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Keeping kids occupied right now is a full-time job. And while tablets and TV can be helpful, you don’t want to depend on them solely.
“Toddlers are going through a critical time in their fine motor, gross motor and language development,” Uma Levy, MD, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Their brains are truly like sponges. They need activities that help them use and engage all of their senses.”
Adds Gina Posner, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California: “In general, toddlers tend to like toys that make noise and that they can interact with.”
Robert Keder, MD, a pediatrician who specializes in developmental behavior at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, agrees. “Toddlers like things that have a wow factor and a sense of wonder,” he says. A cool trick to try, says Keder, is to only introduce a third of their toys at once. “Then, when you put out something ‘new,’ the kids get excited,” he says.
Pre-schoolers and kindergarteners like things they can create with, like Mega Blox, magnets and oversized puzzles, Posner says. Board games tailored for younger kids can also be helpful, Keder says. “They tend to like art activities, like Play-Doh and Magic Color, too” he says.
Older kids get really into toys that use labyrinth balls, Keder says, noting that these are even popular with parents in his clinic. And, if your child tends to blow through toys quickly, he recommends getting a Lego 3-in-1 set, which allows kids to use the same building bricks to create different things.
Overall, Posner recommends doing your best to engage your child with tactile toys. “They’re even reading books for school online right now,” she says. “Kids need breaks from that kind of stuff. Try as much as possible to steer them away from screens.”
Try these seven expert-recommended toys:
Fisher-Price’s Giant Yo-ller uses the power of magnetics to help spinnyos (various brightly-colored pieces) move around the track. The toy is 2 feet high, plays music and has plenty of space for little ones to explore. “Toddlers gravitate toward it,” Keder says.
Play-Doh is a great way for little hands to stay busy without a ton of mess, Posner says. This kit contains a whopping 18 colors. Your child will have a blast mixing and matching different shades and creating new shapes in the process.
This playset is huge—over three feet tall—and has so many options for your little one, from three tracks to pretend play stops. It makes racing sounds, and comes with two vehicles your child can use to navigate the course. “Car towers are always a fun option,” Keder says.
These face masks use Magic Color, which lets kids scratch in facial features with a special tool—and they can be worn right away. Each kit contains 24 animal masks, 12 plastic scratching tools and 24 elastic cords. Bonus: They’re pretty mess-free and low-key as far as art projects go.
This Pete the Cat boxed set focuses on short and long vowel sounds to help your early reader flex their skills. You’ll get 12 different books that fit in a handled case for easy storage. And, with so many books to choose from, your child can get lost in reading for 30 minutes—or more. “Books—lots of books—are good,” Posner says.
Magna-Tiles are the ultimate toy. These magnetic tiles come in a variety of geometric shapes, and can be used to build whatever your child dreams up. They’re also versatile across a wide age range—everyone from older toddlers to elementary-aged kids will dive right in. “It’s a nice way for kids to build things if they’re not into Legos,” Posner says.
Your child can build (and re-build) mazes for their marbles, and then watch them go. Each set comes with tubes, rails, cubes and marble catchers for a variety of adventures. While marbles are a fun toy, they’re best for older kids, Keder says—they’re a choking hazard for young children.
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