Not all toys are created equal! Come find out my top pics for the best child development toys as a pediatric occupational therapist for all ages of kids from babies to toddlers to preschoolers to school aged children. Get the most out of the toys you give your child.
Long before I had kids of my own, I had a trunk full of toys because I’m an occupational therapist that worked in early intervention. My clients didn’t come to me. I couldn’t pull them into a therapy room. I knocked on their door and had to help kids develop with whatever was in their home or that I carried in my canvas bag.
Before each appointment, I’d pop open that trunk and grab universally awesome toys that encourage child development.
I should be honest though, I wasn’t really supposed to take toys into my clients home. I was supposed to use what they had, but sometimes that was next to impossible.
I quickly saw that some of the most popular toys that filled store shelves were missing the mark when it came to advancing child development. So many of the homes I went to were filled with electronic toys that could mesmerize a child, but I couldn’t use them to improve fine motor, gross motor, sensory processing, or even their speech.
Instead, I brought a few versatile toys that would work on those specific skills, but also support creativity, imagination, interaction, and problem solving.
While I can’t knock on your door and show you my most coveted developmental toys that help all kids learn and reach their milestones, I can give you a virtual peek inside my therapy bag. And, that’s just what I’m going to do in this post.
You’ll find a list of powerful toys to put in your child’s life, that I don’t only love as a therapist, but that are also in my kid’s toy bin!
Why Child Development Toys Really Matter
I think technology is a good thing. You’re here reading my blog, which wouldn’t be possible without it. I think teaching kids tech is good too. But, even for kids at a very early age, the market is dominated by toys that basically perform for a child. Those toys may teach your child letters and numbers, but there’s some big aspects of development that they’re missing.
And, some kids get lost in the electronic, tech-based toys which can have a big effect on their social skills too.
Choosing some developmental toys for your child can literally help them improve their balance, handwriting, ability to follow directions, and interact with others better.
Incredible Child Development Toys for Your Child!
In the list below, you’ll find over 25 different child development toys. I’ve organized the list into three age groups:
- Babies and Toddlers (age 6 months through 2 years)
- Preschoolers (2 – 5 years old)
- School Aged (6 -10+ years old)
However, look through all the suggestions because there’s definitely a lot of overlap between these ages. And, my 10 year old can still get lost in building with a basic block set. You can find more pics of any of the toys by clicking the links you’ll find throughout the post. Let’s get started….
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Child Development Toys for Babies and Toddlers
Stacking Cups – I give a set of these to every baby or toddler in my life. They’re cheap and durable. Can be used on the kitchen floor, in the tub, or in the sandbox and they develop fine-motor, visual perceptual, and problem solving skills.
Touch and Feel Board Books – The “That’s Not My _______” series is my favorite because they’re durable and create an interactive sensory experience while kids are being read to, an invaluable developmental activity. Babies and toddlers will find a unique texture to feel on every page. They can also happily flip the pages in these books with sturdy pages to hone their fine motor skills.
Pop Up Cause and Effect Box – This is one of my favorite cause and effect toys for toddlers. My kids had the same exact one and now it’s been passed to my sister’s toy box, which my older kids recently played with on Thanksgiving! It helps toddlers learn that what they do has an effect. The idea they can make things happen seems simple, but critical to the developing mind. And, all of the buttons specifically work on fine motor skills.
Spiky Ball – Yes, a ball! Smooth balls work just fine, but a spiky ball gives more sensory input, which I like. Push the ball back and forth. Gently toss the ball to practice catching, and kick to pass it and put into targets to encourage gross motor skills and bilateral integration.
Peg Puzzle – Puzzles can teach all sorts of learning concepts like numbers, letters, shapes, and colors. As an OT, I especially like the fine motor and visual perceptual benefits. For babies, look for big pegs, like this one, that can be gripped with the whole hand. For toddlers, look for tiny pegs, like this one, so they can work on their pincer grasp.
Classic Wooden Blocks – This toy is so classic it often gets overlooked, but every child should have some sort of block set. The developmental benefits are endless.
Ring Stacker – Another throw back toy that helps young toddlers develop their fine motor and visual perceptual skills.
Pop Beads – These giant beads require babies and toddlers to use both hands together to make a string of them together. Believe it or not, the critical skill of using both hands together, bilateral coordination, is a pre-cursor to reading!
Tap and Pound Bench with Xylophone – A cause and effect toy and musical instrument in one! This wooden toy is simply genius and will work on cognitive and fine motor skills.
Non-Toxic Finger Paints – Once your baby is 12 months, don’t hold back on pouring out the paint! You can stick them in the tub and finger paint the walls if that helps you with the mess. The sensory development and exploration finger paint provides is unmatched. This toy is a must!
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Child Developmental Toys for Preschoolers
Classic Games like Chutes and Ladders and Candyland – These games have been around forever for a reason! They teach kids turn-taking, sportsmanship, following directions, counting, as well as color and number recognition. Not to mention that moving those tiny pieces requires fine motor skills.
Toy Tweezers – An incredible fine motor tool that kids can use to pick up small items and put into a jar. Encourage imaginative play when you set out tweezers and other fun containers. If you prefer an organized tweezer activity, this Bee’s in the Hive is perfect!
Hopscotch Mat – My sister who is very crafty made one of these for my kids years ago and it’s been well loved. It can be used independently or as a game with multiple children. It helps kids develop crossing mid-line, bilateral coordination, balance, and gross motor skills.
Color By Number Coloring Book – Any coloring your child does is beneficial, and I’m a big fan of a box of crayons and scrap paper, but coloring by number books can help with number and color identification too.
Dress Up Bin – Grab a couple of dress up clothes that align with your child’s interests. A trip to a thrift store can get the job done, or you could pick up these fire-man, doctor, or ballerina dress up sets. Dress up clothes are perfect for helping your child increase their self-help skills, independence, and imaginative play.
If your dress up clothes have buttons, zippers, or fasteners, your kid will be working on fine motor skills too!
Scissors + Construction Paper – Children are capable of learning to use scissors at age 2, give them a child set and some thick construction paper to begin practicing this important fine motor skill!
Big Brick Blocks – That small block above, is still perfect for preschoolers, but I also love these big cardboard blocks that kids can build larger structures with! Incredible for creativity and pretend play.
Beads and String – Get larger wooden beads for younger preschoolers, like these. Or, if your child strings larger beads well, you can pick up some pony beads, most kids are capable by age 3, and string to help them develop fine motor and visual perceptual skills.
Aquadoodle Mat – I love this toy for toddlers and preschoolers! If you don’t like mess, this toy is for you. The special mat draws with their special water markers, and then disappears a few minutes later. Your child can practice drawing and coloring.
Playdough – Make it yourself or buy a set like this one. Encourage your child to roll, shape, flatten, and cut that play dough.This is a sensory-rich activity that packs a big fine motor punch too. School aged kids love playdough too!
Small Pop Beads – As your child gets older, these smaller pop beads are a wonderful way to work on bilateral coordination and fine motor skills.
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Child Development Toys for Older Kids 6+
Snap Circuits Jr. – I first saw this on Modern Parents Messy Kids and I scooped it up for my oldest son when he was 6. He’s now 10 and still loves this unique circuit board, which is an active way to learn about and manipulate electricity! Your child will learn to follow multi-step directions in this amazing STEM toy.
Sorry – This classic game is a favorite in our home. I included it on this list because the directions are more complex and it can be frustrating. And, it’s important for kids to learn to work through that!
Magic Loom – This simple tool allows kids to weave basic into complex bracelets and necklaces from mini rubber bands. This toy literally teaches kids a new skill while they work on more advanced visual perceptual and fine motor skills.
Lego Sets + Piles of Lego – We are a Lego family, and I grew up never being gifted a Lego set. I had no idea what I was missing. But, these genius sets hit just about all of the developmental boxes and they come in the largest variety of interests and topics. I’d recommend this one as a great starter set. But, getting a box of mixed Legos like this one with no directions, encourages creativity and originality!
Kerplunk – This is an OT favorite. Pulling the thin pegs out of the holes requires some dexterity, as does setting it up!
Perler Beads – My kids have gone through several phases of being obsessed with these iron together designs. They require a lot of fine motor, visual perception, and patience.
Target Throwing Game – Your child can sharpen their visual perceptual and gross motor skills with this fun target to throw velcro balls onto.
What to Do If Your Child Isn’t Interested in Child Development Toys
A lot of kids these days struggle to show any interest in child developmental toys. In fact, if you scrolled through the list above and thought, “These will just sit and collect dust”. It’s all the more reason you need a couple.
Because of our kids nearly constant access to screens, technology, and electronic toys, they have not been challenged to think creatively and to problem solve. In addition, they’re used to a more passive style of learning, instead of learning through action and experimentation.
But, it’s okay! Kids are extremely adaptable.
Choose a few of the developmental toys on the list above and sit down to play with these toys together. This is often what I’d find myself doing in an occupational therapy session with my clients, teaching them how to play, which is easier that it sounds.
There’s three quick tips you can do to teach your child how to play with developmental based toys:
1. Demonstate, demonstrate, demonstrate! Show them again and again. Act interested in the toy yourself.
2. Give them a chance to try for themselves. Resist helping them. As they turn the block different ways to get it to fit through the hole, it’ll be tempting to help them figure it out quickly, to show them, but that problem solving and trial and error is part of the learning and power of child developmental toys! The only exception to helping is that you want to avoid them getting too frustrated and giving up, sometimes offering a little help is necessary.
3. Take any pressure off yourself to “get” your child to play with any particular toy. Make the goal having fun and spending a few minutes together!
Now I want to hear from YOU! Do you have a child developmental toy that your kid loves and isn’t on the list? Tell me below!
And, if you’re a therapist or teacher, please chime in and share you’re valuable advice!
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Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 15 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.