‘Tis the season for giving! Kids love presents. But when your little one is too young to tell Santa what they want, you might be left scratching your head. There are millions of toys out there. Which ones are the best to promote your baby or toddler’s development? I’ve made it easy for you! Here are some of my top toy picks based on my experience as a pediatric physical therapist and mom.
Birth to 6 Months
Young babies are just beginning to understand how their bodies can interact with the world around them. Their vision is still developing in the early weeks, so look for toys that are high contrast (black, white, and primary colors). Playtime at this age consists of tummy time, reaching and grasping lightweight toys, and bringing objects to their mouth. Some of my favorite toys for young babies are a tummy time book or mirror, the Oball, lightweight rattles, Sophie the Giraffe, a play gym.
6 to 12 Months
Once babies can sit (around 6 months) and crawl (around 8 months), they are all about seeing how they can affect their environment. Simple objects like blocks and stacking cups teach them about the 3D world, and cause and effect toys show them how their actions make an impact. They are learning to move around their environment by crawling, standing, cruising, or even walking. If you have the space, soft climbing structures are great for this age. Some of my favorite toys for older babies are this pop-up toy, the VTech push walker, stacking rings, PipSquigz, the Oball car, this crawling tunnel.
Welcome to toddlerhood! This age is marked by lots of firsts: first steps, first words, and possibly first temper tantrums too! One-year-olds are figuring out their independence. They like to do things on their own and love to see how they can affect objects and people around them. They will start to use symbolic pretend play, by pretending to do things like talk on the phone or take a bite of food. One-year-olds are usually ready for simple knob puzzles and shape sorters with the help of an adult. Some of my favorite toys for one-year-olds are the LeapFrog picnic basket, a bubble machine, a pretend phone, ride-on toys, small sports balls, this music kit, any pull-tab or lift-flap books.
The twos are not as terrible as their reputation. Two-year-olds are beginning to develop more complex pretend play, acting out multi-step tasks that they see every day. This is the age where play kitchens first become a big hit. They are also learning to run, jump and kick. They may be able to pedal a tricycle or use a balance bike. The more open-ended the toys are, the more they can use their imagination. Some great gifts for this age are Play Doh, Lego Duplo bricks, dress-up sets, a baby doll, sorting toys.
Three-year-olds are usually great at making up their own games. They can now begin to follow more directions and begin taking turns with others. They may be ready for simple matching games, basic sports, and obstacle courses. Their pretend play might involve more role-taking, and many 3-year-olds enjoy playing with figurines. Here are some of my favorite gifts for this age: a three-wheeled scooter, the Nugget play furniture, simple floor puzzles, Little People figurines, Magna-Tiles.
When it comes to buying gifts for your little one, don’t overthink it. Simple is usually better. Children flourish when they are given space to use their imaginations. There are no one-size-fits-all gift solutions, so follow your child’s interests. You know them best! Even if you don’t have a long white beard or wear a red suit!
Looking for gift ideas for the rest of the family? Check out our Favorite Things Holiday Gift Guide!