Toys and Toddlers, Preschoolers

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Harvard Medical School
Chrome 2001
Chrome 2001

Toys and Toddlers, Preschoolers

Guiding Your Child Through The Early Years
Toys and Toddlers, Preschoolers
Toys and Toddlers, Preschoolers
Understand that toys are an important contribution to the learning process.
InteliHealth Medical Content
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Toys and Toddlers, Preschoolers


While playing with toys is fun, children also learn a lot, as toys increase their understanding of the world and how things work. Remember trying to force puzzle pieces together or fit square pegs into round holes? A toddler giggles when repeatedly dropping a block from her highchair, but she is also learning about gravity (and about her caregiver's patience). When children manipulate objects, they develop physical skills such as manual dexterity and coordination. When children play games together, they improve language skills, and learn about sharing, playing fair and taking turns.

The value of a toy is unrelated to its price tag. Rather, it should be judged by its appropriateness for the child's developmental stage and the amount of creative play it inspires. Many simple, inexpensive toys stimulate a child's imagination more than fancy, expensive ones.

When selecting a toy for a toddler or preschool-age child, choose one that matches the child's age and developmental stage but always think safety first. Parents can buy a choke testing tube to determine if a toy has small parts that could be a choking hazard. Be aware that there are toys which pass the tube test, but can still be a choking hazard.

Choosing safe toys

In 2012, an estimated 265,000 children were treated in emergency departments for toy-related injuries. Eleven toy-related deaths were reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Not all toys are for all children.

  • Read and strictly follow labels for age and safety recommendations.
  • Look for toys that carry the seal of approval from the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the letters ASTM, which indicate the product meets national safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
  • Match toys to the child's age and abilities.
  • Do not give toys with small parts to children younger than 3 years of age. If a piece of a toy fits inside a toilet paper roll, it should be considered a choking hazard for small children.
  • Avoid toys with cords or strings that may strangle infants or young children.
  • Avoid toys that shoot small objects.
  • Avoid toys that make loud or shrill noise than can damage hearing.
  • By law, new toys intended for children younger than age 8 should not have sharp metal or glass edges.
  • Remember to include appropriate protective gear, such as helmets with bicycles.

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Choosing developmentally and age-appropriate toys

Children will be bored with toys that are too easy for them and frustrated with toys that are too difficult.

Toddlers are exploring their world and experimenting with everything. They learn by pushing, pulling, throwing and banging on their toys. Toddlers would enjoy playing with:

  • Nesting cups, blocks or stacking rings
  • Large balls made of durable, washable plastic or soft cloth
  • Simple wooden puzzles with knobs on each piece
  • Objects to imitate adults: toy telephone, pots and pans, plastic dishes, broom
  • Washable cloth picture books, board books, rough-smooth touching books, nursery rhymes
  • Push-pull toys, especially those that make noise when they move
  • Building blocks (larger versions that are safe for younger children)
  • Pounding bench with hammer and pegs
  • Riding toys such as large, foot-propelled scooters, tractors, horses
  • Dolls and soft animals

Preschool-age children are developing their imagination and their independence. They are expanding their vocabularies and like to imitate people around them. Preschoolers would enjoy playing with:

  • Transportation toys: cars, trucks, bulldozers, tractors, trains
  • Cuddly toy animals, washable dolls
  • Simple musical instruments: drums, tambourine, triangle, rhythm sticks, castanets
  • Tricycles
  • Play household items: kitchen with cooking equipment and dishes, workbench with play tools, dollhouse with furniture
  • Books: silly stories and nursery rhymes, books about familiar people, places and activities (going to the zoo, going to school)
  • Sand box and sand toys (pail and shovel, molds, spoons)


Last updated August 29, 2014

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