Toys to Promote Cognitive Development in Toddlers & Infants

by Stacey Chaloux

    Babies and toddlers spend much of their day playing, but that time is valuable because it is also the way they learn best. However, not all toys are created equal. Knowing which toys to look for can help you provide him with toys that will help him learn as he plays. Some of the simplest materials can be used in a variety of ways to make your child's learning fun at the same time.

    Activity Mats

    Young infants are learning to use their hands and eyes together to reach for objects that interest them. You can offer your baby many opportunities to bat at and grasp objects that hang above her on an activity mat or on a bar above her infant carrier. She will learn about cause and effect as she kicks at a toy that makes a noise and discovers that she created that sound. She will practice reaching and stretching to get to the toys she wants. Change out the objects that you hang from her activity mat to give her variety. Make sure that the toys you offer her are large enough that she will not choke if she puts them to her mouth.

    Shape Sorters and Puzzles

    Shape sorters can be used with young babies who are sitting alone. He will enjoy dumping out the pieces and putting them back into the container, even if it is not through the shape cutouts at first. As he does this, you can talk about what color he is holding or what shape it is. As he gets closer to 1 year old, he will be ready to put some of the simple shapes like circles and squares through the sorter. He may need a hint from you at first, saying things like, "You have a circle! It goes right here." Once your baby has become a toddler he will be ready to try out some simple inset puzzles with few pieces and large knobs. They will help your toddler learn about matching when there are identical pictures underneath the cutout pieces of the puzzle.

    Wooden Blocks

    Blocks are a simple toy, but they are something every baby should have. As an infant, she will enjoy picking them up and exploring them and beginning to bang them together before she turns 1. She can develop the concept of cause and effect and a sense of gravity by knocking down a tower you have built for her and will want to repeat that game many times. As her fine motor skills develop as a toddler, she will begin to stack the blocks herself. This can be a great opportunity to practice counting as she makes a vertical tower or a lines them up horizontally. 3-year-olds can also begin to sort the blocks by color or make simple patterns as they build.

    Pretend Play

    Toddlers enjoy imitating adult actions, so they will begin to copy some of the things they see you doing around your house, like sweeping the floor or talking on the phone. Give him pretend versions of many household items, like play food and dishes, a toy workbench with tools, or a miniature shopping cart. When you pretend with him, he will be learning about abstract concepts like representational thinking -- that cup doesn't actually have tea in it, but we use it to represent a drink. He will also develop language skills as you discuss what he is doing and act out scenarios.

    Board Books

    Books are one of the most important materials that children can have around them from birth. When your baby is a young infant, you can prop a book while she is on her tummy to encourage her to lift her head. She can listen to you read it aloud and hear the patterns of language. As she gets older, she will be able to handle the book herself and begin to learn to turn the pages, building her fine motor skills. You can point to and name the pictures in the book to help her develop new vocabulary. As an older toddler, she will begin to pretend to read familiar books by memorizing the words and reciting them or talking about what she sees in the pictures, which are essential pre-reading skills.

    About the Author

    Stacey Chaloux is an educator who has taught in both regular and special education early childhood classrooms, as well as served as a parent educator, teaching parents how to be their child's best first teacher. She has a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Missouri and a Master of Education from Graceland University.

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