Toys Should Be FUN!

Spring and Summer birthdays are coming fast, which means that parents will soon be asking pediatric therapists, “What toys are best for my child?”

Before discussing the value of play, relationships, and quality toys, we should first discuss what toys represent. We must be clear that no toy, game, or activity can make children smarter or solve developmental problems. Toys are tools that can be helpful to facilitate development.

The purpose of a toy is to stimulate imagination, exploration, critical thinking, but most of all, they should be FUN!  Children do not need a great number of toys and, in fact, are often overwhelmed by too many toys.

I often advise parents of young children to keep it simple. I recommend sticking to the 5 Bs:

  • Balls: all shapes, sizes, types. I love any toys that features a ball going in one place and out another. Recommended toys include marble runs, gumball machines, tactile balls, auditory balls, sports.   



  • Babies: pretend play props, including dolls, stuffed animals, action figures, Little People, cars, kitchens, play food, etc.
  • Boxes: we all know the kids love boxes. Playing with boxes stimulates early math concepts, creativity, imagination, and critical thinking. Let them play with boxes, you’ll be amazed at what they create.


  • Books: Read a book a day, preferably more.  Encourage older children to practice reading by reading to younger children. Avoid any book that has batteries; the children will only push the buttons and will not gain literacy.
  • Blocks: big, little, legos, duplos, hard, magnetic, soft. Block play facilitates critical thinking, math, imagination, creativity, and so much more.

The 5 Bs are a good starting point, but there are many good toys and activities that children of all ages will enjoy. Play-doh, paint, and tactile activities are wonderful opportunities for play, as are gross motor toys, such as bicycles, ride-on toys, tunnels, and swings.

For many years I recommended that parents avoid the sixth B: batteries. I felt that time spent with electronic toys limited imagination and that screen time was passive learning.

I was wrong.

I have recently been rethinking my approach to technology in play after recognizing that some children use technology as a protective barrier that makes them feel safe enough to interact with others. I now realize that tech toys can be useful learning tools and can be used to facilitate interaction. The key is to be sure to use them together in an interactive way.

While some electronic toys are expensive wastes of money, there are some that are wonderful means of learning. There are many electronic toys that claim to teach letters, numbers, colors, and shapes that children just push buttons and quickly lose interest (I’m looking at you, Vtech). But there are some unique robotics toys that encourage higher order thinking, mapping, and even coding. Early childhood educators are taught that young children are process-oriented, rather than product-oriented, yet many early childhood projects are geared toward the product. Children learn from the process, not the product. New technology toys and products promote technology as a whole body experience and the projects are tangible. Projects have more meaning to children when they design them themselves. Be aware, however, some of these cool new gadgets are pricey.

Before providing a list of recommended toys, I remind you that relationships are the cornerstone of all learning.

“No matter how helpful computers are as tools (and of course they can be very helpful tools), they don’t begin to compare in significance to the teacher-child relationship, which is human and mutual. A computer can help you learn to spell H.U.G., but it can never know the risk or the joy of actually giving or receiving one.”–Fred Rogers, 1994

Recommended toys that fit into the 5B’s mentioned above that have found their way into my sessions or cart in the past year or so:  

For Younger Children

  • Great for requesting, visual tracking, motor skills, and oral motor practice
Brio trains and tracks
  • Representational play, social skills, early concepts, critical thinking


Felt board activities
  • Language, literacy, creativity, fine motor

  • Concept development, reasoning, sequencing, social skills, fine motor
  • Motor development, early concepts, imagination, language, sequencing
  • Sensory regulation, language, social skills, motor skills
  • Motor skills, social skills, sensory processing, can be used for obstacle course

All Ages

Board games
  • Sequencing, social skills, learning to play by rules, academic concepts, reasoning, communication
Bikes (ride-on toys, tricycles, bicycles)
  • Motor development, social skills
Legos. All the legos.
  • Fine motor skills, representational play, language development, mathematics, academics, creativity, social skills, critical thinking, reasoning, physics


  • Just one or two peg puzzles. Don’t spend a great deal because they will lose pieces and will lose interest once they’ve mastered them. Jigsaw puzzles will last longer.
Action figures
  • Imagination, creativity, language development, social skills
Matchbox cars and those awesome tracks
  • Representational play, social skills, early concepts, critical thinking, physics
Pokemon cards
  • Social skills, creativity, critical thinking, reasoning
Magnet blocks
  • Critical thinking, creativity, concept development, fine motor
  • Imagination, language, literacy, creativity
  • Concept development, mathematics, reasoning, fine motor


  • Tactile exploration, reasoning, creativity, imagination, communication
Kinetic sand
  • Tactile exploration, reasoning, creativity, imagination, communication
  • Tactile exploration, reasoning, creativity, imagination, communication
Musical instruments
  • Auditory processing, creativity, language, mathematics
Dress up clothes
  • Imagination, creativity, language, social skills, fine motor


Snap circuits
  • Critical thinking,  reasoning, electricity


Meccano MAX robot
  • Critical thinking, coding, reasoning, social skills
  • Critical thinking, coding, reasoning, social skills
Kano pixel kit
  • Critical thinking, reasoning, social skills
  • Critical thinking, reasoning, social skills, creativity
Wonder Workshop Dash Robots
  • Some are designed for preschoolers
  • Coding, reasoning, social skills


Tomo Robot Kit
  • Construction, fine motor, critical thinking, problem solving


Kamigami Lima Robot Kit
  • Coding, fine motor, critical thinking


  • Wooden coding toy for preschoolers. No screen involved.


Robot Turtles

  • Preschool programming toy


Think and Learn Code a Pillar

  • A preschool programming toy


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