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Sneaky gifts for children 0-5 yrs old

'Tis the season for gift hunting! While exploring gift options for your child, there are important factors to keep in mind. The Academy of American Pediatrics recommends that simple is best. In their article, Ignore the Flashing Screens: The Best Toys Go Back to Basics, the AAP states, "Ideal toys are those that match children's developmental abilities, while encouraging the growth of new skills. Toys are key to developing children's brains, language interactions, symbolic and pretend play, problem-solving, social interactions and physical activity – and are increasingly important as children move from infancy into toddlerhood." In the same article, Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, MD, FAAP, makes it clear, "The best toys are those that support parents and children playing, pretending and interacting together."

As a speech-language pathologist, I've spent a decade using toys in therapy with children. Below, I list my top picks for "sneaky gifts." Your child will have so much fun playing with them (and you!), they won't even realize they are also developing important skills.

Toys that facilitate beginning social interactions

- Baby Mirror: one of the first steps in social language development is imitation. Mirrors are a great way to develop this skill! As a mom, I used a mirror like this to make tummy-time a little more bearable for my little ones.

- Play Tube: Simple people games like peek-a-boo help your child develop their social communication skills. This tunnel takes it to the next level!

- Blocks: Build a tower, knock it down, and build it again! Your child will love engaging with you in this way.

- Pop up toys: Cause and effect is an important skill for little ones to develop. This is a great toy to practice turn-taking skills as well!

Toys that facilitate symbolic and pretend play

- Barn and animals: This is a fantastic tool for pretend skill development!

- Cookie Set: Multi-step play is a great skill to develop. Kids can practice cutting, baking, and frosting cookies.

- Tea set: Another great item for pretend play skills. Boys and girls will have fun playing "restaurant."

- Wooden Block Set: The play opportunities are truly endless with this open ended play must-have.

- Doll house: doll house play offers so many wonderful language development opportunities for boys and girls alike!

- Play Doh Dentist: Role playing is an important part of play development. Your child will love pretending to be a dentist.

- Construction trucks: this set allows your child to make their own noises!

- Cars, dolls, action figures

Toys and games that facilitate language and concept development

Earlier language skills

- Old Mac Donald Finger Puppets: singing with your child is a great way to develop speech and language skills, these make it even more fun!

- Laugh & Learn Pig: This is a great toy for basic concepts like "in" and "out" as well as "open and "close."

- Mr. Potato Head: a classic toy to practice body part labeling and identification.

- Don't Break the Ice: One of the first games children enjoy! Great for turn taking, and concepts like "together," "apart," "through," "on top."

- Colorful Magnetic Tiles: A colorful magnetic tile set like this makes it fun to learn colors. Children will also love developing their constructive play skills with these beautiful pieces. Any brand works!

Later language skills

- Duplos: this kit is great to practice pronouns and action words.

- Sequence for Kids: Kids don't realize they are practicing following multiple step directions as they play this game.

- Cat & The Hat, I Can Do That: This fun game is great for preposition development (under, over, on top)!

- Alphabet Go Fish! : Your children won't even realize they are practicing learning their letters (you can even sneak in letter sounds as well!).

- Spelling puzzles: these self correcting puzzles provide a great context to practice letter sounds and demonstrate how these sounds go together to make words.

- See & learn spelling puzzles: another option to practice letter sounds in context.

- 3 Billy Goats Gruff retell set: Retelling stories is an essential preliteracy skill. This set makes practicing retells fun and engaging.

- 3 Little Pigs story retell kit

Art Supplies

Drawing skills are an important part of writing development, which is connected to reading development. Here are a few of my top picks:

- Crayola Color Caddy: This kit keeps it all organized.

When considering toys that have the most potential to maximize your child's growth, remember simple is best. Your child will learn the most by playing and engaging with you and their peers. If you are concerned about your child's interaction, speech, or language skills, contact Thrive Speech & Language today for a free consultation!


These items are not sponsored, and I am in no way profiting from your purchases. This list is meant to serve as an inspiration, it is not an endorsement of specific brands. Please do not give small items, which could be a choking hazard, to children that are still mouthing objects. As a parent, you know your child best, please be aware of the recommended ages for the items (all are linked).


Healey, Aleeya; Mendelsohn, Alan. (January 2019) Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era. Pediatrics. Retrieved from


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