Parenting Resource

Best Toys for Babies & Toddlers

Nov 7, 2019

As the holidays approach, choose gifts that will spark your child’s imagination and stand the test of time.

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Children explore the world through play, figuring out how things work and how people think, feel, and act in different situations. Play also provides lots of practice in using language, telling stories, and solving problems. Here’s how to choose toys that that will spark your little one’s imagination and stand the test of time.

What about electronic toys? Don’t be fooled by claims that fancy toys will make your baby smarter. There is no research that shows that adding lights and sound boosts a child’s brain power. Remember: the more the toy is doing, the less your child is learning.

Birth to 9 months:

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  • Sensory-rich toys like mobiles, rattles, and teethers.
  • Pop-up toys (like baby-friendly jack-in-the-boxes) and busy boxes.
  • Early pretend play toys like baby-safe rolling vehicles and dolls.
  • Simple musical instruments (like maracas, drums, or xylophone).
  • Board books like Please Mr. Panda (by Steve Antony), Black Bird, Yellow Sun (by Steve Light), Wheels on the Bus (by Paul O. Zelinsky), or Peek-a-Who (by Elsa Mroziewicz).

9 to 18 months:

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  • Toys that imitate real life, such as toy tools, play food, and animal figurines.
  • Problem-solving toys, such as stacking cups, stacking rings, and simple puzzles with knobs.
  • Push and pull toys and balls that encourage active toddlers to move.
  • Great stories like: Pete the Cat (by James Dean and illustrated by Eric Litwin), A Good Day for a Hat (by T. Nat Fuller and illustrated by Nate Hodgson), Here George (by Sandra Boynton and illustrated by George Booth), or Hello Hello (by Brendan Wenzel).

18 to 36 months:

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  • Art materials like play dough, crayons, washable markers, and child-safe finger paints.
  • Pretend play props like dress-up clothes, kitchen items, doctor’s kit, telephone, toy figurines, toy vehicles/tools, dolls, and stuffed animals.
  • Problem-solving toys like puzzles with knobs, shape-sorters, and different types of blocks (foam blocks, wooden blocks, chucky interlocking plastic blocks)
  • Active play toys like balls or toddler-friendly bowling sets.
  • Fun books like: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (by Mo Willems), Escargot (by Dashka Slater), From Head to Toe (by Eric Carle), or When’s My Birthday (by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by: Christian Robinson).

Your presence is the present. The holidays are a time to build traditions and make memories. Be sure to make time to slow down and “just be” during the holiday season. You are your little one’s favorite toy and your attention is everything. Make time for “special” traditions this season, as well as everyday moments to play and connect.


About Baby Steps

This article was featured in Baby Steps, a ZERO TO THREE newsletter for parents and caregivers. Each issue offers science-based information on a topic of interest to parents and caregivers of young children—from sleep to challenging behaviors, and everything in between.

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