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The Best Toys to Give Your Child This Holiday Season

Buying toys for your child can be overwhelming, with endless options and often high price tags. But the good news is that when it comes to your child’s development, more expensive isn’t always better. Many of the best toys are simple, affordable, and easy to find, and will outlast any trend.

What Makes a Good Toy

Helps Children Develop Skills

Children learn so much through play. Great toys help them develop and master different skills like gross motor, fine motor, communication skills, cognitive skills, attention span, sharing, problem solving, and self regulation, just to name a few!

Encourages Interaction with Others

Many of the best toys provide an opportunity for children to interact with others. At the age we serve, this is often a parent or caregiver, which prepares them to play with their peers in the future. Taking the time to play with your child is far more important than what you’re playing with. Play should be active, not passive, so look for toys that don’t do all the work themselves. It’s better for you to teach your child how to vocalize the sound an animal makes than to have the toy make the sound. If a toy has batteries, consider taking them out!

Helps With Sensory Issues

Some kids need sensory input to help regulate themselves. You can choose toys that appeal to a particular sense. A bouncy horse can provide soothing movement. For those soothed by sounds, choose rattles or toys that crinkle. Some kids love things they can squeeze or touch, like stress balls or stuffed animals, while others avoid things that are sticky. Some children are drawn to flashing lights or anything sparkly. If you aren’t sure what types of toys would appeal to your child’s specific needs, your early intervention provider can offer some suggestions.

Encourages Imaginative Play

We love when toys encourage children to play pretend - whether that means they’re a builder, a mommy or daddy, or a race car driver. Imaginative play can be a lot of fun for children (and adults!) and gives you a window into how they think. It’s a great chance to ask questions and help them think through responses. It’s also an easy way to work on social skills, communication, and teach them about things like chores or hygiene.

Some of Our Favorite Toys


There’s a reason blocks are such a classic toy. Bright colors or patterns make blocks appealing to even small children. As kids learn to stack blocks they work on their fine motor skills. Parents and children can play with blocks together, developing communication and collaboration skills. Blocks can also be a gateway into imaginative play, as you can make up stories about what you are building–and why it’s getting knocked down. As children get older, they can use more advanced blocks, such as Legos.


We know that Play-Doh is messy, and not all parents love that. But it’s important for kids to get messy and explore, and Play-Doh is nontoxic and fairly easy to clean up. As children get older, finger paints and other basic crafts are also great ways for them to express their creativity. It is important to supervise children when they play with these sorts of materials, because even if they’re non-toxic they aren’t meant to be eaten.


Balls are another highly interactive toy, and they come in many sizes, colors, and materials. There are so many things you can do with a ball, starting with teaching a small child to roll it back and forth. Later, balls can be bounced or thrown. Balls are also a great toy to play with outside. Playing with balls helps develop motor skills and can teach sharing and teamwork.

Games and Puzzles

Age appropriate games and puzzles encourage problem solving and working together. Children can develop their thinking skills with shape sorters, toys that nest, toys with keys or latches, simple puzzles, and matching games. Just be sure there are no small pieces that could be swallowed, and that your child falls within the suggested age range to avoid frustration or disinterest. If your child isn’t interested in a toy, you can cycle it out and try again in a few months.


Bubbles are simple and inexpensive, but to a small child they’re magic. Children can try to catch bubbles, helping with their hand eye coordination. Once bubbles are gone, small children must communicate to ask for more. Just be sure to keep bottles of bubbles out of reach when playtime is over so kids don’t spill or drink the bubble solution.

Dolls and Barnyard Sets

Dolls are great for stimulating imaginative play, as kids learn how to be a good mommy or daddy. By showing children what to do with the dolls, parents can reinforce behaviors they’d like children to learn, such as getting dressed or putting away toys. Sets of farm or zoo animals can also stir a child’s imagination and give you the opportunity to teach them the different sounds that animals make. If the toys make noise, we recommend taking out the batteries and making the sounds yourself.


Even before kids are old enough to read, picture books are a great “toy” because they give parents and children a chance to bond. We often teach parents strategies to make the most of reading with their child. There are also soft, touchy-feely books that are great for very young children because they add a sensory element. While picture books can be expensive, local libraries are free to join and offer a large selection of books for any age range.

Our Least Favorite Toys

Anything With a Screen

From a development perspective, the most expensive toys aren’t the best - especially when those toys involve any sort of screen. That’s because all kids typically have to do when a screen is in front of them is stare. Many apps go automatically from one program to another, so your child doesn’t even have to ask an adult to start another video. Instead of playing or interacting with a person, your child is just binging entertainment. Many children also have a negative reaction when the screen is taken away, which can lead to an increase in temper tantrums when it’s time for meals, naptime - or their early intervention session. You don’t want your child to negatively associate part of their routine with losing their favorite “toy.”

Not all children’s programming is created equal, and there are some programs that can help with development. If screentime is part of your routine, we encourage you to watch shows with your child so that you can interact with them.

In Conclusion

Your child doesn’t need fancy toys to have fun. You can even be creative and use items you already have in your home. Just be sure there are no sharp edges or small pieces that could be swallowed. The best gift that you can give your child is your time. When you play together, your bond strengthens and they learn vital skills they’ll use throughout their life.

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