I think it is a no-brainer just how important it is to play with your child during those impressionable years called childhood. There are many articles and books educating parents about the importance of play and what an important role these activities have in a child's complex development. It is true that the quality of the time you spend with your child is the major contributing factor in creating a strong foundation for competent learning in the later stages of their life.
I believe quality playtime depends on two main factors. The most important is You! Do not underestimate your own role - you are the primary channel for your child to learn and experience and connect with the world. You can be very creative with the simplest of toys, however, not everyone is full of ideas of how to engage with their child in a quality way. Here is a list of toys I found very useful and fun to play with during those all-important years with the babies and toddlers I worked with, and with my own children too.
This is my ultimate number one choice of toy for all ages. There are countless ways you can play with your child from the very beginning using a ball. It can be a sensory ball that flashes or makes simple sounds. It can be made of different materials and textures that gives a more refined sensory experience for your little one. It could be a classic ball or a good old balloon that is easy to move and can be introduced to your baby as early as at a few months old. There are so many benefits of playing with balls ranging from developing hand-eye coordination to learning cause and effect, as well as giving a sense of success at playing with a ball, all the way to laying good foundations to excelling in sports.
(Image source www.mightlyape.co.nz Sensory Rollers)
2. Stacking blocks / Mega Blocks
There are many forms of stacking/building blocks available on the market. I prefer to start with softer textile types. These are easy to grab and have sensory features such as movable parts or mirror-like surfaces most of the time. Your little one can learn to reach for the built structure and even knock it down. The next stacking block option is the classic plastic one with blocks that have buttons and edges to assist putting them together. Later on when your child is sitting stably, it is a great opportunity to play together by taking turns and observing each other's play.
(Image source: https://www.mightyape.co.nz/ - Playgro Soft Blocks)
3. Books / Sensory books
I am very picky about books. I believe less is more. Throughout my practise I have come across so many beautiful books that targeted multiple sensory channels, however, my observation was that those books do not truly serve the core purpose of reading books. Those books promote very strong visualisation while shifting attention from the content. On the other hand a hard-surfaced book which has a clear, simple design which gives basic meaning to the story serves the purpose of books well.
Music is a main contributing factor to our general well-being. It relaxes, soothes and produces “happy hormones” that are vital to a well-balanced life. The joy of making music at such an early age is one of the most significant experiences your little one can have.
It is a perfect way of developing an “I can do it” attitude, and provides such a great opportunity for you to affirm your little one’s efforts to do so. In addition, simple musical instruments such as rattles, drums, xylophones are great for hand-eye coordination, and for developing rhythm and sound recognition.
(Image source: www.melissaanddoug.com Band-in-a-Box - Clap! Clang! Tap!)
5. Activity cubes
This is a fun and, at the same time, educational toy. The multidimensional station with its five interactive sides provides plenty of opportunity for your little one to explore and great ways to practise fine motor skills. It is perfect for early stage introduction to further cognitive skills such as counting, word recognition and drawing, not to mention that there is always room for others to join in with this great toy.
(Image source: www.farmers.co.nz - Tooky Toy Wooden Play Cube)
6. Shape sorter
This toy is a perfect example of how carefree playtime can be channeled into conscious learning. Many attempts lead your little one through trial and error to recognise the best possible way to solve the problem.
(Image source: www.tinyfox.co.nz - Shake n Match Shape Sorter)
(Image source: www.gogokids.co.nz - Melissa & Doug Take-Along Shape Sorter)
7. Jumbo wooden puzzle
These play opportunities provide fantastic alternatives for shape sorting. While promoting fine motor skills, the variety of learning about our world by grouping or completing a story provide great opportunities for your child's cognitive development.
I suggest starting with fewer shapes with a bulkier grip for better success and as your child becomes more confident in finding the right spot, you can introduce more complex and challenging puzzles. Puzzles with a clear background and an uncluttered (not too detailed) appearance facilitate a better learning experience.
(Image source: babywise.life - Vehicles Jumbo Knob Puzzle - 8 pieces)
This multi-sensory toy is so simple, yet so versatile. It offers your child many functions from as early as 6 months. While it promotes vision, tactile and motor functions, it also provides great relief for teething babies. They have a nice, clean appearance and are made of silicon. Is a great option when you travel as well as it sucks onto surfaces and is easy to clean.
(Image source: www.logicaltoys.co.nz - PipSquigz)
9. Bath toys - Boon pipes
Bath time is a happy time for most babies and toddlers, so it is a perfect opportunity to play with them in the water. Boon pipes are the next level of scooping and pouring water into connected pipes that fix to the wall with suction cups. You will be surprised how popular this toy can be, not just for your little one!
(Image source: www.toyco.co.nz - Boon Water Pipes Building Bath Toy Set)
10. What is inside? (soft feely box)
This is the toy you do not need to run to the toy store or jump online to get, however, there are many options available to purchase and you can even make one at home and have as much or even more fun with your little one.
If you go with the homemade option you can paint or decorate a simple shoe box. When you cut the holes, make sure the edges are smooth and rounded. You can put your little one's favourite toys in the box, so they will be even more delighted when they find their own beloved toys. This toy provides a great way for promoting language development as well.
(Image source: www.lakeshorelearning.com - What’s Inside? Soft Feely Box)
I encourage you to look around in your area first to find similar toys and buy local!
All the best,