A to Z’s of Early Childhood

The Science of Child Development and Learning

T is for Toys

Choosing Toys That Support Learning and Development

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:

  • Safety
  • Durability
  • Cost
  • Family’s language and cultural preferences
  • Home or learning environment
  • Recommendations by published sources

2. Use toys to encourage learning through play.

Young children learn best through play. Parents can observe the skills their child currently has and help expand those skills. Use toys for everyday learning opportunities, such as using a stick to draw lines in the sand with a toddler, which helps them learn how to write letters later on.

3. Include toys in shared playtime.

Routine back-and-forth interaction between caregiver and a young child are essential for healthy social emotional development. Make sure to share playtime with young children using toys that encourage interaction, such as bouncing a ball with a preschooler or pretending to “talk” with stuffed animals.

    What We and Our Partners Are Doing

    The Anita Zucker Center and its partners are helping families and practitioners use play and toys to engage children in learning opportunities during everyday routines and activities.

    Other Resources


    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.


    1. 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. 
    2. 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
    3. 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/ 
    4. 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
    5. Taylor, S.I., Morris, V.G., & Rogers, C.S. (1997). Toy safety and selection. Early Childhood Education Journal, 24, 235-238.


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