Monday, May 25th, 2020

A Toy-Based Guide to Keeping Your Child Occupied During Lockdown

Published on May 14, 2020 by   ·   No Comments Pin It
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We all want what is best for our kids. But sometimes it’s difficult to know what is best. I want to give you and your child a head start by providing some of the best materials and developmentally sound toys for you to use/buy. As an expert in Pediatric Sleep and Early Childhood Development, but most of all, a Mother myself, I have compiled an extremely comprehensive list of some of my favorite offerings that are time tested and loved by every baby and child I know.  Some of the things I’d usually recommend aren’t available due to shipping delays, Covid restrictions and lack of stock, but I’m sure you will find some value below. If you cannot find the exact item I’ve recommended, see if you can find a similar item by matching the picture or concept. (Editor’s Note: They are all hyperlinked to amazon to make it easy as pie!)

For starters, I want to shed some light on an important point that deters parents from getting some of the best things for their children – the age range on the product. Age ranges used to be just to ensure that a child doesn’t choke on a material and to make sure it wasn’t hazardous to them. Nowadays, the age range is also decided by manufacturers who, quite frankly, have no concept of the material they are producing and may not even have kids themselves. Below, I will outline some of the main benefits of each item, to your baby or child, and put my own recommendations on an appropriate age span. Please keep in mind however that if a material has small pieces it needs to be supervised closely when a child is playing with it to ensure it stays in their hands. Make sure to count the pieces when you put activities away to ensure that pieces aren’t lost or misplaced and to double check that your child won’t find it later when it would still pose as a choking hazard.

Note: my teaching background has ingrained in me not to call toys “toys”, but rather “materials”, “tools”,  “lessons”, “manipulatives” or “the child’s work”. I’ve found this rephrasing really helps children and caregivers to have respect for these belongings – and they less often end up in a pile in the corner. In addition to suggesting educational learning materials, I’ve also given a couple options of staple furniture that everyone can benefit from. To include a table and chair set for your child to work/play from and eat at and a shelf or cubby system that makes cleaning up more manageable for you and your child. 

Photo Courtesy of Batelle Inc/ James Harvey Kelly

Photo Courtesy of Batelle Inc

When I reflect on why I buy what I buy, and how I decide if it’s a good purchase to make, I use the following rule of thumb: First, will this be a choking hazard to my child? If so, will I use this material with my child under close supervision to allow my child to benefit from the material until they can grow into themselves enough to use it without it being a choking hazard any longer? (As an aside, children are often said to be responsible with materials from age 3 – but you will know your child best and there are some 2+ year olds who wouldn’t put toys in their mouths and there are 4+ year olds who still do as well. So just supervise them either way).

Once I deduce the safety of the material, which includes ensuring there are no toxic materials and as BPA free as possible, then I move on to the material itself. Will this material be useful for more than one purpose? Will the material or parts thereof be useful for many kinds of play? For example, can we use the farm as a farm? Can we also use the farm as a house for characters as your child gets older? Another example, can we use the egg shapes for matching, and sorting as eggs, and then also use them in the play kitchen as an add in the imaginary cooking most children love to do. When a material or activity can be used in multiple ways I consider it to be a high mileage activity. Another indicator of a high mileage material is that it is good for a baby just as it can also be enjoyed by a 6 year old. The eggs again, are great for babies as they can roll (tracking exercise), a baby can crawl around and chase them, an older child can throw and catch them or put them on a spoon in hand for balancing, and even older children love matching and sorting with them. Anything you can get 2-6 years of fun out of is a good investment.

The next thing I look at before making a product purchase, is how easy is it to clean and maintain the item? Since I homeschool my children and work with other children from time to time, I have to make sure that I can keep everything as clean as possible. Items can be washed in the dishwasher or washing machine are the best. But if they can’t, I look for items that are easy to wipe down with organic or earth friendly – and of course – mouth friendly solutions. 

Another point to note is that oftentimes, what you pay for is what you get, but this is not alway the case. We are lucky that in this day and age there are suppliers that are able to make things more cost effectively. Magna tiles is an example of this. Despite being a name-brand, they are a great staple in everyone’s home. However, if you get Picasso tiles, they are far more cost effective – with the same effect. I actually have 6 sets of Picasso tiles. My kids and their friends absolutely love building mansions, zoo’s, pet hospitals, and all kinds of contraptions with enough Picasso tiles for everyone to feel they have more than enough. (This makes sharing easy). They have even had to use their engineering minds to work as a team, standing on chairs and building towers that reach the ceiling. One box wouldn’t be able to achieve the same outcome and versatility. Similarly, we have 4 boxes of marble run pieces. Everyone loves to make giant tracks for the marbles and it teaches kids to create more complex systems.

Toy subscriptions like Monti Kids, Lovevery, Tinker Crate, Koala Crate, and Kiwico are great. There is also a great Fatherly article with more details on kid kits.

Although I’m formally trained in the Montessori Method, I have aimed to keep as balanced and receptive a perspective as possible to other varieties of parenting ideologies. The core idea I use is that I consider the following materials as building blocks for learning. In this list, there will be some materials that resonate more with some parents than others. Take what you want from this – leave what doesn’t – you choose your own adventure. 

Item  Benefit to child, extensions and recommended age range

Perfect for babies and toddlers (surprisingly, older kids love these things too)

Zigzag puzzle for babies 6 months – 6 years+ old. Stack, match, and roll with this solid wood zig-zag track. Great for hand eye coordination and tracking.
Bus pop up toy for babies and kids 6 months – 6 years+ old. Develop hand-eye coordination as well as color recognition. A classic toy that when combined with the function of a bus has a second feature of being fun to drive around. High mileage. No pieces to lose.
Infant coin box  6 months – 8 years+ old. Helps with hand-eye coordination, object permanence, perfect extension to use as a cash register in the play kitchen or as a bank for kids as they grow. High mileage.
Hide and seek board farm 1 year – 6 years+ old. Teaches object permanence, great for a game of animal names and sounds, or i-spy, and one to one correspondence – which means matching the object magnet with where it belongs. 
Hide and seek 2 Age 1 year – 6 years+ old. Teaches object permanence, great for a game of animal names and sounds, or i-spy, and one to one correspondence – which means matching the object magnet with where it belongs. 
Hape activity set for toddlers Age 4 months – 6 years+ old. I want to note that this has been one of my favorite staples! Try hold tiny babies up to it to explore and track the beads. Since it’s extremely stable, babies can safely pull up on it and when ready to walk can push it around the room without scratching the floors. My kids, who are much older, still play with this item. High mileage. No pieces to lose.
Favorite kids bopper (don’t prefer too many plastic toys…) Age 4 months – 4 years old. I don’t usually prefer plastic-y toys, but this one is great all around. Fun for tummy time, makes a distinct sound for babies to notice, good for fine motor control of babies hands and again, even my much older kids still find this toy fun. Easy to clean as well. No pieces to lose.

Must Haves

Brushyball Age 1 – 6 years. Everyone deserves this item, and I mean everyone! It’s the world’s funnest follow-the-leader for proper oral hygiene. Sings in English and Spanish. High mileage.
Table and chairs set 1

Table and chairs set 2

Table and chairs set 3

Children’s feet should be flat on the floor and their knees at a 90 degree angle. If a child is too small for one of the following table and chair sets, try this and this or something similar. Encouraging your little one to sit at a table and chair to do work (play) or helping them learn that we keep food (or their snack to start) at the table is a huge step in the right direction. High mileage.

I like to start a table and chair once a little one is able to sit stable on their own (so between 6-12 months).

Toy organization 1

Toy organization 2

Toy organization 3

These are some options for helping your child to have their work organized and also displayed in a presentable fashion where they have easier access to their learning/playing materials.

Children are capable of learning to clean up from a year on up. Which generally starts with you modeling what to do and where to put things. Your baby may surprise you, if you have been modeling cleaning up, and may even try to put something back after playing. High mileage.

Staples

Tent teepee example Who doesn’t love a teepee to play in. Cozy spaces are calming to children. And when being locked inside is a new normal, a hide-a-way like this tent can be a fun space to read stories and relax while having a change of scenery. Even more fun with this lantern. High mileage. Easy to wash in the washing machine.
Cassaro car Every child from 9 months on up to 8+ years old loves this riding car. High mileage. Easy to wipe clean.

Language Skills

Alphabet acorns Age 3 – 8 years. 2+ with supervision. High mileage. Fun for baths and easy to clean.
Elmo alphabet suitcase  Age 1 – 5 years. 6 months+ if you want to let your little one explore and mouth the letters. Easy to clean. High mileage. 
Leapfrog Age 1 – 4 years. Helpful for learning letter sounds.
Alphabee alphabet Age 2 – 5 years. Similar to Elmo’s suitcase but slightly more advanced since the letters are just a picture representation vs a letter they can feel the shape of.
Magnetic fishing  Age 3 – 6 years. 2+ with supervision.
Alphabet pop up all ages Age 4 months – 8 years old. Even your 5 month old can enjoy it during tummy time or while sitting on your lap. Once my 6 year old outgrew this item in English, we started using it to teach Spanish vocab and will now get another 2 years+ out of it. High mileage. No pieces to lose. Hard to clean properly, so don’t use around food or drink.
Magnetic letters Age 3 – 8 years. 2+ with supervision. High mileage. 
Favorite farm Age 6 months – 8 years old. High mileage. Easy to clean. With younger ones, use the farm activity to discuss and sing about animal names, the sounds they make and show them where to place the animals in the farm. Your baby may want to eat the animals – that’s OK. A 6 month old can have tummy time in front of the farm – just supervise to make sure it doesn’t fall on top of your baby. An older child can role play with the farm or use it with other characters like a house.

Math

Squirrel game Age 3 – 8 years. 2+ with supervision. High mileage. 
Counting cows Age 6 months – 6 years+ old. Fun to pull these cows apart and put them back together.
Sorting/pouring bears Age 3 – 8 years. 2+ with supervision. Great for bath time since these items are able to get wet and not hurt the material. Also great for teaching basic math concepts for your child: sorting, patterning, counting, addition and subtraction, and more. High mileage material. Easy to clean.
Wooden shape and number stacking puzzle Age 3 – 6 years. 2+ with supervision. There are other versions of this activity available with more shapes and numbers and even letters to sort, but be wary of materials that are so complex that they will actually deter your child from being able to clean it up as it will become overwhelming. Even though extensions are great, you don’t want too many direct aims in a material at once. Example High mileage.
Button board  Age 3 – 6 years. 1+ with supervision. This is a great material to use with your younger child. For example, even though your 1-year-old may not be so great at putting the buttons on yet, though they will try, you can always put the buttons on and let your child push them out through the back. It’s also nice to have materials that are nice to play with parents during special one-on-one times. High mileage. Easy to clean.
Wooden peg/rings Age 3 – 6 years. 1+ with supervision. Interestingly enough, some toys have the opposite issue in regard to recommended age span. For example, this toy is advertised safe for a 1 year old, but if a 1 year old was unsupervised and had one of these pegs in their mouth and fell forward and landed on it, it would lodge right down their throat. This toy is great for babies and toddlers, but should be closely supervised! Also, since all the pieces are round, they will easily roll away or get lost. And I find that activities that are incomplete and missing pieces aren’t as much fun as activities with all the pieces. Think of a puzzle for example, would you want to build it if you knew half the pieces were missing? So remember to keep track of your child’s work and model to them the importance of keeping their work together so they don’t lose it. This will set them up in life to keep better track of their belongings.
Abacus Age 6 months – 8 years+ old. I recommend counting to 100 with your baby every day. When you do this, it slows everyone down just enough and by the time they are talking they will already be ahead of the game counting wise. High mileage. No pieces to lose.
Toddler shape sorter with keys Age 1 – 6+ years. This activity is super fun. High mileage. Lots of extensions available. Easy to clean.
Shape game Age 3 – 6 years. 2+ with supervision. Even though I don’t usually choose competitive games at a young age (as it can cause unnecessary resentment) I used this game daily and timed my child and helped them learn strategies to beat their own time each time they played it. In general I prefer “cooperative games” like this one. If you search for cooperative games, many wonderful options come up. Easy to clean.
Shape flower Age 6 months – 6+ years. Another great and beautiful high mileage activity that is also good for bath time. Easy to clean.
Wooden math game Age 6 months – 8 years+ old. Great for the car or travel since you can’t lose pieces. High mileage. A baby won’t know what to do with the actual material other than enjoying moving the pieces around the board like a maze for cause and effect, while an older child can clearly focus on the actual numbers and basic math skills it can be used to teach.
Counting ladybugs Age 6 months – 6+ years. Fun for imaginary play, kids love to carry bags around and put things in and take things out of containers. This will be a beautiful and satisfying activity.

Science 

Human body Age 3 – 8 years. 2+ with supervision. Very satisfying for curious minds who want to learn about the human body. High mileage.
Skeleton floor puzzle  Age 2 – 8+ years. High mileage. Easy to clean.
Science projector Age 2 – 8+ years. High mileage.
Human body puzzle Age 3 – 8 years. 2+ with supervision. Very satisfying for curious minds who want to learn about the human body. High mileage.

Play Kitchen 

Play kitchen Age 2 – 6+ years. High mileage. This is just one example, I do recommend wood over plastic for this. Looks nicer too. But anything similar will do. Best to stay away from lights and sounds though or you will be hating yourself when your child wants to press the same button for hours on end or when the wind blows and sets off the sound by itself at 2am. Alternatively, you can just decide not to put batteries in the function as you build it so it doesn’t make sounds.
Pots and pans  Age 2 – 6+ years. Easy to clean. High mileage. Makes good instruments too.
Eggs shapes Age 2 – 6+ years. Easy to clean. High mileage. Fun for adhoc easter egg hunts.
Eggs numbers Age 2 – 6+ years. Easy to clean. High mileage. Fun for adhoc easter egg hunts. Slightly more advanced than the shapes.
Bbq blitz game Age 2 – 6+ years. High mileage. Good extension to the play kitchen.
Pancake game Age 2 – 6+ years. High mileage. Good extension to the play kitchen.
1 to 10 counting cans Age 3 – 6+ years. 2+ with supervision. High mileage. Good extension to the play kitchen. Fun for counting, sorting and pretend cooking.
Carrot harvest Age 3 – 6+ years. 2+ with supervision. High mileage. Good extension to the play kitchen. Fun for counting, sorting and pretend cooking.
Learning resource farmers market Age 6 months – 6+ years. Super High mileage. One of my favorite activities for babies and kids! Good extension to the play kitchen. Fun for counting, color sorting and pretend cooking. Super easy to clean and safe for mouthing babies.

Vehicles and Things to Build With

Wooden city blocks Age 3 – 6+ years. 2+ with supervision. High mileage.
Nesting boxes and cars Age 1 – 6+ years. High mileage. Many extensions.
Traffic cones Age 2 – 8+ years. High mileage. Good for stacking, patterning, making agility courses, and a great extension to any vehicle set.
Way to play road Age 2 – 6+ years. High mileage. Slightly expensive but great quality. I have many sets of this activity which allows my kids and their friends to make tracks throughout the entire house. Easy to clean. Worth every penny.
Road stickers  Age 2 – 6+ years. More cost effective option, but good for one time use. I’m always apprehensive of things that stick to surfaces as it may not come off so easily. But could be fun for a party or a block of time stuck inside.
Traffic signs Age 2 – 6+ years. Great addition to any road/vehicle play.
Pull back Vehicles  Age 1 – 6+ years. Great addition to any road/vehicle play.
Garage with keys  Age 1 – 6+ years. Great addition to any road/vehicle play.
Kids tape measure  Age 1 – 6+ years. Great addition to any road/vehicle play. Kids love mimicking adult work. And measuring is always fun for kids.
Marble run Age 3 – 8+ years. 2+ with supervision. High mileage. The more the merrier with this activity. Just use the following item to keep this activity under control.
Lego or marble run basket All ages. This basket makes keeping track of legos and the marble run a breeze – to keep it under control and not lose track of pieces. 
Picassotiles  6 months to 8 years old. Highly recommended for all. High mileage and easy to clean.
Playstix Age 3 – 8+ years. 2+ with supervision. Highly recommended for all. High mileage and easy to clean.

Technology

Coding mouse Age 3 – 8+ years. 2+ with supervision. High mileage. The more the merrier with this activity. I started with 1 set but within 2 years I had 4 sets since my kids could make more complex tracks and code the mice to race each other in parallel tracks.
Coding extra mouse But extra mice here.

Sensory

Sensory tiles Age 6 months – 8 years old. High mileage. Easy to clean. Get these for your baby now and when they are older you can use these arranged in a clever game of hopscotch or use in agility courses with the traffic cones. 
Calming headphones Age 6 months+. Everyone should have a set of these. Between these, a lantern, some calming stories and a teepee tent, you can make your child a “Calming Corner” somewhere in your house for when they get overwhelmed by life. Learning to re-regulate in this way is such a nice life skill. 
Dimple Digets Fidget Age 6 months – 8 years old. This is advertised as a baby toy, but imagine how many sensory seeking school-aged children would love to fidget with this item. I just bought one as a gift for someone’s 7 year old. Easy to clean. High mileage.
Puppy bone tactile match Age 6 months – 6 years+. Love this tactile bone matching activity for babies and kids of all ages. It’s easy to clean. Super high mileage. Fun for sorting, matching, patterning, playing with the dog house as a mystery hide-and-seek box, your baby or toddler can mouth the rubbery ones for an oral experience and your older ones can use it in imaginary play with the puppy and his house and finding his ‘lost bones’.

Music

Allegro musical journey Age 6 months – 8 years+. This book is a beautiful addition to anyone’s collection. I wouldn’t let a child younger than 3 be alone with this book though as they could unintentionally tear the pages. But for baby books that your kids cannot tear, check out this.
Music blocks Age 6 months – 8 years+. High mileage. Easy to wipe clean. Fun for all ages.
Piano for all ages 1

Piano for all ages 2

Piano for all ages 3

Age 6 months – 8 years+. High mileage. Fun for all ages.
Desk bells Age 6 months – 8 years+. High mileage. Easy to wipe clean. Fun for all ages.
Baby drum Age 6 months – 8 years+. High mileage. Easy to wipe clean. Fun for all ages.
Music box. Pick any song Age 2 years – 8 years+. High mileage. Easy to wipe clean. Fun for all ages. I love playing these for kids and soon they learn the coordination to turn themselves. 
One man band 1 Age 6 months – 8 years+. High mileage. Fun for all ages.
One man band 2 Age 6 months – 8 years+. High mileage. Fun for all ages.

Art

Scissors spinner Age 3 years – 8 years+. 2+ with supervision. High mileage. Fun for all ages.
Cutting work Age 3 years – 8 years+. 2+ with supervision. High mileage. Fun for all ages.
Led drawing board Age 1 year – 8 years+. High mileage. Fun for all ages.
Mess free writing tablet Age 1 year – 8 years+. High mileage. Fun for all ages.
Paint with water Age 1 year – 6 years+. High mileage. Fun for all ages.

Gross motor

Wheely board  Age 3 years – 8 years+. 1+ with supervision. High mileage. Fun for all ages.
Balance board Age 3 years – 8 years+. 6 months+ with supervision. High mileage. Fun for all ages.
Wobble board Age 3 years – 8 years+. 6 months+ with supervision. High mileage. Fun for all ages.

If you have a question about a certain toy or material, feel free to comment below. I can easily clarify if and why something will be good for a certain age. 

Keep in mind that if you decide to buy a bunch of things on this list, do not introduce them all at once to your child. They will get excited but also overwhelmed and will play 10 seconds with each item and then off to the next thing, or may just play with the box more than the item itself – I’m sure you’ve seen this happen at Christmas or birthday time. 

Introduce one thing at a time, even if it’s something new in the AM and then something else in the PM. Or maybe just plan a couple things at first, and then over a couple of days keep bringing out another item. If your child is over 12 months, you can even get a lesson mat and begin to teach them how to “use one activity at a time” and “keep their work on their lesson mat” and even to “put their work away before choosing a new work”.

If you find your child has lost interest in a certain material or toy, it’s likely you just need to rotate them. By putting them away in the closet for a month or so and bringing them back out, you will find it’s a whole new activity all over again. I have a couple of sets of toys/activities that I am rotating every month or so. Think of it this way, since babies’ brains are developing so rapidly, a month from now they will literally be a whole new baby and will have skills they didn’t have before and will therefore be able to approach a material in a whole new way. You can also model or demonstrate extensions to your child so they get ideas of other ways to use materials.

An extension is showing your child different ways to use the same material. For example, using the toddler shape sorter with keys, you can show your child how to sort the shapes, you can also show them how to use the keys. Those are two obvious ways to use the material. But what if you showed them how to put characters or people inside each door and modeled ringing an imaginary doorbell or knocking on the door to say hello to the characters, now that would be an extension. Moreover, you could find other things in your house that fit in the holes like crayons, or buttons, or other small objects of the same color and show your child how to sort the colors of the objects. Or even just give a spoon and bowl of dry pasta or beans and let your child fill the holes of the sorter with beans or pasta, those would all be extensions to the material and make it last longer and be explored in more complex ways, which helps both you and your child think more critically about the materials. 

I will be compiling more Miss Megan Resources, and will cover in greater depth topics such as: mindfulness, kids yoga, MM fav books, MM approved shows, mealtime, picky eaters, teaching time management to kids, how to build a calming corner, bathtime, making naptime and bedtime a breeze, and more. 

I hope you found this useful! 

Kindly, Miss Megan 

Ps. One of my all time favorite resources is Lakeshorelearning.com and since I plan on homeschooling forever, I often use this site for additional teaching materials, workbooks, and more.

Miss Megan is an expert in early child development, sleep and conscious parenting. She has worked with children and been a special needs, twin and triplets expert for over 20 years, a Montessori Directress and Baby Nurse for 15 years, and run 3 Montessori daycares. She has also been a two-time surrogate (inc. a set of twins delivered Jan 20′), and have two kids; Haiden (6.5yrs) and Hazel (5yrs).  She is also Head of Product at Batelle Sleep School, a remote 7 day program, that teaches parents how to get their baby or child settled to bed in 5 minutes or less, within a week. Results guaranteed. If you are interested in hearing more about the remote sleep school, you book a pre-consultation here.

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