Pull toys may seem a little old-fashioned, but they actually promote many different aspects of your toddler’s development: problem-solving, whole body coordination, and fine motor strength.
Toddlers learn to push before they learn to pull. Before you offer the pull toy, give your toddler lots of experience with pushing. Give them a toy stroller, shopping cart, or even a tall cardboard box to slide along the floor.
Sometime between 15 and 18 months, your toddler may start to pull toys behind them while walking. In addition to all of the physical growth and learning happening right now, this is a sign of the cognitive development that is also occurring.
Your toddler is learning that the easiest way to get an out-of-reach object attached to a string is to pull the string. For example, if they want to hug their toy pup, they may pull the toy’s string to bring it closer instead of moving their body to go get it. It sounds simple, but this is actually a big deal for your child’s brain: it’s an early lesson in cause and effect.
Once they are walking and steady on their feet, your toddler may be ready to challenge their coordination by adding a pull toy. Pulling the pup will engage lots of different muscles—hand muscles to grasp the string, arm muscles to pull it, and legs and torso to balance. The eyes need to work in conjunction with the rest of the body, providing that beneficial combination of fine and gross motor skills.
Your toddler must also navigate the environment: what happens when the string snags on something? What about when the pull toy falls on its side, off its wheels, or when it doesn’t fit under something (say, a chair) and all of a sudden your toddler is dragging half the home behind them? Embedded in the deceptively simple task of pulling something along on a string are lessons in resilience, problem-solving, and independence.
Pull toys can be an early way to boost a toddler’s confidence, as well as their understanding of what they can control. Pulling a rolling object on a string shows them that they are the one deciding where the toy is going, not someone else.