Toddlers are into absolutely everything. They are in the process of developing their large motor skills and hand eye coordination – rapidly. They love to move things, pull and push their ride on toys, open and close toddler toys and any toys (like wooden toys) which make noises.
Play is how toddlers learn about the world, and their toys have an important role in this. That needn’t mean a lot of expense – for example, you can make a good ‘den’ using a clothes rack and an old sheet, a house from a big cardboard box, or a shoe shop with all your shoes laid out in a row. A cardboard box can become a space rocket. That old hat you bought for a wedding can make them into a scarecrow.
However, a few key toys will prove a good investment.
These will help with early walking. Make sure the toy is sturdy and will not tip over easily if your toddler uses it to pull themself to their feet. These toys can be used in many kinds of play, especially if they have a storage section and can be loaded with smaller items. They make a good first birthday present as they are likely to be used daily for the next year or more.
Any toy that has several small people within it (a bus or plane with passengers, or moveable figures that fit inside a house) will allow your toddler to play at organising the world. They can be in charge, choose where people go and what they do. You may well find them talking as they play – about going to the shops, the park, grandma’s – remembering the things you do together.
This reflects their growing understanding of the world.
Most toddlers need a bath at the end of the day to get clean and to help them get ready for bed so bath toys are always good value. They teach lessons about cause and effect: “If I fill up the little boat, it sinks…” and also provide straightforward fun as they splash in the water.
Toddlers often imitate the things they see you doing. Offer them a mini dustpan and brush, plastic garden trowel and fork, or just their own cloth so they can ‘help’ you with the dusting. Water, bricks, sand – these simple things will help your toddler learn some basic things about the world. Play-dough can be moulded into very satisfying shapes. Why do some things change shape but others don’t? What makes the loudest crash when it’s dropped? Why will bricks stack on top of each other but balls won’t?
Push-along toys, shape-sorters and simple puzzles can all be fun, especially if you help. As they get older, CD players they can operate themselves to listen to music, rhymes and stories will be enjoyable too. And every toddler likes crayons and finger paints. This is the time when masterpieces start decorating the kitchen walls!
Just as your toddler in the second and third year learns to use their body they will spend a lot of time learning how to ‘be’ in the world as well. They may want to imitate their parents and will appreciate ‘real life’ toys like a tea set or a tool set so they can copy you. When you go out they may want to push their teddy in a buggy or drive a toy car. There will be times when you need to explain that this just isn’t going to work – but allow it when you can.
Make-believe games will become more important as your child grows. Dressing-up clothes are simple. Just a collection of your own old clothes, shoes and handbags can allow your child to be a doctor, a firefighter, a train driver, or a daddy to their toys.
If you have outside space a sandpit, paddling pool or mini climbing frame will get plenty of use each summer although they can be expensive. But even a cheap inflatable beach ball will get your toddler running about, rolling round on it, and learning how to kick and throw.
Before you buy any toy remember to check that it carries a Specification for the safety of toys NZ, which means that it meets the required minimum safety standards. Also check that it’s suitable for your child’s age.
Many activities need no special toys – playing with water in the kitchen sink, a walk to the park, a shopping trip to the supermarket, a ride on a bus, or half an hour bouncing on the bed can all give shared pleasure.
The Toy library Federation of NZ have a website pointing people to their nearest toy library