A to Z’s of Early Childhood
The Science of Child Development and Learning
T is for Toys
Play serves an essential role in young children’s learning and development and toys are the tools of play. Research shows having positive experiences with toys while playing with caregivers and peers strengthens children’s thinking, relationships, and creativity.2,3 While toys can facilitate positive interactions during play, they do not substitute for warm, loving, dependable relationships. Anything can be a toy and there are many opportunities for play and discovery during everyday routines and activities with young children. Choosing the right toys at the right time nurtures overall cognitive, physical, language and social emotional development.1
Tips for Choosing Toys That Support Learning and Development:
1. Find toys that are developmentally appropriate and interesting.
When choosing toys for a young child, consider their ability level and preferences. For example, an older toddler who likes to play outside may like a toy shovel and pail. Some children may need toys that have been adapted to accommodate a motor, visual, or other disability. Other factors for identifying appropriate toys include:
- Family’s language and cultural preferences
- Home or learning environment
- Recommendations by published sources
2. Use toys to encourage learning through play.
3. Include toys in shared playtime.
- Developmentally Appropriate Toys
This resource from Mount Sinai provides information about toys that support children’s development in a variety of ways.
- Good Toys for Young Children by Age and Stage
Learn about age-appropriate toys, from birth to kindergarten, from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
- Why This Toy?
This NAEYC resource offers guidance to parents and caregivers on how to select toys for children.
- What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play
In this Q&A, a toy researcher explains the many effects toys have on children.
- Selecting Gifts for the Young Children in Your Life
Visit this website for fun, useful tips about giving gifts to children.
- Top 10 No-Cost Toys for Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
Learn about free ways to play with toys in this resource from NAEYC.
- Tips for Choosing Toys for Toddlers
This Zero to Three article guides parents and caregivers through selecting toys that help their toddlers’ growth and development.
Books and Articles By Center Members and Collaborators
- Snyder, P. A., & Hemmeter, M.L. (2018). (Eds.). Instruction: Effective strategies to support engagement, learning, and outcomes (DEC Recommended Practices Monograph Series No. 4). Washington, DC: Division for Early Childhood.
- Buysse, V. (1994). Toy play in infancy and early childhood: Normal development and special considerations for children with disabilities. In D.B. Bailey (Ed), Research synthesis on early intervention practices. Washington, DC: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
- Glassy, D., Romano, J., & Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2003). Selecting appropriate toys for young children: the pediatrician’s role. Pediatrics, 111(4), 911–913. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.111.4.911
- Mount Sinai (n.d.). Safe, fun, and developmentally appropriate toys: toddlers learn best through play. Mount Sinai Parenting Center. https://parenting.mountsinai.org/parent-guides/developmentally-appropriate-toys-2/
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (n.d.). What the research says: Impact of specific toys on play [interview]. National Association for the Education of Young Children. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/play/specific-toys-play
- Taylor, S.I., Morris, V.G., & Rogers, C.S. (1997). Toy safety and selection. Early Childhood Education Journal, 24, 235-238.
Dedicated to supporting the well-being of young children and their families, the Anita Zucker Center has engaged with its partners to launch an ambitious initiative designed to provide accessible and practical information about child development and learning to support parents, caregivers, professionals and policymakers.
The A to Z’s of Early Childhood is a trusted source that offers robust, quality and up-to-date information and resources informed by the science of early childhood development and learning – from short videos and quick tips to academic research and detailed policy briefs.