Toddler Jump Off
I had the pleasure of meeting with Allison Klein, the personable and extremely educated founder and curator of toy resource Rose & Rex. Her enthusiasm and thoughtful ideas on what she feels are the most optimal toys for young children resonated with me so much that I asked her to write about a Toddler Play Space set up for Mo' Mommies. Rose & Rex provides a lot more than just toys to purchase, they give back through organizations such as Second Chance Toys and their website has an imaginative and informative blog that I really love!
Tips for Choosing Toys for a Toddler’s Play Space
Contributed by, Allison Klein
Last week, I chatted with a mom about setting up a playroom for her two-year-old boy. I love helping parents create educational, personal play spaces, and over the years have discovered a few misconceptions about what you need to create a meaningful play area that supports your child’s development. The primary misconception is: more is better—more stuff, more space, bigger budget. The truth is you don’t need much. The most mindful play spaces honor a child’s unique needs and includes a few high-quality, open-ended toys, which will provide continuous opportunities for learning and exploring.
Any parent who’s been through the toddler years knows that age one and two are exciting years developmentally. Children are rapidly growing essential skills, exploring the world around them, making cognitive connections, gaining independence, exploring sound and early language, and strengthening motor coordination. It’s a beautiful time to support their development through purposeful play. Here are my top tips for creating a play environment for toddlers.
Be Intentional When Choosing Toys
I encourage parents to ask these three simple questions when selecting a toy:
- Is it open-ended?
- Is it healthy and safe?
- Is it designed to promote imaginative play?
Open-ended toys actively engage a child, rather than entertain. They can be explored in more than one way. They can be personalized. Most importantly, open-ended toys do less, so that a child can do more. For example, a firetruck that makes noise with the press of a button eliminates an opportunity for the child to make up their own sound; an open-ended truck, that needs to be pushed to move and given sound to come to life, actively engages a child, supporting their developing language skills, gross motor coordination, and sound exploration. Open-ended toys and materials invite children to use their imagination, from building blocks to upcycled cardboard boxes, costumes to fabric scraps, eco-playdough to pipe cleaners.
Engage Their Senses
One and two year olds learn the world around them through their senses. When you design a play space for toddlers, pick materials and toys that offer different sensory experiences. Include music, musical instruments, or noise-makers. Offer colors and different materials for tactile exploration, like soft fabrics and wooden toys.
Use Recycled Materials
Sometimes a cardboard box is the most fun toy in the house! Collect recycled materials that will delight your two-year-old during playtime. They might enjoy stacking empty tissue boxes, using cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper for building, or simply rolling a water bottle to see what happens. Get creative! As your child gets older, introduce new materials that complement their age and interests—there’s truly a recycled material that suits every age and stage of growing!
A meaningful play area, no matter the square footage, will help little ones develop independence by encouraging them to initiate play on their own, without prompt or intervention from adults. Set up your child’s play area with a small selection of toys, then take a step back—literally! Move away from the play space, putting some distance between you and where your little one is playing. By doing so, you can still observe their play and they can engage autonomously.
To help you get inspired, here are a few of my favorite toys for creating an engaging yet minimal play space for tots.
Play silks are one of the ultimate open-ended materials. They can be transformed and re-imagined hundreds of ways and bring a sensorial experience to play. For toddlers, it’s a toy that will continue to engage as they grow. At age one and two, try playing peek-a-boo, hiding an object under the silk and watch them uncover it, moving the silks around them, rolling it into a ball, or throwing it up into the air. When your toddler gets older, play silks become the gateway to imaginary worlds that support their overall growth. One day it’s a butterfly flying through the sky, the next day it’s a river for a sail boat, and the next day it’s a dress-up cape. No matter how they are used, play silks are sure to be hit.
Another play space-must is a set of high-quality, sustainably made blocks. This must-have is one of the best toys for cognitive, physical, and social development, ready to grow with your child at every age. From strengthening coordination to enhancing fine motor development to engaging curiosity, blocks help young children learn fundamental skills at every age. At age one, children will likely explore blocks by clapping them together, moving them around, or feeling their different shapes. As they grow, their interests and play will shift to stacking, fitting, and ultimately building. Discover these sets.
At one and two, most children experience rapid physical growth. These organic Globetotters Blocks, soft cotton cubes illustrated with different colors and pictures and designed with a gentle bell inside are a favorite pick of mine. They help stimulate developing senses and model cause and effect. Since they are larger in size, they promote physical coordination. Plus, as your little one grows they support language development and communication.
Check out soft blocks on Rose & Rex here!
Allison Klein received a B.A. in Anthropology with minors in Psychology and Writing from Washington University in St. Louis, and a dual M.S.ED degree in Early Childhood and Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education. While in graduate school, Allison studied the importance of imaginative play on early childhood development, and later applied this research in pre-kindergarten classrooms where she worked. As she watched her students grow and transform through play, Allison knew she wanted to start a broad conversation about the importance of play for children in today’s results-driven culture.
Now a play-based tutor, when Allison is not working with children or playing with blocks, she loves to explore Central Park, drink matcha tea and practice pilates. A native New Yorker, Allison lives on the Upper East Side and appreciates the abundance of experiential learning opportunities that exist on every block.