What Your Toddler REALLY Needs to Learn {HINT: You Don’t Need Any of Those “Educational Toys”}

What Your Toddler Really Needs 2

Have you been to a toddler’s birthday party recently? Have you been there to watch the birthday boy or girl open the presents? (Ok…let’s face it….often it’s the parents opening the presents…but I digress…) If so…You have probably seen them.

The bright, talking, light up, toys that move and sing. “Activity tables” and “books” and pull toys…even stacking toys, rattles, teethers, and balls….all that are hard, plastic, and make noise.

Yes, even the teethers are “educational.” Aren’t teethers supposed to like, sooth the gums?

And the balls…they cant just sell a red, rubber ball that bounces. No, the ball must “teach” letters and numbers by making noise.

Yes, these “educational toys” have claims plastered on their packaging like…

  • “Encourages your toddler’s play, thinking, and learning!”
  • “Teaches your toddler letters, numbers, shapes and colors!”
  • “Teaches shapes, common objects and feelings!”
  • “Teaches toddlers letters, numbers, colors, songs, stories and more!”
  • “Teaches while your little one is on the move!”
  • “Light-up buttons provide engaging rewards!”
  • “Teaches nursery rhymes and songs!”
  • “Teaches your infant how to cook, clean, dress themselves AND how to pee in the potty!”**

(**Ok, ok…so maybe they don’t get that crazy….yet).

Nothing could have prepared me for the influx of “educational toys” we would receive at my own children’s birthday parties.

Everything needed batteries. Everything made noise.

Even the awesome Little People Farm and the Little People Pirate Ship had buttons!

There is one specific toy that my daughter got for her first birthday (ok, a couple actually) that made me really step back and think about what “toys” are for. One was this Monkey Ride on toy thing…that made annoying noise and sang…and there was something about rowing the arms and catching bananas? See I can’t even remember the point of it because there was no point to it! My daughter tried a couple times but it made no sense to her either…it quickly got donated.

I noticed that pretty much all the toys by a certain manufacturer that claimed all their toys were “learning” toys and “educational” were also the ugliest, brightest, loudest, and hardest.

And quite frankly, they taught my one year old absolutely nothing. Except that if she pushed that button the toy produced noise.

I started thinking….what does my toddler really need to learn right now anyway? And how would she learn anything from toys that just lit up and sang?

A toddler does not need to know numbers, letters, or shapes.

A toddler needs to work on learning how to walk, run, slide, crawl through tunnels, climb, dig in the sand, swing, communicate needs and wants, say new words, sing songs and nursery rhymes, follow simple directions, laugh, love, eat with a spoon, play peek-a-boo, stack blocks, throw a ball, drink from an open cup, pretend to talk on the phone, push around a toy grocery cart and “shop”, basic concepts like big, small, up, down, in & out; listen to books, “read” books, walk up and down stairs, name body parts, point to objects and people in books, play in water, make animal sounds, finger paint, explore his world, ask questions, do the hokey pokey…

A toddler doesn’t need toys that light up and make noise.

These toys do not teach anything…except a little cause-and effect. In fact, all toddlers just need a few things to learn all the things they need to learn those first few years of life:

  • Family that loves them
  • Family that plays with them
  • Family that talks to them
  • Family that reads to them
  • Diapers, clothes, warm bed, and roof above their heads
  • Food in their tummies
  • Some simple, non-noise-making toys (most or all of which you can get at second hand stores…for some suggestions check out my post on toys HERE) and/or simple and free household items like cardboard boxes of different sizes; plastic cups, bowls, and spoons, old gift bags with handles (my kids LOVE putting random things in these!), baskets, paper, crayons, paints (you can make paints too!), etc.
  • Books (Library is FREE! And quiet…)
  • Trips to local parks and/or access to outdoor areas that are safe to play in

Notice none of the above require batteries.

Toddlers require love, kisses, and attention. Not batteries.

So…next time you are in the toy department, skip over that aisle (you know the one I’m talking about…) and pick up some finger paints and a sand bucket instead. Or maybe some bubbles and a… gasp… plain rubber ball!

As for some of those toys that seem pretty cool but yet still make noise (Like the Little People Farm?) Do what I do, and take out the batteries.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.  
About Katie

Katie is a licensed, credentialed and certified pediatric speech-language pathologist and mom to three (5, 3 and 9 months). Her passion about educating, inspiring and empowering parents of children with all abilities led her to start her blog Playing With Words 365 where she shares information about speech and language development, therapy ideas and tips, intervention strategies and a little about her family life too. Katie has been working in the field of speech pathology for 9 years and is certified in The Hanen Centre’s It Takes Two to Talk ® and Target Word ® programs and holds a certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In addition to blogging and being a mommy, Katie works part time in her small private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Carrie Manchester says:

    So very true! When I worked in early intervention, I used to say the same thing to parents…Take out the batteries!!! (Side note: why did Fisher Price feel the need to “improve” the classic farm???)

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Bells and whistles be gone! I agree with you that toddlers need only objects to manipulate, things to crawl over and to and paper to scribble on. Getting back to the basics just may bring back creativity! Thanks for putting it out there. I hope your readers listen to your great advice!

    • Thanks so much Katherine!!!

      • the monko says:

        Love this post. we always end up taking the battery out of anything noisy. I can cope with lights. I agree they aren’t necessary but goblin has a fire engine with lights and I can deal, but I’d never but one with a siren. Hublet actually tried to drown one quad bike toy we were given that flashed and made noise and had no obvious way to remove the batteries. 24 hours in a bowl of salt water and the hideous thing was still working! Now there is quality craftsmanship
        the monko recently posted..Living HistoryMy Profile

  3. Great article! The cardboard box has always been a favorite around my house. At one point I decided to give my kids a present of a few boxes rather than buy toys that they would neglect while building castles out of the boxes that the toys came in. Other favorite toys have been sticks, rocks, and the absolute best… MUD! Mud can be a prehistoric site for dinosaurs, a building material for castles and little tunnels, the main ingredient for mud pies, and best of all, it’s messy!

  4. Yay! I’ve been feeling this way for years, and now I have an article by a professional to back me up :) I’m not a speech pathologist OR a parent (first baby due in April), but I firmly believe that so-called “educational” toys do little or nothing to develop imagination, among other things. I sometimes wonder if they contribute to short attention span and the instant gratification issues as well.
    Thank you!
    P.S. I love your blog!

    • Jenia WELCOME! I totally agree…I too have big questions about the damage too many of those toys can do. Congrats on your first baby, I wish you lot’s of luck! :)

  5. Niki Kelly says:

    YES. YES. YES.

    “Toddlers require love, kisses, and attention. Not batteries.”

  6. Toddlers do like noise…however, let them compare and contrast via pots/pans, bowls and spoons. Have them string large jingle bells too:)

  7. I’m going to “date” myself a little bit, but when I was a child, I think it was Fisher Price (if not, it was Playskool) had a slogan that “All you needed was a child’s imagination” (well, and their toys of course! No batteries)

  8. Totally agree! This is a great post for anyone interested in toys shopping. We love battery free toys and how they can stimulate speech and language particularly in babies and toddlers.

  9. ha! Totally agree with you on the Little People toys. (And pretty much everything else in this post!) A family member bought our daughter a Little People Halloween set for her birthday/Halloween. (Her birthday is at the beginning of October.) I was surprised and kind of appalled when I saw that it took batteries. Hubby and I both agreed that we weren’t going to waste batteries on the darn thing. She could care less about it when she first got it. She is 16 months now and has recently started LOVING playing with this…sans batteries and all. :) She loves making the Little People “walk around”, bounces them on her legs, and puts them in and out of her Halloween set. Hooray for imagination, right?!
    Alicia Owen recently posted..Baby Learning Time (BLT) Update 2/10/14My Profile

  10. Lynn Rivier says:

    Ban battery powered toys for tots!! I was appalled to see my 1 year old granddaughter race wild-eyed from one lighted noisy toy to another. As a mother and (former) speech therapist, I was looking forward to reading stories and having tea parties with her. This is not to be. At 5 she still can’t form a sentence or pay attention to anything except TV and mobile phone apps. I have no doubt that early sensory overload contributed to her autistic symptoms.

  11. Alexis Salmon says:

    I don’t read a lot of blogs, but I’m beyond thrilled with your responses and outcomes. I couldn’t agree more!! Loud annoying toys, not so necessary.. Unless they’re being rotated in for 30hr a day at most. Let’s get real, we’re all busy at some point. AND I’m only the nanny! proud nanny though :)

  12. Thank you for writing this post. I wrote a similar one on my blog (though with more vitriol, I must admit. I couldn’t contain my anger). It saddens me that companies after the almighty dollar are using the emotional blackmail of “education” to market and sell crappy plastic noisy toys. It’s a BALL, why does it need to light up and sing? I feel that when dollhouses and barns talk, the kids don’t have to supply their own voices, and imagination and pretend play suffer.

    Abi recently posted..Laugh and Learn, or Gag and CringeMy Profile


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