How Toys Improve Your Child’s Development

Parents often comment, “It looks like my child just plays with toys during the developmental therapy session.” How can toys improve a child’s development? Do parents need to buy the same toys in order for their child to progress?

What is developmental therapy?

Developmental therapy focuses on a child’s global development. Global development includes regulatory and sensory processing, cognition, language comprehension, language expression, gross and fine motor, social-emotional, and self-help skill development. A therapist will identify specific areas of strengths and concerns to develop a play activity program that addresses the child’s needs.

How are toys used to address areas of development?

Toys used during developmental therapy sessions are strategically chosen in order to help children overcome their challenges and gain confidence in their own ability to acquire functional, age-appropriate, developmental skills. Each session will focus on a number of specific goals, which are assessed through the child’s play with a toy. For example, a book may be used for younger children to help them focus on the details of each page, by encouraging them to run their fingers over the pages and follow the therapist’s pointing at objects. For an older child, a book may be used for object recognition, sound attribution, and concept of size. Nesting cups are another popular toy choice for expanding a child’s development. Younger children learn imitation skills by watching the therapist bang two cups together, and eventually producing the same action. Older children will learn trial and error while nesting the entirety of cups independently, and turning them over to stack them.

Do families need to buy the same toys to see progress in development?

No, families do not need to go out and spend money on the same toys used by the therapist. Many of the skills tested during the sessions can be easily produced with simple objects already found in the home. Instead of buying books, families can work on their child’s identification skills by naming foods in their house (milk, apple) and pointing to objects outside (flower, tree). An easy substitute to the nesting cups that would test a child’s construction skills would be different-sized bowls in the home for nesting, and toilet paper rolls for stacking. While the therapists do use a bag of specific toys, our approach to developmental therapy encourages skill development at home through available resources, and embedding learning activities into a family’s daily routine.

Brittany Hill, MS, MSW, LSW, DT