11 Brilliant Toys Recommended By Child Development Specialists

by Emily Westbrooks and Elly Ayres

With the holidays just around the corner, parents everywhere probably have toy shopping on the brain. If you’re gathering up toys recommended by child development specialists, though, at least you know these gifts are going to help your kid learn something. That fact alone makes the stressful shopping (and rifling through the sheer number of options) absolutely worth it.

I reached out to distinguished child development experts RB Fast and Jean Ferguson to compile a list of brilliant toys for child development that are so fun, your kid will have no idea that they're actually in the process of encouraging their own development. (Isn't science the best?) With picks for infants up to preschoolers, there's something on this list for a range of ages.

And lest you worry that they're all flashy or expensive, you might be surprised — some of the best options for your little ones are the tried and true classics that many people remember fondly from their own childhood. So send this list to grandparents or bookmark it as your own shopping guide for the holiday season and remember that now, the only stressful task you have left is deciding which adorable toy to get for your little one.


Haba Wooden Teething Ring

Haba Wooden Teething Ring, $12, Amazon

Recommended By: RB Fast

Why It's Awesome: "Newborns are just figuring out how to use their hands and eyes," Fast says. "They benefit from spending time in a comfortable, safe space on the floor holding a simple object." This flexible wooden teething ring will help baby develop visual focus and hand-eye coordination. Plus, as Fast notes, the personalized wooden teethers come in the shape of any U.S. state."


Bowls And Scoops

Bowls, $7, Amazon; Scoops, $18, Amazon

Recommended By: RB Fast

Why It's Awesome: "Toddlers love scooping and dumping," Fast explains. "They are developing coordination, as well as an understanding of scientific concepts like volume, weight, and gravity. A set of bowls and scoops will keep a toddler happy for long stretches."


Clay Tool Set

Clay tool set, $35, MontessoriReStore on Etsy

Recommended By: Jean Ferguson

Why It's Awesome: You know how much the little ones love to create, and experts say a set like this one hits a home run. "A clay working set will help them develop serious hand strength and coordination, while having a lot of fun," Ferguson says.


Alphabet and Number Foam Mat Puzzle

Alphabet And Number Foam Mat Puzzle, $10, Amazon

Recommended By: Jean Ferguson

Why It's Awesome: These classic floor mats are a great opportunity for kids to learn the numbers and letters, but as Ferguson explains, this one packs an extra-special punch. "This particular floor mat has a nice combination of smooth and bumpy textures, which is very meaningful for infants and toddlers," she says. "At that age, all of their learning is coming from sensory experiences, so they have to touch it to learn it."


Blank Hardcover Books

Blank hardcover books, $10, Amazon

Recommended By: Jean Ferguson

Why They're Awesome: Sure, your toddler may not be reading or writing yet, but that doesn't mean they don't have an active imagination. "Letting a child be the author of a book they've illustrated is a beautiful way to let them express themselves and nurture their literacy development," Ferguson explains. "Sitting down with your child to write down their story as they dictate is a fabulous bonding experience that enriches their creative confidence."



Play-Doh Case of Colors, $14, Amazon

Recommended By: Jean Ferguson

Why It's Awesome: Remember this awesome stuff? Experts say it's perfect for kids ages two years and up, as it encourages your kid's sensory development. "With the amount of tools and play sets out there for it, the mileage on holding children's interest is unreal," Ferguson says.


Playchest Games: Go Fish

Playchest Games: Go Fish, $8, Amazon

Recommended By: Jean Ferguson

Why It's Awesome: "This game works on a lot of levels," Ferguson explains. "You can choose to match colors or numbers depending on the children's learning interests or needs. Since there's one fishing pole to share among up to four players, children get to practice taking turns and structured gameplay. You can take out game pieces to simplify or speed up the game as necessary. It's a lot more fun than the average memory game."


Playskool Favorites Sit ‘n Spin

Playskool Favorites Sit ‘n Spin, $27, Amazon

Recommended By: Jean Ferguson

Why It's Awesome: Ferguson likes to call this one a "super toy," and after hearing her out, I definitely agree. "It's self-propelled, so toddlers can maneuver it independently," Ferguson says. "Just make sure it's in a safe, supervised place! It's a fun exercise in balance, coordination, and that wacky vestibular sense."


Elephant Pull Toy

Rolling Elephant Pull Toy, $21, Leitner Design on Etsy

Recommended By: RB Fast

Why It's Awesome: "New walkers need safe opportunities to use their new skill," Fast says. And parents would be hard-pressed to find a more adorable opportunity than by pulling around this elephant toy.


Table And Chair Set

Fast Industries table and chairs set, $268, Etsy

Recommended By: RB Fast

Why It's Awesome: "Older infants love to sit independently at tables almost as much as they love pushing furniture around," explains Fast. "A table and chair set is perfect for a 6 to 24-month-old. They will push the chair around as they learn to walk. As they get older, they will sit at the table for everything from snacks, to puzzles, to art."



Magna-Tiles, $120, Amazon

Recommended By: Jean Ferguson

Why It's Awesome: "Building blocks are an irreplaceable part of a child's math, science, and fine motor development," Ferguson says. "These are a hypnotically fun extension to more typical blocks. They're beautiful, intriguing, open-ended, and they allow for really dynamic 3-D creation. I've lost track of how many times I've seen parents decide to give them a try and get sucked in immediately. Honestly, Magna-Tiles have my vote for my all-time favorite toy." Talk about high praise.

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