6 Tips for Selecting Toys to Improve Toddlers’ Language, Cognition, and Play

How to select toys for toddlers

How to select toys for toddlers

What toys will help my toddler talk, learn, problem solve, and play?

With the holidays around the corner, I know many of you are thinking, “I don’t want to waste money and buy just any trendy toy or character piece that my toddler will play with once then disregard.

How can I choose a toy that will get repeated use and build these skills in my toddler?

Well, you’ve come to right place. Amazon affiliate links included. Thank you for your support!

In the past, I’ve shared many toddler toy recommendations:

Speech Therapy Toys for Toddlers

More Speech Therapy Toys for Toddlers

Over at Scanlon Speech Therapy, I’ve also included toy and game recommendations for children in preschool and up.

Speech Therapy Toy Recommendations for Toddlers, Preschoolers, and School Age Children

  1. Select toys that do more than one thing.

If you are on a budget or are embracing a minimalistic approach to toys, I highly recommend toys that can be used multiple times in many different ways.

“Wise parents also think about the number of toys that children are given. While most toy rooms and bedrooms today are filled to the ceiling with toys, intentional parents learn to limit the number of toys that kids have to play with.” – Joshua Becker of becomingminimalist

Nesting and Stacking Blocks are a perfect example. Children can do all sorts of things with blocks. Dump ‘em, sort ‘em, stack ‘em, nest ‘em, knock ‘em down, and eventually create masterpieces.

How Blocks Promote Toddler Play

How Blocks Promote Toddler Play

If you’re on a budget, refrain from purchasing too many toys that only do one thing. A toy that only lights up when you turn it on is bound to become boring because it doesn’t encourage the child to do anything else with it. Children will bore quickly if the toy doesn’t…

  1. Foster exploration and curiosity.

Toddlers are hands-on explorers who are driven by impulse and curiosity. As a result they touch and manipulate EVERYTHING because doing so fires those synapses. When selecting a toy, ask yourself:

“Will this toy stimulate my child’s curiosity and sense of exploration?”

In my experience, toys that require manipulation to produce a result (e.g. Jack in The Box or a large spinning top) or create change (e.g. Y happens after X like B. Whacky Ball), or have multiple parts (e.g. Mr. Potato Head and shape sorters) will propel that sense of exploration and curiosity.

2. Are intrinsically motivating and interesting.

Toys that are intrinsically motivating build a child’s confidence, competence, and determination to persist and keep trying. Internal rewards that come from within trump any external rewards such as stickers or candy. Games, toys, and play routines that follow a toddler’s lead and interests have a greater likelihood of being intrinsically motivating and interesting. Questions to ask:

“Will figuring out the steps in the toy release dopamine and provide internal motivation to keep playing?” and “Will this toy appeal to his interests and likes?”

Please click the image below to download a free PDF to help you select an appropriate toy for the special child in your life.

Toys to Improve Language, Cognition, and Play

Toys to Improve Language, Cognition, and Play

3. Promote independence

Let’s face it, your child loves playing with you but there are times you need to get things done or just have a cup of coffee in peace (is that even possible?)

Select a few toys or activities your toddler can play with somewhat independently without too much assistance from you.

When deciding on a toy, ask yourself:

“How much support will my child need to understand and play with this toy?”

Puzzles, doodle pads, and Window Clings are good examples. Large serving spoons, utensils, kitchen Tupperware, empty cardboard boxes, or a collection of empty paper rolls are also fun!

independent toddler play with household items

independent toddler play with household items

Why not wrap some random FREE, household objects and put them under your tree?

Opening the gifts are half the fun anyway!

4. Increase socialization and pretend play

“When children are playing pretend they are playing ‘as if’ something or someone is real. They are creating a situation where there is more going on that what is literally happening. For example, a child might be placing a cup to the doll’s mouth and then lying the doll in a bed ‐ but to the child, the doll is alive and really drinking (and it might even burp) and when the doll is put in the bed, the doll is really sleeping – and so the child will have to wait until the doll wakes up.” – Dr. Karen Stagnitti of Children Need to Play

Depending on your child’s skills and developmental level, it’s also wise to purchase some toys that enhance make believe, promote role playing, and develop sequential thinking. Large dollhouses, Jumbo Cardboard Blocks,  and Kitchen Sets are toys that will assist in developing these skills.

Ever wonder why public sandboxes, swing sets, slides, and playgrounds are so popular with young children? The larger the play items the better chance other children will want to join in play!

5. Relate to on a personal level

I have met many toddlers that really like playing with my car wash set. The children who enjoy this set the most are those who know what a car wash is and or have gone to one. The point is,  children want to play with toys that make sense to their life experience and recreate or extend those events.

A child who has never been to a car wash may not understand a miniature car wash play set, even if you explain it to him. He needs to have an experience to compare it to.

3 More Things to Consider:

  1. Durability

Toddlers are strong and sometimes clumsy. Pass on the iPad, even if it’s in a great case, and select toys that can survive being dropped, crushed, stepped on and pulled apart.

2. Affordability

Don’t feel pressured to buy toys or gifts that you can’t afford.

“If I can’t afford to replace it, I shouldn’t buy it.”- Kimberly Scanlon

3. Safety

If your child is still putting everything in his mouth, read the labels and find out where the toys are manufactured. Stay away from toys that contain magnets and are brightly colored as they may contain lead paint.

Check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission for the latest recalls.

I hope this list has been helpful!!

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