Research shows that when children have fewer toys, they experience “higher quality” play—meaning, they play in a greater variety of ways with a limited number of toys.
ParentPal Learning Essentials, a curated collection of age-appropriate toys and books, have been hand-picked by our team of child development experts to encourage high-quality play. Our collection is accompanied by hundreds of research-based activities, games, and ideas, to guide and support your child’s creative play and healthy development from birth to age 5.
Discover ParentPal Learning Essentials for months 12 to 18: support your child’s development and promote focus and concentration with this curated list of books & toys.
ParentPal Learning Essentials: Months 12 to 18
Why we love it: This shape-sorting toy helps teach multiple skills, including color and shape recognition, sorting skills, problem-solving abilities, and manual dexterity.
How to use it: As your little one plays freely with the shapes in this toy, label them by their attributes (e.g., shape, color, and so forth). For example, you might say, “I see you pulled out the red triangle. It has three straight sides and three angles.”
Why we love it: Pretend play allows children to better understand social roles, engage in communication with others, and revisit and make sense of past experience. Pretend play also builds language and literacy skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to put events in logical order (sequencing). These zoo hand puppets are great for fostering the budding imagination as well as building language and literacy skills.
How to use it: Talk with your little one about the puppets, labeling each animal. Then, let your child explore the puppets however he or she likes.
Why we love it: While manipulating these blocks, your child will also begin to construct a practical understanding of the law of physics that states what goes up, must come down. Meanwhile, fine-motor, gross-motor, hand-eye, linguistic, communication, and cognitive skills are also being developed.
How to use it: As your child is exploring these Match & Build Soft Blocks, describe them using words that indicate shape, color, textures, and so forth. For example, you might say, “That block is blue and green.” Or, “That block is shaped like a triangle. The other block is a cube.” With repeated exposure to descriptive words, your child will begin to enhance his or her observation skills.
Why we love it: Participating in making music is a rich cognitive experience, supporting the development of critical thinking and self-assessment skills. Let your little one explore the caterpillar freely; then, model playing the keys.
How to use it: As exploration of the toy continues, label what your child is doing. Pick up the mallets and say “I have two mallets. The caterpillar is called a xylophone. We play the xylophone by hitting the keys with the mallets. Now you try.” This xylophone allows children to explore simple music concepts through creative play.
Why we love it: Bowling allows children to practice their hand-eye coordination and supports ongoing development of their gross-motor skills. This kid-safe, easy to clean bowling set comes with a bowling bag with carry handles.
How to use it: Help your little one take each bowling pin from the bag. As each pin is removed, label the different colors on the pin. For example, “The bowling ball is yellow. Can you point to yellow on a bowling pin? Don’t forget the eyes!” Let your little one try to roll the ball (and provide support if needed) while you encourage and narrate his or her actions.
Why we love it: Let this magnetic hide-and-seek toy help foster your little one’s ability to remember by investigating which color treasures are hidden behind each of the nine doors. Memory plays a vital role in cognitive development—the growth of a child’s ability to think and reason—as it forms the basis for a sense of self, drives thoughts and decisions, influences emotional responses, and allows us to learn.
How to use it: As your child opens each door, label the door and the magnet found inside. Build your little one’s vocabulary as you talk through what you and your child are doing, seeing, and finding.
Why we love it: Perfect for little hands, this wooden vehicle set is great for mastering motor strength and control. These rolling toys inspire and stimulate little ones to explore the concepts of force and motion, rolling, and spinning.
How to use it: Let your little one play freely with the wooden vehicles. Your child may or may not be able to roll it very far. No matter the distance, give him or her plenty of encouragement. Test out if they roll better on a bare floor or carpeted floor.
Why we love it: To follow directions, children are required to attend to detail in spoken language, to sequence the information in the appropriate steps, and to seek clarification if they have trouble remembering or recalling the information.
How to use it: This activity is all about following directions. Introduce your little one to the concepts on the cards. Each card provides actions to be played out. Play along with your child as you read what’s on the card and perform each action. Roll & Play strengthens bonds and builds confidence while encouraging creativity, active play and gross-motor skills.
Why we love it: Finger painting is a favorite early art activity that provides opportunities to learn words for colors, shapes, and patterns. Even though hand-eye coordination is still a work in progress, your child’s inner Picasso can still be expressed.
How to use it: Let your child paint freely. Be sure to label the paint color and narrate your child’s actions. For example, when a new paint color results, you might say, “You mixed the blue paint with the red paint. Now you have purple paint.”
Why we love it: The Feelings Book is all about introducing your baby to the world of emotions. Define the word “feelings” and read the book to your child. Helping your child connect the appropriate words with thoughts and feelings will help him or her feel less frustrated when communicating with you later.
How to use it: During the first few reads, try to focus on one or two feelings at a time. During the next few days, be sure to label your feelings and those of your child.
These toys and books are designed to be used in combination with ParentPal’s WeeSchool activities, an age-appropriate, research-based curriculum built to guide your child’s creative play and learning. Get 30% off your first year of ParentPal with coupon: HOLIDAY30 — that’s a savings of $20!*
Don’t have these toys at home? Don’t worry. You can foster these skills and do ParentPal’s suggested activities with similar books, toys, or household items.
Want even more playtime ideas? Find these and more Learning Essential toys and books on ParentPal’s Amazon Shopping page.