Walking through the toy aisle of a department store or scrolling through the toy section of an online shop can feel overwhelming. Should you buy a stuffed animal? A toy piano or set of blocks?
When it comes to shopping for their little ones, parents have more options than ever before, including a wide range of educational toys. We know now, too, that the toys we choose for our children can have a significant impact on their intellectual and emotional development.
If you’re not sure which toys to buy to foster learning and creativity in your child, keep reading. We’re sharing some of the best options we recommend for babies and toddlers.
Educational Benefits of Play
Learning doesn’t have to be boring or overly structured. For babies and toddlers, some of their most valuable learning experiences come through play.
The following are some of the top reasons why play should be encouraged to help children grow and develop:
Improved Communication Skills
Children develop key speech and language skills while at play, both when they’re playing with others and when they’re playing by themselves.
This second point might seem a bit surprising at first, but think about the last time you saw your child (or any child) playing alone. They were probably narrating the game or explaining to themselves (and anyone else who might have been listening) what they were doing.
When kids have a chance to use a variety of toys, they have more opportunities to expand their narrative and use different words and phrases they wouldn’t use otherwise.
Improved Social Skills
When children play with others, they also have a chance to work on their communication and social skills in an unstructured setting. For example, they learn how to share, handle conflict, and work through disagreements by finding compromises.
All of these skills are crucial for children’s psychosocial development. The more opportunities they have to practise them, the better they’ll be at overcoming the inevitable obstacles that will come their way as they get older.
Play helps children to become more confident, too. Play creates opportunities for children to try new things and explore games and activities they might not have known about otherwise.
The more exposure kids have to different experiences (including playing with new and educational toys), the more confidence they’ll gain over time. They’ll see that they can solve problems on their own and experiment with unfamiliar things safely and successfully.
Play also gives children a chance to become more creative.
It doesn’t matter if they’re playing with dolls, dressing up in costumes, or colouring with crayons. Unstructured play sets children up in the perfect environment to think outside of the box and create something new and exciting.
Improved Cognitive and Critical Thinking Skills
Play, especially when it includes a variety of toys and games, helps babies and toddlers to improve their cognitive and critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking involves analysing and sorting through information to make sense of it and apply it to specific situations. The frontal lobe of the brain, which is in charge of many important functions, including memory, speech, and attention span, plays a key role in critical thinking processes.
During play, children use their frontal lobes a great deal as they tell and listen to stories, identify patterns, shapes, and colours, and count. All of these activities, over time, improve their ability to think critically and can help them to perform better in school when they get older.
It’s never too early to think about your child’s academic future, and giving them lots of opportunities to play as toddlers and babies is a great first step.
Improved Motor Skills
Play is important for improving fine motor skills, too. The frontal lobe, in addition to being used for speech, memory, and attention, also controls voluntary motor movements.
By exposing babies and toddlers to a wide range of toys (including toys of varying textures and sizes), you give them opportunities to sharpen their fine motor skills and enhance their coordination and muscular control.
Working on their fine motor skills now will make it easier for your child to perform tasks like doing up buttons, zipping zippers, and writing with a pencil as they get older. It will also help them to perform large motor movements, like climbing or pedalling, with ease in the future.
Best Educational Toys for Babies and Toddlers
Now, let’s dive into some of the different educational toys you can choose from. The best picks for babies and toddlers are outlined below:
Reflective toys are great educational tools for babies. Holding a mirror up to their face gives them a chance to work on their visual senses. It’s also fun for them to see their reflection staring back at them.
Make sure the mirrored toys you give your baby are unbreakable, of course, so they don’t hurt themselves if they drop it or roll on top of it.
If you’re not sure how to incorporate unbreakable mirrors into your baby’s daily activities, consider holding it up while they’re having tummy time so you can keep them entertained and engaged longer.
When they’re 1-2 years of age, babies and toddlers may enjoy playing with puzzles.
Puzzles provide them with a fun opportunity to work on their fine motor skills and practice matching shapes, colours, etc. Puzzles often feature fun patterns and pictures, too, which makes them visually enticing and engaging toys for young children.
If you haven’t introduced puzzles into your child’s playtime yet, start with simple ones made of wood or foam. Make sure the pieces are large and aren’t potential choking hazards, too.
Nesting toys are a fun puzzle alternative for babies and toddlers. Nesting toys stack inside of each other and give young children opportunities to work on their fine motor skills and improve their perception of size and shape.
These toys are good for toddlers aged 1-2 years, but older infants (aged 7-12 months) can often play with and enjoy them as well. Just make sure, when you’re shopping, that the toys you pick out don’t contain too-small pieces that could become choking hazards.
Dolls are great toys for babies and toddlers of all genders. Playing with dolls presents lots of opportunities to be creative, practise language skills, and improve communication. They also give children a chance to practise being nurturing and caring for others.
For children aged 1-2 years, look for soft, durable dolls that withstand whatever games your baby or toddler wants to put them through. Older infants may enjoy dolls, too, just make sure they don’t come with any accessories that could be potential choking hazards.
Musical instruments are great toys for young children who need an opportunity to work on their fine motor skills.
Playing music improves memory and language skills, and it requires precise hand and finger movements. The earlier kids start practising these skills, the better.
Many toddler musical instruments also help them to learn basic notes and cords, too. The sooner you expose them to these types of toys, the sooner they’ll be able to start playing music!
Touch and Feel Books
Touch and feel books are often made of durable materials like wooden boards or vinyl, so they’re unlikely to be torn up by destructive babies and toddlers. These books feature a variety of materials, such as faux fur, faux scales, and scratchy sandpaper.
Exposing children to different textures helps to improve their fine motor skills and refine their sense of touch. Furthermore, reading books of all kinds also help them to improve their language and communication skills.
Building towers, houses, and other structures with blocks will allow children to work on their fine motor skills and practice creating something out of nothing. When they use these toys with friends, they get to work on their communication and cooperation skills, too.
You can introduce large, soft blocks to older infants (age 7-12 months). When your child is a bit older (1-2 years, for example), you can start introducing other types of blocks, including those made of wood or plastic. For toddlers aged 2 and older, you can also bring in blocks that snap together and use them to construct sturdier structures.
Babies and older infants likely aren’t old enough to appreciate the art of colouring. It’s also, generally, not safe for them to play with toys like crayons or markers.
For toddlers, though, colouring and other art-related activities give them a chance to enhance their creativity and work on strengthening their fine motor skills. Art projects help them to improve their memory, language, and communication skills, too.
Pick Up Some New Toys Today
You already knew that there were lots of options out there for educational toys for your baby or toddler. After reading through this guide, though, you hopefully have more insight into which toys are right for your child and are feeling less overwhelmed.
If you’re ready to start shopping, head to our shop and check out our new arrivals today!