Inside: Check out the best toys for toddlers – open-ended toys for kids to grow with.
Looking for the best toys for toddlers? Here’s the list for you.
Toys are unbelievably important.
Play is the work of childhood and toys are the tools for play. You don’t need to own EVERY toy on the market to have a child who will play well independently… but you do need to own the right toys to help make that happen.
Kids need open-ended toys and here’s why.
RELATED: Looking for more toy ideas? Check out my “Best Toys for Kids” complete list.
Not all toys are created equal!
There are two toy categories (in my opinion): “One and Done Toys” and Open-ended toys. We want to fill our homes with the latter.
“One and Done Toys” usually have batteries, they might light up, or make noise. These toys entertain a child, they talk to them, sing to them, ask questions, and usually have just ONE purpose (meaning you can’t use the toy in any way other than how it was intended).
Open-ended toys on the other hand… they allow the child to be the entertainer and make the play happen however they see fit.
Here are the kind of toys you should buy…
If you want a child who plays independently, open-ended toys are the toys for you.
Kids need open-ended toys to imagine with, create with, and grow with. These toys help children learn the valuable social and life skills that will carry them through adulthood – skills like communication, problem solving, and empathy.
Open-ended toys are powerful. “One and Done Toys” won’t grow with your child. The light up toy your child loved at 15 months old probably isn’t going to be their favorite at age 4.
Do only toddlers need these toys?
NO- this list is for EVERYONE and TODDLERS.
All kids need open-ended toys and this is a list of toys kids will start loving around toddler-age but that’s not the only time they’ll be loved and played with.
This list is NOT just for toddlers. These are toys that will be loved for YEARS (and I know this – a lot of these were in my first grade classroom).
So, for example, if you have a preschooler who doesn’t have a set of wooden blocks – think of getting them one! Don’t be turned away from them just because they are on the “toddler” list.
This is my complete list of the absolute best toys for toddlers. These toys have longevity. These toys have unlimited play potential. These toys will let our kids play, and play well.
One last thing…toys don’t have a gender
This list is GENDER NEUTRAL (as all toys are). Everything on this list is fantastic for both BOYS and GIRLS, and equally loved and used by all.
Please don’t skip past a play kitchen or doll house or a box of LEGOs. These are gender neutral toys.
In no particular order…
These are the best toys for toddlers (and toys will keep loving, and using, and playing with far into the future).
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Absolutely one of the best basic open-ended toys you can own is a simple set of wooden blocks. Kids will play with these throughout elementary school.
Having a set (or two) of small animals is a clutch open-ended toy. Kids can use with them in sensory bins, art projects, and basically any imaginary play world they can come up with. We have so many toobs – the jungle animals and insects are big hits!
Having some simple wooden people can make for really inventive imaginative play. Lots of times these people come with wooden vehicles making for great play possibilities. We also have the airplane, zoo truck, and garbage truck.
An open-ended toy that most every house has or should have! LEGOs are full of learning and fun, and Duplos start kids building in the right direction.
Kids love to play make-believe and kits like this can help fuel the fun. This shaving kit is a favorite in our house – from toddlers to grade school kids, boys and girls – it has mass appeal. We also have the “My First Styling Kit“, which is equally a hit among all kids.
Doll houses are gender neutral. A doll house is home for imaginary play – a place to rescue animals from, to save from a fire, to intricate building skills and to make imaginary set ups. It is a house for kids to practice home based social stories in.
Another gender neutral toy: a play kitchen is a MUST.
And I MUST insist you check out this option, because it is battery free. It’s all kid run. A lot of kitchens on the market are large in size, full of buttons and noises. Not this one. It’s the Mary Poppins of kid kitchens (practically perfect in every way).
There is a reason this toy has 16,000 reviews and a 5-star rating. It’s magical. From age 2 – 10, kids love playing with these cleaning tools.
Dolls are (say it with me) gender neutral. All kids need a chance to practice care skills and empathy. Future parents, doctors, nurses, teachers, and childcare workers need a chance to hone their skills. These baby dolls come as a set or are sold individually.
I always say this: you can never have too many puzzles. Puzzles are amazing for teaching spatial awareness, reasoning, and problem solving. Why wouldn’t we want a whole lot of that?
Need more puzzle suggestions? I have a whole list of the best puzzles for kids.
Whether it’s indoor construction or real outdoor digging, a simple set of construction trucks – no batteries needed – make for some sweet play time.
Another GREAT toy for dramatic play – a cash register turns a playroom into a restaurant or a grocery store. My toddlers aren’t quite ready for the play money yet so I have that saved for a few years from now when they are ready.
You don’t need to flashcard toddlers to teach them the alphabet – they’ll learn it when they’re ready. But having a few toys they can play with is a great way to get them familiar in a play-based, hands-on, organic way and this puzzle is tops.
A good train set is a great open-ended investment: something to build with, imagine with, and interact with. We have lots of hodge podge partial sets, but if I could start my train set over again – this little set (that all folds up and stores in the train station) is how I wish we could have started.
Another plug for dramatic play – this is how our kids make sense of the world around them and interact with it. Tools to fix with are a perfect way for kids to practice some helpful skills.
I know that technically these aren’t an open-ended toy but having a good paint cup makes art with toddlers so accessible. We also have these paint brushes and they’ve been amazing since 2016 (and are still painting perfectly.)
Pouring skills are learned in play opportunities, and having a fun tea set makes that happen. Kids love to set up imaginary scenes – and getting a chance to practice pouring is such a great bonus. This is very gender neutral toy that somehow gets forgotten.
Having a set of play dinosaurs might seem random from the outside but once you see all the play kids can do with just a few dinosaurs – you’ll understand why dinos are a must-own.
Another chance for dramatic play – every home needs a doctor’s kit. This doctor’s kit comes with a dress up coat for even more imaginary play. We also have the firefighter costume and the train engineer costume.
I put these together because all that play food fits perfectly inside the basket like they were made for each other. This food is my favorite to pair with a play kitchen.
What are your favorite toys for toddlers?
Remember, we don’t need to own every toy for our kids but the right toys make all the difference. Let’s get those kids back to playing (and ditch the toys that play for them…).