Parents often seek assistance in selecting the right toys at the most ideal stage of their child’s development. Many toys are designed for particular ages based on safety concerns; however, many others are designed to specifically encourage the development of certain abilities in a child.
In this article we will explore the fundamental skills developed by infants at varying ages, and the types of toys that can encourage children to reach their potential.
The Baby’s 1st Year
In the first year of a baby’s life, they begin exploring and experimenting with their most important senses:
Sound & Smell – In the first instance babies begin to match voices with certain faces and facial expressions, mainly from being held, fed and nurtured. Likewise, certain smells can be recognised and associations are gradually made. As they begin to establish these social attachments they become more receptive to different sounds and smells. Toys with sound and music that react to a child’s action are especially good at this stage, and simply letting your baby smell something and then see it can encourage development in this area.
Touch & Sight – As babies begin to take a little control of their hands; touching and feeling things become an important part of an infant's development. Similarly, as sight becomes clearer, babies become more receptive to visual aids. Toys for this age are designed to enhance and encourage these traits. Toys should be for seeing, hearing and touching - this encourages the child to respond to the sights and sounds they see and hear. Picture books with sound, teddy bears with different textures and pulley toys that respond to a child’s movement are especially beneficial after 6 months old. Toys in bright, monochromic colours can also help to stimulate eyesight in the first year of a child’s life.
Ages 1 to 2
This stage is an important time for developing independence and important social skills that will never be lost. Between the ages of 1 and 2 it is surprising how rapidly a child develops from a tentative toddler saying only 1 or 2 words, to a confident child able to easily run and speak around 50 individual words.
From the age of 1, infants begin taking an interest in the effects of their manipulation, and it is very fun to sit back and watch children at this age. They particularly enjoy throwing toys and building things, so building blocks Duplo, and stickle bricks are fantastic toys at this age for encouraging hand and eye coordination, as well as a sense of balance.
From around 18 months, infants are able to walk very well and can run to an extent. When objects are in the way - running can prove difficult. However, with their newfound freedom, children love to explore and try everything out, without a sense of danger, so toys that encourage active play at this age are well received. Balls, Sit n’ Rides , Activity Stations, toys that speak or make noises and toys of characters they see on TV are advantageous additions to a toy box at this age - they will encourage children to play actively, and it will also help them sleep well at bed time (an added bonus!).
Language progression is also crucial at this age. Children will begin responding when spoken to and chattering away when playing. This makes it important for adults to talk to children in conversations, read stories and sing nursery rhymes whenever possible.
Ages 2 Years +
As a child turns two years old their abilities in counting and speaking becomes clearer, and bodily strength in running and climbing becomes more refined.
At the turn of two years old, toys that have movement and sound and allow the child to throw and drop are ideal, as they will help to refine their physical strengths. Toys that allow the children to push themselves along, such as sit 'n' ride toys that allow children to steer are very desirable.
As they approach 3 years old, outdoor toys such as climbing frames and garden swings are great. Children at this age have good spatial awareness, and refined bodily strength. They can move large toys easily, kick balls forcefully and they also have the ability to use pedals on a bike.
An infant’s imagination will develop greatly at this age as well, which is why dressing up and a fascination with make believe is noticeable. Doll sets, action figures, train sets and such toys are favorable at this age and help children express themselves and explore their independence. Children will also start to play with others and learn social skills through play. Cooperation and taking turns are examples of skills that will become extremely important both at a young age and throughout life.
Showing off new skills to family is also a very common trait for children around 3 years and upwards. Toys that mimic adult tasks, such as vacuum cleaners, cookers, shop tills and lawn mowers are especially good for engaging with a child.
While we have focused on the initial, most advancing years of a child’s life in this article, toys have been proven to encourage creativity, self-confidence and academic skills throughout every stage of childhood.