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Hamilton Health Sciences Home
December 4, 2018

Guide to buying developmentally appropriate gifts

By: Barbara Campbell, infant-parent therapist, Jamie Gleed, occupational therapist and Angela Zajcenko, early childhood resource specialist, Developmental Pediatrics and Rehabilitation

With the holiday season fast approaching many of us are on the hunt for that perfect gift! It can often be challenging to pick toys for children or teens that are developmentally appropriate, but it’s an important thing to consider when you’re gift giving.

For some children, chronological age does not match developmental age. Many children develop more quickly or slowly than their peers, so purchasing gifts based on chronological age isn’t always the most appropriate option. Developmental age gives us more information on where a child is socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually. When you buy toys for a child’s developmental age, you are more likely to pick a toy that is the right fit for their skills, and will help them learn new things as well.

Remember that a child may not be at the same developmental age for all areas of their development. Consider their developmental stage in different areas like gross motor skills, fine motor skills, communication and more when selecting a gift.

The toys listed below are examples of toys that would be developmentally appropriate at different stages. We’ve tried to pick toys that help with fine and gross motor skills, cognition, communication and social skills and are of course FUN! Keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive and there are many alternatives that could also meet your child’s interests.

Recommendations for developmental age


In this developmental stage, many new skills are emerging. Infants are working on developing the strength and control of their arms and legs for later crawling, walking, self-feeding and of course play! This is also the stage where early interaction skills start emerging – cooing, smiling and intentionally playing with toys.

Children in this stage are typically working on tummy time, rolling, crawling or pulling to stand. They will also be starting to grab at and grasp toys so those that are easier to hold (such as the Winkle) are recommended. Parent and child interaction is important to build your child’s social and emotional wellbeing.

Toys that would appropriate at this developmental stage may include:

1. Tummy Time Books

2. The Winkle

3. Stacking Rings

4. Board Books

5. Activity Table or Cube

Developmental Age of 1-2

In this developmental stage, children are becoming more exploratory. Their hand skills allow them to play with more complex toys. They are developing some early language skills and their interest in interacting is increasing. Most children will be mobile (crawling, walking, running).

Children in this developmental stage tend to enjoy toys that involve pouring or dumping, building or demonstrate cause and effect. Children are also starting to understand the purpose or role of common objects (i.e. a barn is where animals live). Little People sets are a great toy to foster imaginative play, language and development of hand skills. Toys that encourage turn taking or waiting are also a good fit. For children who are more active, a small basketball or soccer net can be a great way to work on hand eye coordination and gross motor skills.

Toys that would be appropriate at this developmental stage may include:

1. Little People

2. Sports Zone

3. Whacky Ball

4. Foam Building Blocks

Developmental Age of 3-4

In this developmental stage, children are starting to become more independent in their play. They are typically very good at giving direction to other children or adults around how they want to play with the toy! Pretend and imaginary play are emerging. Many children are interested in dressing up as and taking on different characters. Children also start to become more physically active during this stage. Many children are interested in kicking or throwing a ball and pedaling a tricycle. Their hand and finger skills continue to develop and most children will start to practice holding a crayon and working with puzzles with smaller pieces.

This is a great stage for dress up clothes which encourage children to ‘take on’ the role of someone else. This help build a child’s ability to understand different perspectives, an important skill for positive peer interactions.

Children at this stage have better control of their shoulder, arm and hand muscles. They are also able to use their fingers with more dexterity and accuracy. Children in this developmental stage are ready for puzzles with smaller knobs or those that have a magnetic wand. For children that enjoy crafting, Mosaics may be a fun idea.

Construction type toys such as Duplo or blocks are also a great fit for this age group to encourage them to work on their imagination, hand skills and language. Construction type toys can be used for a variety of play activities, because they are open ended and allow the child to create as they go.

Toys that would be appropriate at this developmental stage may include:

1. Dress Up Clothes

2. Magnetic Wand or Small Knob Puzzles

3. Duplo, Building Blocks or Brillo Block

4. Mosaics

Developmental Age of 4-6

Children during this developmental stage are continuing to develop their hand and finger skills, and are learning more about constructional, imaginative and social play. Hand eye coordination and gross motor skills continue to become more refined.

Toys like Magformers or Squigz provide children in this stage more complexity in open ended play. These toys also require more hand strength and finer movements. They will also challenge kids to be creative in their play ideas. Kinetic sand is a mess free sensory rich activity that encourages children to work with their hands. The Velcro ball and mitt or scoops are a great active activity and a good fit for targeting children’s hand eye coordination and gross/fine motor skills. These toys are also a safe option for playing indoors in some homes. Both of these activities offer a great opportunity for children to begin to negotiate and cooperate during play. Magnatabs are another great fine motor activity and for kids who are resistant to working on their early pre-printing and printing skills they tend to be quite motivating!

Toys that would be appropriate at this developmental stage may include:

1. Squigz or Magformers

2. Kinetic Sand

3. Velcro Mitt and Ball or Scoop Ball

4. Magnatabs

Developmental Age of 6-10

Children at this developmental stage become more organized in their play and choice of games. Most children at this age have specific interests and hobbies. They often have improved memory and executive functioning skills (initiating, planning, organizing and stopping/starting play). Gross motor skills are more refined, and most children have mastered balls skills and riding a bike.

At this age children are usually very social and interested in peer play, however they also tend to be good at independent play. They may enjoy a challenge and they will have the patience to persist with more complex activities. Games and puzzles that require cooperation and problem solving are a good option.

Toys that would be appropriate at this developmental stage may include:

1. Board Games – Eye N’ Seek, Yoga Spinner or Headbanz

2. Balance Board Maze

3. Marble Tower

Development Age of 10-12

Most children/’tweens’ at this age have well developed interests and ideas. Many children at this age enjoy working in small groups. There tends to be a strong influence by peers at this age.

Activities that encourage positive peer interactions, such as multiplayer games, make great gifts. We also see many children moving from concrete to more abstract thinking so toys and games with increased problem solving and complexity work well.

Toys that would be appropriate at this developmental stage may include:

1. Board Games – Telestrations, Cranium or Labyrinth

2. Lego or Robotics Sets

3. Rainbow Loom

Developmental Age of 12 +

This can be one of the most challenging developmental stages to buy for! Teens are this age tend to have varied interests and they might not always relate to a typical toy or gift.

Activities that encourage independence are suggested. For some teens, gift certificates to preferred stores or activities where they can practice money management, socialization and communication may work well. This may be also be a good stage to work on time management, so gifts like watches or clocks can be useful.

Gifts like board games or books can never be underestimated. Both have endless possibilities for enjoyment while also encouraging socialization, communication and motor skills.