Your toddler certainly knows how to keep you busy. Minimize those pant-tugging moments with toys that will not only keep your mini-me engaged, but will also support their growth and development. In this 2019 guide for developmental toys for toddlers, you will read about:

  • The importance of developmental toys for toddlers
  • What to look for in developmental toys for toddlers
  • The best developmental toys for toddlers
  • How to make the most of your toddler’s new toys
Toddler girl playing at a table with colorful wooden shapes; developmental toys for toddlers.

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Looking for developmental toys for babies? Check out the 2019 Gift Guide for Developmental Baby Toys.

The Importance of Developmental Toys for Toddlers

The toddler years are a magical time of growth, learning, and exploration. During this time, you want to facilitate your child’s ability to learn and make connections to the world around them. It is through the exploration of their environments that they are able to absorb new stimuli, process it through their senses, and then apply what they are learning.

Where do toys come into play with this development?

Many toys actually facilitate this learning and help support certain skills that your toddler is working on so that they can apply what they are absorbing faster and with ease.

Toddler boy stacking tall green, purple, and yellow soft, plush blocks.

The key is to find toys that are able to promote growth in the five areas of child development. These critical areas are:

  • cognitive development –how children learn from the environment
  • gross motor development –how children develop their larger body movement
  • fine motor development — how children develop the finer movements of their hands and fingers
  • social and emotional development –how children learn to interact with with others and regulate their own emotions
  • speech and language development –how children learn to communicate and express themselves

For example, a toy that involves putting shapes through their appropriately sized hole and into a bucket helps toddlers to improve both their fine motor and cognitive development. Fine motor skills are addressed when your little one picks up and manipulates a shape (along with the hand-eye coordination it takes to put the shape in the appropriate hole). Cognitive development is also addressed through the ability to match shapes to the appropriate hole by understanding the relationship between the shape and the hole and that shapes can look similar to one another.

WHat to Look for in Developmental Toys for Toddlers

Since toddlers are quickly learning everything about the environment around them, it is important to capitalize on the skills they will need to be successful, while also thinking about what is developmentally appropriate for them at their stage of development. Below are some of the key areas of growth that toddler toys need to address.

1. Imaginative Play

We all know how important it is for children to develop rich imaginations and practice pretend play. A great toddler toy will allow a child to engage in this pretend play and enrich the magic of the imagination. Going back to the basics of pretend kitchens, dollhouses, tea parties, mini-racetracks or construction sites, and more can be a great starting point for allowing your child to get absorbed in play and imagination.

2. Interactive

A great toddler toy is also interactive. It allows your child to manipulate pieces and bolster their creative thinking. Interactive toys also develop fine and gross motor skills because they force the child to move, grab, shake, dump, and more in order to play with it. Many interactive toys will now also encourage language development as they prompt children to respond or will enhance imaginative play that requires language expression.

colorful felt lowercase letters on a black felt board.

3. Cognitive

Toys that promote cognitive development are especially important for toddlers since their brains are rapidly making new connections to the environment they live in all the time. This type of development addresses any type of learning such as identifying colors, shapes, animals, and the ABCs. Beyond identifying, it also addresses the application of skills. So a toy that enables a child to think, learn, and use creative thinking/problem solving skills are perfect to help toddlers grow.

4. Kinesthetic

We all know just how active toddlers can be so a perfect toy for toddlers will allow for a lot of movement. Many kinesthetic toys promote fine and gross motor skills, helping children grow stronger in these areas. In addition, they help to expel a bunch of energy.

The Best Developmental Toys for Toddlers

Let’s take a look now at some toys that will light up your toddler’s eyes with delight. Note: Always check the age ranges for toys before purchasing to ensure you are making a safe choice for your little one.

1. Pounding Xylophone

This xylophone is unique because of the dual ways to play. Pound the balls through the hole and listen as they slide across the keys. Or, you can take the keys out and play music yourself.

2. Magic Doodle Mat

This Magic Doodle Aquamat is a great no-mess way for your little one to get creative. There are so many accessories for them to explore including shapes, numbers, and other stencils to help in drawing. This is an awesome cognitive toy for toddler to learn letters and numbers and practice their fine motor grip.

3. Play Kitchen

Play kitchens have gotten a serious upgrade from when I was little. With lights and sounds that make it more like a real kitchen, these newer toys help make imaginative play more fun and realistic. This set comes with 45 pieces and even has a spot for a pretend pet’s food and water dishes.

4. Tree Top Activity Center

This activity center has so much to offer and explore. The gliders, flaps, and more, your toddler will be strengthening their fine and gross motor skills while discovering all of the activities built into this little tree.

5. Tunnel Ball Pit

This tunnel/ball pit combo is a great indoor/outdoor activity for your little ones to have a blast in. Best part for mama? It collapses and folds away with ease. Your toddle will build a strong core by army crawling through the tunnel and playing in the ball pits. What a fun way to work on gross motor skills!

6. Bath Organizer with ABCs

This mesh bath organizer with letters and numbers is an awesome way to make bath time a little more fun. Your toddler will work on exercising those cognitive muscles while playing with letters and numbers. Keep them clean and dry by placing them in the organizer when not in use.

7. Boon Bath Pipes and Tubes

The Boon Bath Pipes and Tubes are a great cognitive toy that will intrigue your toddler during bath time. The different gears, shapes, and sizes of the tubes will have your little one examining cause and effect relationships while having a blast playing with water in the tub.

8. Smart Shots Sports Center

This dual sports center has a lot of features that provide your little one with the opportunity to learn about sports all while strengthening your child’s gross motor skills, core, and hand-eye/hand-foot coordination.

9. 3-in-1 Music Maker

Appeal to the musician in your little one by creating some Mozart masterpieces. This musical toy has a drum set, piano keys, and a xylophone so your toddler can explore and get that creative side of the brain working hard!

10. Animal Puzzles

Challenge your mini me with these animal puzzles. The puzzles will support cognitive development as your little one productively struggles to find where each piece fits.

11. Learning Puzzle Set

Everybody loves some Disney! These Disney-themed learning puzzles are a great first puzzle set for your toddler. The alphabet letters reveal a Disney character whose name begins with that letter while the numbers encourage one-to-one correspondence with objects for your little one to count.

12. Pizza Parlor Set

This is another great toy for imaginative play. Your toddler will love making different combinations of pizza at their mini-pizzeria. I love how there is an instruction sheet included, which is a fantastic way to build language and vocabulary. Practice teaching your little one how to follow instructions through pictures and orally. It is an essential skill for when they are ready to go to school.

13. Smart Wheels Choo Choo Express

This track offers so much to explore and facilitates cognitive development along with problem solving skills. For younger toddlers, parents can set up the track and help children learn the cause and effect relationships that children may come across while playing. As your toddler gets older, you can have them rearrange the track and even connect more tracks in the series to practice their problem solving and creative thinking skills.

14. Mega Blocks

This first building blocks set hits many areas of child development. First, your toddler is practicing cognitive development by learning how things fit together and build upon each other. I especially love this set because of the pictures on some of the blocks. These pictures address math skills, colors, and even some vocabulary. In addition, your toddler will improve their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination by having to pick up and use force to stack the blocks together. Overall, this is the perfect first building blocks set.

15. Jumbo Piano Mat

This 59″ floor piano is an amazing way for your child to practice self expression. The jumbo size allows for the development of gross motor skills while the numbers 1-7 help your toddler learn beginning numbers and understand the notes/scales in music. This piano allows you to record and playback music and features multiple instruments to promote creative expression.

Making the Most of your New Toys

As engaging as new toys are, they can never replace the interaction and learning that comes from you. Remember, you are your child’s first teacher. Make sure that you play with your child when they are enjoying their new toys and that you are supporting their growth.

How can you do this?

Boy kneeling on floor playing with a wooden train set.

Talk, talk, talk…and then talk some more! Your child is constantly absorbing the language around them and applying meaning to the words that you say. Using toys where you can label what your child is playing with and narrate what they are doing will help expand and support their rapidly growing vocabulary.

Model and demonstrate how to play with a toy, but allow for independent discovery. There are multiple schools of thought on what is best for children when it comes to play, but I feel a healthy mix of interaction and independent discovery is the perfect recipe for development. Allow your child to explore freely, but with your support and guidance. Like I mentioned earlier, your presence helps to build language skills and in addition, will help support social and emotional development.

However, this is just my opinion through my own experience and research and you should do whatever fits you and your family=)

What are some of your favorite developmental toys for toddlers? Share them in the comments below!

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