The best toys to give your little ones are simple. Your child is trying to make sense of
this wild wonderful world they have so recently come upon. They learn best when you give
them organized information.
For example, a simple puzzle with a triangle, a circle, and a square in three different solid colors gives your toddler organized information about shapes. These are three essential geometric structures to distinguish between. They learn about the relationship between the three as they take the pieces out and put them away. And they absorb that these shapes are related to each other without the distraction of decorative faces or random shapes. When too much information is offered in one toy, children cannot abstract the essential elements of the activity.
Before the age of six, your child’s brain is relatively incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality. In order for them to develop real imagination and a secure relationship to their world, they need to first learn about what the world really is like. Read them books about real things: Tigers in the rainforest, not tigers driving buses. Give them toys with real consequences. Skip the boxes with knobs and buttons that produce unrelated and random noises. Stick to toys that have true consequences. A ball dropped into a hole will roll down a ramp and emerge for your toddler to handle again. An actual and visible bell will ring when your baby bats at it.
Choose toys made from natural materials whenever possible. A rattle made from wood or metal will give your baby much more information about their world than a plastic one. The metal is cool to touch at first and then warms in their hand. Wood provides a variety of textures. And both metal and wood have an interesting “taste” for the baby. Plastic, on the other hand, is always the same temperature, and either has no taste, or has an artificial feel in their mouths. Similarly, metal and wood provide an interesting weight when your toddler is working with puzzles, balls, and similar toys. They will vary in feel and weight based on size, where plastic tends to need a larger change in size in order for a distinct change in weight.
All the toys we give our children should require their participation and action for use. The best toys for our little ones’ development allow them to explore and involve their own will, decisions, and ideas. They aren’t passive spectators to an adult’s idea about entertainment. They manipulate and build and interact, learning about their world and their capabilities.