Various toys can be used to support the learning and developmental process of infants, toddlers and young children. Choosing toys that are suitable for a child’s age and cognitive abilities will support the child’s development. One of the most important aspects in the development of infants is their ability to explore their environment, and therefore, toys that promote exploration are very beneficial to young children. As infants become toddlers and preschoolers, they develop social skills, which help them play and learn with other children. However, before the child becomes a preschooler, parents and caregivers must engage in play activities with infants to help promote further exploration.
Babies experience the world and learn new things through the structure of play. Young babies explore their environments by physically manipulating age-appropriate toys. Rattles, teething toys and other colorful toys grab the babies’ attention immediately. As babies develop and approach the age of one, their developmental skills are more sophisticated, and thus, many babies at the age of one have the ability to manipulate more advanced-level toys. Throughout this learning process, as infants acquire new cognitive abilities, early learning skills begin to integrate with new developmental skills.
Toys that use sound teach the idea of cause and effect. As babies manipulate musical toys, they develop their cognitive and emotional skills. Musical toys can be created from simple household items, such as bottles, cooking pans and cardboard boxes similar to store-bought toys. Age-appropriate musical toys become more advanced as babies get older.
Imagination and Interest
Toys help babies and young children develop imaginative skills through pretend play. Toys that represent a child’s interests, family and environment help to facilitate an environment of pretend play. Toddlers around the age of 2 and 3 years old begin to assert their independence and choose to play with toys that are more engaging to them. For instance, a toddler may prefer to play with dinosaurs rather than cars and vice versa. Promoting a child’s imagination and creative skills are effective when the child has a profound interest in the toy. Different personality traits in children influence their interests in selecting toys. Also, the child’s gender plays a huge factor in a child’s interest in selecting toys. However, in most instances, parents tend to encourage their children to select toys that conform to their gender. For example, parents may be more inclined to encourage a boy to play with cars or dinosaurs, whereas many parents tend to encourage girls to play with dolls or tea cups.
Age-appropriate educational toys help babies and young children develop the ability to process information, develop problem-solving skills and symbolic thinking. Stacking blocks and creating towers with blocks are very effective methods to help young children develop problem-solving and spatial visualization skills, as well as improve hand-eye coordination. Playing with play dough increases a child’s ability to use their imagination and make shapes. Other educational store-bought toys, such as toys designed to repeat sounds of letters help babies, toddlers and preschoolers imitate the sounds and connect pictures with letter sounds and words. Puppets are also educational toys, and children use puppets to tell stories and listen to stories being told by teachers, parents, and other children. Puppet play develops a child’s imagination and helps the children bring pretend characters to life. Puzzles are great educational toys as they aid in the cognitive development of young children through matching shapes with spaces and conceptualizing an overall picture.