Check out the best toys for toddlers. This curated toddler gift guide showcases a wide range of toys designed to foster their independent play and become “forever toys.” This toy list helps build a strong foundation for a child’s play and learning future.
What are the best toys for toddlers?
The best toys for toddlers are the ones that inspire play.
Play is the backbone and foundation of childhood and learning (how many times have we heard that rhetoric?), but let’s expand on this idea: if play is the work of childhood, then toys are the tools for that play.
As caregivers, we are the gatekeepers of toys.
It is our job to be selective and critical with toy purchases and what toys come into our homes. Toys are not just “stuff” for kids to have. Toys are tools.
While I never want to put additional pressure on parents, owning the “right” toys (aka the right tools) can make or break a child’s ability to play independently. Being that play is where children learn and develop their most critical skills, toys take on a whole new meaning.
Note: It’s important to understand that the price of a toy does not dictate it’s value. The best toy for toddlers are not the most expensive toys.
Are there “right toys” for toddlers?
Having the “right toys” doesn’t mean having the most expensive toys. It also doesn’t mean having the most toys possible, the biggest toys, or the flashiest toys.
The “right toy” is the toy that support a child’s play.
This will look different from child to child, as developmental needs vary from child to child.
I ask – and it’s a big ask – that you consider the power of classic, timeless, open-ended toys. Look for toys that are child-operated, rather than battery-powered. Consider toys that put children in the “driver’s seat” of play.
Instead of being swayed by the latest, greatest, flashiest, and trendiest toys with bells and whistles and buttons to push, remember those toys often have the shortest shelf life with kids.
We want the opposite.
We want kids to build deep and lasting relationships with toys. We want kids to keep coming back to toys, to grow with the toy, and for the toy to have meaning in the child’s life and play.
This doesn’t always happen with toys that are trendy and flashy.
It does often happen with toys that are timeless and classic.
Please note: Some seemingly “flashy or trendy” toys will hold your child’s attention for years or are very necessary for their personal development. “Toys are tools and we must be thoughtful about them is the message to leave this article with. If a toy is a tool for your child and their play, that toy has value.
How to choose the best toys for toddlers
Toddlers need access to a variety of toys as they start to navigate personal interests and develop a play personality. It’s so important to have a range of toys so toddlers can explore play.
As you build your toddler’s toy collection, think of having a few items from each of these toy categories:
- Toys that move (cars, trucks)
- Toys that roll (balls)
- Toys for care giving (dolls, animals)
- Toys for imaginary play (dress up, play food, scarves)
- Toy for practicing social scenes (dollhouse, play kitchen, garage)
Think about the longevity of a toy: will the child still enjoy this in a year?
Think about the size of a toy: can this fit in our play space?
Think about the use of the toy: is this a toy that can be used in different ways?
Toys don’t have a gender
Remember, as you build your toddler’s toy collection, that toys are gender neutral.
Please don’t skip past a play kitchen, doll house, or cars because of preconceived ideas of toys.
All kids deserve a chance to cook, care give, practice social scenes, or race vehicles. All toys are for all kids, no matter what any marketing department tells you.
A note about these gift guides
In my previous gift guide (best toys for one year olds) and the next list in the series (best toys for preschoolers), I share a host of quality open-ended toys that have been loved by my family for nearly a decade.
While these lists attach ages to toys, that’s really a fallacy.
These are toys for all ages of children. I create my gift guides based on generalities, information on when children may first like a toy, but not on black and white rigid timelines.
Example: The game Monopoly says it’s “for ages 8+.” This doesn’t mean only eight-year-olds like Monopoly.
Toy lists are the same.
Toys have a broad age range. Do not be confined to the specific age of your child. Look at other guides too.
Revealed: The best toys for toddlers gift guide
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The GOAT of open-ended toys. Every home needs a set of wooden blocks, in my humble opinion. This simple set is the best, and has been a played with every day in our home since 2014. Nine years of play with one toy. Not too bad.
This is a treasure! Kids can load up their blocks, bears, babies, and anything else to travel around with. It’s just the right size for imaginary play and actual functionality.
Dust! Sweep! Mop!
There is a reason this toy has 16,000 reviews and a 5-star rating. It’s magical. My kids are 7, 8, and 10 and they still play with this set daily. It may not look like it, but this has longevity.
A wooden farm that opens and comes with little animals? It’s a solid yes. From toddlers to elementary school players, this little barn works for all levels of play and grows with a child.
Sweetest little set of wooden animals and just the right size for play. These have years of longevity and fit for multiple ages, plus they stack which is a fun bonus.
We love Green Toys vehicles and this 3-pack is a wonderful gift set. The small size is great for little hands and won’t clog up the playroom.
Miniature Magnetic Tiles
These are miniature. They aren’t the same as the regular size. Magnetic tiles are fantastic but in my experience the regular size can be harder for little hands to work with. The mini size is way better for toddlers (and for away from home play). Toddlers to big kids: everyone has loved these at my house.
Simple vehicles are where it’s at. No need for lights, sirens, and batteries – these kid powered vehicles are perfection. I love this fire truck. It’s right size and totally basic (in a good way).
Other Great Vehicle Toys
Horse Riding Stick
Bear with me: I know this is a simple, throw back toy but it’s one my kids have loved for years. Then the neighbor toddler got one too, and well, this old-fashioned toy has earned it’s spot.
This is a joy. Young toddlers to big kids (yeah, I’ve seen my 10-year-old riding this) will love scooting around. I linked to the smaller size, but a larger one is available.
I believe in the power of animals in a toddler’s play. Opposite of small animal toys, are these jumbo animal sets. We love having all kinds of animal sizes – each fulfills a different role and need in our play. For scale, the giraffe in this set is almost 12-inches tall.
Other Jumbo Sets
This truck is such a legend: it’s cool, the cars are cool, the whole thing… it’s a great gift and an even better toy.
Absolutely love these calm down sensory tubes (each does something different). There are four so you can spread them out or keep them all together. These are amazing for kids – we have loved owning this set.
If you have a car loving toddler, this is a great garage to start with and may be all you need throughout the years. It’s small, basic, but perfect for being the center of car play.
My First Shaving Kit
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. We’ve had this one for 6 years – it’s a joy for ALL my kids.
Other Larger Doll Houses
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 dinosaurs are a good one to own.
Toddler Logic Puzzle
An absolute stand out. This is a new release from HABA that we have loved. It’s basically a toddler logic puzzle, and it’s so well made. Problem solving, critical thinking, and cute wooden pieces to boot. This is a 10/10.
Another gender neutral toy: a play kitchen is the best.
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). We also have the matching refrigerator.
A GREAT toy for dramatic play – a cash register turns a playroom into a restaurant, grocery store, bank or shop. This is a fantastic toy (and it’s a good simple size).
If a kitchen is in your gifting plan, check out this set up food. It also comes with a “wicker” basket and grocery store basket. My kids LOVE it.
Doctor’s Play Kit
Empathy skills are a big learning goal in early childhood, and practicing caregiver skills is one way kids grow empathy in play. A simple doctor’s kit is a staple. I love the twist of this kit (and so have my kids): all the doctor supplies store inside an ambulance.
Other Doctor Kits
I love these self contained mazes where motor skills and spatial awareness develop. No pieces to lose and kids keep coming back to these for a reason.
Real Toy Sink
Let me tell you: this viral sensation lives up to the hype. I wish I’d had this when my kids were toddlers… instead we have it now. And all of them at ages 7, 8, and 10 (along with the toddler neighbors) adore this toy. It’s a winner.
If a ride-on, push trike is on your mind, this is the one. We’ve had this in our neighborhood for years now and countless toddlers have started their riding life on it. It’s perfect.
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.
An open-ended toy that most every house has or should have! LEGO bricks are full of learning and fun, and Duplos start kids building in the right direction.
This was a surprise hit for our family. The animals come apart and can be reconfigured, which adds a silly element that my kids deeply love. From neighbor kids (age 2) to my oldest (age 10), this toy has some serious magic.
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?
Related: Don’t miss my best puzzles for kids gift guide filled with amazing puzzle ideas.
Plush Barn with Animals
My daughter got this for her 2nd birthday – it’s still in her play rotation. She’ll be 9 in January. It’s a favorite of every kid from age 2-12 that visits. It’s sweet, simple, and keeps kids playing.
Whether it’s indoor construction or real outdoor digging, a simple set of construction trucks – no batteries needed – make for some sweet play time. We’ve had this set since my oldest son’s first birthday. Nine years later, they still get the play job done.
Magnetic Car Loader
One of my kids noticed this wasn’t on my gift guides and they led a small revolt. Not surprising. This was a 2nd birthday gift from eight years ago and it’s still beloved. It’ll end up in our “grandparent box.”
A good train set is a great open-ended investment: something to build with, imagine with, and interact with. This is a great place to start. The set comes in a clear tub and the lid is the mountains you can see in the photo. It is compatible with other sets.
These little wooden vehicles offer a big surprise: not only are they fun on their own, but they’re compatible with wooden train tracks. That’s huge in the world of train building, and makes these a great add-on to a growing train or cars collection.
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.
Oh this sweet little toy has so many possibilities: use it in a sensory bin, use it in the bath, use it with muddy play outside, use it all by itself. Each piece comes apart for endless flower building. Kids love creating new bouquets and arrangements and incorporating this into their imaginary play.
Frequently Asked Questions
Each child has different tastes in toys, similar to having different tastes in food. Rather than look for one “unicorn” toy that fulfills every child’s wish, I’d make sure 2 year olds have a variety of toys to explore as they form their personal tastes for toys.
Have toys for building, toys for creating, toys for empathy (doll), toys for imaginary play (costume, kitchen, doll house, wand), toys that are animals and toys that are vehicles.
That’s personal to the family. Each family has different variables: size of home, number of children, and budget. And each child has a different level of toy needs. Some will be fine with more toys. Some will need fewer toys.
My suggestion: watch the child in play. If they have a hard time finding toys or making a decision of what to play with, that’s often a sign the child has access to too many toys.
More toys doesn’t equal more play, but at the same time “more” and “less” are subjective.
Two year olds should have access to a variety of toys, and have options to find their path, develop skills, and learn through play. They do this best with variety.
Giving opportunities to play with a range of toys (not just one style) will allow the child to build a wider range of skills. As mentioned above, make sure toddlers have one toy from each play category: building, creating, imagining, caring, and driving.
NO!! This is a gift guide to help you find what your child may like or what their toy collection needs. My job is to share a wide range of toys that toddlers enjoy. Your job as toy gatekeeper is to figure out which of these toys may work best at your home and with your child.