Play & Learning: My Favorite Things for Manipulative Play

While this is a really fun portion of the Play & Learning blog series to write, I feel I must begin with a caution. Some researchers are hesitant to recommend specific toys because there are so many factors present as to what is an effective toy for your child. Some contributing factors include- the personality of your child (and you know your child like no one else, certainly better than me), However, as an artist has his or her paint brushes, I have toys. For an Early Interventionist, toys are the tools of the trade. And I do have some that I love more than others. 

Last week, we discussed 4 different types of play: manipulative, physical, dramatic, & creative. Over the next four weeks, I'll be sharing my favorite toys of each of these types of play. This week, we are going to focus on my favorite toys for Manipulative Play. Each picture is hyperlinked to Amazon so you can see more details for each toy! Get ready to have some fun!

Great Manipulative Toys:

  • Links- These links are crazy cheap (Currently $1.89 on Amazon). They are excellent for a baby who is learning to grasp because of their shape and light weight! To top it off great colors for visual stimulation & a variety of edges for tactile stimulation! Later your child can use these for higher level developmental skills such as transferring the link from one hand to the other or reaching for a toy that is held up by a strand of these links! Really with these links the possibilities are endless.
  • Rattles- If you go to the store, they're going to have 15,000 rattles for you to choose from. The reason I'm sharing this rattle is you can hit a variety of skills with this one rattle- light so it's easy for young ones to hold, same great shape as our links which are easy to hold, makes a nice rattle sound when shaken, without being too loud, the egg piece & two movable links allow for child to spin or manipulate as higher level developmental skills take form.
  • Mirrors- A cheap $5-$8 mirror can be found at the local dollar store, Wal-Mart, Target, etc. Turn it on it's side and mount to the wall in your child's play area. Make sure it's low enough that your child can see himself or herself. You child can pat the mirror, point to himself  or herself, point to body parts, or point to other people when named through the mirror. This is a great social-emotional activity for your child!
  • Wooden Blocks- We are big fans of Melissa & Doug toys at our house. They're (typically) wooden which makes then pretty sturdy. They're classic, colorful, and oh-so-much-fun! When it came time for us to invest in some wooden blocks, there was not question that the Melissa & Doug Wooden Blocks were the brand for us! Here is a brief developmental progression of how to use these toys (reaching to grasp, transferring the block from one hand to the other to get a new block, banging the blocks together, building a tower (try getting to 9!), making a train, and making a bridge!
  • Ring Stacker- When I found this stacker on Amazon while researching for this blog post, I was shocked to see that my favorite ring stacker is $21 when bought new. I would never pay that in a million years... However, I will maintain that it is my favorite because when you stack a link, the whole thing lights up and plays a lively song! It's great positive reinforcement for getting those links on and both of my kiddos have enjoyed bouncing to the music (pulling in that physical play!). I was able to find my ring stacker for $4.50 at Switch-A-Roos! So keep your eyes peeled when you're out and about!
  • Mega Blocks- Once your child is able to start connecting the over-sized prongs, he or she will be engaged in play for quite a while. These blocks are heavy duty! I've had my same set since I first started working as an Early Interventionist. If they get dirty, throw them in the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning and you'll be all set for another round of play!
  • Shape Sorter- Shape sorters have a multitude of options. However, this hippo shape sorter is a ton of fun! I give my kiddos on shape to insert at a time and once they get them all in, they get to push the spinner watching the blocks go round and round until they fall out the hippos mouth! A variety of skills and so much fun!
  • Big Knob Puzzle- These big knob puzzles are so great for tiny hands! My favorite brand for a big knob puzzle is Melissa & Doug (...again...). We have the house, the barn, the fish bowl, and house pets. We LOVE them! My kids start out just pulling out all the pieces, and I use hand over hand to help them insert. As children grow older, they can match the picture of the puzzle piece to the hole in the puzzle. These are high-quality wooden puzzles that last and last!
  • String & Beads- Why string beads when you can string a farm??? ALEX Toys Little Hands String A Farm is sooo cute! Very colorful! And you can practice naming animals and their sounds while stringing them! 
  • Water Beads & Fine Motor Tools- These water beads provide SO MUCH FUN!!! They start out teeny tiny, soak them in water for 6-10 hours, and then they come out as these marble sized jello-like balls (though firmer). We gather all our tools- water beads in a nice sized bowl, some smaller bowls, spoons, and fine motor tools all contained on a baking sheet. The baking sheet really confines the mess because these little beads sure can bounce. All the children I work with and my own kids adore these beads. The wetness of the beads provide a great sensory activity and the fine motor opportunities are endless! 

What about you guys? Do you have any great recommendations for manipulative or physical toys that I might have missed? I'm always on the lookout for great new toys! I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!