Toy box essentials: The best toys for toddlers

Look for simple, versatile toys that your child can do lots with. Here are some toys for toddlers with great play value.

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A whole new world of play awaits your child! As you seek out toys to delight him and encourage his developing skills, let your mantra be this: Don’t buy toys that “do” lots; instead, find toys that your child can do lots with. Here are some best bets when it comes to toys for toddlers:

Balls and Blocks

Balls are great for rolling and throwing, and also encourage cognitive skills. Which ball will fit where? Which one bounces, and which doesn’t — and why? Collect different sizes of blocks — big cardboard bricks are perfect for young toddlers, who love to stack them and watch them fall, or build simple roads. Add lots of fun props to go with them — cars and trains, animals, tubes and containers to fill and dump.

Dishes and kitchen gear

People mistakenly believe that toddlers are too young for pretend play, says Toronto play therapist Katrina Rees Hughes. She recommends giving them pots, pans, wooden spoons, bowls and cups. “Toddlers love to imitate what they see around them. They often see people preparing food. It’s very central to their world,” she explains.

Dolls, Puppets and “Friends”

Every child — boy or girl — should have a doll to care for. Give young toddlers a blanket for their baby and add things like a stroller or a baby bed.

“Playing out elements from their own life with the baby (‘Is the baby hungry? Does the baby need a bib?’) helps them make sense of the world around them,” explains Jan Blaxall, a professor of early childhood education at Fanshawe College in London, Ont.

You can also use puppets and stuffed animals to tell stories together and recreate situations that will help toddlers problem-solve in a fun, non-threatening way. (“If puppy doesn’t want to go to bed, what should we do?”) All these toys are terrific ways to build communication and interaction skills.

Dress-up

Kids can try out different roles and discover the world of imagination through dressing up. “These are important cognitive skills for preparing children for a life that we can’t predict,” explains Blaxall. Stick mostly to hats and shoes for your dress-up box, as they’re easy for toddlers to get on and off. Accessorize with Velcro capes, purses, bags and slippers.

You

The play opportunities of any toy are limited if your toddler is left to discover the possibilities on his own. Blaxall elaborates: “Sometimes the child is directing you. Sometimes you’re the cheerleader. And sometimes you stretch the play a little and say, ‘I wonder what would happen if your baby was sick?’”

Follow your child’s lead — kids know what they need to work on. If your child is constantly climbing on the couch, figure out some active games to use those muscles. If your child is repeating everything you say, enjoy more songs, nursery rhymes and fingerplays.

“A huge part of the value of play is the social aspect,” says Rees Hughes. “You can teach so much in that playful interaction.”

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