As an early childhood educator and mom, friends often ask me for advice on books and toys to support their child’s development. Below are some of my favorite toys and books for this age group. I hope you find this helpful! Leave a comment with your favorite products!
1. Piggy Bank Toys
Why: This toy is fantastic for fine motor development and hand-eye coordination. It also lends itself to teaching simple instructions (e.g., put in, take out) and turn-taking. As your little one ages, this toy can be used to teach colors, counting, animals, and even Spanish. The manufacturer recommends this toy beginning at 6 months of age.
2. Ring Stackers
Example: Fisher-Price Light-Up Lion Stacker
Why: Similar to the Piggy Bank toy listed above, ring stackers are generally great for addressing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. As an early childhood educator, I have tested out many different ring stackers over the years – this one is my favorite starter stacker. I like this model for children in this age group because the rings are larger than most, making them easier for little hands to hold and manipulate. The rings also have larger center openings than many other models, which, again, helps little ones to be successful. Finally, this ring stacker comes equipped with built-in reinforcement (well, it functions as reinforcement for many children). The stacker produces a sound each time a ring is placed, and when the final piece is positioned, the stacker lights up and plays music. For many young learners, this feedback can help to create motivation and encourage them to continue engaging with the toy. Early language skills can also be built into this activity (e.g., put on, take off). As your child ages, this toy can be utilized to address colors and sizes. The manufacturer recommends this product for children ages 6 months – 3 years.
3. Shape Sorters
Example: Battat Sound Puzzle Box
Why: Shape sorters are wonderful for working on visual performance and fine motor skills. They also naturally create opportunities to address colors and shapes as your child ages. Additionally, I like that these types of toys encourage problem-solving. I love this particular product as a first shape sorter for two primary reasons. (1) This product utilizes a field of 3 (i.e., there are three openings) rather than a field of 6-12, as many similar products do. Of course, little ones can graduate to these more complex shape sorters, but I think 3 is a great place to start, as it is less overwhelming and helps to set the child up for success. (2) The shapes produce a silly sound when properly placed, which, as I mentioned in the previous product description, may function as built-in reinforcement. The manufacturer recommends this toy beginning at 12 months of age; I began using it with my son, under my supervision, at 9 months.
4. Pop-Up Toys
Example: Playskool Play Poppin’ Pals
Why: Cause-and-effect toys are generally wonderful for this age group. In a very basic way, these types of products help a child to learn that their actions have effects/consequences. These toys also tend to address fine motor skills. While there are many wonderful pop-up options on the market, I prefer this model because it offers a variety of knobs/buttons and the animals are motivating for many children. The manufacturer recommends this product for children over the age of 9 months.
5. Moving Toys
Why: This toy is wonderful for facilitating gross motor development, as it encourages walking and crawling. Additionally, it requires children to locate, pick up, and place balls. It has two settings: one on which the toy moves and one on which it does not. These setting options allow the toy to grow with your child. As your child ages, this product can be utilized to address early academic skills, such as colors and counting. The manufacturer recommends this toy for children ages 9 months – 3 years.
6. Vehicle Toys
Example: VTech Drop and Go Dump Truck
Why: Vehicle toys can be great for this age group and beyond. They help little ones to develop an understanding of cause-effect relationships and also lend themselves to lots of pretend play schemas, as well as turn-taking. While there are many great vehicle toys, this one has been a favorite in my home. This particular model can be easily pushed or pulled by a string, and the bed of the dump truck can be manipulated by young children. Additionally, it incorporates early fine motor and visual performance skills by coming equipped with several boulders (i.e., balls) to be placed in a specific opening in the truck. The manufacturer suggests this toy for children in the 6 month – 3 year age range.
Example: Melissa & Doug Ball
Why: Classic toys are classic for a reason, right? Sometimes the simplest items wind up being our children’s favorite toys. Balls are wonderful toys for children in this developmental range. They can be used to address countless skills, including but not limited to: fine motor, cause-effect, gross motor, turn-taking, and early language (e.g. my turn, your turn, throw, catch, bounce, roll). I happen to like this particular ball because it is durable and colorful, but any similar ball should work just as well. The manufacturer suggests this ball for children 2 – 5 years of age; I have used this product with my son, under my supervision, since he was approximately 9 months of age.
8. Nesting Cups & Blocks
Example: World of Eric Carle Nesting Blocks
Example: Rainbow Stacking and Nesting Cups
Why: I have to admit that I did not fully understand the wonder of nesting cups and blocks until I became a parent myself. My son has been drawn to these toys since he was a baby and still plays with them over a year later. His play has evolved over time, from initially tapping them together to produce a sound, to pushing over towers built by others, to nesting/stacking independently, to now incorporating them in pretend play (e.g., as drinking cups). Nesting and stacking cups/blocks can address all of these skills and more (e.g., counting, colors, sizes, numbers)! The nesting block manufacturer recommends this product for children over the age of 6 months.
9. Ball Runs & Mazes
Example: Battat Pound and Roll Toy
Why: By now you are probably getting the hint that motor, cause-effect, visual performance, and early language modeling are important in this age group! This toy is able to address all of those skills and also adds in the element of using tools/utensils. This is an interesting concept for young learners who are just beginning to understand how tools/utensils can be used to assist them (e.g., during mealtime). This product can also be used to address turn-taking, colors, and counting. The manufacturer recommends this toy for children ages 12 months – 8 years; my son began using this toy, under my supervision, at the age of 10 months.
Example: Hohner 4-Piece Baby Band
Why: Music is often fun and motivating for young children. Incorporating music/dance/instrument time into your child’s day can help to address gross and fine motor skills, as well as imitation skills (e.g. your child may imitate you shaking a maraca or tapping a tambourine). Not to mention that you may be helping your child establish a love of music while having fun together! This particular instrument set is well-made, durable, and designed to be held by little hands. The manufacturer indicates that this set has been safety tested and approved for children over the age of 3 months.
Example: Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Bubbles
Why: Bubbles are a fun staple in nearly every baby and toddler class around! Bubbles, when blown by an adult, help to address visual tracking, hand-eye coordination, and even finger isolation. They can also encourage gross motor development. Melissa & Doug offers a variety of bubble options. The manufacturer suggests this product for children ages 3 years and above; I have used bubbles with my son since he was approximately 6 months old. Our bubbles were only handled/controlled by adults (never children under the age of 3 years), and they were stored out of the reach of children.
For this age group, I highly recommend purchasing board books whenever possible, as opposed to hardcover or paperback. Board books are much more durable and better withstand the “love” they will receive from kiddos in this developmental range.
- Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
- Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
- Peek-a-Who by Nina Laden
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- That’s Not My… (series) by Fiona Watt
- The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton
- Daddy Hugs / Mommy Hugs by Karen Katz
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (S&F) by Bill Martin Jr, & Eric Carle
- Do Cows Meow? / Do Crocs Kiss? by Salina Yoon
- Where is Baby’s Belly Button? by Karen Katz
- Subway (for my fellow New Yorkers!) by Anatasia Suen & Karen Katz
- One Lonely Fish by Andy Mansfield
- Everything is Mama / Your Baby’s First Word Will Be Dada by Jimmy Fallon
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Note: These lists include products that have worked for our family. What works for our family may be different than what works for others. Parents and caregivers must always use their own judgment and properly research product safety prior to use.
Written by Ashley Abeles