About the Author and the Guide
Play Development Guide
Older Children
Useful Information
Summary Charts to Child Development
About The Author And The Guide
The “Toys and Play in Child Development” guide w as commissioned by the British T oy
and Hobby Association and Play Matters.
The British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) is the official body representing Britain’s
£2.9 billion toy industry and represents over 90% of the U K toy market. All toys produced
by member companies are produced according to the highest British and European
standards of toy safety and quality.
The British Toy and Hobby Association would like to see unsafe toy s excluded from the
British m arket. T owards this obj ective, the BTHA launched a toy safety mark which is
prominently displayed on the packaging of toys supplied by its members. Some members
do not display the mark on their packaging as this is a UK symbol, however they still make
their toys to the same high standards. For a full list of members that are able to use the mark
visit the members page of the BTHA website. All members sign the same strict safety code.
The symbol is known as the ‘ Lion Mark’. In the interest of child safety and so as to force
unsafe toys out of the market, we would ask you, the consumer, to ensure that the toys you
purchase come under the Lion Mark.
The BTHA is delighted to be associated with this guide and w e hope that it w ill help you
appreciate the many purposes of toy play for the developing child.
Play Matters, the campaign title for the National Association of Toy and Leisure Libraries
(NATLL), is a registered children’s charity which promotes the value and enjoyment to be
gained from toy s through a network of 1, 000 m ember toy libraries in the UK. The toy
libraries loan carefully selected, good quality toy s and games to families with young
children, including children w ith special needs. Toy libraries also offer a befriending and
supporting service to parents and carers.
The author, Jeni Hooper, is a child psy chologist with a particular interest in how children
learn and develop skills through play . The author w orks as an educational psychologist,
harnessing theories of child development to help those with special needs for whom
learning is not such a relaxed and easy process.
What is Play
Different Types of Play
Helping Your Child Play
Choosing Things To Do
Buying or Borrowing Toys
What is Play ?
Play is fun. Everyone agrees about that. Some people think that play is just a nice way for
children to use up their free tim e but that it can’ t be important or useful. They are wrong.
Just because you enjoy it, doesn’t mean it isn’t good for you.
So what is play for? Why do children, of all ages, all over the world play whenever they
have the chance?
The simple answer is that play is how children learn and m aking it fun is nature’ s way of
ensuring that children get lots and lots of practice.
Even tiny babies play, practising moving their hands or sucking their toes which helps
them learn to control their bodies. The games children play are directly linked to the needs
of the growing body and mind. Children’ s play has been closely studied by child
psychologists who have catalogued the pattern of developm ent of skills and abilities from
It’s not only young humans who play as a way to learn, young animals do too. A kitten
will chase, pounce on and play-fight a ball of w ool or a toy mouse. It w ill lie in w ait for
you and then attack your foot as you walk past. It is busy learning how to hunt and catch
its dinner.
Children have much more to learn and it takes m uch longer to grow up. So many skills to
learn: how to walk, talk, make things with your hands to name a few. Each one needs lots
of time spent playing and practising to perfection.
We can’t afford to begrudge the time children spend at play. It is how they learn. If play is
a child’s work then they must also have the tools for their trade. Toys are tools that help a
child to enjoy play.
This guide tells you about the stages o f play and development all children go through and
suggests games, activities and toys which you might want to try.
Different Types of Play
Children develop from tiny, helpless babies and need to practise lots of different activities
to develop the skills and abilities they need as they grow.
1. Exploratory play - to explore the world, to see, to hear, touch and taste new things.
2. Construction play - to discover how things w ork. To take them apart and put them
together again and learn what properties they have - size, weight, colour, shape,
3. Energetic play - to practise new physical skills to help the maturing body become
more versatile and skilled e.g. running, climbing.
4. Modelling - to learn from watching others and copying them.
5. Pretend play - to act out a mixture of fact and fantasy in a safe context away from
adult interference. This m ay be to explore new things a child finds difficult or
frightening or it might be just to let off steam.
6. Social play - to provide a pleasant opportunity to be with other children who are
more important than the gam e itself. Different games may be tried then abandoned
to avoid damaging disputes unlike pretend play where the game is more important.
7. Skilful play - to practise skills involving finely
complex sequences of activity.
controlled, sm all m ovements or
Some play activities will involve several of these elements
Helping Your Child To Play
Play tends to develop spontaneously . It does not depend on you always taking the lead.
Children are born with a strong desire to explore and learn from their w orld. H owever,
your child will need you to help make her world a safe but exciting place to learn. You can
draw things to her attention too.
Play is important in childhood and needs to be encouraged. Opportunities can be provided
for play that fit in with her needs and interests. Toys are important but not the whole story.
Sometimes borrowing something from the kitchen or garage makes the game more
exciting and real than playing with a child-size copy. Sometimes her imagination will be
rich enough to provide hours of play with no props or costumes.
She learns by exploring and discovering things but that doesn’t mean you can’t help or
join in too. She will be pleased if you:
Provide ideas or materials to play with.
Make sure she has a suitable play space that can be protected from damage and
is absolutely safe. Then you can both relax
Join in her games at her level. Don’t try to take over or direct it. Show her you’re
having fun too.
Be willing to take turns. Sometimes you’ll lose interest before she does. Try to
extend the game one stage further if she’ll let you. If not, be patient!
Show her new w ays of play ing w ith an old toy but don’ t try to insist that she
copies y ou. She may not be able to do so yet and may worry that she is
disappointing you.
Relax and enjoy yourself. Most of us know how to play if w e can get in touch
with the child that is inside us. Research has shown that adults can intuitively
adapt both their speech and their actions to a simpler level which reflects their
child’s own development.
Choosing Things To Do
This is not as hard as it sounds. Don’t start by looking at all those delightful toys in your
local toy shop. First, watch your child as she play s and see w hat she likes to do. Play
always reflects a child’ s development and show s you both w hat she can do and what she
feels like doing too. Use that information to select toys that will get a lot of good use.
Children’s development follows a definite pattern that has been widely studied and written
about. The body of knowledge can be used to predict the next stages of development that
will emerge naturally in a child’ s play . T he m ajority of children follow through all the
stages not only in the same order but at a remarkably sim ilar point in their childhood.
However, this time scale is not identical for all children so don’t worry if your child shows
some variation from the average. An average is set as the time when 50% of children have
developed a skill (and, of course, 50% haven’t!).
It just isn’t true that the earlier a child learns som ething the more intelligent she must be.
Early development is linked to experience and encouragement as well as a natural capacity
to learn. Helping your child to grow and learn is vital but you can’t make things happen
before nature is ready.
When choosing play ideas it helps to identify y our child’ s interests and strengths first.
Then choose toys and activities that she will enjoy but that also provide a little novelty and
challenge. Too advanced a toy can overface her or she may just lose interest.
Buying or Borrowing Toys
Toys are the tools children use to learn. They can also use real objects as playthings. Look
for things around the house that can be borrowed safely. Think too about the things you
can make yourself.
Young children can outgrow toys quickly. You could see if there is a toy library in y our
area. Ask at the local library or contact Play Matters, 68 Churchway London, NW1 ILT or
telephone 020 7387 9592
Toys are often the first things that children know really belong to them. This is important
for developing a sense of identity . If y ou borrow a lovely toy she m ay be sad to take it
back. Perhaps this. is a good way to decide what to buy next.
Choosing toys is difficult with so many wonderful ones on offer. Think about
what she likes doing. If she is always running around, a bike or a ball may be better
than a sewing kit. She may not take the hint to settle quietly.
what she is .able to do. The guide on child developm ent will help you decide. Pick
toys that use these skills but also provide a little challenge and novelty which may
help her with new skills.
make sure that a toy can be used in lots of ways so it rem ains interesting once the
first excitement wears off.
check for safety . L ook for the Lion Mark and the British Standards symbols.
This is your guarantee of quality and provides peace of mind. All toys sold
in the UK should have a CE mark, too.
do be cautious about buying second hand or cheap toy s. T hey m ay be m ade of
inferior materials that are toxic, have dangerous parts or break easily causing cuts as
well as disappointment
do read the box carefully. Usually it will recommend a suitable age range as well as
tell you about the contents
Play Development Guide
This section of the guide is divided into the following age groups:
Pre-school years
5-7 year olds
Each of the above sections address the following subjects
Recommended types of toys
Games and activities
Note :
Please remember that the quoted times are an average - only half of all children will be
able to do it. There is a natural pattern of variation on either side of the given ages. Some
children mature earlier, others later.
Similarly, advice on toys and activities is linked to average interests. Do remember, many
toys have a long play life and can be enjoyed for years whilst others are soon outgrown
The Pre-school Years
5 – 7 Year Olds
Recommended Types Of Toys
( 0 – 12 Months )
Things To Do Together
Things To Look At
Things To Listen To
Learning To Talk
Things to Touch
Getting Going
Floor Games for Small Babies
Sitting Up
Crawling and Walking
Once she can reach and hold things they will go in her mouth
Check that :
it can’t be swallowed and cause her to choke
it can’t break and cause cuts and scratches
it is painted with safe non-toxic paint
everything is very clean as she will suck things
avoid anything that could suffocate a young baby – cushions and pillows can
be a danger as well as plastic bags.
beware of anything that could get w ound round her neck or cut off her blood
avoid heavy objects which she could drop on herself
Recommended type of toys for babies ( 0 – 12 months )
squeaky toys
cot or pram toys
music boxes
cot mirror
baby light
balls, chimes or bells
hammer bench
soft toys
teething rings
toys with suction-type base
activity centres
bath toys
Things to do together
Babies are alert and interested in the world from the moment they are born. They don’t see
clearly at first and depend on you to move them and hold them so they can look and listen.
Babies are m uch more interested in people than objects so lots of cuddles and soothing
voices are best in the first few weeks. They are fascinated by faces and look for longer at
these than anything else. Get close so that she can see you.
Learning to concentrate closely on one thing takes m any y ears to develop. A baby’s
attention moves on rapidly from one interesting thing to another. There’s so much to see
and hear. Playing together is important for the bonds that it builds w ith people. Take your
cue from her reactions and moods. Change the game when she loses interest.
Things to look at
Faces are best but when she’s resting or you are busy make sure she has lots to do.
Mobiles: these should be big, bright and bold and close enough for her to see
clearly. You could make your own by hanging brightly coloured things on string or
a coat hanger or buy one which attaches to the side of the cot.
Balloons move around and are big and bright. Y ou could draw a big, bold face on
Mirrors: cot mirrors attach to the bars and can be placed so that she can see it when
her head rests naturally on one side. It’s probably the light and changing reflection
she enjoys at this stage.
Cot or pram toys can be strung across the pram or cot and provide variety, colour,
movement, and sound. Later she will try to touch them too so they must be light but
strong and too big to be swallowed.
Everyday objects: most things interest her. Let her see and touch things y ou use at
Things to listen to
Babies have good hearing from birth. She w ill begin to recognise her mother’s voice
within days and show an interest in conversations long before she can talk herself. Other
things to listen to include:
Rattles (som e w ith w rist bands are suitable for very sm all babies who can’t hold
things yet)
Squeaky toys
Musical toys
Nursery rhyme tapes: these can be bought but very small babies might prefer to hear
a familiar voice singing to them on tape
Ball chimes or bells
Drums or anything to bang on and m ake a noise. She w ill love to do this herself
once she can move her hands and take a good aim.
Learning to talk
Although her first words probably w on’t be heard until around 10-15 m onths she is
learning about language from birth. She needs to see and hear as m uch as she can to help
her make sense of the world.
Do keep her near y ou as m uch as y ou can. Talk to her and tell her what you are
doing. Show her things too.
Let her listen to adult conversations so she sees the “give and take” of language.
Do join in with her sound games. It may only be noises to you but she will gradually
play at conversations w ith y ou and learn that m aking sounds gets people to take
Sing to her - songs and nursery rhymes are great fun and can have actions added
which help make meaning clear. There are lots of books and tapes available if you
can’t remember songs from your childhood.
Books - looking at baby books with their bright pictures of familiar things gives you
lots to tell her as well as show her.
Going out - point things out to her w hen you are out. Later she may begin to point
things out to you.
Things to touch
Small babies’ bodies and mouths are much more sensitive than their hands. Their sense of
touch is an important way of learning about the world as well as being a marvellous source
of pleasure and relaxation.
Playmats - these can have a variety of different materials -velvet, fur, cotton, wool which create different sensations on the skin.
Pram or cot activity bars - sm all babies love to look at the different things
happening near them but as they learn to move their arms they will begin to swipe at
and later grab things within reach.
Rattles and teething rings encourage her to look at and explore things by touch too.
The sound it makes will add to her interest in it.
Activity centres - these provide lots of different things to see, touch and listen to. It
will need to be fixed or placed securely so that it doesn’t topple over when she
pushes or probes at it.
Hammer bench - once she can hold something she soon learns she can make a noise
too. She will love pounding the pegs into their holes.
Getting going
Babies are born quite helpless. Learning to control her body is the major task for her first
year of life. Progress is gradual, starting from the head and moving downwards. Her head
is heavy and much bigger in proportion to her body than yours. It will need support until
her neck and back muscles are really strong.
Floor games for small babies
Playing with her and touching her helps to develop a sense of her ow n body. It w ill take
her a long time to control and move it herself. You could play floor games together.
Wave to me - put a finger into her hand. you can gently lift and wave her arm.
Tickling - great fun if it’s part of a song so she can see, hear and feel your presence.
You could play “round and round the garden” on her tummy.
Pat the baby - like peek-a-boo but you move in close to pat her tu mmy saying: “Here
I come!”.
Parachutes - let her watch your hand gently floating down towards her.
Cycling - let her push her feet against y our hands. You could gently move her legs
in a cycling action.
From three months, she can begin to lift her head if she is ly ing down. Speak to the
top of her head or hold a rattle nearby. Squeak a favourite toy.
Rolling over - around four m onths she m ay begin to roll over. Encourage this by
putting a toy just out of reach or lie down
Sitting Up
She can see so much more from a sitting position but she will need good support until she
can sit on her own. Even then she is likely to topple over if she reaches for something.
A baby chair with a tray can have a selection of toys and household items put on it for her
to explore. She w ill not look at any thing for long and will drop them. Suction toys may
stay in place but she may lose interest unless it’s fun to swipe at and makes a good noise.
Crawling and walking
Once she starts to m ove around any thing w ithin reach becom es a toy to be looked at,
banged and sucked. Once she can stand and take a few steps she may enjoy a baby walker.
A strong sturdy wheeled toy which will provide stability and balance.
Recommended Types Of Toys
( 1 – 3 Years )
The Second Year of Life ( 12 – 24 Months )
Physical Development
Listening and Talking
Putting Two Words Together
Looking and Doing
The Third Year of Life ( 24 – 36 Months )
Listening and Talking
Looking and Doing
Play Together
Once she can move around, extra safety precautions are essential.
Use safety gates across the top and bottom of the stairs.
Put fixed fire guards across fires.
Use plug guards.
Put harmful substances and dangerous objects high up preferably locked away.
Always use a harness with her baby chairs and push chair.
Keep all outside doors and gates shut, locked if necessary.
Make sure she can’t shut herself in the bathroom or freezer.
Don’t leave hot drinks or food where she can get them.
Turn saucepan handles inwards and use a cooker guard if possible.
Don’t leave her alone with water - a sm all child can drown in only a few inches in
the bottom of the bowl
Recommended types of toys for children aged 1-3
activity centres
sorting boxes
pop-up toys
stacking toys
wheeled toys (small)
pull-along toys
bath toys
inset puzzles
floor puzzles
play houses
soft toys
construction sets
miniature sets - household, animals
climb on toys
toy ‘phones
shuffle toys
musical instruments
finger paints
large crayons
The Second Year of Life (12 – 24 months)
She will be moving around now whether it’s bottom shuffling, crawling or walking. She is
likely to be a little unsteady and tends to m ove only in straight lines w hatever is in her
way. She works very hard at learning to use and control her body. If she falls down at first
she will get up and try again.
She is also intensely curious and very energetic. Perhaps it is nature’ s way of giving her
the means to learn. She will want to see and touch every thing she comes across. Now she
may also have some words for som e of the things she know s and w ill be ready to learn
It is a very exciting, interesting and exhausting time for both of you!
Physical Development
Provide opportunities for standing and w alking by arranging furniture so she can pull
herself up and move across small gaps at first.
Her baby walker will provide support and balance at first. Later she may enjoy:
pull-along toys on a string
dancing together to m usic to help her enj oy her body and her new found
range of movements. Hold on to her hands if she’s unsteady
chase games - even if she prefers to bottom shuffle you can pretend to chase
and catch her
hide and seek - at first y ou might have to both hide and then find her, or call
her to find you. Later you can both take turns as she understands the gam e
mirror games - use a full length m irror to play copying games. Stand behind
her where she can see y ou, then copy her movements or the faces she pulls.
Take turns so she can laugh at you copying her.
Listening and talking
First words are often hard to be sure about. She has so few sounds and chatters to you with
all the noises she can m ake. W as it j ust chance? Her first few words will be labels for
things that are really important to her. She learns words by associating what she sees with
what she hears. You can help make this clear by:
Showing her things and saying the word clearly as part of your “conversation”.
Use gestures to help explain things when you talk together.
Play fetching gam es - she w ill know more words than she uses herself. Ask her to
get things for you one at a time.
Asking games - roll a ball to her and ask her to push it back. She then has to ask you
to roll it to her.
Putting two words together
Words are used singly at first just to label objects. Once she has more to say about things
one word by itself won’t be enough.
Encourage this stage by:
Providing her with plenty to see, hear and do. Let her listen to fam ily and friends
and encourage her to join in the conversation - or change the subject!
Explain what things are and how they work. When she w ants to comment on how
things look or what they do she will start to join her words together.
Ask her opinion on things to do, places to go, things to eat wherever practical.
Mime actions for her to label e.g. “mummy jump”.
Use bright, bold pictures or, better still, family photographs to play the same game.
Invent a game where she can be bounced or swung only if she asks “Suzy swing”.
Looking and doing
She can now reach, grasp, hold and let go of things with either hand or both together. She
is very, very curious and loves to explore things, taking them apart, emptying containers
and tipping things onto the floor. A nything she play s with needs to be tough because it
will get rough handling. She will enjoy:
A treasure box - full of things chosen for their interest value and safety for a young
enquiring m ind. A nything that is bright, colourful, patterned, of an interesting
texture or that bends, squeezes or makes a noise. Things that smell good are fun too.
You’ll find lots of things around the house e. g. a lemon, a velvet pincushion (no
pins), a tea strainer, measuring spoons, a piece of loofah.
Making music - she will like to hit and bang things. Buy her a drum or lend her a
wooden spoon and a shoe box.
Peg boards - big wooden pieces to take out and possibly fit back again.
Bricks (or old food packets) to stack and then knock over.
Shape sorters - bought or made out of an empty ice cream tub.
Inset j igsaws - w ith a picture underneath w hen y ou lift up the big easy
to hold
Water - in the bath or sink to tip, pour and splash.
Crayons and pencils - to scribble with and enjoy the colour and movement.
Playing house - she will try to help you out at home with all the jobs you have time
to show her. Give her a duster w hen you are cleaning or a few spoons to splash in
the water when the washing up is done. There are lots of “house” toys that look like
the real thing but she’s probably not ready for tiny miniatures yet.
The Third Year of Life (24 – 36 months)
Her balance and coordination are im proving rapidly. She can move to avoid things in her
path. She will enjoy a lot of energetic play with big toys which will help her coordination.
Shuffle toys - at first she can only sit and push herself along with her legs. Later, she
may prefer a pedal trike.
Pull along toys - these go with her as she goes. At first she may walk backwards to
watch it follow her. Later, she will take its presence for granted.
Climb on toy s - she is m ore adventurous and can m ove under or over things. She
will clim b on any thing, so do cast an ey e around w ith safety in m ind at home.
Bought climbing frames although expensive are very safe and sturdy. Do check that
they are on a soft surface in case she falls.
Big and sm all balls - she w ill throw and kick balls w ith enthusiasm but poor aim.
She can’t catch with her hands alone as yet, but uses her arms to pin the ball against
her body.
Pedal trikes - later in this y ear she m ay learn to pedal and steer and can then get
around at considerable speed.
Listening and talking
Now she can tell y ou things in longer, clearer phrases. She also asks lots of questions.
There is so much she doesn’t know yet and needs you to explain. She doesn’t always listen
to your reply. That’s because her attention span is brief and her mind is soon on something
new. She will enjoy :
Nursery rhymes - she will be able to join in with some of the words and action.
“What’s that?” games - ask her to tell y ou what familiar objects are w hen you are
out or looking at a book. Use it as an “opener” to expand her knowledge and tell her
more about it. Keep it light and conversational.
Short stories - she doesn’t listen for long and likes to hear old favourites. She is
beginning to use her imagination and stories are wonderfully exciting.
Fetching and carry ing - she loves to help and j oin in w ith adult tasks. She can
probably remember two things you ask her to get for you.
Looking and doing
She is learning how to do quite complicated things with her hands. She has more ideas too
on what to do and wants to find out how things work.
Construction toys - bricks w hich lock together like duplo or stickle bricks can be
used to make tall buildings or pretend vehicles. Models won’t be very sophisticated
Jigsaws - she may enjoy big floor puzzles with large easy to handle pieces and big
colourful pictures. She can judge better which pieces go where with inset puzzles.
Shape sorters - from sim ple posting boxes w ith a few shapes through to m ore
complicated activity boxes which do som ething if y ou slot the right pieces in. She
will learn to look and judge colour and shape and to predict what will happen.
Soft toys, dolls and puppets - these toy s come into their ow n now. She can express
herself more freely and her imagination is developing. She probably will prefer to
play solo with these toys than join in with other children.
Home corner - she enj oys copy ing y ou and doing real j obs but may also start to
pretend to be an adult with tools that she’s borrowed for the kitchen or the garage.
She w ill begin to play in an im aginary world using scaled down versions of
domestic tools and equipment if you provide them.
Threading - she can coordinate quite difficult small movements using both hands to
hold a bead in one and thread the lace with the other.
Creative play - she can try her hand at cutting and sticking using old magazines and
safety scissors. She could print with potato pieces and thick paint or just scribble
with crayons. She w on’t be draw ing pictures y et. She w ill be very messy so cover
her and a large area around her!
Play together
She may have brothers and sisters or you may have joined a mother and toddler group or a
toy library when she was smaller. But you might be wondering about playgroup sometime
soon and what to expect. She will benefit from the company and will probably watch other
children playing but most two year olds prefer to play alone. Gradually, she may begin to
join in games briefly, but, at the m oment, she’s much too busy exploring her ow n ideas
and gaining a first hand experience of the w orld. It is an im portant time and can’t be
rushed. There’s plenty of time for friends in the future.
Recommended Types Of Toys
( 3 – 5 Years )
Games and Activities
Creative Play
Pretend Play
Social Play
Experimental Play
Energetic Play
Playing With Adults
(3-5 Year Olds)
Recommended toys for 3 – 5 year olds
Hand puppets
Finger puppets
Dressing-up clothes
Small vehicles
Large trikes, bikes, lorries or hoppers
Musical instruments
Cassette player
Construction kits
Train sets
Model farms, houses, villages, zoos,
Playmats - to provide town and
countryside backgrounds
Fantasy toys - space stations etc
Theme toys - care bears, turtles
Puzzles! jigsaws
Electronic toys
House kits - childsize furniture, tea
Climbing frames and play gyms
Building and construction sets
Painting and colouring kits
Play dough
Board games
Toy telephone
Games and activities
Children are now more able to keep them selves am used and play at gam es they invent
with toys or borrowed treasures they find. They will gradually learn to:
play together
develop fantasy games
describe their wishes and ideas clearly to friends in play
make and design things in creative play
discover more about the world through experimenting in play
Creative play
This can be messy so cover her up in an old shirt or blouse buttoned at the back and cover
the floor and table to protect from spills.
Three year olds “ create” things very quickly and m ight be put off if y ou try to improve
their work of art. Attention to detail will develop later. You could provide :
big crayons
a large paint brush and non-spill pots of paint
magazines to cut up
paper or pasta shapes to glue on
straws to “blow paint” with
vegetables cut up for block painting
lots of paper - recycle household supplies which have something on one side only
safe glue or paste - she may try and taste it
play dough or plasticine and cutting tools
Pretend play
Anything and everything can becom e the subj ect for pretend play . Children appreciate
having lots of props and dressing up clothes.
Clothes - big, “easy to get in and out of” garm ents are best but m ake sure they are
not too long. T exture and colour are m ore im portant than style. Choose bright,
shiny, silky or glittery materials. Lengths of material can be transformed into trains,
cloaks, veils and blankets.
Accessories - shoes, handbags, j ewellery, artificial flow ers, hats, feathers, purses,
will all add interest.
Props - as with toddlers, a lot of play is domestic and furniture and household items
bought, borrowed or made can help set the scenes.
Toy farms, zoos, garages, space stations are equally popular.
Puppets - sometimes it’s more fun to have a character to pretend about. Glove or
finger puppets provide hours of fun.
Social play
Children usually discover that play ing together can be fun around this tim e. At first it is
brief and often ends in tears. But this is soon forgotten when the excitement of a new game
If your child does not attend playgroup or nursery yet she will rely on you to help her meet
other children and have a safe place to play together.
Being with other children is fun but she w ill learn a lot too from playing and talking with
her new friends. Simple games with rules that involve taking turns become possible now.
Board games usually need an adult to help out too.
Experimental play
Children are very interested in w hat things are and how they work. She will have lots of
questions for willing adult ears and will try to test things out for herself too.
Sand - wet and dry sand have different properties. Two washing up bowls - one for
each - w ill allow her to com pare pouring, tipping and sifting dry sand with the
shapes and patterns that can be m ade in w et. She w ill also need a bucket, spade,
sieve, and comb to make patterns and different containers and shapes to im print
Water - tipping and pouring is fun for a w
hile, but older children m ay like to
experiment with different sized containers to fill, or things that float or sink.
Construction kits - from duplo through to m eccano sets there is som ething for
everyone. Some kits come with instructions but don’t worry if she prefers to try out
her own ideas.
Energetic play
Children are still learning a lot about what their bodies can do and are testing them to the
limit. She will probably be full of energy from dawn to dusk!
Climbing - is a favourite activity
crawling under is much loved.
and safe equipm ent for getting
on, over or
Trikes and bikes - steering and peddling improves as does balance, though children
of this age have problems in finding safe places off the street in which to play.
Playing With Adults
Although she can now keep herself amused for sometime and is beginning to find friends
she still needs adult company for stimulation as well as emotional support. This is the age
when questions start early in the m orning and finish last thing at night! There is so much
to learn, so m any new things that occur to her and she expects y ou to help her find the
answer. The world is such a fascinating and exciting place viewed through a child’s eyes.
You can j oin in her gam es or have her play board gam es w ith you but probably what
you’ll both enj oy doing m ost is sharing tim e together, going out or doing chores and
chatting all the time. Sharing books gives untold pleasure both big, bold picture books and
those familiar stories she wants to hear over and over again without you changing a single
Recommended Types Of Toys
( 5 – 7 Years )
Choosing Toys
Recommended toys for 5 – 7 year olds
Please also look at the toys recommended for younger children. Most of them will still be
enjoyed and you might also think about adding these to the list:
bat and ball games
roller skates, swing ball
walkie talkie hand sets
pencil sets and colouring kits
craft and hobby kits, microscopes or
keyboard, musical instruments
skipping rope!
Choosing Toys
Choosing toys now definitely depends on what she likes and w hat she wants to do. Most
five y ear olds have developed all the basic phy sical and language skills and are now
adding to their knowledge of the world around the m. Play reflects her o wn interests a nd
enthusiasms rather than a “ biological im perative” to practise and develop fundamental
Suitable boards games involving the whole of the family can be fun. Some involve
memory, others alertness and observation skills w hile others depend on careful
coordination of the hands.
Construction sets can now be quite sophisticated and som e depend on detailed
following of com plicated plans w hile others encourage original planning
Older children have greater manual dexterity as well as being able to concentrate on
fine detail, so creative play mentioned on page 35 enters a new phase of design and
Many children are beginning to develop their ow n hobbies and interests but can
change their minds quite frequently. It can be frustrating to buy things that are soon
ignored. Perhaps this is a good time to link spending on hobbies to children’s pocket
money as well as the generous donations of friends and family.
Electronic toys and games are very popular if rather expensive. If you do decide to
invest in a hand-held gam e or a com puter, do research its versatility and whether
you can buy additional equipment that will extend its play value.
Imaginative play is now m uch m ore sophisticated and not so concerned with
copying the day to day events in your household. Toys, props and costumes are still
relished for adding fun as well as realism to the game.
Stories and books are a focal part of her life both at school and at home to enrich her
knowledge and feed her im agination. Sharing stories is of m uch greater value than
time spent on word drills or copy ing exercises unless y ou have specifically been
asked to do this by her teacher as well.
Similarly, y ou can be of m ore help to her in m aths if y ou give her practical
experience of weighing, measuring, counting and sorting at hom e. Cooking,
shopping, hom e decorations all lend them selves beautifully to thinking about
numbers and quantities. Collecting is often the first real hobby a child has. Many
parents regret the fact that this natural stage of grow ing up has been so thoroughly
catered for by manufacturers. Do bring other possibilities to her attention. Things
picked up on a beach or a country walk can lead on to interesting stories and trips to
the library for reference books once y ou are hom e. However, don’t underestimate
peer group pressure even at this tender age. Collecting toy s from a series can be
exciting if expensive. It’s probably a good idea to link this to her learning the value
of money and saving up too.
Growing up does not stop at seven, and neither does the need to play. Play continues to
stimulate and encourage creative, im aginative and practical abilities in a way that the
repetition we associate with the adult idea of “ work” seldom succeeds in doing. Children
don’t learn as much from just watching and listening as they do from joining in and trying
out things for themselves. They need us to guide them on the right path but w ill get so
much more from the experience if they take an active part in the world around them. A
child has outgrown the need to play and have toys only when she chooses to give them up
herself. Most of us never really outgrow the pleasure and excitement of playing.
The Good Toy Guide is a consumer guide to toys and play, edited by Play
Matters/NATLL and published annually in October. It is available at newsagents.
Look out for the Lion Mark. This is the British toy industry’s symbol for safety and
guarantees a quality product. The British Toy and Hobby Association introduced it
1989 to signal that a toy reaches British Safety Standard E N71. (BTHA, 80
Camberwell Road, London SE5 0EG. Tel : 020 7701 7271.
Borrowing toys as well as buying toys will increase the possibilities for play. If you
want to find out more about toy libraries contact
Play Matters also produces a range of publications concerned w ith play.
A publications list is available from the NATLL.
0 – 4 Weeks
4 – 12 Weeks
3 – 6 Months
6 – 9 Months
9 – 12 Months
12 – 15 Months
15 – 18 Months
18 – 24 Months
2 – 2½ Years
2½ – 3 Years
3 – 4 Years
4 – 5 Years
0 – 4 Weeks
Physical Development
• Head and neck need support when
• Large jerky movements of arms and
legs with no direction
• Grasps objects placed in palm of hand • Hands are in fists
but this is a reflex action
• Baby lies on her back with head to one
Listening and Talking
• Startled by load noises
• Listens more closely to voices than
other sounds
• Will move eyes towards continuous
• Babbles using large range of sounds
• Cries
Looking and Doing
• Can see light, shade and colour
• Focusing is difficult, best vision close
to face 8-20 cm
• Turns head towards strong light
• Can watch a moving object which is
close and directly in front
• Recognises mother’s face (by one
Learning Independence
• Is beginning to recognise people, is
more likely to look at faces and listen
to voices than anything else seen or
• A young baby is completely
dependent and cries to make needs
known. They need lots of physical
contact and gentle voices to listen to
and faces to look at
4 - 12 Weeks
Physical Development
• Can move head more now when lying • Kicks vigorously
• Can hold head up for a few seconds if
• Waves arms
• Watches own hands and fingers
• Can be propped up in a sitting position
moving - this is perhaps the first signs
of deliberate play
• Opens and closes fists
Listening and Talking
• Knows familiar voice
• Babbling increases when talked to
• Recognises sounds associated with
being fed
• Gurgles when happy and contented
Looking and Doing
• Looks for longer at bright colours and • Can watch an object move over a
bold patterns than pastels
wider distance
• Looks longest at faces or bold pictures
of a human face
Learning Independence
• Greater physical control of movement • Babies are very active and curious and
respond to lively surrounds and
and improving vision allows a child to
human company
search out interesting things to see or
3-6 Months
Physical Development
• When lying on back can raise head to
look at feet
• Can grasp feet and play with toes
• Can roll from back onto side but not
over onto stomach (3 months)
• Raises head when pulled to a sitting
• On front begins to raise self onto arms
lifting head and shoulders (5-6
• Starts to roll from front to back
• Can briefly hold objects placed in
hand but does not yet look at them
Listening and Talking
• Turns towards sounds
• Can now recognise an increasing
number of situations linked to daily
• Makes cooing and double vowel
sounds eg goo goo
• Begins to “talk’, then listens using
babble lines, like a real conversation
• Babbles with delight if tickled,
touched or talked to
• “Talks” to self as well as in company
Looking and Doing
• Beginning to reach for objects. Grasp
• Focuses both eyes on objects - can
improves over the period
now see well at middle distance
• Watches an object fall but then forgets • Can pass toy from one hand to the
it because it can’t be seen
• Turns head to look at things first seen • Follows object dangled near face (612 inches) both from side to side and
in the corner of the eye
up and down
Learning Independence
• Although she now has a greater range of movements she cannot go far. She sees
lots of interesting things around her and wants to look more closely. She likes to
be included in everything as far as possible, exploring the world through touch,
taste and smell as well as looking around.
6-9 Months
Physical Development
• Rolls over front to back
• May begin to sit unsupported for a
very short time
• Raises head when lying down
• Bounces and steps with feet when held
up on solid surface
• May get into crawling position and
rock but not move
• Picks things up in either hand
• Can pass objects from hand to hand
• Explores things by putting them into
• Reaches for and plays with toes
• Holds things out to people but can’t let
go in a controlled way
Listening and Talking
• Patterns of sounds made become
longer and repetitive
• Babble conversations becoming more
frequent and pauses to listen to reply
• Shouts to attract attention
• Responds to own name
• Listens attentively to adult
conversations and watches speakers
• May understand a few words by 9
Looking and Doing
• Concentration is increasing. Looks at
objects for a longer period especially
if holding them
• Searches room for things to look at
• Holds objects, turning them around
• Recognises familiar faces
• May begin to look for toy dropped out
of sight or hidden (by 9 months plus)
• Uses objects to make a noise by
banging on surface or rattling
Learning Independence
• Can hold things more easily now and
makes good use of rattles, shakes and
activity toys
• Baby bouncers and baby walkers
provide a chance for her to walk by
9-12 Months
Physical Development
• Can sit alone without support
• Later, may pull self up holding onto
• Can reach for toys when sitting
• Cannot balance but may move
without toppling over
sideways keeping hold of support as
• Can get up into a sitting position from
next stage
lying down
• Later, can walk with support holding
• Can turn and reach out
hands or pushing baby walker (11-12
• Can roll over and over and may use
this as first method of moving around
Listening and Talking
• Will copy adult’s “baby noises” as a
• Joins up different sounds and practices
intonation patterns
• Joins in a peek-a-boo game and copies • May begin to use words towards the
hand clapping
end of this stage
• Responds to a few words like no, bye • Uses voice to attract attention to
bye drink, which are heard frequently
objects and events of interest; may
also point to them
• Can tell strangers at a glance and
needs reassurance. Doesn’t smile at
everyone now
Looking and Doing
• Memory developing. Looks for fallen
toy even if out of sight
• Now pays as much attention to things
up to 10 feet away as those close at
• Is more accurate in reaching out to get
• Picks up small objects between thumb
and finger
• Can poke and point with fingers
• Gradually learns to let go of things,
first by pressing down on firm surface
• Uses objects top and fill containers
Learning Independence
• Tries to “help” with feeding by grabbing spoon. Can’t fill or lift to mouth yet
12-15 Months
Physical Development
• Sits without support for extensive
periods of time
• Crawls or bottom shuffles at speed
• Can pull self up to stand with support
and get down again without falling
• Can stand without support. Balance
• May walk a step towards furniture or
hands held out. Gradually takes a few
independent steps
• Can crawl upstairs
Listening and Talking
• Understands a variety of words in
• Follows a few simple instructions if
helped out by gestures
• Recognises some familiar objects and
demonstrates their use in play e.g.
drinks from an empty cup
Recognises familiar objects in pictures
Is gaining new words in pictures
Is gaining new words steadily
Uses babble conversations and
pointing as a major way of
Looking and Doing
• Throws toys deliberately and watches • Takes objects to mouth less often
them fall
• May begin to fit objects together
• Bangs two objects together and smiles
(large peg board or inset puzzle) but
at the sound
prefers to take them apart
• Watches things at a distance more
Learning Independence
• Can drink from a trainer cup
• Chews food
• Takes socks or mittens off
• Holds out arms or legs to help when
being dressed
15-18 Months
Physical Development
• Walks alone. Steps are wide and
uneven. Holds arms out for balance
• Usually stops by falling or sitting
down heavily
• Can kneel to play
• Pushes large toys along to help
balance. Can’t steer or avoid obstacles
• Climbs into adult chairs
• Can bend down to pick things up
without losing balance
Listening and Talking
• Points out things of interest in books
• Understands a wider range of simple
• Number of words spoken is increasing
• Babble and pointing are the main ways
of getting the message across
Looking and Doing
• Throws objects once they have been
looked at
• Points to objects she wants fetched by
an adult
• Beginning to fit together objects as
well as take them apart
• Can fit round and square shapes into
• Builds towers with a few bricks and
enjoys knocking it down again
• Makes short straight marks on paper
with crayon
• Looks at books, turning several pages
at a time
Learning Independence
• Lifts spoon to mouth but cannot
prevent spoon turning over
• May indicate when nappy is wet or
18 – 24 Months
Physical Development
• Coordination and balance improving
when walking
• May begin to trot but can’t avoid
• Pulls toys on a string, first when
walking backwards watching toy,
later forwards with toy following
• Walk upstairs, if hand held, bringing
second leg onto same step
Listening and Talking
• Vocabulary increasing rapidly. All
words used singly initially
• Will intimate words
• Tries to join in with familiar nursery
• “No” is a favourite word
• Likes to be in company but plays solo
Looking and Doing
• Recognises familiar faces in
• Can match two identical objects
• Can twist and turn hands to open
doors or unscrew jars
• Will look at books longer pointing out
details but can’t turn one page at a
• Begins to use one hand by preference
• Can scribble round but may go off the
Learning Independence
• Remembers where objects belong in
the home
• Recognises landmarks when out
• Imitates adults eg helps with house
• Can take coat off if helped with
May ask for potty
Helps to wash or bath self
Can feed self with spoon
Drinks from cup and puts down after
2 – 2½ Years
Physical Development
• Can run and avoid obstacles
• Kicks at football
• Guide small toy on string by deliberate • Picks things up in either hand
• Can jump
• Moves self along on shuffle toy
• Can walk up and down stairs using
handrail. Both feet onto each step
Listening and Talking
• May have 50+ words including some • Can now join in nursery rhymes with
adjectives such as big or good
good recall but not word perfect
• Beginning to make sentences of two or • Listens to short stories especially
more words
• Frequently asked “What’s that?”
• Can carry out two linked requests eg
“get your coat and give it to me”
Looking and Doing
• Balances 5-10 bricks to build a tower
• Looks at fine details in books and
turns pages singly
• Can copy a circle and a straight line
• Scribble stays on the page
• Can string 1” beads on a firm lace
• Begins to sort and match similar
objects by size, shape and colour
Learning Independence
• Plays with small dolls and household
toys. Play sequences are simple and
chatters aloud to self about what is
• Plays alongside other children and
takes a fleeting interest but does not
join in
• Likes toys which turn and move eg
cars, trains
• Sits at table to eat
• Can take off some clothes eg trousers
• Puts on own shoes, hat, coat but
cannot fasten
2½ - 3 Years
Physical Development
• Tries to catch ball using arms against
the body
• Can climb on low climbing toys
Listening and Talking
• Uses sentences of 3-5 words
• Vocabulary increasing daily
• Both pronunciation and grammar will
still be infantile
• Asks a lot of questions: who, what,
where, type
• Knows some songs and rhymes right
• May go through a stuttering phase as
ideas run ahead of her
• May court to 3
Looking and Doing
• Scribbles and paints with large
• Beginning to match early jigsaws by
shape and picture
Learning Independence
• Beginning to join in play with others
• Watches other children playing with
• Imaginary play is more sustained and
has more detail and perhaps a story
• Plans games and collects props in
3 – 4 Years
Physical Development
• Pedals a trike and steers corners
• Can jump from low height
• Can walk on tiptoe
• Can climb on and use small slide
• Catches ball with two hands
• Can kick a large ball moving towards
Listening and Talking
• Uses short, complete sentences
• Most speech is clear with a few
infantile sound substitutions (y as in
“lellow” for yellow)
• Listens to and tells long stories (5
• Asks when, why and how questions
• Talks to self in long monologues.
Makes up imaginary characters
• May count from 1 to 10 but
understanding is usually limited to
one, two and three
• Begins to understand the idea of past
and future
• Uses incorrect irregular plurals (eg
sheeps) and grammar (goed runned)
• May know two or three colours
Looking and Doing
• Threads ½” beads on a lace
• Can match a colour, shape or picture
but not distinguish fine detail
• Builds and stacks with more precision.
Beginning to draw objects and people • Attempts to cut with scissors
• Can draw a square
• Traces around a template
Learning Independence
• Likes to help with tidying up
• Pretend play has a strong story line
and well defined characters
• Shared play is now more common
than playing alone
• Can take turns with a game
Follows rules in games led by an adult
Needs no help at mealtimes
Can dress herself without help
Can lace shoes
4 - 5 Years
Physical Development
• Can balance on one foot briefly (5
• Can hop
• Can bounce and then catch a ball
• Can change direction while running
• Can climb and descend stairs on
alternate feet
Listening and Talking
• Speech grammatically correct
• Some speech sounds not yet mastered
(e.g. “s” and “th”)
• Gives clear account of own news
• Counts to 4 or 5 with understanding
• Enjoys simple jokes
• Plays with words and sounds, often
inventing “silly” language for
• May know 4+ colours by name
• Can contribute to a conversation
keeping to the topic
Looking and Doing
• By 4 is usually completely right or left • Can copy short sequences of simple
shapes or letters. Often misses some
out or copies them facing the wrong
• Plans drawing before beginning.
Content and detail increasing
• Plans and builds detailed models from
• At 4, draws person with round
the imagination
head/body and stick limbs. By 5
• Can cut around simple shapes
drawings include face, hair, and
fingers but still a stick person
Learning Independence
• Work alone at a chosen task for 20-30
• Can take turns within larger groups of
Plays with 2-3 children for l5 to 30
minutes on games or projects which
have to be planned and negotiated