This Season Give Toys that Teach - DuPage Children's Museum

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This Season Give Toys that Teach

December 2, 2016

Toys are tools for the young. When chosen according to a child’s needs, wants, or interests they can inspire curiosity and creativity as well as foster motor development, problem solving, and thinking skills.

Here are a few tips to guide you as you choose toys that teach your child:

Which Toys for What Age?
According to NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children), each child grows at a different pace, and knowing how your child plays or uses materials will help you choose the most appropriate toys for him/her.

Research has demonstrated that there are some features of toys that are preferred by children, depending on their age/current stage of development. These are appealing, interesting, and appropriate for their physical capacities.

The following are toys preferred by specific age groups:

  • Infants learn so much from watching themselves or watching others’ faces. Unbreakable mirrors that can attach to cribs or changing areas, simple dolls, or stuffed animals are often preferred.
  • Younger infants often find simple rhythm instruments that they can kick, bat, or shake interesting.
  • Older infants might prefer objects which they can manipulate, put in/take out, or push. These children enjoy nesting cups, stacking blocks, or balls to pass or roll.



  • Toddlers are on the move! As they become more capable of moving independently, toddlers want to practice these skills as they play. Toddlers prefer toys such as push- or pull-toys and riding toys that they can move themselves.
  • Older toddlers may begin role-playing with play objects. They may enjoy dressing or pretending to feed a doll, talking on a toy phone or “building” using toddler tools. Children at this age may also prefer role-play using other pretend play toys such as farm animals or vehicles (cars, trucks, etc.).
  • Older toddlers may also enjoy exploring art materials including paints, crayons, play-doh, and/or rhythm instruments.


  • At this age, children often enjoy extended periods of dramatic play. Props and materials to enhance the experience can include dolls, clothing accessories, large blocks, puppets, kitchen accessories/play food, play money, etc.
  • Preschoolers also may prefer building using a variety of construction toys, including wooden or interlocking blocks.
  • Children might enjoy experimenting with sand and water play materials (cups, strainers, funnels, fish, scoops, etc.).
  • Children are more capable of manipulating smaller objects and may enjoy a variety of puzzles, art materials, patterning tiles, or stringing/weaving sets, and sorting or matching small objects.
  • Preschoolers prefer beginner board games. Older preschoolers may also begin playing card games (Old Maid, Go Fish, etc.).

Kindergarteners/School-Age Children

  • Children prefer more specific props and costumes for dramatic play schemes.
    School-age children prefer to play with action figures.
  • Kindergarteners prefer building more elaborate, detailed structures/models using a variety of construction blocks and toys, wood and real tools (under supervision).
    Children prefer arts and crafts with more complex materials.
  • Children are more capable of manipulating smaller objects and may enjoy a variety of puzzles, patterning tiles or stringing/weaving sets, sorting or matching small objects.
    Many prefer guessing games, strategy games or games related to math/words.

(Sources: Early Years are Learning Years Toys: Tools for Learning and The Right Stuff for Children Birth to 8).

Choose Child-Powered Before Battery-Powered
Child-powered toys are those driven by a child’s own creativity, imagination, or logic. They are more “open-ended,” allowing your child to take lead of the play, exploring and mastering the skills at his/her own pace. Many times child-powered toys also allow others (parents, family, friends) to join in the fun and take part in the learning experience. Finally, child-powered toys are usually a better value for parents because they rarely have an age limit. Blocks, dramatic play accessories, art supplies, and pattern blocks are all great examples of timeless treasures – that do not need batteries.
(Source: Toy Action Guide

Safety First!
According to U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), “While most toys on store shelves are safe, we continue to find toys that pose a range of safety hazards to small children. As a result, parents and other child-care providers need to remain vigilant in order to prevent toy-related deaths and injuries.” The group’s pamphlet, “Tips for Toy Safety” can provide families with more information on basic toy safety information. For specific information on toy recalls, check out the Illinois Attorney General’s “Play It Safe: Product Recall Guide.”

What Are Some of Your Child’s Favorite Toys that Teach?
Does your child have a favorite “timeless treasure,” an open-ended toy that he/she has or continues to learn by using? I would love to hear your stories! Share them here or on our social media sites!