An Occupational Therapist’s Favorite Toys for Every Age

Below is a guest post by Tara Martello, M.S., OTR/L, owner of Grow Thru Play, a play-based occupational therapy practice in Philadelphia. I was so happy to see that many of the toys recommended by a doctor are made by sustainable companies or at least simple. Wood and even old-fashioned basics top her list, while battery-powered toys-of-the-minute aren’t showing any merits. And being a big fan of PLAN toys, we already have a few of these at home!

Note: I am not endorsing all of these toys as eco-friendly or safe in every way, but they are generally from more reputable companies. Many of the picks for older kids also encourage use with recycled materials found around the house for great “upcycling” projects! And, if you really want to be green, I bet you can find some of these gently used – especially that Connect Four and Twister sitting in your mom’s basement!


By Tara Martello, M.S., OTR/L
Owner/Occupational Therapist
Grow Thru Play, LLC

The toy brochures and storefront displays are loaded with the latest battery-operated toys with all the bells and whistles – literally. But flashing lights and loud noises are not the best attributes for developmental growth.

Even though my child is only two and a half, I have been in the toy buying business for a while. I always found it challenging to walk the aisles of toys stores trying to decipher which toys would be motivating to my clients and enhance their sensory processing, gross motor, and fine motor skills without spending a fortune.








To be honest, I have a lot of success using basic household items or recyclable items for play. But when the holidays come, surprise your child with toys that are not only new and fun, but beneficial for their development. Here are a few of my favorites:


Babies are interested in exploring and gaining control and awareness of their bodies in order to move! They learn to focus on people and objects, reach for toys, and explore everything through touching with their hands, feet, and mouth. The best toys for this stage have strong sensory components with bright colors, textures, and some noises. They should be safe for mouthing, throwing and banging.


Toddlers are active so movement is important! Now they can explore their environment in many different ways. They begin to build confidence and independence and refine their gross and fine motor skills. This is also an important time for learning and incorporating more imaginative play!


Preschoolers are refining their skills and expanding their play in social situations and group activities. They continue to gain independence and develop their gross and fine motor skills. They are often attracted to the same toys as toddlers so these two lists maybe interchangeable.

School aged

Now kids are starting to work with peers developing games together as well as playing competitively. They are also building their creativity and skills through learning, problem solving and improved concentration and regulation.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!

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