Toys are an important part of early childhood development. But with so many options to choose from, how can parents select the most age-appropriate toys for each little one?

Many toys make annoying sounds, take up space, and worst of all, don’t encourage the child to play but rather are designed to entertain them. However, the right toys can help aid a child’s cognitive development in multiple ways.

Why have toys such as rattles, blocks, and dolls stood the test of time? As technology advances, you would think old toys like these would be tossed aside for shinier and brighter items. Yet, most babies today own these items. It is because these simple toys encourage problem-solving, imagination, creativity, and sensory exploration.

The best developmental toys by age

I am a former preschool teacher with an education in Early Childhood Development and now homeschool my preschool-aged children. Here are the toys I purchase for my children and for anyone in my life who has a baby or a young child.

Developmental toys for newborns to 6-month-olds

Infantino Textured Multi Ball Set, one of the best developmental toys for babies

1. Infantino textured multi ball set

Ideal for grabbing, rolling and even cramming into their mouths. That’s what learning looks like at this age!

teething toys, a classic toy for childhood development

2. Doddle & Co. critter teether bundle

Not only do they help soothe teething woes, but the bubble popping design makes them a tactile delight as well.

wooden teether rattle, a classic developmental toy for 6-month-olds

3. Plan Toys wooden beads rattle

The rattle is made to perfectly fit those tiny hands so your child can stimulate their sensory development as they watch, listen to and handle the rattle.

mirror game for baby, a great early childhood toy for 4-month-olds

4. Bright Starts sit and see floor mirror

Who says peek-a-boo takes two?

Developmental toys for 7- to 12-month-olds

cover image for off to the park book, a classic developmental toy for 8-month-olds

1. Child's Play Off to the Park tactile board book

Use all your senses to read this interactive book, developed with help from children and designed with every young reader in mind. High contrast images and tactile features like a shoelace, fun textures and a scratch-and-sniff ice cream make this book a fun sensory adventure.

wooden snail pull toy, a classic childhood toy for toddlers

2. Plan Toys pull-along snail toy

This little friend helps babies and toddlers develop gross motor and coordination skills.

sensory ball, a classic early childhood development toy

3. CaaOcho pure natural rubber sensory ball

Easy for little hands to manipulate, this colorful sensory ball encourages them to experiment with holding, squeezing, dropping, rolling and chasing—skills that help develop hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills as well as baby’s sense of cause and effect and spatial awareness.

1 to 2 years

wooden block set, a great sensory toy for babies

1. Melissa & Doug first play touch + feel puzzle Melissa and Doug first play touch and feel puzzle

Simple and fun, this colorful puzzle is a full sensory experience. Each pet features a different soft fabric while the mirror in the middle is perfect for peek-a-boo!

Developmental toys for 2- to 3-year-old children

wooden toy food set, one of the best developmental toys for preschoolers

1. Janod wooden fruits + vegetables set

Your little foodie can use the set to wash, chop and create yummy fruit and vegetable dishes, then they can clean up in minutes by putting everything back in the included wooden storage crate.

wooden ice cream truck, a classic developmental toy for 2-year-olds

2. Wise Elk ice cream truck

Zoom it around, take it apart and put it back together! This sweet wooden ice cream truck is one they’ll come back to again and again.

Developmental toys for 3- to 6-year-old children

48-piece puzzle, a classic developmental activity for preschoolers

1. Little Likes Kids fun outside jumbo puzzle

The extra-thick pieces are easy for little hands to hold, making this a screen-free activity the whole family can enjoy.

wise elk construction set, a great developmental toy for 4-year-olds

2. Wise Elk wooden construction set

Brightly colored and smoothly sanded wooden blocks connect with mess-free glue circles to help them hone their 3D building skills.

cloth doll, a simple developmental toy for 3-year-olds

3. Mia Rainbow Doll

With long arms and legs that are perfect for toting her around, this adorable fabric doll is as stylish as she is loveable.

cover image of rainforest book, one of motherly's favorite developmental toys for children

4. Rainforest by Julia Groves

Delicate, colorful and distinctive, Julia Groves’ illustrations introduce little ones to the animals that live in this endangered habitat.

musical instrument set, a much-loved childhood toy

5. Janod musical instrument set

Get the band together with this super fun set. Including a tambourine with cymbals, guitar, harmonica, trumpet and a clapper there’s plenty of toe-tapping music to be made.

When it comes to toys and children, less is more. Chances are they will have more fun playing with your car keys and trash than that fancy designer rattle.

This piece was originally published on December 15, 2020. It has been updated.