The possibilities are seemingly limitless when you start considering what toys to put in your playroom for a toddler. Should they be learning colors and shapes? What will keep them happy and engaged? What toys will be more than a passing phase? There is a lot to consider, especially if you want to find things that will be well loved, grow with your child, and meet their developmental needs.
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Like babies, toddlers are still exploring their world. Now that they can walk and talk, their world is rapidly expanding. They start to be interested in things outside their home such as big trucks and animals at the zoo.
Toddler play is also starting to involve other people. They are growing more interested in playing alongside other people and interacting through play in simple ways.
The biggest hallmark of the toddler phase is the desire to do things independently. Instead of relying on others to meet all of their needs, toddlers begin to do things on their own. It is common to hear a lot of “No!” and “Me do it” during these years.
How do all of these things relate to toys?
In their play environment, toddlers need:
- Engaging materials that stimulate curiosity and vocabulary, including shapes, numbers, letters, and colors.
- Open-ended toys that can be used in a social manner when desired.
- Materials to continue developing fine motor skills such as turning pages and holding drawing materials.
- Play materials placed on low open shelves so they can play independently.
- People who will respond to their needs and interact with them.
So what does this mean for your playroom?
If you have been following along with the Playroom 101 series you have a clean, attractive space and you are ready to add toys for your toddler. Now, what toys should you have available for them to play?
Toys for Building and Related Materials
Building is an excellent activity for developing hand-eye coordination, early math skills, and problem-solving skills. Blocks, Duplo’s, and Magna-Tiles are all excellent toys for this age. The best thing about any of these choices is that they will grow with your child. Young toddlers will bang them together and put them in and out of things, much like infants, but preschoolers will build castles with those very same materials. All along the way, your child will be developing important skills. Consider also including some trucks, Little People, pretend animals or trains in a basket nearby the building toys. As your child progresses through the toddler period, these will gradually get integrated into play together and offer more opportunities for imagination and language development.
Toys for Creating
Art materials are an important part of play starting in the toddler years. Crayons, markers, bingo dabbers, stickers and more offer opportunities to develop fine motor skills, learn about color, and develop creative expression. My favorite art material for young toddlers is Dot Art Markers or Bingo Dabbers. They are washable, easy to use, and produce brilliant colors. If you aren’t comfortable with having them out and available at all times, put them on a shelf or in a cabinet nearby and make sure to pull out an art invitation at least a few times a week for your toddler.
Toys for Pretending
One of my favorite milestones of the toddler age is the beginnings of pretend play. Most toddlers will start by imitating their parents. They will enjoy pretending to cook, talk on a cell phone, care for a baby, or do the other jobs they see parents and caregivers doing daily. At this age, pretend props and play will be simple. Some perfect pretend toys for this age include; bags or old purses, old hats, play food, old cell phones with batteries removed, and baby dolls.
Toys for Fine Motor and Cognitive Play
Puzzles, large wooden lacing beads, peg boards and shape sorters are all important materials for toddlers. These are materials that will help develop hand-eye coordination, wrist rotation, and problem-solving skills. The toys in this category will be fascinating to your child while they are developing that particular skill and then will unfortunately completely lose their thrill. I usually looked for deals online or traded toys with friends in this category, especially puzzles, to save money. It should be noted however, that these toys can be re-purposed in creative ways when your child outgrows them for sensory play, art activities, more.
Both Fiction and Non-Fiction Books
Books are a must for all ages. For toddlers, you want a mixture of durable board books and picture books. Look for a combination of non-fiction books that will mostly focus on labeling objects and short, simple picture books. You can find the books my twins enjoyed loved as toddlers on our Best Read Alouds for 0-3 Year Olds list and Best Books for One Year Olds list.
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Erin Buhr has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and works as a freelance writer and early childhood educator. She currently lives in Mississippi with husband and twin four year olds. You can read more by Erin on her blog, Bambini Travel, where she writes about family travel, children’s books, and preschool activities.