2 - 3 Years

It's time for the true symbolic play... after searching for props, they may start singing into a wooden spoon as if it was a microphone. Remember that doll? Now the doll is feeding the stuffed animal!

  • Shape Sorters
    • My favorite ones have a set of stacking cups, as well
    • Build the tower and knock it down... Two toys in one!
  • Stringing Beads
    • Excellent for visual-spatial and other fine motor skills
    • Look for sets of animals, vehicles, etc.
  • Tricycle or Big Wheel
  • Interlocking Block Systems
    • Legos might still be a bit tough, so look for the big block systems
  • Puzzles
    • Upgrade their puzzles to those with interlocking pieces
  • Cars, Trucks, Trains, Tracks, Road Signs, oh my!
    • Look for ones with a "cause-and-effect" element
  • Pretend Play Sets 
    • Are they copying everything you do? If yes, it is time to give them their own sets...
    • Kitchen Sets, Tea Sets, Bath Sets, Toy Houses... and of course a few dolls to feed, bathe, etc.
  • Start cooking... or at least pretending to do so
    • A variety of toy-makers make thematic food sets that can be cut apart and put back together
    • Sushi fan? Get a sushi set. Have a lot of barbecues? Melissa & Doug also makes a BBQ set!
    • You can also find age-appropriate knives to allow for cutting of real, soft foods

3 - 4 Years

  • Wagons

  • Puzzles without borders or frames
  • Board Games like Candy Land and Hungry Hungry Hippo
    • This is a great time to begin Family Game Nights
    • They make excellent go-to activities on cold, dreary or rainy days
      • But not snowy days!  Get outside and play!!!
  • Upgrade their pretend play sets to those with costumes
    • When playing with others, they will decide on a theme (e.g., going to the doctor's or grocery store), assign roles to each other and use language, voices and gestures that fit those roles
    • This is a biggie, as pretend play increases language and social skill development through dialogue, story telling, taking turns, etc.
  • If you haven't already done so, starting cooking!
    • Children's cookbooks like Sesame Street's Let's Cook! are fantastic
    • They'll have fun while exploring new foods, tastes and textures
    • You'll also be able to work on following directions, the concepts of like/dislike, etc.

4 - 5 Years

  • Magnetic Letters
  • Alphabet and Vocabulary-Based Games & Books
    • The Cranium line is fantastic!!!
  • Dominoes
  • Wire & Metal 3-D Puzzles 
    • They'll be busy for hours!
    • Why so many puzzles?
    • Because they help children develop fine-motor skills,

         visual-spatial skills, analytical and problem-solving skills, etc.

  • Musical Instruments
  • Playing Cards
  • Art Materials
  • Tickets & Passes
    • Museums, Zoos, Aquariums, Shows
    • These make excellent gifts and will foster interactions, conversation, story-telling, etc.
  • Keep cooking!
    • Another children's cookbook is Sesame Street's "C" Is For Cooking
    • Now you can working on reading comprehension, planning skills, organization, sequencing, etc.!​​

18 - 24 Months

Their pretend play now involves other recipients.

They may pretend to feed you or their favorite stuffed animal. ​

  • A doll or baby, toy crib, bottle, etc. would make a great gift!
  • Containers that open and close
  • Puzzles
    • Look for pieces that "nest" in a specific place
    • I love the thematic sound puzzles from Melissa & Doug!
  • Indoor Slides
  • Upgrade from water toys to a Water & Sand Table!
  • It's also time to start pretending...
    • Zoo, Garage and Farm sets make great gifts now!

Why Would an SLP Care About Their Toys?


Because language and social skill development go hand-in-hand with play and overall cognitive development! In addition, motor activities and movement get children ready for learning. All of these skill sets rely on one another as children grow and progress through the various stages.

Did you notice there weren't many 
electronic toys on the list? That is because "old school" toys teach more than their electronic counterparts. They foster more interaction with parents and peers, sound play and speech... these are the foundations of communication development!

Give the Gift of

Speech, Language and Social Skills


Guidance from a Pro

Think developmentally...


How old are they?  Or, when working with a child with special needs, what is their "cognitive age"?

That will help you figure out the type of toys that are most appropriate. Remember to think ahead...

hold old will they be in June?




Birth - 3 Months

At this age, they react to their environment.

So, keep that environment interesting...

  • Rattles
  • Stuffed Animals
  • Mobiles
  • Textured Materials
    • These include books, balls, play mats and other toys
    • Look for items with multiple textures: smooth, scratchy, fuzzy, etc.
  • Pictures or Drawings on Paper Plates
    • Their big brother or sister could take the lead on this one!




3 - 6 Months

  • Textured objects they can hold onto
  • Play Gym
  • Dolls
  • Books of Faces
    • ​Maybe their big brother or sister can create a family album just for them?




6 - 9 Months

Children at this level enjoy manipulating objects. They explore with their mouth, through banging and dropping, etc.

  • Blocks & Stacking Cubes
  • Stacking Rings
  • Vinyl Books




9 - 12 Months

Now they are truly exploring their toys. They are using them more appropriately, as they are likely banging toy drums and pianos and winding up their jack-in-the-box.

  • Balls
    • This can be a fun one... There are koosh balls, bouncy balls, sensory balls, big balls, little balls...
  • Containers
    • They love to put things in and take things out at this age!
  • Toys with small switches, dials and slides
    • Turning things on and making toys work leads to hours of fun!
  • Busy Boxes
  • Bath Toys




12 - 15 Months

  • Pull and Push Toys

  • Books
    • Now look for colorful board and picture books
  • Floating Water Toys
  • Play-dough
    • Not only will their creative juices start flowing, they'll be working on increasing their hand strength and dexterity!




15 - 18 Months

Now you are probably seeing them act out daily routines... pretend drinking and eating, maybe even some light housework! Give them realistic looking toys, as they typically only use real objects at this stage.

  • Toy Telephone

  • Toy Hygiene Sets

  • Bubbles (a personal favorite!)
  • Styrofoam Boats

A Guide to Gift Giving


Every time a birthday or holiday rolls around,

I stop and think... I want to give them

a present they'll LOVE! One that they will

use often and, of course, benefit from...

I can't turn off the therapist in me ;)


But which toy? Their parents will tell me

what they're into now, but what about

six months from now?


Do you have the same problem?

Here are some tried-and-true tips for

buying the perfect present.

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