Importance of using Toys to Support Infant-Toddler Learning and Development

Blog Kid's Toys

Choosing toys and activities that are suitable for infants and toddlers can challenge even the most experienced teachers. By being mindful of the basic principles of child development and the role of play, parents can intentionally select toys to meet young children’s unique needs and interests, supporting learning. It is also important to be aware of the essential role of parent-child interactions. When parents engage with children as they play, they help children make sense of their experiences and promote children’s further exploration.


Play is the mechanism by which children learn how they experience their world, practice new skills, and internalize new ideas and is therefore the essential “work of children”. Through this continuous and expanding process, early skills give rise to new ones and new experiences are integrated with previous ones. Through play, children learn about the world and engage in activities that encourage their cognitive, emotional, and social development. For example, when a child bangs on a drum, she learns she can create a sound. Through play, she learns the important concept of cause and effect.


Child development occurs across several domains, including language, fine motor, gross motor, social-emotional, and cognitive development. When choosing materials and planning learning activities for children, teachers can consider how the toys and experiences will support development within and across domains. Certain toys promote behaviors that encourage development within certain domains. For example, teachers can nurture the cognitive skill of object permanence by hiding a toy under a scarf and playing the classic peek-a-boo game.


A child’s cognitive development involves thinking skills - the ability to process information to understand how the world works. Toys and play naturally provide opportunities for practicing different thinking skills, such as imitation, cause and effect, problem solving, and symbolic thinking. When a teacher models drumming on pots and pans, a child imitates and quickly learns to make a noise of his own. Offering this opportunity to play allows the child to practice imitation, to experience cause and effect, and to have fun discovering how the world works.


When choosing materials for toys, it is important to consider the children’s communities and cultures. Teachers can bring into the classroom elements of different languages, dress, and music. When choosing or making books, for example, some can reflect the cultures and languages of the children. Similarly, dolls, dress-up clothes, and pretend food should represent children’s families and communities.


A little creativity combined with basic materials can stimulate play and facilitate a young child’s development across all domains (including cognitive). For example, teachers can use cardboard boxes, plastic dishes, pie tins, and sock puppets. In the following section, all of the suggested toys and materials can be handmade using easily acquired or inexpensive materials.

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