27 Developmental Toys and the Need to Know Benefits of Each One

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 04/18/20 •  20 min read

Developmental toys or educational toys will help your child develop fundamental skills such as cognitive thinking and problem-solving, as well as help to develop imagination and creativity!

They can also teach sharing, demonstrate cause and effect, as well as develop gross and fine motor skills.

What’s not to love!

Making learning fun and its role in early child development is something I feel very passionate about. 

It is the cornerstone of how we interact with our children and every interaction is a learning potential from getting dressed in the morning to a walk in the park to reading a book before bedtime!

Interspersed in our daily routine there is more structured play and it is important that you have the right tools in your toy box to enable your child to develop to their full potential and that is why investing in developmental toys is SO important.

So, when it comes to choosing the best toys for babies it is far better to have a few great toys than tons of pointless ones.

What You Should Know About Developmental Toys wooden play blocks

Developmental Toys For Babies

From the moment your baby is born, his brain is primed for learning and even at this early stage, there are specific newborn baby toys that can help with development.

Sensory baby toys that involve textures, bright contrasting colours and sounds are great choices for babies from 0-4 months.

Your interaction with your baby is vital as your baby relies on you to provide the best toys and opportunities to allow them to reach their developmental milestones.

By choosing toys and activities that are age-appropriate will allow you to make the most of your playtime and set them on the right path for early learning.

Toys For Newborns

Here are a few of my favourite toy ideas for 0-3 month olds!

Black And White Baby Developmental Toys

Up until the age of about 4 months, your baby can only see 12-15 inches in front of them and can really only distinguish black, white and grey tones. 

For this reason, some of the best newborn toys are high contrast black and white toys at this stage are highly beneficial to a newborn’s development.

Black and white toys for babies stimulate vision which helps to develop cognitive abilities as well as gross motor skills. 

Newborn babies will also concentrate for longer periods of time on toys and objects that they find easier to interpret.

So in the early days, rattles, clutch balls and mobiles in black and white are all great sensory toys for baby to kick start their development in a fun way.

Mobiles

Mobiles are in many ways your babies first educational toy and they can be fitted onto a crib or cot.

It is preferable to have objects that are pointing down where possible. However, it is best to get a mobile that can be removed at sleep time as it may overstimulate your baby when they are trying to get to sleep.

Activity Mats And Tummy Time

A lot of activity mats or baby gyms are actually overstimulating for newborns, so at this stage, it is a good idea to remove overhead toys and use the mat as a safe place to practice tummy time.

As your baby’s body develops more muscle tone in the second month of life they are more likely to enjoy it later on when it is even more beneficial to strengthening their upper body!

Music

A baby’s hearing is one of the first senses to develop and they will enjoy listening to a music box or a lullaby sung by yourself or others.

Music can have a calming effect on a newborn which is very useful when trying to settle them to sleep.

Toys For 3 Month Old

Here are a few of my favourite toy ideas for 3 month olds!

Baby Gym And Play Mat

As your baby reaches 3-4 months you will notice that they are lifting their head higher and more steadily during tummy time and by the end of 3 months will probably begin to raise his shoulders as well. 

Your baby mat and baby gym will now come into their own as your baby kicks and even attempt to roll (if only by accident.) 

You can now re-attach the overhead toys as they will now reach and grasp for objects.

Sensory Developmental Toys

As they are not yet mobile young babies rely on their senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell to discover the world around them. 

Therefore sensory toys for babies are ideal for encouraging their development. Toys with different textures and toys that crinkle and crackle when grasped are good for 3 month old. 

Of course, the age-old favourite the rattle is still as good a toy as ever and there are many out there to choose from. 

At this stage, they will rely on you to do the shaking but it won’t be long before they can do it for themselves. 

Any toy that makes a noise when knocked will stimulate our babies development as they learn cause and effect.

Mirrors

An unbreakable baby mirror is also a good toy for a 3 month old. It can be fastened to the side of a cot or crib and your baby will become increasingly fascinated by his own reflection but not yet realise it is himself he is looking at.

Toys For 4-5 Month Old Babies

Here are a few of my favourite toy ideas for 4-5 month olds!

Once your baby reaches the 4- 5 month stage they will begin to coordinate their sight and touch and realise that his actions result in a toy moving or making a noise. 

Tummy time will continue to be very important as your baby’s upper body strengthens even more in preparation for sitting and crawling.

Now that their eyesight is getting stronger they will become more interested in faces and circular designs such as spirals and circles.

Rattles And Teething Toys

Your baby will now be able to hold onto a rattle and even shake them and bring them to their mouth.

 A rattle is a great toy for babies 0-6 months as they grow with your baby from you rattling for them when they are newborn to holding the rattle themselves as they get older. 

The choice of rattles is extensive and there are many great ones on the market and many double up as teething toys and are multifunctional in their role as toys for learning.

Even though teething usually begins at around 6 months gum pain can start earlier and it is not unheard of for babies of 3-4 months to produce small pearl-like buds on their gums. 

Therefore it is a good idea to have some teething toys to hand at this point.

Soft Toys

Some of the best baby toys for 4-5 month old babies are soft simple lightweight toys. 

They are great for learning at this age and even better if they have tags or flaps for them to hold onto. They can be round or square, brightly coloured or black and white, making a noise when squeezed, dropped or shaken. 

These toys will grow with your baby as they will love stacking them and knocking them down again later on.

Toys that crinkle and crackle that were great toys for babies at 3 months will also still be a favourite for this age group!

Toys For Babies 6 Months Old

Between the ages of 4 and 6 months, your baby will be working towards sitting independently.

This developmental milestone will change the whole way they approach play. If your little one is still sitting with the support you can place toys in front of them while they are sitting to encourage them to reach forward and grasp the toys.

Once your baby is able to do this unsupported they will be able to play for short periods of time independently without your help but never leave your baby unattended.

As your baby develops over these crucial months from sitting to crawling they will want to explore the world around them.

Now that they can effectively reach and grasp and eventually become mobile they will want to especially touch anything and put everything into their mouths. 

Therefore, make sure that the toys you purchase are non-toxic and BPA free!

Stacking Toys And Building Blocks

As far as toys for 6 month old babies go, you can’t beat a good set of stacking toys and some wooden building blocks. 

Stacking hoops and nesting cups help babies to learn fine and gross motor skills as well as develop hand-eye coordination. 

As these toys are brightly coloured and often come with numbers imprinted on the bottom or holes in the base for water play. 

These cups will have the added bonus of longevity, as they will be used in developmental play by your baby right through to toddlerhood and beyond.

I am a great fan of wooden toys for babies and you can’t do better than a good set of coloured wooden building blocks for developing hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and cause and effect.

Building a tower of blocks and knocking them down never loses its appeal!

These will become a toy box staple for many years and provide your child with endless hours of fun and learning.

Books

Although you will have hopefully introduced your little one to baby books from early on, your baby is now in a position to hold soft cloth books and board books on their own. Books that are textured and that make noises are perfect for this age group.

Reading to your baby at any age is to my mind one of the best forms of developmental play there is. 

Books have the ability to be educational as well as being an excellent medium by which to teach your little ones about life, emotions and new experience as they grow older.

Small Balls

When it comes to babies activity toys small texture, sensory balls are always a win. They will help to develop their fine motor skills and even at this age they will appreciate watching a ball roll away from them when they let it go and have you roll it back.

Bright Colourful And Making Sounds

For this age group toys that are colourful and able to produce sounds will definitely get your babies attention. These toys stimulate your babies visual senses as well as their hearing ability.

In addition, toys that have flashing lights and play music will encourage your baby to try and move after it further developing gross motor skills as they move towards crawling.

Toys For 9 Month Old

The period between 9-12 months is one of rapid development in your growing baby and one of my favourite age groups.

Their improved ability to move around as they learn to crawl, pull to stand, cruise around furniture and finally walk opens up a whole new world for them and so it is vital that you offer them a safe and nourishing play environment in which to flourish.

They will also have more developed fine motor skills now being able to pick up smaller objects between index finger and thumb (the pincer grasp)

During this stage, they will also start to use memory recall and begin to understand simple instructions. 

The wonder with which they approach life at this age is enchanting and challenging at the same time!

However, as with all age groups, there are certain toys you can introduce to help them make the most of this stage in their learning. 

Baby toys for this stage need to encourage your baby to move and be versatile and a bit more different and exciting than for previous ages.

And as always more books…

Learning Cube Or Shape Sorter

A great interactive baby toy that you can offer your child at around 9 months is an activity cube or simple shape sorter. 

As with other baby toys, this is one that will grow with your child’s developmental abilities. 

Learning cubes will encourage fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination and babies will learn to push buttons in order to get a reaction be it either a noise or a familiar tune.

Push And Go Toys

Toys that when pushed down on and released zoom across the floor are a great hit with this age as they begin to understand cause and effect. 

The need to chase after the toy to repeat the action will give your baby plenty of opportunities to hone their crawling skills.

Activity Tables

When it comes to activity toys for babies an activity table is ideal. 

As they learn to pull themselves to standing and cruise around furniture this toy provides them with an opportunity to play in a standing position.

Activity tables come with buttons, levers in bright colours and make lots of different noises. They stimulate intellect from learning numbers, colours, shapes and letters as well as playing music.

Gross and fine motor skills are also developed and these types of activity toys encourage your baby to stand for longer periods, thus strengthening the muscles required for standing alone and walking.

Because of the variety of play on offer on an activity table, your baby will not get bored in a hurry. 

For babies that are not quite ready for standing, the legs for these tables are usually removable so they can play with them while sitting (if needed).

The Safe Kitchen Cupboard

Babies of the 9-12 month age group love exploring normal everyday items. They will gain a lot of pleasure banging a wooden spoon in a saucepan or putting smaller objects inside larger ones.

So, if you are able to delegate a low kitchen cupboard and fill it with safe and interesting everyday items, there is nothing your more mobile baby will love to do than open it up, take things out and explore!

The Bath Is A Science Lab

Bath time is now becoming much more fun for you and your baby as they are strong enough to sit up in the bath for longer periods of time and engage in all sorts of play.

Most babies of this age will enjoy splashing and there are some fun educational toys on the market that squirt, float and make bubbles! 

Water wheels that you can attach to the side of the bath and small watering cans are great for this age and beyond. 

You should view the bath as your baby’s little science lab where they begin to learn the basic rules of science through play.

Toys For 12 Month Old

Now 1 year old your baby is getting more curious by the day and their newfound mobility will enable them to explore as they can now move around independently.

This can be quite an exhausting age for you as they are always on the go and as yet have no real sense of danger so making your home toddler-safe is a must!

Provide them with toys that make noises, move and mimic the world they live in.

Many of the toys we have mentioned so far will still be beneficial to your child’s ongoing development as they learn to do more creative things with them. 

So staples such as stacking toys and building blocks will still be an essential part of the toybox with the addition of pull along with toys, walkers and toys that encourage role-play.

Toy Phone

A toy phone is a great way to encourage your 12 month old to develop speech as they chat away like mum and dad! 

This helps develop an early interest in role-play and offers the perfect opportunity to model new words and practice language skills.

Push And Pull Toys

Pull along toys are great for the new walker. They will improve their fine and gross motor skills as they navigate their way around and one that makes a noise or lights up when pulled will encourage them to keep going.

Push Walkers

Another toy essential for this age group is a baby walker

These come in many shapes and sizes from basic wooden ones that hold your building blocks to more activity-based ones. 

I personally prefer the wooden blocks baby walker as this has greater longevity for play over the age groups. 

First Puzzles

Puzzles are a great educational toy for this age group. 

Their fine motor skills will have developed to a point where they are able to manipulate the pieces without becoming too frustrated. 

A simple puzzle at this age can teach shape recognition, help with concentration, goal setting and patience. 

Twisting and turning the pieces to make them fit will also strengthen their fingers and develop hand-eye coordination.

The Great Outdoors

Once your little one is steady on their feet you can introduce more challenging toys outdoors such as a mini slide. 

This is great for developing gross motor skills as they learn to climb the little ladder.

Of course, there is no better outdoor toy than a ball and you can even introduce a tricycle as they approach their second birthday. 

Also, a sandpit and paddling pool are great activity toys for this age and older.

A walk is always a golden opportunity to teach your child about the world around them and is part of the daily routine that should never fall by the wayside.

Encourage your children when they are ready to climb safely, run and walk barefoot on the grass, blow bubbles for them to catch. 

Outdoor play is essential to every child’s well being and teaches them to embrace and enjoy physical exercise.

The opportunities are limitless so once your child is mobile make the most of them.

Developmental Toys For Older Toddlers

Toddlers of two upwards can now play with a large variety of toys but they will still enjoy some of the baby toys they played with when younger.

Learning toys for toddlers should have skill-building attributes across a range of developmental areas including: 

However, despite all the fancy new toys that are out there try and resist the urge to get into the latest toy hype. 

Most toys that are great for your child’s development at this stage do not require batteries.

Early literacy and maths can be encouraged simply with books to foster a love of reading and simple puzzles and building blocks to help your toddler learn how to distinguish objects by shape, colour or size.

Also, resist the urge to compare your child’s development with other children in their age group as they are all individuals and will learn new skills at their own pace!

The most important thing to focus on is that a toddler’s brain is insatiable and their thirst for knowledge about the world they live in should be encouraged wherever possible in the daily routine.

Imaginative Play

Children of this age will still primarily parallel play until they reach the age of 3 years, but they will mimic and copy others and often imitate what their pay mates or you are doing.

They will increasingly enjoy role play and acting out familiar family scenarios. Dressing up clothes, small toy cooking stations with pretend food, cribs and dolls will all help to stimulate your child’s imagination.

Playsets that replicate houses and small people, small vehicles such as cars and tractors, are all extremely good for stimulating imaginative play in your toddler.

Building Blocks

I am sure that by now you will have some building blocks in your toy box, but this is when Lego and other such toddler-friendly interconnecting building sets come into their own as a toddlers imagination is the only limit on what can be achieved with these toys.

These are definitely educational toys that will grow with your child and you can add to them as they get older. 

In my experience, all children and adults love to build and create anything from a fire truck, helicopter to a castle or farmyard!

Musical Instruments

Most children love music and musical instruments help your toddler develop sensory skills and creativity as they explore what different noises instruments can make and the different ways in which they are created.

Music is also a social activity that the whole family can take part in. 

There is also some evidence that children who play a musical instrument have increased reading and numbers comprehension.

You can provide your children with simple shaking instruments to a xylophone, drum, tambourine or even miniature piano keyboard. 

All will develop motor skills and a sense of rhythm!

Most importantly music is fun and many children of this age will also want to dance as they play and listen!

Arts And Crafts

It is never too soon to encourage your toddler to explore arts and crafts.

Their early attempts at drawing and painting help your little one build the hand strength necessary for writing later on. 

At 2 years old, most children will instinctively scribble if given a crayon and this will progress to making circles, lines, dots and finally drawing simple figures.

Letting your child experiment with art supplies is a wonderful learning through play opportunity.

Tactile activities such as finger paint and playing with coloured corn flour are perfect for this age group as well as painting and play dough.

Early Card And Board Games

By 2 and a half, your child will be able to play simple card and board games with you and other members of the family.

The benefit of these games is that they teach your toddler to share and take turns. 

They also build communication skills and help them to follow simple instructions. 

Playing these games are great for family time and they also allow your toddler to learn how to handle failure and embrace healthy competition in a loving environment.

There are many age-appropriate games on the market for this age group but I would start off simply with some matching and memory card games. 

By three years old you can move on to more simple number and literacy-based games as your child prepares for preschool.

Things To Remember About Developmental Toys

The important thing to remember at any stage of your child’s development is to keep things simple and move at your child’s pace.

Make sure the learning opportunities you are offering them are age-appropriate and that you do so in a non pressurised way. 

If your baby or toddler shows a particular aversion to a certain toy or activity… do not force it, there are plenty of alternatives available. 

Your child is an individual with his or her own likes and dislikes. 

So whatever toy or activity you choose remember this is learning through play and play should be fun!!

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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