Toys for Your Toddler

Toys for Your Toddler

It’s Christmas day.  You have spent the past two months shopping for the most PERFECT present for your little one.  You took ages to wrap it up in shiny paper and a fun bow.  With anticipation, you help your child to unwrap their new treasure, their eyes light up when they see it, you open it for them so that they can start playing with it right away….  And then they play with the box.



We’ve all had this moment with our children.  And while we may get frustrated or upset that they didn’t delve right into playing intensely with the toy we laboured over choosing, their interest in a box and some shiny paper is a testimony to the imaginative mind of your child.  It makes you wonder if you really need to be spending loads of money on lots of fancy toys!

Actually, you really don’t NEED to!  While advertisements for toy shops and brands encourage your child to hound you for the toy that everyone else is getting, there isn’t a great need for the newest fad, aside from the social pressure your child may feel.  So what SHOULD a child play with?  What are the essentials for every child’s play room (and garden)?

Creation Station

As evidenced by their interest in cardboard boxes, bubble wrap and wrapping paper, kids are inherently creative and imaginative beings.  Create a craft box or a section of the room for their artsy side.  Fill it with crayons, glue sticks, colourful buttons, coloured paper, pipe cleaners, child safe scissors, stickers, googly eyes, ribbons and glitter (if you’re daring or not too fussed about seeing glitter everywhere), and let your child’s imagination go!  There are some fabulous blogs like Pink and Green Mama,  The Crafty Crow or Molly Moo that will give the adventurous (or creative-impaired) a kick-start to some fun ideas.

Depending on the age of your child, you may want to keep the craft box put away and have it pulled out for rainy days, or when you can supervise.  And for the very young, who may prefer to EAT the crafts instead of make them, you can get crafty with finger paints and a nice big sheet on the floor! And hey, why not get an old cardboard box for their crafts and let your child decorate it!

Reading Corner

Any speech and language therapist will speak to you at length about the importance of reading and literacy!  You as a parent can encourage your child’s interest in books at any age (yes, even babies).  At first, you will just sit with your child, show them the pictures in books and talk about them.  But as your child gets older, they should be encouraged to independently look at and read books (even if they can’t read yet).  Set up a nice corner for reading:  comfy pillows or bean bag, nice box or shelf of books, maybe a lamp or light overhead so as to not strain little eyes.  And you don’t have to go out and purchase loads of books!  The library is a great resource and even your little one can get their very own library card, making them feel SO big! Even if you are limited for space, having a ‘book box’ visible and easily accessible for your child can encourage them to spend some time reading.

Writing and Letter Play

While we all are educated in understanding the importance of reading, we sometimes forget that writing is also an important aspect of literacy and educational success.  Magnetic letters for your fridge can encourage your child to start recognising letters.  Encouraging writing is as simple as a white or chalk board with dry erase markers or chalk within easy access for your child.  Have the board leaning against the wall on the floor (chalk may be easier to get out of a carpet or off the wall) and your little poet can begin to practice using their hands for making marks, lines, pictures or letters.

Fine Motor and Visio-spatial Development

Children need practice using their hands and fingers to complete more complicated activities, such as stringing beads or threading a string through a line of holes.  Completing jigsaws of increasing complexity with your child can help encourage these fine motor skills while also developing their visual skills, helping them to recognise parts (one jigsaw piece) of a whole (the completed picture).  Take those stringing beads, and encourage your child to match a bead pattern that you created, and you’ve then turned it into a pattern recognition game as well!  What about getting a muffin tin and having your child sort different types of foods (cereal O’s, cheese cubes, grapes, raisins, etc) into the individual spaces… then you have snack sorted!

Sensory Treasure Box

Help develop your child’s sensory system by creating a treasure box for your little one to explore:  crinkly paper, vibrating tooth brush, squishy toys, shiny or sparkly items, etc.  What about old herb jars they can smell or bumpy balls they can roll on their feet?  Daddy’s shaving foam is usually off limits, but put some on a children’s table and SPLAT! Greatest game ever.  Sprinkle some rice into the shaving foam for a new sensation.  Encourage letter recognition by writing your child’s name in the foam.  Pop your child into the bath afterwards and they’re already soaped up!

Pretend Play

Children begin to learn life skills through play, so supplying them with a range of pretend play toys is key.  In my humble opinion, every child needs a baby doll (yes, boys too).  Children can learn empathy and dressing skills when playing with a doll.  And while boys should be encouraged to play with dolls, houses and kitchen sets, so should girls be encouraged to play with garages, fire stations and farms.  With pretend play, you don’t necessarily need to think of your child as a boy or a girl, but as a child; a child who learns through play.  And what child doesn’t love to dress up?  Children LOVE to dress like mommy and daddy.  A box of your old clothes will go down a treat!

Big Movement Play

Gross motor skills are those that take your larger muscles to complete:  running, jumping, kicking, throwing, etc.  Daily, children should be encouraged to be physically active 60 minutes per day.  If you don’t have a garden for your child to play in, encouraging physical activity can be daunting.  Get Ireland Active created a The National Guidelines on Physical Activity for Ireland to help support the increased activity levels for all Irish citizens.

Don’t Break the Bank

Parents often feel pressure to buy the newest and most updated toys for their children.  But to be honest, children are happy as long as they have toys to stimulate their development.  So shop smart!  Charity shops are a favourite in our family, as are jumble sales, car boot sales, Done Deal and Gumtree.  How about swapping toys with a friend?  Children LOVE to play with other people’s toys, so they’d be delighted if they got to bring some of their mate’s toys home for a few days.

You are the Key

In the end, it is so important to remember that YOU are the best toy your child will ever have.  No toy they could play with would have the language, creativity, motor skills or emotional connection that you can stimulate. So take some time to sit down on the floor and play with your child every day!



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