Dr. Toy on What's Right for Toddlers©

Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy!

March 26, 2006 (Revised)

Toddlers actively explore their world and want to touch, smell, and taste everything. Watch carefully and child-proof the play space. This age is a great time for lots of good, safe toys, and varied play experiences.

The right toys help toddlers learn about color, shape, size, and weight. As they check things out, play helps them develop strong muscles and minds. With blocks they gain small muscle strength and counting skills. It's fun to build up blocks, knock them down, and then rebuild. Your toddler will laugh at his accomplishments.

The toddler enjoys a soft doll or plush animal, a pail, a shovel, push-pull toys, a jack-in-the-box, a bubble pipe, pounding sets, ring stacks, puzzles, books, and tapes. Toddlers love to play with household objects such as plastic dishes, pots, pans, and cups. A small broom gives the toddler a chance to sweep.

When selecting toys, consider their durability. How long will the toy last under "toddler testing"? Is it child-proof? A product should be long-lasting, substantial, and made of good, strong materials.

Stuffed toys must be hygienic and washable; with no fluff the child could pull off and put into its mouth. Protect the child from small parts or anything tiny that could cause choking. All products must be nontoxic.

Look at toys by Brio, Fisher-Price, MEGA BLOKS, Playskool, Discovery Toys, and Little Tikes.

The toddler plays with or near other children, at its own pace. Contact with other children is important, so play groups are excellent for socializing. Observe how the child interacts with people and objects. This is the time to build confidence and self-esteem. The way a child feels affects its physical, emotional, and mental growth.

The toddler comes to learn about cause and effect: hit a peg with a mallet and it falls into the hole; push a button and music plays or a doll dances; turn a handle and a jack-in-the-box pops up.

Interesting new sounds come as the toddler creates words like "ma ma, da da, and bye bye." An understanding of words expands as the toddler picks up your tone of voice and your meaning, and becomes aware of your feelings.

Playing games with you is a favorite pastime. Patty-cake, peek-a-boo, and clapping to music are new entries to the toddler's repertoire. People and animals fascinate, and the toddler loves to make sounds, laugh, giggle, act silly, and be surprised. Toddlers love to play.

The toddler is very much attached to the people who are closest. Relationships formed during the earliest months influence emotional progress and the connection and friendship between toddler and parent is the basis for moving into the larger world of friends and other players.

Parents who play and respond to their children are more important to their offspring's health and well-being than any toy.

You can see moods reflected in the activities a toddler selects. Give the toddler freedom to express these moods, and make whatever adaptations to the play area that is needed. Be ready to change the toy, offer a snack, or take time out for a nap.

Time has no importance as the toddler will be absorbed in the activity of the moment: pouring water, rolling a ball, or watching a spinning pinwheel.

The age at which a toddler begins to sit up, stands while supported, and walks about holding on to the hands of others is a highly individual thing and depends a great deal on height and weight.

At the beginning of the second year, your toddler's attention span is not great. A toddler has a natural curiosity and is interested in watching, exploring, moving, and knocking things over. The toddler's world is opening up. If not carefully supervised, injuries can happen. For example, the toddler will open bottles or boxes to touch or taste. Anything that is potentially dangerous must be placed in locked cabinets and well out of reach.

Your toddler usually...

My book, Smart Play/Smart Toys, will provide more details on products that are best for toddlers. You can also review my web site ( for specific suggested products.

Always take along interesting small toys for your toddler to play with when traveling. He will be happier and so will you.

Let's play!

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