Tips, Ideas & Advice: Best Developmental Toys

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Welcome to another edition of Tips, Ideas & Advice!

This week, we answer a question from Mel of A Wide Line…., who asked:

What are the best developmental toys for babies/toddlers of all ages?

Here are some great ideas from some experienced mothers.

Jamie of Chosen Chaos (@chosenchaos):

Older siblings!  My girls are FASCINATED by their big brothers, sometimes to my dismay.

If the above isn’t possible, a drawer of goodies by wherever you are. In the kitchen I have a baby drawer that holds lots of ‘stuff’ they can pull out, chew on, shake (tupperware filled with beans), throw, etc.  Makes a huge mess and brings lots of laughs and exploration.

Lastly,experiences and other people – I always always underestimate the power of others, they are learning always from other people.

So, no ‘things’ but what works for me!

Leighann of Multitasking Mumma (@multitaskmumma):

I think that anything your child shows interest in is a good tool for development. Usually TV and electronics are not necessary. Things that promote creativity, the use of motor skills, independence, and sensory are all good.

Toys do not have to be expensive. For example I just wrote about craft balls and how my daughter loves playing with them. They are a great sensory item and she can sort them, play with them and learn the colours.

Sue of Cookie’s Chronicles (@SJM_CookiesMom):

My view of this is that the best toys are the ones that stimulate the child to explore and learn. I prefer toys that allow for imagination over toys that only do one thing or do all the work for the child. Blocks are good – soft ones for babies and stackable blocks for toddlers. I have a set of foam blocks of different sizes and shapes that are always a big hit.

Things that stimulate the senses are great for babies: visual stimulation comes from bold blacks and whites and, later on, bright colours; toys with different textures are great for oral and tactile stimulation.

There’s no need to buy expensive toys to give babies and toddlers everything they need to learn and grow. Buy second hand toys, or make your own! A box filled with items of different sizes, colours and textures can be a lot of fun to explore. I have always had hanging pockets and baskets around the house filled with interesting toys and ‘non-toys’ for Jack to play with. I like to change up the contents of these containers from time to time. He loves these surprises.

Of course, one of the best things for babies and toddlers are books. I have quite a few children’s book recommendations on my book blog.

Deirdre of JDaniel4’s Mom (@JDaniel4sMom):

JDaniel’s favorite was cardboard boxes as a toddler. He loved to build, climb into and writie on them.

Jackie of With Just A Bit Of Magic (@JackieCross):

Books! Half the time my kids didn’t pay attention but I kept on reading because I know that that more I read to them the better off they’d be as far as language skills & reading later on.

Touch & feel books – Andrew likes these and there one of the few books that he’ll sit down with me. There are all sorts of things in his tractor book to feel like tires, bales of hay, and things like that.

Puzzles – I have a couple of the Melissa & Doug wooden ones where you just place the pegged piece back in it’s space (all the spaces are the same) but Andrew has fun with it and mixes and matches up the animals.

Anything that you can sort, stack, or put back like a square in the square hole, etc.

Mirrors – this was the only way we could get Andrew to do tummy time. I bought a baby mirror and would put it where he could look down and see himself.

RoryBore of Time Out For Mom (@RoryBore):

It may be surprising, but one of the items that all my kids have not only loved, but learned from without fail:  good old fashioned Flash Cards! I know; it sounds so basic and boring compared with all the musical and light up offerings out there, but perhaps that is why they work. I have an assortment of flash cards for various stages of development – colourful pictures, letters, numbers, shapes, right to words and math. I have never been the type to “push” the cards, they are simply there amongst all the other stuff, and during our play time, they will eventually gravitate towards them.

Another thing I urge parents to consider, often toys that are not necessarily labelled as “Developmental” can be used as such.  For example, my son had some difficulty with fine motor skills as an infant/toddler.  Nothing really extreme, but something we did need to work on. The answer? His Thomas trains. Pushing those little wooden engines along the track, under bridges, through tunnels, and over hills really helped! By the time he started school, there was no difficulty holding the pencil.

Rach of Life Ever Since (@donutsmama):

I would say shape sorters are good for them.  Stacking rings, anything that makes them think.  We often will take an empty tissue box (cheap toys!) and put toys in it.  Donut likes to examine the box and then try to pull out the toys.  She’ll put them back in too to see how it works.  But my number one tip is to read, read, read.  When they’re little, you can read whatever you’re reading to them–books, magazines, blogs!  Read lots of rhyming stories too.  It’s so important for them to hear language.

Aubrey of Way Too Much Aubrey (@toomuchaubrey):

My baby turns two this month and he can already identify every letter of the alphabet with perfect accuracy. I never taught him a single letter, he just watches the Leap Frog video “Letter Factory” and plays with the Leap Frog Radio toy my sister gave us. I “taught” my older son the same way when he was two; it’s really amazing how quickly they learn it and how little effort on my part it required!

Germaine of Kiddothings (@kiddothings):

I like  ‘evergreen’ kind of toys such as:

Balls – great for motor development. Kids learn how to kick, throw, roll and catch from playing with a ball.
Wooden blocks – kids learn how to stack, arrange and build. The ones with alphabets and numbers on them can be used as a teaching tool.
Cardboard bricks – My son loves building ‘forts’, ‘castles’ and ‘houses’ out of them and my 2 year old daughter loves to tumble them down.
Construction and tool sets – look for age appropriate sets. We have Mega Bloks, Lego and a Junior Engineer set that my son simply adores playing with.
Musical instruments – all kids love music and they’ll love it even more when they can make it. We have those wooden toy instruments that include drums, bells, maracas and the xylophone.

Angela of Tiaras and Trucks (@tiaras_trucks):

Lacing Beads in a Box (Melissa and Doug toys) were great for working on fine motor skills.  As Abbey got better with those, we moved onto pipe cleaners and smaller beads to make bracelets and necklaces.

Dylan loves the Imaginarium stacking train right now, as he is a little obsessed with trains.

Abbey is also getting really into Memory (the game).

Kristin of What She Said (@SaidKristin):

I recommend knob puzzles. It took a while, but Lil’ Bit is finally getting into hers (and getting really good at them!). We have these from Lakeshore Learning, and a similar one by Melissa & Doug.


Thank you all for contributing your wonderful tips, ideas and advice. If you don’t already, do read these ladies’ blogs and follow them on Twitter.


A little note about this series: I’m considering putting Tips, Ideas & Advice on the backburner for a little while. Collecting and collating information is far more time consuming than writing a post, and following my post about less is more, I think shelving this series for a while might be the way to go.

I’m also realizing that following my first tips post that took off and had tons of responses to the question of the week, things have slowed down. I don’t get any new questions or many emails with tips. I do understand that people are busy and it is asking a lot. But the series can’t run without reader engagement.

So, it’s a conundrum. I love the idea, but the execution, frankly, is tedious and the lack of engagement, disheartening.

Do you think I should stop running these series? Do you enjoy reading these tips? Do you find them helpful?




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  • November 22, 2011 My Inner Chick

    —Books! Half the time my kids didn’t pay attention but I kept on reading because I know that that more I read to them the better off they’d be as far as language skills & reading later …

    All great ideas, but My Favorite is BOOKS!

    Thanks, Mama A.
    My Inner Chick recently wrote…16 Things That Are Despicably AnnoyingMy Profile

    • November 23, 2011 Melissa

      I agree! Q is 8 months old and just wants to chew on soft books or board books right now, but I know that this is the beginning of his love for reading. He even has is own bookshelf in the family room. Thank you!
      Melissa recently wrote…It’s finally easy enough for me to do itMy Profile

  • November 22, 2011 Cookie's Mom

    Alison, thanks for putting this all together. I DO love this series and will commit to providing feedback as often as I can (just need little reminders), but I have wondered if it is a lot of work for you. I know from the experience of my August guest blogger series, and from the author interviews that I do, that these posts are VERY time consuming to put together. Of course, we all understand if you need to put this aside for a while or indefinitely, but if you do continue it at some point, I’ll help in any way I can. 🙂

    These posts really are very informative and helpful! I’m quite impressed by this series.

  • November 22, 2011 Ann

    By far – my favorite was books! Alison – I think this is a great series, but like you said, if it takes more time than writing a post and you ARE looking to give yourself some time….back burner is best. Maybe give yourself a break and enjoy yourself.

    That being said, I also enjoy this very much and think it’s terrific! I’m sorry I don’t contribute a ton…not having toddlers or young children around I’m not much help!

    Whatever you decide, I know you’ll make the right decision for y-o-u!
    Ann recently wrote…Pasta with Broccoli, Chicken and ParmesanMy Profile

    • November 23, 2011 Melissa

      Thanks, Ann. Books are great. Q already has quite a little library started. Reading to him is my favorite time of day.

      Alison – I agree. I love this series, but I know how time consuming it can be. Whatever makes you a happy writer is the right thing to do.
      Melissa recently wrote…It’s finally easy enough for me to do itMy Profile

  • November 22, 2011 RoryBore

    What a wonderful and helpful list – so many moms/dads can certainly use such good advice. it can be so overwhelming sorting through all the stuff at the local toy store.

    So naturally, I think your tips series is a fantastic idea. Being an “old timer” I have more suggestions than questions usually. but you’re good if there are no questions to answer.
    you know we’ll all be here reading whatever you write, no matter 🙂

  • November 22, 2011 Kiddothings

    Thanks for the mention. As for the series, I can relate to the time needed to put this sort of post together – even my Tipsy Friends post sometimes takes more time to do up than to write a post myself. You’ll need all the time you can get once the 2nd one arrives and if putting this on hold gives you that extra time, then you would have made a wise decision. I do find the tips here helpful and interesting but with regards to tips and all, I usually just Google it; hence my lack of engagement. But if you do continue with the series, I’m there for you if you need me. Just an e-mail away.
    Kiddothings recently wrote…I Am ThankfulMy Profile

  • November 22, 2011 Emilia

    Wow! What a great engagement of all of these great blogging moms! Very good tips, but when it comes to books, my son doesn’t care about them or me trying to read something for him at all. I know how important this should be, but he does not want to pay any attention at all. 🙁 There is no way I would force him either…what can I do?
    Emilia recently wrote…When it all comes to dental implant…My Profile

    • November 23, 2011 Melissa

      My little one has been the same way until just the last couple of weeks. We read the same book every night. I memorized it, so he basically chews on it while I recite it. 🙂 But lately he’s been looking at the pictures and letting me turn the pages. I think it just takes time. Best of luck!
      Melissa recently wrote…It’s finally easy enough for me to do itMy Profile

  • November 22, 2011 JDaniel4's Mom

    What a great list of toys! This really gives great ideas for Christmas presents.
    JDaniel4’s Mom recently wrote…Pause Life for a Moment-Thanksgiving 2011My Profile

  • November 22, 2011 Dumb Mom

    Yep, yep, yep! Musical instruments are loud and obnoxious but SO good for kids! The Dudes still bust out the wooden blocks from time to time!
    Dumb Mom recently wrote…Dumb Mom’s Guide. How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving.My Profile

  • November 22, 2011 Jackie

    I love all these tips!

    I hope that you continue with the series… I know that it’s a lot of work but I really like it! And I’m willing to help out more if you need it.
    Jackie recently wrote…Monday Menu ~ Sweet Potato CasseroleMy Profile

  • November 22, 2011 Amanda Austin

    this is a great post! Love all these ideas. My baby is now in that exploratory phase of his childhood, learning new things. I love the idea of having a drawer full of fun things like that. I have a tupperware drawer perfect for that, but to add a few “toys” would be so cool. Thanks Alison and everyone!
    Amanda Austin recently wrote…Birthday BoyMy Profile

  • November 22, 2011 Rach (DonutsMama)

    I do like these tips, esp all in one place. What about doing it once a month or every other month?
    Rach (DonutsMama) recently wrote…My Memories Review & GiveawayMy Profile

  • November 22, 2011 Kimberly

    I do like these tips…I just don’t know how to participate 😉
    Kimberly recently wrote…Between The LinesMy Profile

  • November 22, 2011 Kristin

    Thanks for the mention, Alison!

    Personally, I’ve realized I’m not really one for series – I find them too creatively limiting. So, if your heart isn’t in this one, then I see no reason not to shelve it. Especially if it’s not really resonating with your readers.
    Kristin recently wrote…A Case Study in Male FutilityMy Profile

  • November 22, 2011 Leighann

    It should be your decision.
    If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.
    It should be something that you get excited about, not something you loath doing.
    Leighann recently wrote…Tips for Surviving your Holiday ShoppingMy Profile

  • November 22, 2011 Jamie

    @rorybore flashcards are a big hit for us too. Boys love them at restaurants! I told my husband that people probably think we’re psycho constantly drilling our kids on opposites, shapes, colors, etc! Ha!

    Alison – I know it’s a lot of work putting it all together. Perhaps you can do it once a month or every other week? I’ll be here no matter what you decide though!
    Jamie recently wrote…s’morsabarMy Profile

  • November 23, 2011 Alexandra

    Well, baby mama: I am big chick mama: and I will tell you THE toys that have withstood time in my house of boys: We homeschooled up to age 8, and the ones that my 3 returned to again and again: blocks, toy trains, train table *worth the cost* Lincoln logs, magnetic shapes and magnetic board, felt shapes and felt board and LOTS and LOTS of paper, crayons, markers, books.

    It’s the getting down on the ground and playing that they love. I have the worn out jeans to prove it.
    Alexandra recently wrote…The Non Traditional Holiday PostMy Profile

    • November 23, 2011 Melissa

      These are great ideas, Alexandra. Thanks! It’s nice to know that the classics are still favorites. I know what you mean about the floor. My jeans have seen better days, too!
      Melissa recently wrote…It’s finally easy enough for me to do itMy Profile

  • November 23, 2011 liz

    Kate has always been a HUGE art lover, so color wonders markers were awesome. Kate loved Play-doh but Maddie doesn’t care for it. We love wooden blocks and the wooden cutting food, too.
    liz recently wrote…Thanksgiving, through a Child’s EyesMy Profile

  • November 23, 2011 Alyssa

    I’m new-ish to your blog so can’t really speak to previous posts in this series but I LOVED this one. Perfect for the holidays,too. Making my shopping list as we speak. 🙂
    Alyssa recently wrote…Save Our SamMy Profile

  • November 23, 2011 Galit Breen

    Such great tips, as always, ladies!
    Galit Breen recently wrote…So Very ThankfulMy Profile

  • November 23, 2011 Ado

    I live Jaime’s ideas and the drawer full of safe play things is a lifesaver too!
    Ado recently wrote…What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?My Profile

  • November 23, 2011 Natalie

    These are all great ideas. I need these for Nolan since he’s bigger now. He loves putting things in boxes and drawers…or better yet taking everything out and making a huge mess!

  • November 23, 2011 Kimberly

    All great tips! You know what my kids will turn to over and over again? Spoons. Any kitchen utensil, really. I have no idea why but they fascinate them.

    If you want to continue the series, do it. If you hate it, then don’t. I do like the tips, but totally understand the work behind it.
    Kimberly recently wrote…How Am I Feeling?My Profile

    • November 23, 2011 Melissa

      I agree. All these expensive toys, and Q just wants a plastic bowl and wooden spoon. 🙂 He has his own cupboard in the kitchen where he plays while I cook. It’s so cute.
      Melissa recently wrote…It’s finally easy enough for me to do itMy Profile

  • November 23, 2011 Jessica

    I got your email about this but honestly I couldn’t think of anything. Considering I have two kids I know that sounds bad but whatever. Sorry I couldn’t help.

  • November 23, 2011 Melissa

    These are all fantastic ideas. I can start using many of these now, and other I can put in my back pocket for when our little Q-ball is a bit older.

    Thank you all so much, and special thanks to you, Alison for featuring my question.
    Melissa recently wrote…It’s finally easy enough for me to do itMy Profile

  • November 23, 2011 Mrs. Weber

    Great ideas in here! I love the idea of beans in a tupperware container – I know Little K would love that!
    Mrs. Weber recently wrote…Little K Talks TurkeyMy Profile

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