I found this article on Babycenter.com very useful and wanted to pass it along. Make sure that your child’s toy box provides a range of different kinds of play experiences — and do lots of trades with other parents or happily accept hand-me-downs. Choosing toys from each of the following categories is a great way to offer well-rounded play that encourages physical development.
For large motor skills
Choose toys that emphasize coordination and balance, and build arm and leg strength.
- Push or pull toys: Try pretend lawn mowers, shopping carts, or vacuums; baby carriages; animals on a string; a light wheelbarrow.
- Ride-on toys: These require foot power and can help improve balance. Choose wagons, wide low-to-the-ground vehicles (without pedals at first, then low tricycles once your child can reach them, around age 3 or 4). Avoid battery-powered ride-on toys (aside from safety concerns, it’s better for your child to get the exercise).
- Sports equipment: Playing catch improves hand-eye coordination and involves running, too. Start with large rubber and foam balls. Kicking the ball is also important.
- Action toys: A low plastic structure that includes a slide and climbable surfaces can be kept indoors or out. (If you don’t have room for it, playground visits are a good alternative.) Also consider play tunnels, swings, spinning seats, sofa cushions arranged as an obstacle course, or large cardboard cartons to crawl through.
- Rockers: Rocking horses, rocking vehicles, and rocking chairs all provide the foundation for imaginative play.
For fine motor skills
Choose toys that involve hand-eye coordination. Your child may not be adept at fine-motor action yet, but this kind of play provides practice.
- Art supplies: Always make available different types of paper and large-sized crayons and pencils, sidewalk chalk, watercolors, washable markers, coloring books, and play clay.
- Toys that make patterns: Felt boards, magnetic boards, peg boards with large pegs, and matching games involve precise hand movements.
- Stacking and building toys: Any kind of blocks work well (wooden, plastic, foam, cardboard), as do stacking cups and rings (baby toy holdovers that young preschoolers still enjoy). Shape sorters that allow a child to sort by color and shape appeal to younger preschoolers.
- Toys to manipulate: At 2, your child may still enjoy knobbed wood pieces but is getting ready to move onto jigsaws of up to 20 pieces or foam puzzles with large interlocking pieces. Also good: Lacing cards, large threading beads, tea sets, musical instruments.
For language skills
Don’t forget the following sorts of toys, which emphasize speaking, music, and pre-reading skills.
- Books: Make a wide variety available, from picture books to simple nonfiction you can read to your child. Replenish often with library trips, bookstore visits, and yard sales.
- Dramatic play props: Pretend play encourages making up stories. Include dress-up clothes, miniature household props, play sets (dollhouse, farm, soldiers, castle), dolls, action figures, and dinosaurs.