Developmental Insights

Newborn to 3 Months of Age

There are those who believe there is nothing you can give a child of this age that is "educational", but we'd like to offer a different perspective.  First of all, let's clear up the semantics.  When people talk to us about their child's educational needs it is often referencing cognitive skills.  But there are other things children must master along the way to both facilitate and complement the cognitive process'.  

That's why we prefer to refer to our toys as "developmentally appropriate" rather than educational.  We've often said that a bucket of mud is educational, but it takes on different uses based upon what's going on developmentally (e.g., tactile at 6 months, an art material at 8 years).

So, for the newborn to 3 months old child, we would suggest that you look for toys that help these children gain control of their gross motor skills, develop visual acuity, auditory , and other sensory skills.  These will "educate" the mind and the body.

3 to 12 Months

Starting at three months you'll notice that the child begins to become more social and take on a greater interest in interacting with people.  They have gained the ability to "grasp and hold" and can begin to entertain themselves with things such as rattles.

At around six months children begin to understand what is known as "object permanence" and recognize that objects can exist even when they can't be seen.  They also recognize family members and notice that some people are strangers.  Parents will often hear their children's first utterances during this period as well.

Between 9 and 12 months, children may start to learn to walk, expand their vocabulary and generally become more aware of the world around them.  They will also start to exhibit signs of independence, wanting to explore their surroundings while keeping one eye on mom or dad as reassurance should they need help.  Toys that provide tactile experiences and "cause and effect" provide a safe way of finding out how things feel and work, while building self-esteem as the child masters the process.

1 to 2 Year Old Children

In learning to walk during this period, children need to push first and pull second.  For if they turn around to see what they are pulling and are not completely stable, they could take a tumble and get discouraged about walking.

Socialization continues as children begin to speak and understand more words and enjoy being the center of attention.  Reading children's books to the child is not only a great way to facilitate language development, but also fills the need to be the center of attention.

While their focus in the past was on taking things apart, they now become interested in putting things back together.  Stacking one or two high is typical and a good set of unit blocks facilitates this process.

The independence they've started to develop begins to show through as they become more possessive of their toys, and begin to challenge their parents. Yes, this is what many describe as the "terrible two's", but remember, you cannot win an argument with children this age so avoid starting one.

2 to 3 Year Old Children

The early stages of imaginative play are seen in these children.  Teddy bears will suddenly get names and become constant companions.  These children are also easily distracted and will want to stop and play with or experience everything along the way.

This is a time when parents need to be good listeners because children can often ignore conversations they have not initiated.  But it is important to their language and emotional development to allow them to take the lead.

The increase in language and motor skills, along with greater patience and attention spans allows children to engage in more complex activities, laying important groundwork needed later on in school.

3 to 5 Year Old Children

The playing field of a three year old is not an even surface.  On one side, the three year old will exhibit an ability to sit patiently and look through a book, and minutes later they will be running full steam ahead.  One minute loudly boasting, the next shy and hesitant.

While more coordinated in both gross and fine motor skills than earlier in life, the three year old will still need with things like cutting and pasting.

The three year old will also often surprise with growing language skills and vocabulary. Their stories will grow longer, the words used more complex, and the characters more defined.  Imaginative play is a key milestone of this age.

By the time a child reaches four they have become more coordinated and enjoy trying physical feats that demand agility and strength.  They will also have developed the fine motor/small muscle control that enables use of things such as scissors and the ability to draw pictures with more precision.

With greater language and social skills, four year old children begin to appreciate interaction with other children, and show more interest in playing a variety of cooperative and competitive games; particularly games that involve sorting/grouping in logical ways. 

Five year old children have developed an extensive enough vocabulary to understand directions in greater depth and tell/create more complex stories.  Though they won't begin reading for another year or so, they will often have a collection of words that they can recognize on sight.

For the five year old, rules are a way of offering stability in their ever changing world, and they don't have much tolerance for those who break them.  They also have a clearer sense of time, direction and organization, and will use these skills to manage their world.

6 to 8 Year Old Children

The start of school and peer influence mark the life of the six year old. Developing independence from family becomes more pronounced as they come into regular contact with the larger world and their environment expands. There is a stronger sense of right and wrong and a beginning awareness of the future. This is a period of rapid development of mental skills and less focus on one’s self and more concern for others. 

As they move through the sixth year and into the seventh, children become more capable of independent play and often enjoy coloring, cutting and making things. Along with collecting, they begin to appreciate board games and jigsaw puzzles. They will also begin reading at seven, and possess a vocabulary of several thousand words.

Eight year old children are usually fairly proficient readers and capable of following detailed instructions. More sophisticated imaginative play, arts and crafts, games and construction toys answer the call of the day.

Children 9 and Older

Don’t take it personally. Kids are moving into adolescence and teen years and they will begin turning to peers. But they will still seek the security of their family. They may act like teenagers and seek greater autonomy at times; at other times they will revert to more child like behaviors. Erickson describes this as the stage for establishing identity, and you’ll likely witness your child becoming more socially conscious and perhaps even worrisome about social justice, hunger, homelessness and the environment.

This will be a time to begin establishing more adult relationships with your children. Engage them in family/adult games or projects that challenge their strategic thought processes and deductive reasoning. You should also focus on activities that help them develop a sense of self. Activities like music, art, writing, sports, community and environmental projects can be important facilitators.

If you are interested in more information about child development, visit our BLOG and Meeting Room where we encourage our visitors to post ideas and questions.

You can also read "Which Toy For Which Child, a consumer's guide for selecting suitable toys" ages birth through five here, or ages six through twelve here.