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The toddler stage, from 1-3 years old, is full of developmental milestones and learning experiences. To best support their growth, day cares should invest in open-ended, educational toys that support child-led play. Each one should be engaging and target multiple skills.
Ideal toys are also adaptable to many forms of play and stages of growth — toddlerhood covers a vast array of abilities. To help you out, we’ve rounded up some of the best learning toys for toddlers to help you find the perfect new additions to your child care facility or home day care center.
1. Wooden Blocks
A classic building toy every child care center should have on hand. Kids can use these to build any number of different structures or props for pretend play. Plain wooden blocks in an assortment of shapes are probably the best option. If you want them in different colors, read reviews to ensure paint won’t chip when kids play with them or put them in their mouths.
Find It Here: iPlay, iLearn Toddler Wooden Building Block Toys
2. Busy Board
During the toddler stage, kids begin learning to dress themselves. A busy board is a great way to help them practice some of the skills needed to gain autonomy. This option has a zipper, ties, shoelaces, buttons, toggles, belts and snaps — every part of getting dressed. It’s also soft and compact, so it’s easy to store.
Find It Here: Toddler Busy Board
3. Water Table
Outdoor play is essential to toddler development. Getting kids outside boosts their physical and emotional health. You’ll also notice behavioral issues decrease and attention span improves after they’ve played in the fresh air. When the weather is extra warm, inspire your class with water play. This table is large enough to accommodate several kids at one time, and it has several positionable attachments to let them experiment with cause and effect.
Find It Here: Step2 Rain Showers Splash Pond Water Table
4. Educational Games
Games are a fun and approachable way to disguise learning. They also help build soft skills like communication, sharing, patience and sportsmanship. This great game from Peaceable Kingdom is suited for kids two and up. Children must match ingredients to the recipe card and mix up a delicious soup for the squirrel to eat. It mixes early math, matching and a sense of whimsy.
Find It Here: Peaceable Kingdom Acorn Soup Game
5. Water Doodle Mat
Art is an excellent activity for toddlers — it improves fine motor skills and fosters creativity. They play and experiment with colors, lines, shapes and textures. However, the mess and cleanup are less than ideal. This water doodle toy is a no-fuss option — fill the special markers with water, spread the mat and let the kids at it. It comes with stencils and stamps and dries quickly.
Find It Here: Water Doodle Mat
6. Lacing Toys
Work on fine motor skills and letter recognition with one toy. Little ones will learn to weave a shoelace through the holes around the edge of each letter card. The front design is an animal or object — flip to the back to see the upper and lowercase letter it starts with. Twenty-six different cards make sharing this toy between your whole class a cinch.
Find It Here: Melissa and Doug Alphabet Wooden Lacing Cards
Considerations for Choosing Toddler Toys
While many child care professionals subscribe to the Montessori or Waldorf philosophies for toys, you don’t necessarily need to go that extreme if you don’t want to. Plastic toys can also be educational. Your primary criteria for learning toys for toddlers should be the safety of the materials, the size of the pieces and if they have multiple functionalities to engage different skills and ability levels. With these things in mind, you’ll be able to find the best learning toys for toddlers that suit your personal style and the kids’ needs.