to support spatial reasoning skills as well. Children start out playing with three- to five-piece peg and board puzzles, so the natural progression is to move into nine- and 10-piece puzzles upwards to 25-piece puzzles at the preschool age. Play with puzzles with your child and help them learn to understand shapes, colors and patterns.
  3. Sensory bin. One of the best ways to provide sensory play at home is to create your own sensory bin. Sensory bins can provide increased motor, social and emotional development. A bin can be created with just a box or small, plastic tote. They can be filled with water, sand or dry foods such as beans and cereal. Feel free to hide small toys in the bin for children to dig for. Talk about what they find, how the bin feels and what else could be added for additional playability. Do not be afraid to get messy. Have fun with your sensory bin outside or on large tablecloths to catch all of the mess.
  4. Bubbles. Bubbles are great fun for preschoolers as they encourage kids to run, jump and chase them all around. You may choose to purchase pre-made bubbles; however, it is very easy to make them at home. There are many homemade recipes for bubbles online and nearly all of them are safe for children. A quick check of Pintrest and you will find plenty of recipes. Bubbles are great for promoting motor, social and cognitive development.
  5. Craft supplies. Allowing children open-ended play using craft supplies such as markers, crayons, paper, stickers, glue, string and tissue paper will allow them to be creative while expressing their own individuality. There is no right or wrong way to play with craft supplies, as long as the activity is safe, so give your children multiple items to manipulate and construct with, and remember, do not be afraid for them to get a little messy, as it is a big part of the learning process.
  6. Costumes. Pretend clothing is a great way to build cognitive, social and emotional skills. Costuming, and playing pretend, is a large part of development, which allows children to step outside of how they see their natural world to create a new place and time with their growing imagination. Often, preschoolers will costume together for pretend play, so it is a very good idea to offer different types, styles and sizes of clothes to fit each child’s individual imagination.
  7. Building toys. Items such as Lincoln Logs, Lego’s, Magnetic Blocks and WEDGits are great toys for building cognitive, motor, social and emotional development. Building toys and activities help children to develop their spatial and math skills while having fun using their own creativity. The best building toys offer multiple ways to play without having to use instructions. Many toys include ideas and instructions for things to build, but it is best for children to explore the pieces and build things from their own imagination.
  8. Puppets. You can get pre-made puppets or make your own out of socks or paper lunch sacks. Puppets promote motor and language development along with imagination. Use puppets to play and talk with your preschooler. Puppets can be used to sing silly, made-up songs and to read stories. They are also a great way to copy facial expressions and express different feelings and emotions.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following resources that offer more options and ideas for increasing your preschooler’s overall development.

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