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Appropriate Play Materials

Dear Debi,
I'm a new mom of a 9-month-old daughter who seems to be getting more active every day. Are there specific kinds of toys available that will hold her interest?
Carrie Dye
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • The best play materials enable kids to use their senses & motor skills
  • Simple, open-ended toys will hold their interest longer
  • Toys are less important than attention from caregivers
Expert Advice
Bev Bos
Bev Bos
Early childhood educator
Kids learn through their senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound. The most important things for children that age are the interactions with their parents. Intimacy is the most important thing at that age. Physical games like "patty-cake" are happening less and less, and these are actually the kinds of games infants and toddlers like the most.

Kids love open-ended materials, like art materials, because these kinds of materials are about the process, NOT the end product. Our job as adults is to provide them with an abundance of materials so that they can take things and make them their own. If we're giving them materials that require the end product to be a certain way, then they're not making it their own. It's through these materials that they're learning to become their own persons.

Some of the best play materials for babies and toddlers are the ones that enable them to use their senses and motor skills. Babies and toddlers learn everything through their senses and what they experience first-hand. They love things like blocks, anything that can be rolled, pots and pans, anything to do with water and sand. It all goes back to what's real. I always tell parents, "Don't buy your kids toys. If you do, make sure the toys are 90% child and only 10% toy." This means that the toy shouldn't manipulate the child - the child should be able to manipulate the toy. Battery-operated toys, for example, are 90% toy and only 10% child. They don't give kids the opportunity to explore, navigate, and think for themselves.

In fact, something as simple as doing the dishes can be a great opportunity for children to play in the water and for them to share that intimate time with their parents. My motto is, "If it hasn't been in the hand and the body, it hasn't been in the brain." The two most important things for children are experiences to attach words to, and pictures on the walls of their minds. These are the things that we, as adults, must provide our children with.

Lastly, it's important for adults to play with children because there's an intimacy that happens for children - a connection to the human beings that care for them the most. Children at this age feel like they're a part of you - they don't yet feel autonomous. So fostering that intimacy and that connection makes them feel secure and comfortable to play and explore at their own pace.
Child Care Provider Comments
David Cooley
David Cooley
Father of one daughter
My daughter has a favorite soft doll that she carries with her everywhere she goes. She loves to climb on me and use me as her jungle gym. I think I'm her biggest toy. She also loves to color with her crayons and draw. We follow her lead and draw whatever she wants. We've put up a lot of her pictures throughout the house. She seems to enjoy the simple toys and materials and I really think that the fact that she doesn't watch TV helps with that. She's not being bombarded with commercials so she's not aware of the latest, gimmicky things out there.
Fred Hodge
Fred Hodge
Grandfather of five
My granddaughter likes to run around, so we play hide-and-seek. We play with her and her toys. She loves my cell phone. She is good with mimicking whatever she sees us doing. My wife lets my granddaughter play dress up. She wears her hats, shoes, and purses. She has a lot of personality.
Consuelo Ducoing
Consuelo Ducoing
Child care provider for 14 years
Every week I bring supplies and set up a sensory table for the boy in my care. We use things like rice and flour. We sometimes add water to the flour so that he can see how the texture changes. The sensory table is a great way for young children to use all of their five senses. They are developing their motor skills. As a provider, I want him to develop his senses.

Box Trains Featured Activity:
Box Trains
Appropriate Play Materials Featured Video:
Appropriate Play Materials
Topic: Play & Creativity
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