Does shopping for your child’s birthday or Christmas make you want to cry? Or is it just me? Walking into the toy store and being faced with literally hundreds, if not thousands, of options tends to make me want to melt into a puddle on the floor. So that is why I have come up with a list of the best toys for toddlers. You can save yourself a lot of time and energy with this simple list right here.
Now, I must say this – I am not a fan of electronic toys. I prefer toys that require my daughter to use her imagination. If a toy does all of the talking/thinking/singing for your child, I promise you, it will not last long. They may be obsessed for a day, or maybe even a week or two, but then the novelty will fade, and they will be asking for something else. The toys on this list are items that hold up for the long haul. The first toy on my list has been one of my daughter’s absolute favorites since she was about 1 year old. She is now over 2 1/2 years old, and it is still often the first thing that she reaches for.
So, without further ado, here we go.
My family lives in a different state than we do. So, we travel to visit them 3-4 times a year. During one of our visits when my daughter was around 1, my mom pulled out the vintage Sesame Street Little People House that had been mine when I was a child. It had all of the original pieces and was in pristine condition. The house was an immediate hit with my daughter, and about six months later, Sesame Street was sent to live at our house. To this day, my daughter plays with it every day. She loves it, and creates storyline after storyline about the characters within it. She has also acquired a number of other Little People play sets. The Disney Princess Castle and all of the princesses run a close second to Sesame Street.
I love the Little People because they force my daughter to use her imagination. She talks for them, moves them, and creates story lines for them. And because this is all coming out of her own imagination, it changes every day. This is why it has sustained for so long. The characters and their stories are literally growing with her.
These are the sets that she has and loves:
*The Sesame Street house can be found on eBay under Vintage Fisher Price Sesame Street House.
My husband and I are both professional musicians. So, it stands to reason that this would be high on my list. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of music and music education for children, though, from language development, to motor skills and self-expression, to memory skills, and more. So, it’s not just personal bias here. And again, it allows my child to create something of her own using her imagination.
My daughter has always loved music, and she adores playing with all of her instruments. She makes up songs, sings along while she plays, and wants us to play with her. As mentioned, they help develop both gross motor skills and fine motor skills, as well as allowing for self-expression.
Here are some of our favorites:
Play kitchen/play food
This is another item that has been at the very top of my daughter’s favorites list since she was about 18 months old. Children love mimicking what we are doing. My daughter sees me and my husband working in the kitchen every day. We make breakfast, lunch, and dinner in there, and she loves being able to do the same. She feeds her princesses breakfast and makes meals for her stuffed animals. She brings me and my husband snacks and drinks, and loves having picnics. Then, at the end of the day, she helps pick everything up and put it back where it belongs.
This not only allows her to use her imagination (are you noticing a theme here?), but it’s also teaching her the importance of routine and organization, as well as learning how to clean up after herself.
Here’s what we have:
*We have many different Melissa & Doug sets (pancakes, cupcakes, ice cream, coffee), and she loves them all.
My daughter has just in the last few months become more interested in puzzles and shape sorter type activities. Unlike most of the other toys on the list, puzzles are an item that will need to be upgraded as your child gets older. Puzzles help develop so many different skills though, such as fine motor skills, spacial relations, and hand/eye coordination, they are definitely worth having on hand.
Here are some that my daughter likes:
Like many of the other toys already listed, dolls and stuffed animals (non-electronic) force children to use their imagination. Also, as mentioned earlier, they give children a chance to mimic what they see their parents doing, and helps them develop all sorts of skills – self-help skills, fine motor skills, social-emotional skills, etc. My daughter loves taking care of her “babies” – which includes both dolls and animals. She feeds them (from her play kitchen), rocks them, changes their diapers, comforts them, and creates all sorts of scenarios for them. It is just another way for children to learn from experience.
These are some of my daugher’s favorites, but the options for dolls and stuffed animals are practically unlimited.
Crayons/Magic Ink Markers
I love coloring. And, considering how popular adult coloring books have become recently, it’s obvious that coloring is a great past-time for those of all ages. Coloring is a great way to develop fine motor skills, help with focus and hand-eye coordination, foster creative imagination, as well as provide some stress-relief. (Yes! Even children need stress-relief.) Now, for toddlers, I understand that if you value your possessions at all, crayons, and especially markers, come with some heavy risks. Fortunately, there are all sorts of options out there using magic ink markers. They are markers that won’t leave color on anything except the paper they are designed to be used on. It’s a brilliant way to allow a young child to color without the fear of it ending up all over the wall or couch. There are also bath crayons, which are great fun for children and clean up easily.
Some of our favorites:
Simple building blocks have been around for ages, and there is good reason for that. They are the type of toy that will withstand the test of time, both in the marketplace, as well as in your child’s life. Blocks are another toy that will grow with your child. As your child develops new skills, their block creations can become more complex and intricate. They help develop fine and gross motor skills, build self-esteem, and improve problem solving skills.
My daughter loves her duplos. My husband loves them, as well, so it makes for a great activity for them to do together.
We have had at least one set of flash cards at my daughter’s disposal since she was incredibly young. I have never really used them in an educational setting – meaning I never set my 18-month old down and flashed one card after another at her expecting her to recite what it was. I simply had them available for her to look at and explore. Inevitably, though, at some point she started pointing to individual cards and asking me “Dis?” Meaning, “What is this?” I then had an opportunity to tell her what it was she was looking at. This gave her a chance to learn the names of all sorts of different objects at an early age, yet she did it at her pace and at times that she was interested in learning.
We love the baby Einstein flash cards. They are large cards with big pictures, and they are pretty thick and sturdy.
I think outside play is incredibly important for children. It is a great way for them to learn about different textures, bodily sensations (cold, warm, wet, dirty), sounds, and smells. Children don’t really need specific toys to be able to entertain themselves outside. They will do just fine with some rocks and sticks. But two of my favorite outdoor toys are my daughter’s water table and her sandbox. She absolutely adores both of them, and they allow her to learn about more physical concepts.
This is what we have in our backyard:
And there you have it. These toys are all you will need to keep your toddler entertained for hours, and they will all stand the test of time.
Hopefully, this list will help you out when it comes time to shop for the little people in your life.