images (1)Basic toys and quality time with adults are the best gifts an infant, toddler or preschooler can receive when it comes to promoting learning for children 5 and younger.    “Young children learn through play, through experimenting with the world around them and through interaction with other kids and adults,” said Ginger Sandweg, First Things First Senior Director for Early Learning. “The best toys are those that appeal to the way their minds work. Those toys will get used most and will help children develop skills they will need to be successful once they enter school.” Books are one of the best gifts for all ages. Daily reading has been shown to help young children develop language skills and increase vocabulary – both crucial if they are going to be good readers in the future. Other good choices for different age groups include:

  • Infants (under 1 year old) – Babies are fascinated by their surroundings, especially faces and bright colors. Older babies start moving around and experimenting with holding, moving and throwing objects. Toys that stimulate that initial curiosity include: board books; toys where touch creates sounds, flashing lights, etc.; safe, chewable toys; and, toys with mirrors. For older babies, toys they can push or pull and soft blocks are also appropriate.
  • Toddlers (1-3 years old) – Toddlers are on the move. They start experimenting with words and test their muscles with climbing and jumping. They can also figure simple things out for themselves. Toys that encourage imagination and problem-solving include: books; pretend versions of everyday objects; toys to ride on or climb on; balls to roll or catch; and, building-type toys, including fill and dump varieties. For older toddlers, matching and sorting toys; large crayons or markers with plain paper; simple puzzles; and, musical toys are also appropriate.
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years old) – Preschoolers are ready for more physical play. They are building their vocabulary and learning to get along with others – including sharing, taking turns and following the rules. Older preschoolers may be ready for simple concepts like numbering, letter sounds and reading basic words. Toys that help preschoolers relate to each other and the world around them include: books; toys that encourage imaginative play, like dress-up clothes and kid-size furniture; simple board games; counting and letter games; sports equipment suitable to their size; musical instruments, and, art supplies, including play dough, safety scissors, glue, etc.
   In today’s electronic world, Sandweg said she often gets asked about television and computer games for kids.
“Screens can’t replace people; and it’s those powerful interactions with caregivers that help young children learn,” Sandweg said. “Some screen time can be educational, providing caregivers sit with children as they are viewing television or playing computer games. That way, the adults have an opportunity to connect what children are seeing to the real world and extend that learning.”