As soon as you have kids, toys become a big part of your home and your life. You buy toys, people give you toys, your kids pick out their own toys. You worry about having too many or not enough or the right ones. Toys will come and toys will go from your children's lives, but these ten toys are what we consider the essential, pardon the pun...building blocks for a young child's life of play.
Blocks offer opportunities for play and learning at any age: strengthening spatial and motor skills, hand-eye coordination, structural concepts and just the joy of knocking them down. And they integrate with all kinds of other toys and play to become garages for toy cars, forts and hideouts for action figures or as part of a Rube Goldberg machine, just to name a few examples.
Balls are the basis for so many sports and games and every child should have at least one (a few in different sizes, weights and textures if you can). Very young children can grasp small ones, then crawl after them as they roll, eventually learning to bounce, throw and catch them.
Even if you don't have room for a dedicated art station for your child, have age-appropriate supplies like crayons, paint, paper, tape, and glue in a place they can access. Set aside cardboard boxes or other safe recycling materials and see what they can create.
Cars and Vehicles
Playing with toy vehicles improves hand dexterity, teaches about cause and effect and opens up so many possibilities for imaginative play.
Not only can dolls and stuffed animals be companions for children (my 2-year-old drags her Teddy everywhere these days), they are good tools for helping young children express emotions, practice nurturing and empathy and role playing.
Working on puzzles improves fine motor skills and gives the brain a workout as kids develop problem solving skills, increase spatial awareness and experience the satisfaction of solving the puzzle.
Be they wood or plastic, small figures of people and animals can lead to so many different games and kinds of play. "Little People", Schleich animals, and the like can all play together in pretend farm, forest, beach and city landscapes. They can ride in cars, live in dollhouses, hide out in block forts, fight each other, heal each other, become families and friends in the universe of your child's imagination.
Kids are naturally drawn to music - music they hear or music they make. A little piano is great, but simple instruments like egg shakers and drums (which you can make yourself) will go a long way and get your kids participating in music.
Dress Up Clothes
You don't have to buy tiny costumes for your kids (unless that's what they love - go for it), scarves, costume jewelry, old hats are all fun for kids to try on and incorporate into open-ended imaginative play.
Role Playing Toys
Similar to dress up clothes, kids love to "play grown up" and role play. Take cues from your child about what they're interested in and consider play food or a play kitchen, a dollhouse, play tools, a play doctor's kit, spy gadgets, etc.
What do you think of this list? Did we miss something you think is an essential?