Peg Oliveira, PhD
Before you send off that wishlist to Santa, be sure your choices match your child’s developmental stage of play. Finding a match between your child’s age and what challenges their minds and bodies will bring the most holiday joy. Here are some suggested guidelines, based on Gesell’s normative developmental milestones.
Remember as you fill your stockings:
- Children are unique! Children develop along the same developmental path, but at their own unique pace. As such, toys suggested for children just a little older and just a little younger than your child’s chronological age may be the best fit.
- Some of the best toys are things you find around the house! Currently our living room is filled with extra large cardboard boxes. Blankets and furniture are all you need for a stellar fort and all those ribbons are sure to be put to good use!
Simplicity is best! Your two year old experiences the world through touching, handling and holding it so sand and water tables are great. At two, they are using both hands in cooperation, and gaining skill with handling small toys. Choose things that can be taken apart and put back together like simple puzzles or stacking toys. Books are great at all ages; at two durable picture books that are meant to be touched are great. They prefer parallel play to cooperative play, as cognitive skills are not yet sufficiently developed for complex interactions. Try objects that allow them to “play” at real life, like hammers or cooking utensils. If you want to go high tech, try a phone that really rings.
Open their minds! Encourage imaginative play with dolls, stuffed friends, blocks, and play dough. Your three year old doesn’t need an instruction manual with their toys; they won’t follow it anyway! They like to use crayons, markers and colored pencils. Stick to books with simple plots. At three most children will coordinate total body movements more smoothly and can enjoy slides, tunnels and climbing structures as well as wagons, wheelbarrows and ride-on equipment like tricycles.
Let them move! Toys that can be used in large spaces or outdoors, like balls, hoops and ride-ons will be great for both your four year old, and for you (to exhaust some of that preschool energy). They are beginning to cooperate in their play and will enjoy toys that involve other children. Most 4’s can now catch successfully, hands to chest, so try large and small balls for throwing and catching. They love books that include humor and pictures. Silly jokes and rhymes are right in your four year old’s wheel house. They enjoy experimenting with fantasy and reality, and may want to show off their drama skills so props and stages are great. Drawing instruments will still be a hit at four.
Let them explore! Your five year old enjoys the process of inquiry even more than product. Now is a great age for legos as well as beginner science kits; bug jars and fossil excavation sets are great. Books that explain the world, like on gems or the solar system, scratches their curiosity and serves their expanding language skills. They have well-developed gross motor skills so many 5’s are ready for toys like bicycles (with training wheels) and sports equipment as well as more advanced climbing structures. Gifts that allow them to exercise independence in their personal care skills, like monogrammed toothbrushes or washcloths, might be inspiring.