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(To help with development and creativity)

Little girl playing in sand tray

When my children were little I had a rule for extended family buying toys for them: No battery operated toys! Why? It wasn’t just because the sound of them all day is like a form of torture. It is also because, being the daughter of a play therapist, I had learned that certain toys have more play value than others. Toys which promote open-ended play, imagination, mastery and creativity rarely come with batteries. The rule of thumb is this: the more a toy can do by itself, the less useful it is to promote learning and development. Battery operated toys encourage the child to be passively entertained, rather than actively engaged. Some toys may be seen as educational because they ‘teach’ shapes, colours, numbers or the alphabet, but they are never as effective as human interaction when it comes to learning.

So what toys are good for providing open-ended play? Here is a list of some of my favourite play objects for children from 0-5:

0-3 Months

You are the best play thing your baby could have. Facial expressions are fascinating to your baby, and he is learning so much as he studies your face. He is not yet able to grasp, so he learns through sight, sounds, touch and bodily feelings. Spend time talking with him, singing, touching, gently massaging. Allow him time on a mat on the floor, where he can move his arms and legs freely. (do not place him on his tummy before he is able to roll over independently, as this can restrict his movement.)

3- 12 Months

Your baby has learned to grasp now, so objects which can be manipulated are ideal. Objects which have different textures, colours, or make different sounds. Once your child is able to sit up, household objects such as boxes, saucepans, lids, wooden spoon etc are interesting objects to explore.

Toys include stacking rings/ stacking cups, large snaplock beads to pull apart (and throw!), bath toys, cloth books or ‘bath’ books.

I used to keep a ‘treasure basket’, which I would fill with household objects with different textures and shapes. I would give it to my child to explore for a while and then put it away when he moved on to something else. I regularly changed the objects inside so it remained interesting.

18 months

Toys for this age group include cars, dolls, teddies, bed or cot for doll or teddy, a ‘posting’ box, large wooden beads, large truck for filling or dumping, push and pull toys, a selection of balls of different sizes, play doh (only under close supervision) musical instruments such as maracas, tambourine, xylophone, ‘rain stick’.

2-3 Years

Ride on toy, hammering bench, ‘gym’ ball, dolls house with people and furniture, animals, wooden blocks, sand and water, Duplo, art supplies, teddies, finger puppets or hand puppets.

3-5 Years

All of the above, plus- dressing up clothes and props (hats, animal masks, doctors set, scarves, phone, hero’s cape, different fabrics), play food and tea set, play shop, inflatable punching toy, wooden train set, Lego, clay.

And for all ages- I recommend books too!

Try not to have too many toys around the house. I used to have a rotation system, where I would store some toys out of sight, and every so often change them around so they had ‘new’ toys to play with. This meant less tidying and the children didn’t get bored with their toys so quickly.

A note on dolls- I recommend that you find dolls which look like children and try to avoid the ones which look like highly sexualised young women.


The Best Toys for Under Fives