Educational Toys for Young Children by Age and Stage

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Aside from being safe, good toys for young children should correspond to their developmental stages and emerging abilities. Many safe and appropriate play and early learning materials are free items typically found at home. Children can find multiple uses for common household items such as cardboard boxes, plastic bowls, lids, and collections of plastic bottle tops. As you look at the lists of suggested toys for kids of different ages, keep in mind that every child grows and learns at a different pace. Items on one list can be good choices for kids younger and older than the suggested age range, as long as they are safe.

Toys for newborns (birth to 6 months)

Babies like to look at people — following them with their eyes. Please keep in mind that babies can't see colors well, so black-and-white designs with interesting patterns will catch their attention. At the same time, you should spend a lot of time on your baby's stomach to help them learn how to roll over, reach for toys, and sit up with help.

Toy categories for infants: 

  • - Things they can reach for, hold, suck on, shake, and make noise with
  • - Things to listen to 
  • - Things to look at 

Extra ideas:

  • - Toys featuring stark color contrasts between black, white, and red
  • - Music players or toys that make music and light up
  • - Soothing sounds and lights (e.g., aquarium, rain stick, musical ring stacker)
  • - Activity quilts and play mats/busy gyms with stimulating parts for tummy time and with hanging toys to promote reaching and swatting when the child is on his or her back
  • - Colorful teething rings
  • - Books or toys with varied textures
  • - Small ballы with holes to allow the child to grip with both hands
  • - Rattles, either handheld, sock, or wrist 

Toys for toddlers aged 7 to 12 months

Babies about this age are always on the go, progressing from rolling over and sitting to scooting, bouncing, creeping, pulling themselves up, and eventually standing. They understand their own names and other common words, can identify body parts, find hidden objects, and put things in and out of containers.


Toy categories for older infants:

  • - Things to play pretend with
  • - Things to drop and take out
  • - Things to build with
  • - Things to use their large muscles with

Extra ideas:

  • - Stationary play table with music, buttons, and levers to operate (many of these tables can be adjusted by adding or subtracting legs – use it with no legs for tummy time, two legs for seated play, and four legs for standing activities)
  • - Stacking blocks or rings
  • - Pop beads, blocks, or toys that pull apart
  • - Shape sorters and containers to put in and take out objects
  • - Cause-and-effect toys
  • - Board books
  • - Musical instruments (keyboard, xylophone, drums, tambourine) give great multisensory feedback, encourage engagement with others, singing and hand use
  • - “Push and go” cars or trains, balls, and other toys that move to promote crawling and environmental exploration
  • - Standing push toys (e.g., shopping carts, lawnmowers, etc.)

Toys for 1-year-olds

One-year-olds are on the go! Typically they can walk steadily and even climb stairs. They enjoy stories, say their first words, and can play next to other children. They like to experiment—but need adults to keep them safe.


Toy categories for 1 - year-olds

  • - Things to create with
  • - Things to pretend with
  • - Things to build with
  • - Things for using their large and small muscles

Extra ideas:

  • Board books with simple illustrations or photographs of real objects
  • Recordings with songs, rhymes, simple stories, and pictures
  • Wide non-toxic, washable markers, crayons, and giant paper
  • Toy phones, dolls and doll beds, baby carriages and strollers, dress-up accessories (scarves, purses), puppets, stuffed toys, plastic animals, and plastic and wood “realistic” vehicles
  • Cardboard and wood blocks (can be smaller than those used by infants—2 to 4 inches)
  • Montessori puzzles, large pegboards, toys with parts that do things (dials, switches, knobs, lids), and large and small balls

Toys for 2-year-olds

Toddlers pick up the language quickly and can tell when something is dangerous. Still, they do a lot of physical "testing," like jumping from high places, climbing, hanging by their arms, rolling, and playing rough. They know how to use their hands and fingers well and like to play with small things.

Toy categories for 2 - year-olds

  • - Things for solving problems
  • - Things for pretending and building
  • - Things to create with
  • - Things for using their large and small muscles

Extra ideas:

  • - Montessori wood puzzles (4 to 12 pieces), blocks that snap together, objects to sort (by size, shape, color, and smell), and things with hooks, buttons, buckles, and snaps
  • -  Smaller (and sturdy) transportation toys, construction sets, child-sized Montessori furniture (kitchen sets, chairs, play food), dress-up clothes, dolls with accessories, puppets, and sand and water play toys
  • - Washable crayons and markers, large paintbrushes and fingerpaint, large paper for drawing and painting, colored construction paper, toddler-sized scissors with blunt tips, chalkboard and large chalk, and rhythm instruments
    - Stacking toys with sorting of different shapes and colors
  • - Picture books with more details than books for younger children
  • - Large and small balls for kicking and throwing, ride-on equipment (but probably not tricycles until children are 3), tunnels, low climbers with soft material underneath, and pounding and hammering toys
  • - Ride-on toys
  • - Toys on a pull string (e.g., dog on wheels on a leash)

Toys for 3- to 5-year-olds (preschoolers and kindergarteners)

The attention spans of preschoolers and kindergarteners are longer than those of infants. Typically, they speak extensively and pose numerous questions. They enjoy experimenting with objects and their still-developing physical abilities. They enjoy playing with peers but dislike losing. Older preschoolers and kindergarteners can frequently share a toy with two or more children and take shifts with it.

Toy categories for  3- to 5-year-olds:

  • - Things for solving problems
  • - Things for pretending and building
  • - Things to create with
  • - Things for using their large and small muscles

Extra ideas:

  • Montessori puzzles (with 12 to 20+ pieces), blocks that snap together, collections and other smaller objects to sort by length, width, height,  shape, color, smell, quantity, and other features — collections of plastic bottle caps, plastic bowls, and lids, keys, shells, counting bears, small colored blocks
  • Many blocks for building complex structures, transportation toys, construction sets, child-sized Montessori furniture (“apartment” sets, play food), dress-up clothes, dolls with accessories, puppets and simple puppet theaters, and sand and water play toys
  • Large and small paper for drawing and painting, colored construction paper, preschooler-sized scissors, chalkboard, large and small chalk, modeling clay and playdough, modeling tools, paste, paper, and cloth  scraps for collage
  • Rhythm instruments and keyboards, xylophones, maracas, and tambourines
  • Large and small balls for kicking and throwing/catching, ride-on equipment including tricycles, tunnels, taller  climbers with soft material underneath, wagons and wheelbarrows, plastic bats and balls, plastic bowling pins, targets, and things to throw at them, and workbench with a vise, hammer, nails, and saw
  • Picture books with even more words and more detailed pictures than toddler books

Pro-tip! If a child has access to a computer, they can use interactive (the child can do something) and understandable programs (the software uses graphics and spoken instruction, not just print), they can control the software's pace and path, and they can explore a variety of concepts on multiple levels.

Safety First! 

Toys for babies and toddlers should be made of high-quality materials (no sharp edges, splinters, or pinch points), painted with non-toxic, lead-free paint, and be hard to break and easy to clean.

When shopping for toys for kids younger than three, you should also make sure that none of them have small parts or pieces that could get stuck in a child's throat and cause them to suffocate.

It's important to remember that regular use and wear can turn a toy that was once safe into one that is dangerous. To make sure that children's toys are still in good condition, responsible adults must check on them regularly.