Using Toys to Teach Application of Developmental Concepts

Principle Demonstrated

Application of cognitive, physical, emotional and social developmental constructs to critiquing children’s toys. 


This activity is designed to help students understand and learn to apply the cognitive, physical, emotional and social developmental constructs to evaluating toys. The active nature of the activity allows students to connect different theoretical concepts to actual toys and therefore see the constructs as applicable to real situations with real children. Through their study of toys, students begin to apply the theoretical to a practical understanding of how children learn and grow. Students in my classes (especially those that are already parents) begin to appreciate the importance of creating a positive environment to create healthy development. During the activity, students orally make connections from how toys can influence developmental growth to the influence of TV and other environmental determinants on development.


Textbook that explains each of the areas of development (students must read selected sections prior to attending class); Posters/PowerPoint and Cards;

Toys designed for children birth to age 7 (bring your own and/or ask students to bring toys).


At the community college level, I usually have many parents in my class who are excited to bring their child’s toys to class. If you do not have access to toys, you can use a website such as or to facilitate this activity. Live toys generate the most interest and fun in an interactive classroom environment.

Poster/PowerPoint Explanation

To facilitate discussion of the developmental constructs, create a poster or PowerPoint presentation to facilitate discussion of each area of development. For example, the poster regarding social development simply says, “development related to learning how to function in a group context, understanding of behaviors that can promote or hamper group membership.”


Create index cards so that each student will have 3-4 cards. Write different social, emotional, physical and cognitive developmental examples or milestones on each card. For example, some index cards say: using manners, smiling in response to an adult smile, walking, showing sympathy, assimilation, grasping, schema development, etc.


Assign relevant reading assignment to students prior to class meeting, prepare posters or create power point presentation and cards, gather toys, reserve a classroom large enough to facilitate movement and play.


Pass out cards to students. Using the textbook and posters/PowerPoint, describe, explain and discuss the different developmental constructs. Students match their index cards to the constructs and explain why the activity or milestone on the card is an example of that type of development. For example, students who place the “smiling in response to an adult smile” in the social category would explain that this is called a “social smile” clearly representing developmental awareness of interaction with others. Another student who places this card in the emotional development category would explain how smiling is an activity that demonstrates emotion, typically happiness. After students clearly understand each area of development and how they are interrelated, introduce the toys.

The energy level of the students rises dramatically and even those who think the activity is “childish” soon see that they are gaining a deeper understanding of developmental concepts by playing! Students play with toys, working together and critiquing the developmental constructs that are promoted (or not) by each toy. Students compare the manufacturer’s suggested age for the toy to what they have learned about developmental milestones. Students then submit their critiques as a graded written assignment due at the next class meeting. Submissions are word processed and treated as an informal writing assignment. Students consistently report this activity as one of their favorites and I have observed a deeper understanding of the developmental constructs as a result.

Ethical Problems

I have not encountered any ethical problems with this activity/assignment.

Written Instructions Given to Students

Choose three different toys:

  • Provide the name of the toy and a general description of the toy.

  • Provide the age for which the manufacturer says the toy is designed. Using developmental norms as a guide, do you agree or disagree with the manufacturer’s suggested age? Why?

  • Critique each toy on the basis of its cognitive, physical, emotional and social developmental effect on an infant or young child. Explain positive and negative effects as well as an explanation if you feel the toy has no effect in one or more areas.