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Toys with Intent: Carefully Choosing Materials for Play

Jan 10, 2019    |   Early Learning Spaces & Routines

In an interview with NAEYC, Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Professor of Early Childhood Education at the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University, shared research about toys and play. He stated that because different toys impact children’s behavior in different ways, teachers can and should be thoughtful about the decisions they make when selecting toys. “Once toys are selected, teachers can carefully observe their impact on children’s play. Do toys elicit a good balance of play behaviors, across social, intellectual, and creative areas of development?”

Toys for Each Age


Cynthia S. Hockman, an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, shared her recommendations for infants in an an article for UnityPoint Health: “Babies prepare for developmental achievements during their early months through a mix of motor, sensory and emotional experience.” She recommends rattles to strengthen muscles in hands and fingers and mirrors to stimulate skills in language and social development. Additionally, she suggests books with faces of other infants, animals, and high contrast colors to develop speech and language skills.


During toddlerhood, Zero to Three recommends toys that encourage exploration and problem solving, as well as toys which can be used in a variety of ways to stimulate logical thinking skills. For example, puzzles, blocks, clay and play-doh encourage creativity by offering an opportunity for children to “figure something out on their own…and help them become persistent problem-solvers. They also help children develop spatial relations skills (understanding how things fit together), hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills (using the small muscles in the hands and fingers).”


The Child Development Institute’s article, Selecting Toys to Encourage Your Child’s Learning & Development, suggests offering preschoolers items such as stuffed toys and dolls to enhance pretend play, a favorite activity at this age.  Preschoolers are also very active and will enjoy items that they can use outside such as sports equipment or sandbox accessories. And as with every age, books offer several opportunities for learning and enjoyment.

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