Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
December 12, 2021

Top Toys to Support Development

Dolls and legos and blocks, Oh My!! Do you feel like you’re walking through unknown territory in the Target toy aisles, wondering how to the biggest bang for your buck? What items will last a long time? What will help build strong muscles in preparation for school? What will help your child’s brain mature through play?

Have no fear, the Tots On Target Team is here!!

Not all superheros wear capes, ok? Some have occupational and physical therapy licenses 😉 And…. we will help save you from endless time spent wondering about the best toys – toys that are not only fun, but actually have incredible sensory, motor, and cognitive benefits. What have you done today, Superman?

0-6 month olds

Because vision is not fully developed at birth and newborns see best at a distance of 8-12 inches, high contrast toys and human faces are what our younger babies enjoy looking at most. A black and white mirror will help support visual attention and extend those SUPER important tummy time sessions.

A versatile play pillow can support your baby under the upper chest during tummy time in the first few months and can also be used to support a newly sitting 6 month old. This prop-a-pillar is a great pick for many months of fun playtime.

While tummy time is super duper important, other play positions are just as necessary to build strength throughout the body in preparation for pivoting, rolling, sitting and crawling. This play gym is a perfect place to engage your baby’s visual attention, practice reaching overhead to strengthen the arms muscles, and kick with excitement for a great core and lower body workout. Grasping and handling the fringes on this mat are perfect for the start of fine motor control.

Do elves have bells on their shoes? We’re not sure either, but when babies wear feet rattles it’s super cute and motivating for a real core workout. Playing with their feet is like doing leg lifts. And this exercise will support your baby on the way to rolling back to belly, sitting, and crawling.

When used during tummy time to encourage pivoting, or sitting and reaching in all directions, this activity hoop has many attachments that can be added or removed to meet the developmental needs of your baby no matter the stage. These types of versatile toys make us smile because toys that last longer equals saving money-that’s a win for sure.

One of our most recommended toys for this age group is an o-ball teether. Not only do the large holes make it easy to grab for fine motor play, but thanks to the tongue thrust reflex, babies love to stick out their tongues for oral exploration and improve their oral-motor control which they can easily do with this toy.

6-12 months

Suction cup spinners can be placed on the top of the high chair or on a sliding glass door to encourage an upright posture and core strength. And since fine motor control is improving, your baby will love to try to make the toy spin.

Sensory development is the foundation for all further development (which we dive into with our online course, Babies on the Move). Touching different textures for tactile play is a big part of this growth. Your baby will love these soft textured blocks, which are the perfect size for little hands to grab and play with.

Although this looks super simple, babies love this object permanence box. It’s a perfect toy to introduce during this age range to encourage your baby to work on the grasp and release skill. It’s simple, clean, and fun!

When our crawlers navigate over and around obstacles, they improve strength and motor planning skills. These climb and crawl blocks will help you create the perfect setup. The foam shapes are very study and will be great for toddler and preschool obstacle courses- we know from personal experience ;).If you haven’t guessed already, simple, non-electronic toys are our cup of tea. Babies just don’t need lots of lights and motorized moving objects to entertain them (learn more in our toy blog). But reaching and moving this spinning drum with all its bright colors teaches and entertains baby far more.

 

One of our favorite pieces of equipment for all ages- beginning with our crawlers- is a play tunnel. Crawling is such an important milestone (see our crawling blog) and throwing toys inside motivates babies to MOVE. Crawling continues to be important into the school years to strengthen the shoulder, arm, and hand muscles needed for writing. Put this tunnel in an obstacle course for your older kids and watch your baby follow along-it’s fun for the whole family. Well actually, it’s a bit of a squeeze for adults, so just take pictures from the side instead.

Before your baby jets off running all over the house, they’ll benefit from pushing a walker to build strength and balance in the pre-walking stage. This wooden push toy is multi purposeful with all the entertainment on the front your baby can play with when sitting or kneeling beside it.

An ​activity cube like this one is both entertaining and motivating for lots of movement. Reaching while sitting, kneeling, and eventually pulling to stand will all happen when playing with this cube. We love all the fine motor play opportunities baby has on each surface of this item.

12-18 months

Don’t you love toys that don’t need to be put away on a shelf? This Whatsit Kids Couch is not only a couch, it’s actually supposed to be turned into a fort! Or a house, or a runway, or a jungle gym….. It’s super versatile and washable- what’s not to love?

 

At this stage, babies can already point, but we want to encourage more finger isolation to prepare for higher level fine motor skills. This low cost pop-it will help do just that. You can also practice colors as your toddler “pops” each one.

Another great toy to target fine motor control and hand dexterity is this InnyBin by Fat Brain Toys. Your toddler will enjoy playing with different shapes while challenged to move the small plastic pieces through the stretchy rubber bands. We prefer this to the traditional shape sorters- we like that there’s a clear visual of the shapes inside and many toddlers have difficulty matching up the exact shapes until later on.

Your toddler is enjoying lots of “taking out and putting in” activities at this stage. Knob puzzles like these are a great purposeful way to fulfill that desire and the large knobs are the perfect size for little hands. Toddlers are also building their visual perceptual skills with these puzzles as they match the pictures on the pieces to the ones on the boards.

This ride-on toy will get your toddler zooming all over the house! You may or may not think that’s a good thing, but they’re sure going to love it- and we love it for building core strength and visual motor skills as they navigate around furniture and toys.

Check out this Step2 basketball hoop that will grow with your child- literally. Shooting hoops-or maybe even dunking- strengthens the arms and develops visual motor skills.

When stuck inside on  cold or rainy day, your toddler will love going up and down a slide like this one. And you’ll enjoy watching them practice climbing and motor planning to figure out how to position themselves at the top before sliding down in all different ways.

18- 36 months

In this age range, toddlers are just soaking everything in and are up for lots of challenges. These beautiful interlocking puzzles are a great choice to stimulate your child’s visual perceptual skills. And the 4 pieces count helps your child feel successful!A wall, house, or barn — These lightweight, cardboard brick blocks can become anything. The creative possibilities are endless and the best part is there are no boo boos when the building comes tumbling down. One of our favorite activities to try is to stacks them up and have your child kick only the top one off for a real balance challenge. You can also try playing a giant game of Jenga.

Does your toddler like to color? Well, small hands are not quite developed enough to hold regular sized crayons. These egg shaped crayons are the perfect size to fit comfortably in little hands. Starting off with these will actually help your child prepare for a better grasp with larger writing utensils used later on in school.

Toddlers will start learning how to throw and kick anything they can get their hands on. So instead of choosing your home decor, make sure to get these soft foam balls for a fun (and safe) option!

 

We often get asked when kids begin to jump-and typically that begins around 24 months. But even before that, kids love to bounce in preparation for their big take off. This mini trampoline won’t take up tons of space while giving your toddler a place to get lots of energy out. Add it into an obstacle course to extend the fun.

This roller coaster is a personal favorite. You’ll be amazed how your toddler figures out how to climb the small steps, get on the car, and soar down the track. This well made toy will last your family many years and is fun for kids of all ages.

3 years+

Coloring is a big part of development, but coloring on an easel takes the activity to a whole new level. When your child colors or paints on this vertical surface, the shoulders, arms, wrists and hands are all getting stronger for writing with a tripod grasp. This is a great item for preschool and kindergarten prep.

Building strength doesn’t only include the large muscles in the arm and shoulder. Those little hand muscles need to build strength and dexterity too. Play dough is a great option to practice squishing, twisting, and molding. And as an added bonus, this set includes plastic scissors so your child can practice holding, opening and closing, and snipping those dough pieces. Scissor skills are a complex task that requires lots of strength and coordination- and your preschooler will enjoy practicing through play.

The sneaky, snacky squirrel game is another great tool to build coordinated use of the thumb and pinky side of the hand, which is needed for accurate scissors skills.

Is your child into fairy tales and dress up? Having a variety of dress up clothes is the perfect way to create an interesting story line while building fine motor coordination on the snaps and buttons. Add in a toy kitchen and a pretend pizza set and let their imaginations soar.

Have a budding engineer? Wooden blocks and magna-tiles are the perfect open-ended toys to encourage problem solving and spark creativity. Kids can get super creative and build some pretty amazing structures with these products. They will learn how to grade force by carefully placing each piece to avoid knocking over their creations.

On their bottoms or bellies, kids love to move on these scooter boards for a complete gross motor workout. You can use them in an obstacle course by placing puzzle pieces on one side of the room and the puzzle board on the other. Have your child take one piece at a time to complete the puzzle, riding on the scooter back and forth.

Learning to ride a bike with training wheels can actually be a real challenge for many kids, only then to transition to riding without them. (It’s just as challenging for us adults having to run alongside them!). A balance bike allows children engage their cores to balance properly. Once they’re confident, they’ll raise their legs to glide along. When ready, that transition to a 2 wheeler will be much easier.

Every child we know has loved this flower set– they can creatively make a beautiful garden using their fine motor and visual motor skills. A huge plus-it comes with its own carrying case.

The toys listed here are presented as affiliate links. When you make a purchase through these links, Tots on Target may receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thank you, as always, for all of your support!

Free Download

5 Things Your Baby Wants You to Know About Their Development

If you’re like most parents, your baby’s first-year milestones feel sort of mysterious. You may know the big ones they need to hit… but knowing how to make them happen is a whole different story.

Download this free guide to learn five surprising things about your little one’s development. (You’re going to loooooooove #4!)

Allison Mell (L), Doctor of Physical Therapy 

Mary Deutsch (R), Licensed Occupational Therapist

Hi there!

We’re Allison & Mary.

Over the past decade, we’ve talked with hundreds of parents and educators who want to help their kiddos stay on track developmentally.

But wanting to do something and knowing how to do it are two entirely different things. So they often feel a bit lost and a lot frustrated.

We created Tots on Target to bridge the gap between parents and pediatric professionals so we can all work together to support every child’s development.

Hi there!

We’re Allison & Mary.

Over the past decade, we’ve talked with hundreds of parents and educators who want to help their kiddos stay on track developmentally.

But wanting to do something and knowing how to do it are two entirely different things. So they often feel a bit lost and a lot frustrated.

We created Tots on Target to bridge the gap between parents and pediatric professionals so we can all work together to support every child’s development.

Allison Mell (L), Doctor of Physical Therapy 

Mary Deutsch (R), Licensed Occupational Therapist

Trusted by 100K parents and counting.

 

@totsontarget

[FREEBIE] 5 Things Your Baby Wants You to Know About Their Development

Enter your name and email address below and we'll send this helpful guide! 

Thanks! Check your inbox! (It may take a few minutes...)

[FREEBIE] 5 Things Your Baby Wants You to Know About Their Development

✔️ Learn how to help your baby reach special milestones
✔️ Get tons of actionable activities you can practice with your little one (without all the expensive toys)
✔️ Discover exactly what your baby needs to build strength and confidence

Enter your name and email address below and we'll send this helpful guide! 

Thanks! Check your inbox! (It may take a few minutes...)