Educational Toys for Toddlers

What an exciting age of development! Toddlers are a delight as they begin testing boundaries and flexing muscles, especially those cognitive and creative. Everything is a wonderful new experience for toddlers, and all you need to do is keep them supplied with assorted tools for creative growth, and they amaze you. Suggested toddler tools include tables with unlimited paper and crayons, paint, chalk and chalkboards, blocks, clay, construction toys and lots of opportunities for creative make-believe.


Toddlers are active and enjoy climbing, running, and jumping. They need toys to meet these needs. They also are interested in doing things with their hands as the small muscles in their fingers become more developed. However, toys for this age group should be simple and require little coordination. During this period, toddlers become interested in playing with others and in imitating grown-up activities. Toys like dress-up clothes are great for this!

As a caregiver, be careful about imposing sex stereotypes on toddlers' toy choices. Boys will sometimes show interest in dolls or want to be "the mommy." Girls may want trucks or to be "Superman." That is okay. This exploration is normal and necessary for them to learn about the world.

Toddlers also are interested in sensory materials such as paint, play dough, crayons, and chalk. They usually are not interested in drawing or painting a specific object. They like to scribble and mix colors. When talking to young children about their creations, it is better to say "Tell me about your picture," rather than "What is it?"

Toddler's still put toys in their mouths, so you will need to watch for objects with small parts. Also, watch out for items, such as paint and chalk, as toddlers think it is great fun to eat these! Toys should be sturdy and should not have sharp edges or points. Toddlers enjoy balloons, but caregivers should be careful to keep uninflated or broken balloons out of reach. A child could suffocate if these are swallowed.

Appropriate Toddler Toys

push-pull toys
pedal toys
truck/cars big enough to ride
balls and bean bags
balloons (with close supervision)
climbing structures
books with simple stories
peg boards
puzzles creative materials (crayons, playdough, paint)
water play toys
simple dress-up clothes
dolls and stuffed animals

How you can help

1. Play pretend games with children. For example, create a traffic jam with the toy cars they use. Make believe you are animals like kittens, dogs, or horses.

2. Play tag, bounce, or catch with balls or bean bags.

3. Play follow-the-leader or design a toddler-size obstacle course.

4. Let children imitate your activities such as sweeping the floor.


From 18 months until 4, children are very active. The toddler gets pleasure out of larger toys such as a tricycle, wagon, or stick horse. Use of these toys helps develop large muscle coordination and provides experiences in testing skills. Sand and water play are fun ways to explore and experiment with size, shape, and weight. Toddlers will be curious about symbols, numbers, and letters. They enjoy hearing someone read their favorite story over and over. Older toddlers benefit from play time with other children. Three-year-olds become more social and want to be with people. Play with other children is essential at this age. Through contact with other children, toddlers learn manners, how to cooperate, the importance of friendship, sharing, and waiting their turn. During this age, children also begin to try out their power. They may threaten, kick and fight, or push a child away from their group. They even begin to explore their sex differences.


Children from 18 months through 3 years like short songs. Their memories are not fully developed, so they can remember only a few words at a time. Motion also is interesting to them, and actions put to words help them remember their order. Repeating songs encourages the use of words and memorization.

When caring for toddlers, listen when they begin to sing spontaneously. Repeat the songs or nursery rhymes over and over. Encourage the child to reproduce their rhythms by clapping or tapping a metal pie pan with a wooden spoon. Most 3-year-olds will be able to listen and repeat.

As toddlers sing, or music plays on the radio or stereo, call out movements for them to make that involve various parts of their bodies. Ask them to jump and hop, smile and frown, or punch the air with their fists. Then, ask them to sit on the floor or stand on one foot each time you turn the music off. This is a fun game for toddlers and can be played with all kinds of music.

Toddlers' attention spans aren't as long as yours so when they are ready to play another game, turn your attention to something new as well.


Children this age like stories. Their attention spans are still quite short, so you will want to choose stories that are fairly simple. Because children this age do not have good memories, they like to have the same rhyme or poem repeated over and over. Stories that have the same word or phrase repeated throughout also delight this age group. Soon you will be able to see their faces light up with joy and anticipation. Repetition will help develop their memory and language skills.

Toddlers are learning about feelings. They are learning when it is all right to show how they feel. For example, they are learning that it is natural to feel angry sometimes, but that it is not all right to hit or punch others because they are mad. Since toddlers are becoming aware of feelings, they like to hear stories about them. They also are forming self-concepts and like to hear stories about toddlers who feel just like they do. Books that teach about body parts, or people who are like those they know (like mothers, fathers, store-keepers, and pets) will help them learn about themselves and their worlds.

Because their small muscles, like those in their hands, are now more developed, toddlers can turn the thin pages of regular picture books. They should be allowed to do this because it makes them feel in control. At this age, they are able to see more things in the pictures. This is the time to let children look at the pictures for a longer time and talk to you about what they see.Children this age "read" the pictures. The best books for this age are well designed and have clear, uncluttered pages with lots of color to spur their imaginations.

The older children in this age group are beginning to know the difference between real and pretend, and think stories about dressed up and talking animals are great. After such a story you may want to ask, "Was that real or pretend?" You need not make a big deal about the difference between the two.

Toddlers always are active and are coordinated enough to enjoy pop-up books and other books they can take part in. They are still learning about ideas like up/down and in/out, so those books are appropriate now. Two-year-olds are ready to hear books about colors and shapes, and 3-year-olds are ready to hear about numbers and letters.

Books for Toddlers

Thinking and information books as well as short stories are good for this age group. Picture books, with one thing on a page (such as a picture of shoes or a key ring) are good. Children can recognize these pictures, name them, and begin to learn about words. Counting, alphabet, and touch-and-see books also are favorites.

Toddlers also enjoy books about true things told in story form, or pretend stories like those about talking animals. Mother Goose and Richard Scarry books are favorites now.

How you can help

Choose books that are short enough to be read in one sitting, and that have happy endings. Since toddlers are unable to understand other people's point of view, you may want to substitute their names for the names of the main characters in the stories or poems. This will make them feel important and good about themselves. Another way to make them feel special is to hold them close during story time.

Toddlerhood is a time for exploring. You can help them do this by choosing books about the experiences that children (or even animals) have in the real world while they are away from parents and caregivers. Toddlers want independence, although, at this stage, they are not always able to handle much freedom. The stories you choose about exploring should be ones that will help them adjust to new and sometimes frightening experiences in their world.

Two- and 3-year-olds are talkative and have good imaginations. They will have many things to tell you during story time! As a caregiver, you can help by being a good listener.

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care -
NNCC. Lagoni, L. S., Martin, D. H., Maslin-Cole, C., Cook, A.,
MacIsaac, K., Parrill, G., Bigner, J., Coker, E., & Sheie, S. (1989).
Good times with music and rhythm. In *Good times with child care* (pp.
206-221). Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University Cooperative

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