Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How to Stimulate a Child's Mind


Choosing the Right Toys for Toddlers

By one year of age, your child's large motor skills are developing rapidly. Progress in toddlers' eye-hand coordination is noticeable. They are interested in moving objects. Toys to pull and push, especially those that make sounds as they move, are often favorites. Activities for toddlers that involve opening and closing, putting in and taking out, and playing peek-a- boo will delight them. Below we describe age-appropriate toys that are most fun for your toddler.

Toys for Toddlers (12 to 24 Months)

  • Blocks are ideal toys, all-time classics, because they are toys children can use in more than one way, and you can adapt them for use by children of different ages. Blocks for your toddler should be fairly large, with rounded edges and corners. Start with just a few made of cloth, foam or foam-filled vinyl, or molded plastic. As your child gets older, add to the block collection, including all the variations on this classic toy that appeal to you and your child.
  • Sorting toys help your child learn colors and develop manual dexterity. The most popular of these consists of four or more colorful rings in varying sizes that stack on a cone set into a solid or rocking base. It is best to save the ones in which the rings fit on the cone only in decreasing order for older toddlers.
  • Shape-recognition toys are suitable for toddlers closer to age two than age one. They are composed of bright wooden or plastic cubes or other geometric shapes the child drops through matching holes into a box or other holder. These toys help your child develop eye-hand coordination, matching skills, and shape recognition. They provide challenging learning activities, but if too many pieces are involved, a child may become frustrated.
  • Riding toys are for children who can walk by themselves. A child should be able to climb on and off without difficulty and maneuver the toy capably. Look for sturdiness, ease of movement, and secure seating. Your child's first riding toy won't have pedals, and it may come in molded plastic or wood in the shape of a horse or other animal, a wagon, or a car or truck.
  • Push-pull toys will be among your child's favorites when he can walk independently because of their movement and noise-making characteristics. Be sure the handles are covered with large safety balls. Your child can load wagons or trucks with other toys -- some even come equipped with block sets. More elaborate push-pull toys for older toddlers are called action toys. Favorites are such toys as school buses and airplanes outfitted with small wooden passengers that fit into color-coded seats. Younger toddlers need to be supervised when they play with toys with small accessories -- or you may want to keep small people figures put away until your child is beyond the mouthing stage.
  • Pounding toys are benches with pegs or balls to pound through holes. Some are large enough that your child can sit on them as he develops eye-hand coordination and both gross and fine motor skills. Wooden hammers present safety hazards for a child whose pounding action is still uncoordinated, and they can be dangerous when two or more children are present, so this is not a toy you want to buy too early unless you're willing to supervise its use.
  • Dolls are a good example of toys that have moved out of the arena of sex stereotyping as the needs of boys, as well as girls, to cuddle and love have been recognized. Boy and girl dressing dolls are outfitted in special clothes that offer practice in the skills of zipping, buttoning, snapping, and tying.

Toys for Older Toddlers (2 to 3 Years)

Your child's imaginative play skills are beginning to develop at this age, and you may often hear him talking with a toy or with an imaginary companion. Children this age enjoy imitating grown-ups by using adult-like tools and appliances. The more realistic the toy, the more apt it is to stimulate the creative play skills developing at this stage.

Other favorites are large-size riding toys with pedals and toys and equipment that call for throwing, jumping, climbing, and running actions, which strengthen the large muscles. Your child is able to concentrate on a quiet task and finds the small-muscle activities required to paint, put together puzzles, and use interlocking block sets enjoyable because of his increasingly improved eye-hand coordination.

  • Talking toys and dolls have a great appeal for children aged two to three and older. Talking boxes and books describe a picture to which a pointer is directed, and talking dolls repeat short, clever phrases. The strings on most talking toys must be pulled out all the way to hear the entire message, but most children don't seem to mind if they don't get it all. When buying a talking toy, it is important to make sure the phrases are distinctly spoken and clearly enunciated.
  • Trucks are especially good for outdoor play in sand. Those with movable parts, such as dump trucks, fire trucks, and cement mixers, are favorites. Be sure metal toy trucks do not have sharp edges and are rustproof. They should be easy to operate so your child won't become frustrated. Check trucks for stability, easy maneuverability, and securely attached wheels.
  • Trains may be of the push or the wind-up variety. Some of these trains have tracks an adult must assemble. A child should be able to easily place the train's cars on the track. In wind-up models, the winding mechanism must be easy to operate, and the train must move smoothly along the track without getting stuck.
  • Kitchen equipment is a favorite of both boys and girls. Durability is an important feature, and compactness may be a consideration for storage. Some appliances come separately; some are attached in models that include stove, sink, and refrigerator, all with intriguing details. The most expensive separate appliances are of molded plastic and very realistic, with doors that open and knobs that turn and click. Accessories may be included. At least some assembly by adults is required on most sets and single appliances.
  • Realistic tools and toys help children imitate adults. In selecting tools, which range from play drills and saws to complete tool chests, look for safety, durability, and manageability. Some tools can be made to run by pulling a cord and pushing a starter button, and some make realistic vibrating noises. Check stability and maneuverability in toys such as baby strollers, shopping baskets, and wheelbarrows. Metal toys should be rustproof, and wheels should roll easily. Among other popular realistic toys are telephones, both talking and nontalking. Talking phones are battery-operated, and some have viewing screens on which characters appear as they speak. Dashboards, reminiscent of the activity boxes babies love, are also popular. They may include such features as steering wheels with horns, clocks, windshield wipers, ignition keys, rearview mirrors, glove compartments, gear selectors, and speedometers.
  • Puzzles strengthen and enhance a child's eye-hand coordination, matching skills, and shape recognition. Be careful to match the intricacy of a puzzle with a child's development; a puzzle with too many pieces frustrates a child and discourages future attempts. Good first puzzles are sturdy, of plastic or wood, with only a very few large pieces, sometimes with small plastic knobs attached to each.
  • Play scenes provide children with opportunities to use their imaginations. Available in addition to regular dollhouses are such settings as garages, farms, and nursery schools. Accessories include family figures, cars, furniture, animals, and play equipment. The more familiar a child is with a particular setting, the more appealing it is. Play scenes should be easy to assemble, provide storage for their own individual pieces, and have moving features. The structure should be sturdy, and the number of pieces should not overwhelm the child.
  • Quiet-play toys encourage children around age three to concentrate as they develop motor and manipulatory skills. Children of this age can understand and enjoy simple games and can use fairly complicated realistic toys. Some toys for this age group help children understand money, tell time, or count. They should be challenging enough to maintain interest but not so difficult as to be frustrating. If a toy seems beyond your child's capability, put it away for a while and try it again when your child is a little older. Some quiet-play toys are interlocking blocks, play boards with adherent plastic or felt pieces, cameras, realistic household toys, puzzles, play scenes, and simple games a child can play alone.
  • Art. Now is the time for a variety of art materials, too: washable colored markers, crayons, paper, and finger paints. Artwork requires your supervision at first, but it is an important and necessary part of your child's development. Art fosters imagination and encourages creativity.

Of course, there are other activities you can do with your child to stimulate the senses, like reading, listening to music and playing games. On the next page, we address the subject of reading to your child. Included are tips on selecting age-appropriate books and information on the benefits reading imparts.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.