When my now two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Hannah first transitioned into that stage when she was too old for her baby toys but not quite ready for the whole magical world of preschool toys, her dad and I were a little stumped. What do toddlers play with other than anything that’s dangerous or valuable to their parents?
We experimented a lot, especially since my daughter has some sensory and motor planning issues. We’d stuck somewhat closely to the age recommendations on toys, until her speech therapist told us to challenge her. Then we found wonderful toys that skewed older but were fine if introduced with adult supervision, toys that were right on target for her age, and toys that were more like whole experiences that will grow with her.
There are so many great toys out there, but here are the things our daughter plays with incessantly (I’ve listed the retail prices, but almost all of them are available on Amazon for less):
Tolo Teatime Shape Sorter: An instant hit. It’s strangely pricey for a teapot, but it’s absolutely indestructible. First Hannah used it as a shape and color sorter, then it evolved into her first tea set. Now she serves us imaginary drinks daily, usually out of the same designated cup for each of us. $35.99
Little People Disney Princess Klip Klop Stable: A second birthday present from a classmate, we weren’t sure about this one. Disney Princesses hadn’t made an appearance yet at our house, and we were completely okay with that. But the Little People horses and riders are almost hypnotically fun. We bought all of the extra princesses, and the little ramps they came with made the princesses into great bathroom toys while potty training, too. $39.99
Fisher-Price Barnyard Bingo: Our speech therapist introduced us to this one. It’s meant as a multiplayer version of Bingo, but we found that it’s great for vocabulary practice. Hannah is obsessed with farm animals and this is a nice, portable toy for matching colors and animals. $20.99
Melissa and Doug Shopping Cart: We learned the hard way how loud this can be on wood floors, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We’ve shopped out of the kitchen cupboards with this, Hannah has transported her prized possessions around in it, and sometimes she just likes to race around the kitchen pushing it. Such great quality, and I love that it’s metal instead of plastic. $69.99
Crayola Color Wonder Travel Tote: My mom and I took a road trip with my daughter this summer and stopped at the Crayola Experience. I stocked up at the gift shop and bought this travel clipboard set so Hannah could color in the car and not make a mess. We don’t leave the house without it now. A lifesaver on car trips and in restaurants. $13.99
VTech Go! Go! Smart Animals Zoo Explorer: This set is fun and substantial. It lives in my sewing studio, so my daughter can hang out and play while I work. I wish all of these big playsets came with more than one figure or car in the box. We bought extra animals for $7.99 each, and that felt like more of a sting than usual for extras. But it can keep a two-year-old busy for quite a while. $39.99
Symphony in B: I remember seeing this on a best toy list a few years ago, and then the music teacher at my old school had it to use with students. I loved it immediately, and now at home we have classical dance parties with it. It also turned into a great fine motor skill tool, as my daughter learned how to line up all the instruments in their slots. $99.99 (I’ve never actually seen it for this much; it’s usually significantly lower.)
Land of Nod Home Sweet Home Play Canopy: We loved the idea of a tent as a second birthday present, and this ceiling-suspended version is covered with stars and kind of magical. Hannah spends lots of good kid time in it. I wish I had one in an adult size. $199 with cushion
Melissa and Doug Deluxe Latches Puzzle: All Melissa & Doug wood puzzles wear like iron and feel so great in the hand. This lock puzzle is my daughter’s favorite, and I’ve given it as a gift to other toddlers. They all love it. If you need a few minutes to grab a shower or catch up on email, give this to your toddler to occupy their time. $24.99
Doc McStuffins Get Better Checkup Center: Last summer, I started singing the praises of this play vet’s office after seeing it at a toy preview and didn’t stop telling people about it until New Year’s. Almost a year later, Hannah still plays with this Christmas present every day. It was her first real non-baby toy, and it’s been one of the most successful things we’ve ever given her. $99.99
LeapFrog Shapes and Sharing Picnic Basket: I’ve lost track of how many picnics we’ve had on our living room floor with this set. It was one of those toys we picked up as a treat one day at Target and for nearly a year now, it has regularly seen action. $21.99
Playmobil My Secret Playbox Horse Stable: This was a recent acquisition that made me nervous at first. There are so many small pieces, but after playing it together with Hannah a few times, we realized she had no interest in trying to eat them. This is one of those know-your-child toys. If they’re still putting everything in their mouths, skip this one. If not, it’s a really sweet little horse stable with tons of little tools for grooming and feeding. It’s another one that gives a surprising amount of language practice, and the best part is that the whole thing (with all of those little pieces) folds up into a lockable box for storage. $27.99
Crayola 24 Count Sidewalk Chalk: Sidewalk chalk is always great for a sunny, not-too-cold day. But the Crayola colors are incredibly vibrant. And the shape of each chalk stick is like a rectangular crayon, so the pieces won’t roll all over your driveway. Sometimes nothing beats an afternoon on the ground outside making chalk scribbles. $7.29
Scrambled Eggs Shape Sorting Fun: This turned out to be another great travel toy. You will spend some time looking under seats for the occasional missing egg half, but we’ve taken this in the car, on the plane, in restaurants, everywhere. It fits in a purse or bag and is a really nice, distracting activity to get those fine motor skills going. $12.74
Little Partners Learning Tower: This isn’t a toy, but it has provided loads of quality play time together in the kitchen. A year ago, we added this to our kitchen and it’s the best piece of equipment in it. Now my daughter can stand on a step stool without falling off, but she still wants to be in her tower whenever we have kitchen time. The adjustable height means she can always be perfectly positioned to play with her little pots and pans and felt food, or to help me roll out pie dough or make a cake. $199.99
What toys do your little ones love?
Disclaimer: GeekMom received some items for review purposes.