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  • Writer's pictureDr Laura Hutchison

Developmentally Appropriate Toys for Children aged 2-5 years

This is SUCH a fun age to buy for.  Kids are finally mastering fine and gross motor skills … as well as the ability for imaginary play.  Here are some ideas for developmentally appropriate toys for children 2 – 5 years (also, important toys to include in any play therapy room!):

Puppet Theatre – there are a lot of wonderful puppet theaters out there … in a variety of price ranges  Or you can make your own! There are a ton of great ideas out there on blogs and on Pinterest. (Heck, a card table and table cloth, a large box, or behind the couch also make GREAT puppet theaters!)  

A great gift is a combo of the theatre and a storage container of puppets.

Puppets – I LOVE puppets (I’m a play therapist, how could I not?!?). Puppets are such a great way for children to explore relationships.  They are also a great, playful way for adults to engage children on ANY subject.   A wonderful way to start a collection is by getting a set of people set  and/or an animal set.  OR … you can ALWAYS make your own!  Sock puppets, paper bag puppets, simple felt puppets are all simple and fun to create with your kids! (sidenote: it is normal for very young children to be frightened by puppets.  Usually it is because they don’t understand how they are moving on there own.  Pick a cuddly, non-threatening one to introduce children to puppets and show them how it works .. before “shoving in their face”.)

Pretend Kitchen, Restaurant, &/or Store Nine years ago I searched for the “perfect” kitchen for my daughter (now 10 1/2), and I found one that I STILL think was a perfect buy.  She used to play with it everyday, sometimes for hours at a time.  It's lasted all these years and now has a very special home in my office playroom! I have the Little Tikes Deluxe Wood Kitchen.  But there are a ton of good ones out there … and super cute DIY ones too (love this before and after or this table version, tons more on Pinterest. Kitchen and store play is a great way for children to replicate adults, learn about the world, … and learn nurturing activities.

Play Food, Dishes, and Appliances – If you have a play kitchen, you have to have the accessories to go with it!

Baby Dolls – My daughter used to love her Little Mommy bath doll (it’s great because it’s washable … and she’s been known to like the mud, sand, and lakes!).  The Little Mommy collection also has some cute accessory sets.  We got the crib, stroller, and high chair set and it’s been a hit.

Mini People – having a small replicas of humans and other creatures to play with is KEY to child development.  There’s a ton a variety, but having some general nondescript people, as well as some of your child’s favorite characters can be a great combo for creative play.

Doll houses, Castles, and other Playsets – My absolutely FAVORITE dollhouse (I have one at home and one at work) is made by Melissa & Doug.  They have a a few different versions now.  The one I got was great … fold and go, neutral, and even came furnished.  They also make 2 fold and go castles.  These types a playsets are some of the most used toys both at my house AND at my office.

Mini Animals – I love the tube sets of animals. Animal families are a great investment because children like to play out family dynamics with creatures of all kinds!  Having a mix of domestic and wild, aggressive and passive, as well as real and fantasy is best.

An Easel and Art Supplies – Having a special place that’s just the right size to create and learn is wonderful for ANY age.  Getting a easel that has a place for a paper roll and/or to clip large paper onto, as well as a chalkboard, dry erase board with one side being magnetic the best to get the most for your money.  It’s also nice if it can fold up for storage.  And, if you get a kid an easel, they’re going to need lots of paint (tempra and watercolor, at least), brushes, a smockmarkers, crayons, paper, and chalk!

Dress-Up Clothes and Accessories – Being able to pretend you can be ANYTHING you want to be can enhance any play experience.  Having a variety of costumes and accessories can be a wonderful addition to the play.  Hitting the costume stores right after Halloween is a great way to get a lot of costumes at a discount.  Garage sales and 2nd hand stores are also a wonderful source.  Or re-using old clothes to up-cycle a princess gown or superman cape!  You can also get a variety of hats and accessories from US Toy or Oriental Trading Company.  When my son turned 3 I gave him a large storage container filled with different hats, capes, a doctors coat, and other costumes.

Vehicle Play – having a variety of vehicles (cars, trucks, trains) are toy essentials.  Having a train table can be another GREAT investment.  Santa brought ours the Christmas before Henry turned 3 … and it became command central for play at our house!  

You might have noticed that most of the toys I picked were gender neutral in color, as well as there were very little character labeling or “branding” on the toys.  This is most definitely on purpose.  The more basic, neutral, and simple a toy is the better chance a child can use their own imagination … instead of believing that there is a certain purpose or use for a toy it can be limitless.  Trends and fads change … but creativity NEVER goes out of style.

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