The Dirt

The Dirt

GIVING THE GIFT OF PLAY

As you’re looking for that just-right toy this season, consider this non-exhaustive guide to toys along a developmental pathway.

Every day at Avid & Co., we get to help people pick out gifts for kids of all ages. But choosing the appropriate toy isn’t always straightforward. While specific age groups often share interests, individual developmental needs shift over a lifetime—even over a single day.

Play is the work of childhood and toys are tools to that end. Catching a ball, stacking blocks, “shh-ing” a sleepy baby doll, clicking-in the perfect puzzle piece, strategizing over a game board—these are ways children (and adults) expand their sensory and motor skills, their social and emotional worlds.

BUNNY HILL: SENSORY OBSERVER (0 – 12 MONTHS)

Exploring the world is the primary goal of this age group. Even when around others, these kiddos often prefer their own company—no one else can feel their blankie or hear a rattle’s tinkle for them. Look for novel tactile experiences and toys with high contrasting colors.

Top Picks: High Contrast Stroller Book, Soft Animal Lovie, Sing-Song Books

BEGINNER RUN: LITTLE SCIENTIST (1 – 2 YEARS)

With growing motor skills, this stage is full of trial and error, hypothesis and test. And then retest. And then one more time just in case. Players in this stage want to sort, fill, dump, push, and bounce. They will appreciate the shared wonder of their own brilliance: “I hide, they laugh. I throw that spoon on the floor, they pick it up.” What fun!

Top Picks: Push & Pull Toys, Shape Sorters, Floor Puzzles, Board Books

INTERMEDIATE SLOPE: PURPOSEFUL PLAYER (2 – 5 YEARS / PRESCHOOL AGE)

The “I Can Do It” stage of development is where toys-as-tools really get their moment. With pretend play blooming, expanding gross and fine motor skills, and a significant jump in the desire to work with others, these players have an ever-growing set of interests. They take toys with one obvious use and find unexpected alternatives—a rectangular block, after all, can be a sword or a tree or a bus. Major advancements in language and fine motor skills are paramount to this group.

Top Picks: Art Supplies, Pretend Play Kits & Dolls, Magnatiles, Picture Books

BLACK DIAMOND: INDEPENDENT EXPLORER (6-7 YEARS OLD – EARLY ELEMENTARY)

Now is the time to elevate and expand upon everything.

In addition to being able to explore robust imagination scenarios, this developmental level brings with it a burgeoning ability to follow multi-step plans and collaborate with peers. Watch out for the competition! These players don’t just want to know how things work, they want to make things and control them themselves.

Top Picks: Science & Art Kits, Legos, Simple Board & Card Games, Early Reader Books

DOUBLE BLACK DIAMOND: COMPETENT COMMUNITY MEMBER (8+ YEARS OLD)

To do something well is great, but to belong is greater still. This last stage of the developmental play is about mastery and the collective value of contribution. When we pick a toy for this level of player we are letting them know that they matter to us and what they do matters to us.

The tools to help this journey may sound familiar to you, too, dear reader: they are jigsaw puzzles, board games of strategy and wit, intricate art kits, nostalgic stuffed animals, a novelty gel pen, or a really good novel. We are looking to be competent at what we do, be appreciated for our hard work, and to experience abundant joy, together. But, don’t overlook the solitary sensory play for this group—a good fidget toy will bring joy to practically anyone.


Erin Arnold is the co-owner of Avid Enterprises, Inc. with her husband Brett. Her background in family therapy guides design and buying practices to be both developmentally appropriate and innovative. She also welcomes input from her own children—both of whom still love Magnatiles.

Avid Reader Dec 22
Read the full story in the December issue of The Dirt!

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