The Right Toy for the Right Age
When selecting a new toy, you will want to make sure that it is bringing the most value to a child’s development. Mum Blogger Amy Collins draws on her own experiences as a parent, to offer some wonderful advice on toys that support and engage children of different age groups.
Guest Blog by Amy Collins
Buying toys for a loved one or even your own little one can be a challenge! There are so many options available and sometimes it’s hard to know which toys are best for which stage of development. Especially if this is your first baby or you are buying a gift and don’t have children of your own!
Today I’m going to share my tips for toy purchases at every stage from babies to toddlerhood and beyond. Lots of these options have longevity and will grow with your child so it might be best to look at the next stage up as well as the age that your child is at right now!
The right toy purchase can do so many things. Whether it’s inspiring imaginative play or encouraging your baby to develop those all important fine motor skills, good quality toys are worth investing in. If you’re on a journey to be more sustainable then it makes sense to buy less but buy better by opting for fewer toys with many more possibilities for learning and play. This would also be a great guide to forward on to any friends or family who want to purchase a gift for your child! Within this guide, they will find carefully considered recommendations that grow with your child as they progress through each stage of development.
About the author
Amy runs the website ‘Amy Jane & Baby’ and accompanying social media where she documents her experiences of motherhood so far. On a journey to live more sustainably, Amy shares her tips for making small, sustainable swaps in all areas of life including investing in toys that have longevity and are multi purpose. On her website you will also find hacks, honest motherhood posts and simple play ideas. Amy is mother to a two year old boy.
The first six months
In the first three months of life, little ones need very little when it comes to toys, with the love and reassurance of their parents being most important for their development. Babies under three months have a very short attention span and may only be able to focus on a toy for a minute at a time. As a new mum, I remember buying an expensive play mat only to discover that my newborn hated being on it! He much preferred having just one thing to look at or focus on at a time. Keep play time short and be led by your baby. Even simply looking at a toy is exhausting for a newborn and so keeping things simple is the way to go.
After three months, your baby is ready to engage with the world around them! Between three to six months, they are learning to move around and explore their world by rolling, grasping and holding onto objects for short periods of time. I was always amazed at how quickly my baby learnt a new skill at this age. Every day he seemed to be trying to do something different!
Your baby is learning to:
- hold objects for short periods of time.
- bring objects to their mouth and explore the object by mouthing it.
- swipe and grab at toys in front of them.
- lift their head and chest when on their tummy.
- roll from front to back.
Even before baby learns to coordinate their arms enough to grasp, they will enjoy looking at different toys around them! Consider those that can be attached to a toy arch, pram or bouncer. To make it easy for baby to grasp, toys that have cut out areas and narrower areas such as wooden keys or rattles are great.
Choose toys with contrasting colours to help your baby distinguish between light and dark colours. Toys with a variety of textures - those that crinkle, have soft textures and areas that are rougher - help your baby develop their sense of touch.
In this early stage, it’s especially important to choose high quality, well-made toys that are safe for your baby to explore!
At about four months, most babies can easily bring toys to their mouth. Opt for toys that are soft enough for little ones to chew, are made from natural materials and are easy to clean! Natural rubber toys are a great option as they are safe for your baby to mouth. The smooth texture will also intrigue your little one.
Between four to six months, babies will learn to roll over from tummy to back. Placing toys around your baby during tummy time is a great way to encourage them to develop those gross motor skills like rolling. Opting for various textures, including toys that make a sound when shaken or squeak, are great choices for this stage and will keep your baby interested for longer! Sets like sensory blocks are great as they are small enough for your little one to hold and they will love working out how to make a noise.
Don’t forget that you are the most interesting thing in the world to your baby! They will love watching you talk to and engage with them. You will probably experience their first giggle at this stage which is so magical! For play time together, hand puppets are a great option. Your baby will love watching you move the puppet and listening to your voice. They are great for encouraging your baby to track objects with their eyes too.
Pastel Baby Key Rattle
Cathy the Carrot
Baby Sensory Tumbling
Owl Hand Puppet
See all Gifts for the First Year
Six to twelve months
This is such an exciting developmental stage! In six months your baby may go from only just learning to sit to being able to stand and perhaps even walk. They will develop fine motor skills like being able to grasp objects using their fingers and make bigger movements including throwing and banging objects together.
Your baby is learning to:
- explore objects by grabbing, banging, and shaking them.
- crawl or move by shuffling on their bottom.
- grasp objects using their thumb and finger.
- sit without support.
- pull themselves up to standing.
- pick up objects and pass them from one hand to the other.
- imitate the activities of others.
Toys that can be stacked are great options for this age! At first your baby may only be able to take stacking rings off the stand but over time they will develop the fine motor skills necessary to put them back on independently. Stacking toys have such longevity, my son received his first one at nine months and still plays with it at over two years old!
Another toy that’s great for developing those fine motor skills is a shape sorter. At first your baby will find it hard to manipulate the more challenging shapes but those problem-solving skills are so essential and will help to develop resilience. So as not to overwhelm your baby, I suggest starting with just one or two simple shapes and then slowly adding to them as your little one experiences success.
If your baby is currently in this stage I’m sure you’ll be able to empathise with me when I say that this is the stage where you find yourself constantly picking toys up. Your baby will love to throw and drop toys and although it can get a bit repetitive, your baby is simply trying to make sense of the world around them. They are learning cause and effect such as 'When I throw my ball, my parent picks it up!'. Softer blocks or toys are a good investment and are a lot safer if your little one is enjoying throwing!
Once your baby has cracked stacking rings, opt for wooden blocks instead. Creating towers using blocks is great for developing that pincer grip and in the stages that follow they can be used to build various structures.
Your baby will love picking objects up and and transferring them from hand to hand so it’s good to have a variety of objects for them to explore. Wooden animals are fantastic for babies nearer to twelve months and themed sets like animals or people are likely to be a hit! As your baby moves closer to their first birthday, you will notice that their interests begin to emerge. My son loved anything with wheels at this stage and would spend ages just watching them move!
Toys that encourage movement are really important at this stage. Cars or creatures on wheels are good choices as your baby learns to push them along. When the toy moves a short distance your baby may be motivated to follow it which is great for those crawling skills! As your baby becomes more confident with standing you might want to consider a walker or a push along toy. Both of these will help your baby to learn to balance and develop their core stability.
Push Along Duck
Classic Plug Column
Rubber Cube Set
See all Gifts for the First Year
One to two years
Watching your baby develop during that first year is incredible but I have to say that the toddler stage has been my favourite so far! So many developmental milestones happen during this first year and seeing your baby turn into a toddler is pretty amazing.
It’s also a great time to start thinking about choosing toys which will grow with your toddler throughout the next few years. Toys or sets which encourage imaginative play or are open-ended are great options to ensure longevity!
Your toddler is learning to:
- scoop, pour and transfer from one object to another.
- identify colours and simple shapes.
- walk and run.
- crave independence and imitate activities he sees you doing.
- build towers and other simple structures.
- make simple marks using a crayon.
- explore imaginative play.
- turn the pages of a book.
Sensory play is a great way to encourage your toddler to develop all sorts of skills including talking, fine and gross motor skills and much more. I’ve always found the easiest way to do this is in the bath or shower! During this stage, my toddler loved being in the bath so that he could practise scooping and transferring water from one container to another. He loved bath toys with different textures, sizes or cut out parts as they added another layer to his play.
Now is a good time to encourage imaginative or pretend play as your toddler is likely to enjoy copying you! Tea sets, dolls and pretend phones are all good options! Investing in wooden toys that come in sets like farms or even a Noah’s ark are brilliant for stimulating your toddlers imagination.
Your toddler will be rapidly developing their fine motor skills at this age so mix things up by opting for slightly smaller toys. Be aware of any choking hazards as children of this age are still prone to wanting to put things in their mouths! Shape sorters, smaller animals or toys that can be picked up and stacked are all good options.
Now is a good time to consider investing in some open-ended toys and if you have your little ones first birthday in mind then it’s definitely something to consider! Investing in toys that have endless play possibilities will ensure that your toy collection has longevity as well as encouraging all sorts of skills including problem solving and imaginative play. A collection of blocks, stack of pebbles or similar may not seem like the most engaging toy, but children learn far more by being given open-ended toys than they do a toy with a clear purpose. Sometimes these kinds of toys can be more expensive so if you’re on a mission to buy less but buy better, consider asking family members to contribute to one toy rather than lots of different presents!
Your toddler may enjoy mark making at this age and this will help to hone those all important fine motor skills! Chunky wax crayons or pencils are great for this stage and I liked to have a variety to keep my son interested. I also highly recommend having a roll of paper on hand! My toddler was far more likely to explore when I ripped off a long piece of paper and taped it to the hallway floor then he was if given a smaller colouring book.
Rolling Shape Sorter
Circles Quadrat Kit
Fountain Bowl Bath Toys
Block Set Provence Big
My First Phone
Junior Farm Playscene
See all Gifts for Ages One & Two
Two to three years
During this year, your toddlers personality will really shine through. As the year progresses your toddlers communication skills will improve and they might even be able to engage in short conversations with other adults!
Imaginative play is a real theme for this stage of development! There are so many benefits to imaginative play including helping your toddler to express themselves and make sense of the world around them. You may notice your little one assigning members of their family during their play or acting out experiences they’ve had recently. I remember the first time my toddler placed himself, his dad, our two dogs and I within his play. It was such a sweet moment which showed he understood his family unit!
Your toddler is learning to:
- pull or carry toys whilst walking.
- hold utensils and crayons in their fingers instead of their fists.
- enjoy more complicated pretend play (e.g assigning people characters).
- complete puzzles with three to four pieces.
- group toys by size, shape or colour.
- use toys with moving parts.
- count three objects or more.
- build towers of six objects or more.
Keeping it simple with puzzles with three or four parts is a good idea as toddlers crave independence during this stage of development. Enabling your little one to experience success is really important and as they grow in confidence you can add in puzzles that are more complex.
My little boy loved chunky wooden puzzles at this age as they were easier for him to manipulate into place. We started with animal puzzles with just a few parts and then added in some that were more complex. Puzzles are great for so many reasons! They can help your child problem-solve, recognise colours, identify numbers and are a great activity to do together too.
Wooden blocks or toys that can be stacked are great options for this age. They can be built into towers, made into houses for toy animals or become anything your toddlers imagination desires. Toys that come in a variety of colours and shapes can also be used for sorting which toddlers of this age often enjoy doing.
At this age, my son loved pull-a-long toys or toys on a string that he could ‘walk’ around the house or the garden. He loved to imitate us taking our two dogs for a walk!
To encourage your toddler to develop their fine motor skills further, you can add to your mark making collection. Opt for coloured pencils, water pens or fine felt tips! By drawing together, you can model how to correctly hold these items and encourage your toddler to move from holding things in their fist to using their fingers instead.
Sticker books, particularly ones that can be reused, are also great options for this age group. The process of peeling the sticker off and then sticking it down is great for building up the muscles in your child’s fingers and hands which will help them when they are drawing or mark-making. They are also handy for taking with you on journeys or trips away from the house too!
Happy Pull-Along Puppy
Rainbow Noah's Ark
1-5 Tractor Jigsaw Puzzle
Zoo Building Blocks
12 Beeswax Crayons
See all Gifts for Ages One & Two
Three years and up
At this age your child is increasingly capable of tackling trickier challenges such as balancing objects during a game or creating their own fantasy worlds.
During this stage your child is likely to actively seek out other children to play with although they will probably still need some help to manage any conflicts that arise! They may enjoy setting up their own games for you or their siblings to join in but might find it hard to relinquish control.
Your child is learning to:
- understand the concept of same/different and may start comparing sizes.
- remember parts of a story.
- complete puzzles with more pieces.
- create pictures with smaller and more distinct marks such as drawing a circle or a square.
- play imaginatively in an increasingly sophisticated way tailoring their play according to their own interests.
- develop their problem-solving skills to solve small challenges.
- ride a tricycle or balance bike.
- set up their own play activities and shows a willingness to involve others in their play.
Puzzles with more pieces are a great option during this stage! As well as developing problem-solving skills, they are a great wind down activity after a busy day or as a way to spend quality time together. It’s a good idea to opt for puzzles with a clear picture of the finished piece as this will help your child to feel more independent!
Toys which have an element of needing to balance an object are a great choice for three year olds and beyond. Balancing small objects will help exercise those fine motor skills and there is an element of problem solving too! If your child becomes frustrated, it’s a good idea to complete the activity together until they grow in confidence.
Imaginative play sets tailored to your child’s interest are a fantastic choice for children in this age group! Sets where they can create their own fantasy worlds with dragons, princesses, dinosaurs or animals are all likely to be well received. These sorts of sets can also be added to over time too!
Children at this age love engaging in role play and imitating what they see in the world around them. Good quality role play sets have longevity and can also be passed down to any future siblings! Sets like a vets kit, toolkit or a doctors bag are all likely to be very popular with your child. Keeping these items out for them to explore will help them to develop so many skills and will prove popular during play dates too.
With greater communication and understanding, you can introduce more sophisticated mark-making resources into your collection. Things like good quality felt tip pens or finer paintbrushes are all good options. My son loves ‘Crayon Rocks’ which are great once you have moved past the stage of your child putting things in their mouth. They are such a fun texture and the variety of shapes will help your toddler to strengthen their hand muscles ahead of those all important pre-writing skills.
During this developmental stage your child may enjoy arts and crafts. Having different sets on hand is a good idea for spending quality time together or fostering independence whilst you are doing something else nearby. Look for things that have simple instructions, pictures are ideal!
Ocean Life 24 Piece Puzzle
1-10 Dog Jigsaw Puzzle
See all Gifts from Age Three Onwards
I really hope this guide was useful! Don’t forget to check out the huge range of beautifully curated toys available at For First Steps. Leave a comment letting us know which toy purchase your little one has enjoyed most and don’t forget to share this with your friends and family too!
Thank you so much for reading,