Children often surprise us with how they like to have fun.
As parents, we all know that sometimes a birthday boy or girl prefers to play with boxes and wrapping paper rather than with their birthday gifts.
Their imagination can turn an ordinary box into a spaceship, a car, or anything they desire.
When my firstborn son was about eleven months old, I realized that he had very few toys compared to his peers. As a result, his bedroom looked half empty.
He didn’t have any furniture in it yet because he slept with me in the main bedroom, and his few pieces of clothing fit in a handy locker under the changing table.
We invested in a beautiful orange soft, shaggy carpet to make him comfortable and to give his room a feeling of warmth and security.
He had all his toys lined in front of the walls: a net filled with colorful plastic balls, a wooden box with cubes, a lion for pushing and bouncing, and a few stuffed animals in the corner. His changing table was in the corner right near the door.
To make this room look cheerful and child-like, I painted animal motifs on the wall. (I enjoyed it then, but not so much today!)
It was a simple and functional room, and that was enough for us. But I still began to doubt that my child had enough toys. When we visited relatives, I saw the massive amount of toys they owned. They could open their own toy store or two with how many toys they had.
And so, the unpleasant thoughts crept into my head that my son lacked the necessary stimuli to fully develop. Now that I think about it, I shake my head and laugh at myself at the same time. Back then I didn’t know what I know now, and expensive toys started to appear more and more throughout our home.
And as they appeared, my son played with them less and less and in the end, most of them lay untouched on the shelf.
My son still enjoyed spending time with me around the house and in the garden. As I cooked, he watched me and used a wooden spoon to stir make-believe recipes in a small pot that he had found on the bottom of the kitchen cabinet.
He helped me load the laundry into the washing machine and we sat together and watched the drum rotate. Finally, we picked the laundry out of the machine and hung it to dry.
He wanted to hold the hose when I was vacuuming and the broom when I was sweeping. I could keep listing all the ways my son played by my side around the house.
But you probably already have an idea of what I’m talking about here, don’t you?
What about your children? Try to think about what they enjoy. For example, are they loyal to their precious toys or do they want household items such as pots, pans, and brooms?
I have learned a lot about Montessori pedagogy and education, so it is clear to me that household activities are incredibly enriching for a child. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the children’s room in my house quickly turned into one full of dusty toys.
Fortunately, during this time is when I began to study the pedagogy and education of preschool children.
As a result, I formed my professional opinion on which toys and activities are nourishing and which are unnecessary.
My experience as a kindergarten teacher in five European countries also gave me a lot of exposure on this topic (if you are interested, you can read more about my kindergarten journey here>>).
Read below for some tips for choosing age-appropriate toys that will help your child develop while having fun:
1. It’s about quality, not quantity
For many years, I followed the motto of Montessori pedagogy when it came to toys, and that is “less is more”. It is much better to select quality toys that serve a purpose. Personally, I prefer toys made of safe and natural materials.
Many of the most popular toys can be easily made at home, and you don’t have to love DIY to make them (I’m personally not a fan).
(You can find out how I, as a kindergarten teacher, don’t enjoy DIY activities myself but still love what I do in this article>>)
There are certain toys that are best for each age group. Below is a brief overview of toys I recommend for each season of a child’s life.
The best toys for this age are brightly colored books made of textured material. I ordered these books in the picture for my son when he was two months old and he loved looking at them. Now that he is six months old, he still enjoys them. Rattles are also a great toy, which certainly is not surprising. I ordered handmade ecological wooden rattles and I could not be happier with them. Not only are they beautiful, but I also feel relieved that my child is not putting plastic in his mouth. Nursery mobiles work well if they have contrasting colors and a mirror (which is the best part if you ask me). Place the mirror so your child can see and observe their face and hands while playing. Children are literally fascinated by their faces and expressions, and you will also get to enjoy watching your child during this activity.
Six months-one year:
For this age group, my first recommendation is a ball. This is currently my six-month-old son’s favorite toy. One day he noticed a ball in the garden (that’s why it’s so dirty and won’t get clean no matter how many times I wash it), and enjoyed kicking it so much that we turned it into an indoor ball.
Another great option for children in this age group is wooden puzzles. This is a long-lasting toy that children can enjoy by putting the puzzle together, smashing the pieces against each other, or in some cases, tasting the pieces. Wooden boxes on wheels that can hold and transport other toys, a ball maze toy, and a Montessori house and ball are all perfect for children six months to one-year-old.
Any kind of shape sorting toys will work hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills. All sorts of mechanical toys like “busy” boxes with buttons, zips, knobs, and levers encourage fine motor and problem-solving skills and teach cause-and-effect. Roleplays help children learn how the world works by imitating the actions of their parents and other influential adults.
There is a difference in how babies, toddlers, and preschoolers discover the world. Babies use their five senses while toddlers are beginning to learn how things work. Preschoolers already know how to use things precisely for their intended purpose.
The most preferred activities and toys for this age group are arts and crafts, which allow kids to improve their fine motor skills and coordination. Blocks and construction sets also let children engage creatively and use their hand-eye coordination. And of course–puzzles! Puzzles are the perfect activity for children to learn and apply patience and logical thinking.
I am sure your kids have some other favorite toys and I would love it if you wrote about them in the comments (in our Simigarten Facebook group) along with your baby’s age!
The toys listed above are great for your baby’s development in the first six years of life. (In this article, we focus on specific activities that you can do with them as well. Activities are a great addition to toys!)
2. Not everything expensive is excellent
One thing was clear from my experience and from other parents who took part in my research: children are much more likely to play with everyday household items than with expensive toys. They prefer the very objects used by their closest family members.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, many children also want to cook with their mother. When their mother sweeps, they also want to sweep, and the list could go on.
However, during interviews with different parents, I observed that many of them felt uncomfortable when they could not explain their child’s behavior. The parents feared that their children would disobey them.
For example, a mother from my kindergarten complained to me that she could never keep her kitchen clean because her two-year-old son takes everything out from the cupboard. I explained that her son was simply imitating her actions and performing “developmental tasks” by:
That mother changed her view of her child’s actions that day and set aside a cupboard for him where she gave him his favorite kitchen items to play with. She also started teaching him to put everything back in its place after he played. Only then would they move on to another game.
3. Changing means enthusiasm
This little trick can save you a lot of money and effort, and I often used it in my kindergarten classroom. It was also successful with my children at home. I’ve been using it for a long time, and it’s never let me down.
This trick is a simple toy exchange. Let me explain how this works. Keep only a handful of toys in your children’s room so that it is not crowded and each toy has its own place for storage. Put all the other toys in a box that is out of reach so your children cannot find it.
The toys you leave available to your children should be the ones they currently like to play with the most.
It is an excellent idea to involve children in this decision-making process. For example, explain to them that some toys that don’t have a “house” will sleep in a box for a while and they can come back and play with us again later. For younger children, we do this process ourselves.
When you see that the children are tired of their current toys, pull out a box with the “sleeping” toys and keep repeating this process over and over again. The toys that were outside the nursery will now seem new to the children and they will be able to enjoy them as if they were actually new!
4. Give your child their favorite toy–YOU
Yes, I’m talking about YOU now! You are your child’s favorite toy. When you spend time with your children, they learn many essential skills like how to communicate, problem solve, and self-regulate all while practicing a variety of new skills. And the best part is that it’s a lot of fun, not just for them, but for you too!
I hope you have found enough inspiration in this article to work and communicate better with your children. I look forward to your comments in the Simigarten Facebook group.