Holiday Wish List: Toys That Teach for Every Age

This post is sponsored and written by Olathe Health Pediatric Therapists.

This holiday season, we’ve got you covered! The Pediatric Therapists at Olathe Health put together a list of toys your kids will love that will also help them developmentally. 

Occupational Therapist Amy Ellis and Speech-Language Pathologist Erin Hemphill, MS, CCC-SLP, outline their favorite toys for every age. And the good news – you can find these at any discount store!

Infant to Toddlers

At this age, you want to encourage development of fine motor skills. These are the skills that require coordination using small muscles, like in the hands and wrists. Kids need fine motor skills for many activities, ranging from holding a crayon or pencil to buttoning their pants.

  • Rattles with lights or noise: Parents can use these to work on visual tracking by having your child follow the rattle. These are also great because your toddler can reach to the toy and possibly begin to roll and crawl to the toy.
  • Stacking rings and cups: I love these toys because they encourage the use of both hands, especially at the seated and supported seated level. These are also great for speech development because you can ask your child to tell you the different colors of the toys they are stacking. 
  • Sensory puzzles and books: These are great because they get your infant using two hands together. Pick varied textures like bumpy, fuzzy or smooth. You can also work on speech by pointing at the letters or talking about the characters in the books.
  • Activity centers: Our physical therapists recommend creating an activity center that focuses on standing and toys that need pushing. I personally love a big dump truck or other toy a kiddo can push with two hands while leaning or squatting. This helps build their coordination.
  • Building blocks: As kiddos get a little older, I love to see them play with a simple press or thick building blocks. I also love wooden fruit or food toys with Velcro and knife kitchen utensils. These utensils, or a play tool kit, are great ways to work on grip and hand use. 
  • Bubbles: Not only are bubbles fun, you can use them to build their core vocabulary. Up, down, small, big – these are just some of the words your child can use to describe bubbles when they play with them. They also help build the oral movement of the mouth that will help develop language.

Older Toddlers to Preschool

At this age, you want to start adding in toys that inspire the imagination and developing gross motor skills. These are skills that involve movement of the large muscles, like the arms, legs and torso. Kids need gross motor skills for many activities, such as keeping their balance or kicking a ball.

  • Play toys: This age is a great time to introduce toys that spark creativity like a play kitchen, doll house, racetracks and dress up clothes. 
  • Cause and effect toys: Windup toys, toys that make noise when you flip them over, balls that light up when you bounce them, these are all great options to continue building speech. Your child can give instructions like “go” or “turn it over” and react when the effect takes place.
  • Riding toys: Trikes, scooters, balance bikes and balls are all great for developing gross motor skills. 

Grade School

At this age, you want to keep building on both the fine and gross motor skills by adding in more complicated toys that will also engage them mentally.

  • Interactive toys: I love arts & crafts and science kits and musical instruments – based on your kiddos budding interests. Slime is another big thing currently and keep kids hands busy. Nerf guns, remote control cars, puzzles, mazes and books are all great for fine motor and visual coordination and can continue to increase in complexity as your child matures.
  • Classic board games: These games are great because they include a visual/spatial challenge especially if the game requires hand manipulation like checkers, game pieces or cards.
  • Catch and throw games: Toys that require an aim and throw are great for this age. Examples include pointless (soft) darts and any type of ball.


To learn more about Olathe Health Pediatric Therapy, please call 913-324-8638.