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There are many different types of materials available for mixed-age groups of children. As a family child care provider, you will need to carefully choose which materials to have available in your home. This lesson will help you think about which materials to provide for the children in your care. You will learn about how to choose materials based on cultural relevance, children’s individual interests, the materials’ open-ended possibilities, and children’s developmental needs.

  • Define and describe “developmentally appropriate” materials.
  • Identify key considerations when choosing materials.
  • Describe the importance of selecting toys and materials that represent the cultures, interests, and developmental needs of the children in your care.



Play and Developmentally Appropriate Materials

Children learn through play. Your program setting should be designed to optimize play with a variety of colorful, safe, and highly interesting materials. These materials should be of sufficient quantity for the number of children you care for.

Children’s understanding of the world is guided by warm, responsive adults. Your awareness of each child’s developmental level and individual interests and goals will promote optimal growth and development. The variety of materials you choose for your family child care setting is guided by the children you serve and their individual development.

 Developmentally appropriate materials are materials that fit the stage of development children are in, but still allow for differences between children in skills, interests, and characteristics. The materials you have available in your home are ones that match the developmental learning needs of the children you care for. Your own knowledge about the stages of child development will help you think about what to offer that is appropriate to the development and growth of each child.

You may be caring for a toddler who is learning to sort objects (e.g., place all the plastic toy animals in one basket and all the pictures of animals in another basket), while at the same time you may care for a preschool-age child learning to sort the cards by types of animals (e.g., place all the pictures of farm animals in one basket and all the pictures of zoo animals in the other basket). A school-age child may be sorting pictures of different types of birds based on their natural habitat (e.g., place pictures of the birds in the part of the country they live in). These children are learning about the characteristics of animals using the same material, but they can approach the sorting task with different levels of complexity. Each child uses the animal picture cards, but sorts them based on their developmental level; from a simple to more complex understanding.

Key Considerations in Selecting Materials

Children should have extensive time each day to explore materials (at least one hour per day). This time should be scheduled so that children can have large blocks of time to engage in open-ended play. Children of all ages (including school-age children) learn from books, art materials, music, dramatic play, sand and water, blocks, toys and games, cooking, technology, and the outdoors. The materials you choose can engage children in group or individual play and promote problem-solving skills.

The majority of materials should be open-ended so that children can draw upon their creativity and imaginations. Children should feel free to use the materials in a variety of ways. Materials can reinforce their developmental levels, entice them to reach new levels, and help them explore new interests.

Materials can be a combination of toys and “real objects” that are sized appropriately for children’s use:

  • Toddlers love using a wooden spoon to make noise on an inverted plastic bowl.
  • The outdoor sandbox may contain old kitchen pans, big spoons, and buckets that can be filled with sand.
  • A parent may donate a used musical instrument (e.g., a recorder) that preschool and school-age children enjoy playing.

By observing and having conversations with the children in your care, you will learn about their interests. To stay organized, keep an inventory of all your materials (you may want to keep this on your computer or spreadsheet where you can easily add new materials or delete items).

The authors of the Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale provide guidelines about the types and quantities of materials that should be available to children in a family child care setting. This lesson's Learn Section handout, Suggested Materials for Development and Learning (below), describes the types and quantities of materials that family child care settings need--any why they're important for children's development and growth.

When choosing and presenting children's learning materials, keep in mind these key ideas:

  • Materials should match the different age levels and skill levels of the children
  • Materials should be rotated monthly
  • Materials should be accessible (i.e., children don’t have to ask you to get or open materials)

Screen Use and Media

Decisions about when, where, and what amount of time you will allow children to use smart phones, TV, computer or electronic tablets should be made and explained to parents. You will want to minimize the amount of time that young children use screens. As a role model, you will also have to limit your use of these devices when caring for children in your home. It is easy to become distracted and spend long times engaged with electronic and social media. There are guidelines you can follow (see the American Academy Pediatrics:, Zero to Three: and, National Association for the Education of Young Children:, National Institutes of Health: and the National After School Association: for determining the appropriate use of technology for the different ages of children served in your family child care home.

Safe Materials

Children’s safety is always your primary concern. You should make sure the materials you provide are safe. All materials should be checked for choking hazards (such as small parts) and toxicity (particularly plants and art supplies). Make sure you supervise materials that could be difficult developmentally for young children.

Locating Materials

Some family child care providers find it helpful to belong to a local child care group or network where providers can swap materials for a period of time. You may want to talk with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator to see if there are any family child care provider groups that meet in your area. In many areas, the local library allows families and providers to check out toys, books, games, discovery kits, puppets, and other materials. There are sites and books that depict how to create materials using recycled items, scrap materials, or loose parts.




Representing Diversity

Talking with children’s families may give you more information about choosing culturally relevant books, toys, and music that include a child’s home language and cultural practices. Each child and family is unique, so it is important not to assume that all families from a particular cultural heritage engage in the same cultural practices or speak the same languages in their homes. During warm, respectful conversations with parents, you may inquire about how they would like to see their child’s cultural practices, celebrations, and home language supported in your family child care setting.

Dolls, photos, posters, and books should be selected that depict the culture, language, and abilities of the children in your care. If you only serve children from the same racial and cultural background, it is still important to reflect diverse individuals and cultures in the books, photos, and toys you provide.

Watch the following video as a family child care provider describes how they choose materials that reflect diverse cultures and abilities.


Materials That Reflect Diversity

Watch how toys and materials can reflect diverse cultures and abilities.


In this lesson, you learned the importance of providing a variety of developmentally, individually, and culturally appropriate materials that enhance children’s learning and development. You learned that open-ended materials that allow a variety of uses across various age levels are ideal in family child care settings where providers care for children of mixed ages together. Creating an organization plan is an important part of gathering, presenting, and storing materials for your family child care home.


There are many resources online and in your local area that can give you ideas for fun, low-cost creative materials. You may want to bookmark websites that contain ideas for materials. Some providers find it helpful to create activity cards that list materials needed for children to use in particular activities. Below lists a number of websites with engaging materials and activities for mixed-age providers.

Resources for Family Child-Care Materials & Activities


As you gather materials, it is important to create an organization system. Creating a materials inventory and saving it on your computer will assist you in staying organized. This inventory can help you plan for future needs as well. Complete the inventory and review with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator.


Culturally relevant materials:
Toys, books, and photographs that reflect the backgrounds, knowledge and experiences of the children
Developmentally appropriate materials:
Materials that fit the stage of development children are in, allowing for differences among children in skills, interests, and characteristics


True or false? A single learning object can meet a wide range of developmental levels.
When choosing and presenting learning materials for your family child care home, you should try to select materials that:
Juanita’s mom wants to know if your family child care home has any Spanish-language materials available to make Juanita feel at home. What do you say?
References & Resources

Brown, A., Shifrin, D. L., & Hill, D. L. (2015). Beyond ‘Turn it Off’: How to Advise Families on Media Use. AAP News, 36, 10. Retrieved from

Armstrong, L. J. (2012). Family Child Care Homes: Creative spaces for children to learn. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Child Care Aware of North Dakota. Retrieved from

Harms, T., Cryer, D., and Clifford, R. (2007). Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale, revised edition. New York: Teacher’s College Press.

Good Toys for Young Children. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved from

Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Young Children Birth to Age Eight Years Old. National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent’s College. Retrieved from

Thompson, E. (2013). Something from Nothing: Using everyday materials with preschoolers. Ypsilanti, MI: High Scope Press.