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Play at Different Ages and Developmental Stages

Learn what toys are appropriate for children of various ages and why.

Play at Different Ages and Developmental Stages

As your child grows, his play styles and tastes change drastically. From his first steps to his first day of preschool, it's important that the changes he experiences in himself and his surroundings are reinforced through play. Here are guidelines for what to expect at each developmental stage, and suggestions for appropriate activities your child can enjoy.


  • Use their bodies as the primary avenue to explore the world.
  • Learn to participate in and control simple social interactions with caregivers.
  • Learn to recognize, explore, and control objects, sights, sounds, textures, and tastes.
  • Explore, master, and learn to use their body parts.
  • Learn how to get desired reactions from people and objects.

Examples of appropriate infant toys: mobiles, rattles, toys with wheels, stacking and nesting toys, unbreakable mirrors, washable stuffed animals and dolls, cloth and heavy cardboard books. (Try to avoid electronic toys that do things infants can't understand or control.)


  • Enjoy the physical activity that comes from their new mobility in the environment.
  • Explore relationships between objects and how to control them.
  • Expand their understanding of object permanence--e.g., hide-and-seek activities.
  • Start to see themselves as part of the community and develop skills to participate, especially language.
  • Work on using symbols and make-believe in play.

Examples of appropriate toddler toys: pull-push toys; blocks; an assortment of balls; Play Doh with simple tools (craft sticks and wooden rollers); picture books; containers, scoops, sifters, and other objects for sand and water play; toys and props for dramatic play like scarves, hats, a toy telephone, stuffed animals, and generic baby dolls; large pegged-top puzzles; a small climbing structure (a changeable structure is most versatile).


  • Develop friendships and skills for playing with other children.
  • Learn to use symbols in more complex ways and in two-dimensional form.
  • Expand their ability to attach language to actions and ideas.
  • Explore relationships between objects and how parts and wholes fit together (as in making constructions).
  • Experiment with how to make desired effects happen with objects and people.
  • Develop increasingly complex large and small motor skills.
  • Learn how to plan ahead.

Examples of appropriate preschoolers' toys: Construction toys with interlocking pieces; new dramatic play items--props to recreate real life (gas station, post office, store) and puppets; art materials such as markers, paint, scissors, glue, and an assortment of blank paper of various colors and textures; simple musical instruments and noisemakers, including shakers and rhythm sticks; wheel toys (ride-on equipment such as bikes and wagons); outdoor play materials (balls, bats, bubble blowers and liquid soap, and giant chalk pieces); and natural outdoor materials, (rocks, sticks, and leaves).

School-Age Children (Up to Age Eight)

  • Learn group skills, including cooperation and conflict resolution.
  • Follow rules designed by others (as in board games and sports), as well as create their own rules to follow with peers.
  • Use new skills to organize objects, ideas, and skills in logical and interconnected ways (as in collections and magic tricks).
  • Incorporate a growing ability to symbolize using letters and numbers. Draw them into everyday activities and games (as in magic tricks).
  • Develop special interests, skills, and hobbies.

Examples of appropriate school-age toys: construction tools; board and other games involving rules, skill (jacks), and strategy (checkers); science equipment (magnets and a magnifying glass); modeling and craft materials (self-hardening clay, weaving kits, and miniature models to build); secret codes and magic tricks; items for "collections" (stamps, coins, shells, and sports cards); materials for creating small worlds like doll houses and castles; tools for dramatic performances and storytelling (blank books, materials for making props, and a costume box).

(Brought to you by the PTA.)

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