Age-by-Age Guide to Toys

What's the best toy for an infant? What should you get a toddler? Before you go shopping, check out our list that matches kids'  developmental stages with the toys that work best for them.

01 of 08

Choose an Activity Mat

02 of 08

How They Play: 0 to 12 Months

baby inspecting toy
Image Source/Veer

For the first three months, your baby isn't able to do much more than observe their surroundings. Because their vision is still blurry, they see bright, boldly patterned items best. "Toys don't have to be black and white so long as the colors contrast with each other," says Nora Newcombe, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia and president of the International Mind, Brain and Education Society. As your baby grows, they'll enjoy toys that engage their other senses as well. Many of the toys they need now are designed to promote interaction in a variety of ways: They may squeak or make a crinkling noise, have a nubby texture, an/or be soft and cuddly. Infants tend to mouth toys; textured ones can help relieve teething pain.

Top Toys

  • Brightly colored, multi-patterned crib mobiles (remove these from the crib once your baby can sit up)
  • Rattles
  • Unbreakable mirrors
  • Floor gyms
  • Activity boards
  • Soft, washable, colorful stuffed animals or dolls with a smiling face
  • Small stuffed fabric balls
03 of 08

How They Play: 1 to 2 Years

playing with toy
Kathryn Gamble

"Your baby is fascinated by cause-and-effect and will enjoy any toy that responds to their actions and makes use of their newly acquired motor skills," says Robin Goodman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in New York City. Little ones will love toys that allow them to hit a ball with a hammer, or those that cause music to play or characters to pop up. Some high-tech toys aimed at this age will name a letter, shape, or number whenever a baby presses a button. At this age your baby is still too young to learn their ABCs, but they'll enjoy interacting with such toys and being exposed to language.

Top Toys

  • Stacking rings
  • Nesting cups or boxes
  • Push- or pull-toys that make noise or have pieces that pop up or move
  • Hammering sets that let kids pound pegs or balls through holes
  • Simple, sturdy musical instruments such as tambourines, drums, or maracas
  • Shape sorters
  • Play vehicles such as a school bus or a fire engine, and plastic people that ride in them
  • Puzzles with four or five pieces
  • Rubber ducks or toy boats
04 of 08

Best Toys for Babies and Toddlers

05 of 08

How They Play: 2 to 3 Years

toddler pushing toy shopping cart
Image Source/ Veer

Your child's play is now more purposeful, and they have the fine motor skills needed to complete a puzzle or build with blocks by themselves. They'll start to enjoy pretend play that imitates the actions of people around them. They will also like high-tech toys that make real-life sounds, such as telephones that ring or dolls that talk. If you avoid gender stereotypes at home, don't be concerned if your cisgender child plays in a gendered way, adds Dr. Newcombe. Babies assigned male at birth may love using dump trucks to scoop up sand, while those assigned female may pretend to feed their dolls and put them down for a nap. No matter what gender they are, let them play with the toys they choose. Kids remain very active at this age; most of them still enjoy push- and pull-toys. It's a great time to introduce a ride-on toy, too: Start with one that your child can propel with both feet, and move up to a tricycle or balance bike.

Top Toys

  • Dolls and stuffed animals
  • Props for make-believe play, such as a toy telephone, a tea-party set, a play kitchen, or a doll stroller
  • Ride-on toys, tricycles, and balance bikes
  • Musical instruments (popular ones include toy pianos with flashing lights that show kids what keys to press)
  • Large transportation toys with buttons that make a horn honk or a siren whistle
  • Puzzles
  • Construction toys that snap together
06 of 08

How They Play: 4 to 5 Years

children playing with toys
Buff Strickland

There's a tremendous explosion in learning ability at this age, and it's a good time to introduce interactive educational toys that teach math and verbal skills, such as phonics boards or tablets with parent-approved games. "Choose toys that say positive things like 'Good job. Let's try again' instead of ones that make negative beeping noises whenever kids get an answer wrong," suggests Marianne Szymanski, founder of Toy Tips, an independent toy testing and review service for consumers. Kids are now able to imagine that they are someone else and may fantasize about being teachers, pilots, ballerinas, athletes, fairies, or anything they like!

Top Toys

  • Art supplies, craft kits, Play-Doh
  • Blocks of different shapes
  • Computerized toys that teach phonics, reading, or math
  • Construction sets with large pieces, such as Magna-Tiles, Legos, or fort-building kits
  • Puzzles of greater complexity
  • Action figures
  • Barbies and other dolls
  • Costumes
  • Transportation toys, such as parking garages, airports, and train stations
  • Board games that don't require reading, such as Hungry Hungry Hippos, Chutes and Ladders, or Candy Land
  • Soccer balls and basketballs
  • Active games such as Jenga or The Floor is Lava
  • Bicycles (with training wheels)
  • Shop interactive and educational toys
07 of 08

How They Play: 6 to 7 Years

mother and child inspecting bug
Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Your child is gradually developing their own interests now, but is still influenced by their teachers and peers. Some kids like doing science experiments (with help); others love painting crafts, making beaded jewelry or playing with dolls. Friends are becoming increasingly important, and your child will start asking for a particular toy (if they haven't already) because "everyone else has it." At this age, kids often become huge fans of computer games, but they also enjoy having friends over to play sports and board games and build things. Many of them enjoy music-related toys, but playing actual instruments can be difficult. (If your kids' toys require batteries, be sure to keep a stash of long-lasting AA and AAA in the house!)

Top Toys

  • Basic science kits
  • Slime
  • Magnets, magnifying glasses, telescopes
  • Art supplies and craft kits
  • Nintendo, PlayStation, or XBox games
  • Computer tablets
  • Legos, K'Nex, Magna-Tiles, and other building sets
  • Sports equipment
  • Remote-control cars
  • Barbies and similar dolls
  • Games that require strategy, such as chess, checkers, or Jenga
08 of 08

How They Play: 8+ Years

kids playing video games

Kids this age enjoy outdoor sports as well as scooters, bicycles, and in-line skates. They acquire adult-like interests, abilities, and hobbies and may develop a particular passion or become a collector. Many of them enjoy creating things, and they find competitive games of all types irresistible. "These years are all about doing things that give kids a sense of mastery and competence," says Szymanski. "With computer and video games, kids can challenge themselves to get a better score than they did the time before. They enjoy competing with their friends, and you'll hear a lot of 'I got this score—what score did you get?'" They are also increasingly able to work on longer projects, some of which might take days to complete.

Top Toys

  • More elaborate science kits
  • Tablet or computer for online games
  • Nintendo, PlayStation, XBox games
  • Craft kits
  • Slime
  • Outdoor sporting equipment
  • Intricate construction sets
  • Board games such as Scrabble, Monopoly, and Trivial Pursuit Junior
  • Strategy games such as chess, checkers, or Jenga
  • Bananagrams
  • Model kits
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