Expert Articles

How to Choose Toys for 0-3 Year-Old Infants and Toddlers

Author: Ms Ruoyu Wen,
Lecturer at Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education

Toys are essential tools for infants and toddlers to explore the world. Through playing with toys, they become familiar with different colours, shapes, sizes, and textures. They also learn cause-and-effect relationships, such as “when I press the yellow button, the yellow light turns on.” As they grow and their cognitive development improves, toys help them engage in pretend play and develop their imagination and creativity. However, with the wide variety of toys available on the market, how do we choose the right ones? What are the age-appropriate toys for each stage of infancy and toddlerhood?

Key Principles for Choosing Toys for Infants and Toddlers

In general, when selecting toys for infants and toddlers, the following key principles should be considered:

  1. Safety
    Safety is the primary factor parents should consider when choosing toys for infants and toddlers. Before purchasing toys, parents need to check if they have safety labels, sharp edges, ropes, chains, or any parts that could potentially entangle a small child. They should also ensure that stuffed toys do not shed a significant amount of fur.
  2. Open-Endedness
    Open-ended toys refer to those with more than one way to play with them, such as building blocks, tracks, toy cars, and boxes. If a toy only allows infants and toddlers to “observe” without offering different ways to actively engage with it, its educational value will be limited.
  3. Activity
    Infants and toddlers aged 0–3 years are in a period of rapid motor skill development. This is especially true for children over 1 year old who can control their bodies more freely and perceive their own abilities. Therefore, when selecting toys, it is recommended to choose slightly larger ones, such as soft building blocks and small push cars. These toys require the use of the child’s whole body and promote flexibility and movement during play.
Age-Appropriate Toy Selection for Each Stage of 0–3 Years

So, what toys are suitable for infants and toddlers at each age stage? The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides the following recommendations:

0-6 Months:

During this stage, infants’ senses serve as their window to the world. They enjoy looking at and following people’s movements, especially their faces and vibrant colours. They explore objects by touching them with their hands and feet. They respond to sounds by raising their heads or turning to locate the sound’s source. They also enjoy putting things in their mouths.

Recommended toys:

  • Teething toys for grasping and biting
  • Toys that make sounds, such as drums, bells, squeeze toys, and toy instruments
  • Mirrors wrapped in fabric to show their own faces
  • Cloth books and board books

7-12 Months:

At this stage, babies can start rolling over, crawling, and sitting up, which expands their range of exploration. They begin to recognize their names and some everyday words, identify body parts, find hidden objects, and take things in and out of containers.

Recommended toys:

  • Toys for throwing and grabbing, such as plastic balls, soft soccer balls, and ocean balls
  • Construction toys like large soft wooden blocks, wooden blocks, and cardboard boxes
  • Toys that promote large muscle movement, such as push and pull vehicles

1-2 Years:

Toddlers at this stage can walk, climb stairs, and move around freely. They enjoy listening to stories, can say some simple words, and are curious about various things. Although they cannot engage in true cooperative play with peers yet, they begin to exhibit simple behaviours like exchanging items.

Recommended toys:

  • Board books with simple annotations and real-life pictures
  • Art expression toys, such as non-toxic washable watercolour pens, crayons, sponge brushes, and paper
  • Pretend play with toys, including toy phones, toy kitchen utensils, stuffed animals, animal models, and vehicle models.
  • Construction toys like large Lego blocks, soft blocks, and wooden blocks
  • Toys that exercise fine motor skills, such as puzzles, large pegboards, operable toys (switches, lids, knobs), and balls of different sizes

2-3 Years:

At this stage, children experience rapid language and cognitive development. They ask a variety of questions and enjoy using their bodies to experiment and try new things, such as jumping from heights, climbing, hanging their bodies with their arms, rolling, and engaging in rough play. Their fine-motor skills continue to develop, allowing them to engage in various intricate activities. They also begin to demonstrate the ability to engage in cooperative play with others.

Recommended toys:

  • Toys that promote problem-solving, such as wooden puzzles (8–12 pieces), building blocks, sorting toys (by size, shape, colour, and taste), buttons, switches, ramps, and small balls
  • Pretend play toys, including children’s furniture, role-playing clothes, dolls, stuffed animals, and tools for playing with water and sand.
  • Art expression toys such as finger paints, modeling clay, safety scissors, and washable markers
  • Toys for exercising cross and fine motor skills: Different-sized balls for kicking or throwing, ride-on toys, tunnels, small climbing structures with soft padding for protection, toys for pounding or hammering.


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How to Choose Toys for 0-3 Year-Old Infants and Toddlers