Choose Toys with Play Value

Play is essential to children’s healthy development and learning. Children use play to actively construct knowledge, meet social/emotional needs and acquire life skills. Toys are the tools of children’s play. Toys of value enhance children’s natural ability to engage in imaginative, meaningful play by allowing them to try out their own ideas and solve their own problems. Below are some tips for choosing toys that promote positive play.

Toys have enhanced play value when they…

  • Can be used in many ways.
  • Allow children to be in charge of the play.
  • Appeal to children at more than one age or level of development.
  • Are not linked to video games, TV or movies.
  • Can be used with other toys for new and more complex play.
  • Will stand the test of time and continue to be part of play as children develop new interests and skills.
  • Promote respectful, non-stereotyped, non-violent interactions among children.
  • Help children develop skills important for further learning and a sense of mastery.
  • Can be used by children to play alone as well as with others.
  • Can be enjoyed by both girls and boys.

Choose toys that promote…

  • Dramatic play. Helps children work out their own ideas about their experiences. Provides a powerful way of learning new skills and a sense of mastery. Examples: blocks, dress-up clothes, fabric pieces, dolls, puppets, props to recreate real life (post office, restaurant, store), plastic and stuffed animals.
  • Manipulative play with small play objects. Develops small muscle control and eye-hand coordination. Teaches about relationships between objects, essential for understanding math and science. Examples: construction sets and toys with interlocking pieces (basic Legos, Lincoln Logs), puzzles, pegboards, pattern blocks.
  • Game playing. Teaches about taking turns, planning strategy, sequencing, rules and cooperation. Examples: board games like checkers and chess, card games, jacks.
  • Creative arts. Encourages self-expression and the use of symbols, a vital skill for problem solving and literacy. Develops fine motor skills. Examples: poster and finger paints, assortment of blank paper of all sizes and colors, crayons and markers, scissors, glue, recycled materials, stamps, clay, weaving kits.
  • Physical play. Promotes healthy body awareness and coordination. Provides opportunities for social interaction. Examples: bikes, scooters and other wheel toys, balls, bats, jump ropes, climbing structures, play tunnels.

[Note: Remember that small toys are hazardous for young children, especially those under 3.]

Toys have limited play value when they…

  • Can only be used in one way and/or encourage all children to play the same way.
  • Are limited to a single age or level of development.
  • Are fun for the first 1/2 hour and then rarely get played with again.
  • Do the play “for” children, instead of allowing for children’s unique exploration and mastery.
  • Lead children to spend more time with TV or other media, and/or let the screen take control of their play.
  • Promote violence and stereotypes, which can lead to aggressive and disrespectful behavior.
  • Lure children into watching the TV program or other media linked to the toy.
  • Introduce academic concepts too early and replace the kind of creative play that best prepares them for learning.

Adapted from the 2009/2010 Toys, Play & Young Children Action Guide. To read the entire guide, and view the guide for infants and toddlers, visit

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