Michigan State University Extension recommends the following five basic categories of toys for young children:
- Blocks and building toys: Lincoln Logs, Legos, basic wooden blocks, Duplo, etc. Studies show that children that play with building toys at a young age do better in math, especially algebra in middle school.
- Puzzles and problem-solving toys: As children solve puzzles, they sharpen their problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination, fine-motor skills, shape recognition, memory, spatial awareness and more. For toddlers, puzzles with 4 to 12 pieces are best, while preschoolers enjoy more complex puzzles with 12 to 20 or more pieces. Also, look for toys with latches, locks, hooks, buttons, snaps, etc. for children to manipulate.
- Pretend play items: Dress-up clothes, hats, cooking utensils, cash registers, baby dolls, microphones, etc. Children build social and emotional skills, learning to share, take turns, and learn complex problem-solving skills when participating in dramatic play.
- Items that inspire creation: crayons and paper, paints, playdoh and clay, harmonicas, maracas, etc. Items that spark creativity in children help children to develop fine motor skills, math and language skills.
- Large motor play items: bikes, balls, bats, carpentry sets, hula hoops, tunnels to climb through, etc. We all know that regular exercise leads to a healthy weight. In addition, participation in large motor activities has been found to improve attention and memory and increase academic performance.