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5 Developmental Toys for Toddlers (and How to Play with Them)

A couple things before we get started. A) this is speech therapist Tara speaking, not mom Tara. Two different hats. B) These are just suggestions and are definitely not an exhaustive list of developmental toys; these are just a few of my favorites C) these toys are only to be used under adult supervision -- duh. D) this blog post contains affiliate links, meaning if you were to click the links and it resulted in a purchase, I would receive a small commission.

It might come as a surprise to you, but your little cherub wasn't born knowing how to play. Now, pooping, peeing, and being as cute as a button--- yes, those are innate skills. But playing doesn't always come as naturally. As your child develops, he/she will go through various stages of play development. And as their play skills develop, so do their communication skills and physical skills. What this means is that your child will greatly benefit from playing with you. 

In the age of technology (read my thoughts on technology here.), I sometimes question if we as adults have forgotten the joy and importance of playing!!! These are some relatively common toys for toddlers that are easy to find, cheap, and can provide a lot of good developmentally-appropriate and stimulating play.

1. Melissa and Doug Transportation Puzzle  - This peg puzzle is relatively easy for little fingers to manipulate, and because the puzzle pieces are topped with these little pegs, your child gets fine motor development time in as well. Double whammy! Play suggestions: 1. Give choices (do you want the car or the bus?) 2. Sound effects it UP ("BEEP BEEP BUS", "WEE-OO WEE-OO ambulance", etc.) Kids often imitate sounds and noises before some words. 3. Play with the puzzle pieces as actual cars and make the sound effects ("vroom vroom", "crash!", etc.) 4. Vocabulary exposure. Point to each puzzle piece and say what it is.

2. Brown Bear Board Book - This book is awesome for a variety of reasons, but the reason kids like it is because of the sliding door on each page. This book is dang-near indestructible (but now that I say that, the next kid who plays with it will probably prove me wrong on that), and the pictures are bright and colorful. Play suggestions: 1. Knock on each door as you read each page. "Knock knock! Who's these? OPEN." (slide open the door) Repeat this for each page. 2. Animal sounds all day long!!! "Look! It's a yellow duck! QUACK QUACK! What does the duck say?!?!" 3. Introduce big/small by talking about it. ("Look! There's a little frog behind the door... (turn the page) WOW look now there's a BIG frog! Ribbit ribbit!")

3. Animal Bubbles - Bubbles make the world go 'round. They just DO. I use bubbles as a reward, a bribe, and as a way to break up therapeutic play with something a little more fun. Play suggestions: As a general rule, unless you want a holy mess on your hands, don't let your little angel do the blowing. 1. Start every blow with the phrase "ready set..... GO!" and encourage your angel to chime in too. 2. Count the bubbles as you pop them "1, 2, 3" 3. Say "pop" each time you pop the bubbles. 3. Ask questions - "Do you want a LOT of bubbles or a LITTLE?" "Do you want BIG bubbles or SMALL bubbles?" "Do you want the bubbles to go UP or DOWN?"

4. Fisher-Price Piggy Bank - I love this piggy bank. So many things you can do with it. 1. Talk about open/close, empty/full, in/out. "Open the door! Look there are NO coins inside. It's empty. Let's put some IN." 2. Make choices. "Which one do you want? The dog or the cow?" (or you could do colors because the coins have animals on them and they are different colors as well) 3. Work on following directions and basic prepositions. ("Boo, open the door and take the coins out!" "Put the coins inside ON TOP" 4. Animal sounds.

5. Mr. Potato Head - This is another classic toy that teaches children SO much - body parts, clothing, colors, etc. 1. Give choices. ("Which one do you want? EARS or NOSE?") 2. Ask them where their nose is. As they put on a nose, ask them where is THEIR nose? Where is MY nose? 3. Show them where all the body parts go, but also allow for a little creativity. Put some lips where the ear should go. See if your kiddo corrects you. "Uh oh! Look! The mouth doesn't go there! That's where the EARS go! I'm silly! Help me!" and have the kiddo put the mouth where the mouth belongs.

Don't feel like you have to sit and entertain your kiddo 24/7, but if you take a little time to help develop their play skills and SHOW them how to play with toys, your kiddo will reap the benefits. They will remember how you played with these toys and hopefully be able to play using the skills you taught them to play by themselves.


  1. Love this list!! If you haven't seen the Octopus with colored shoes....Peek-a-shoe, you have to check it out. LOVE LOVE it. and it is a toy that can go form 12-3 years easily. :) Lincoln loves watching D play it. Everything gets stuck in it, and it has been easy to get things out. :)

    1. I haven't seen that! I will have to check that one out for sure! Thanks :)

  2. Mini-trampolines, also known as rebounders, are popular with adults. They’re typically used to improve health and fitness, but children may be drawn to these small trampolines because jumping up and down is just plain fun. my first trampoline

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