Check out the best toys for toddlers. This expertly curated gift guide showcases a wide range of toys for toddler designed to foster their independent play and become “forever toys.” Toys are the tools for play, and this list builds a strong foundation for a child’s play and learning future.
What are the best toys for toddlers?
The toys that inspire play. Those are the best toys for toddlers.
Play is the work of childhood said famed-psychologist Jean Piaget. 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 critical and specific with toy purchases and what toys come into our homes. We must be mindful of what children need and find them the best tools for their hard work.
While I never want to put additional pressure on parents, owning the “right” toys (aka 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.
Toys are not just stuff. They’re not just things for kids to own. They’re tools.
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.
RELATED: Need more toy ideas? Check out my full “Best Toys for Kids” list.
Consider these two types of toys for toddlers
Very generally speaking, two kinds of toys are marketed for toddlers: “one and done toys” and “open-ended toys.”
“One and done toys” are typically flashy. They’re trendy, may have batteries, buttons, lights and tell a child how to play with them (“Find the red square.”). These toys are typically do the playing for the child, and the child is merely participating.
One mark of this kind of toy is the lifespan: the child’s engagement and interest in this toy fades quickly. A “one and done toy” is not likely to hold your child’s attention year after year after year, like an open-ended toy is. These toys may work for the child today, but as they age, they rapidly grow out of the toy (sometimes in just a few months).
Please note my language: Often, likely, typically. Some seemingly “one and done” toys will hold your child’s attention for years or are very necessary for their personal development.
Toys are tools – that’s the message to leave this article with. If a toy is a tool for your child and their play, that toy has value.
Learning to buy open-ended toys
As you welcome toys into your home, aim to grow your open-ended toys collection.
Open-ended toys are the antithesis of “one and done toys.”
Open ended toys spark play. They hold little attention spans and they allow for creative usage. Open-ended toys grow with children and though they fall in love with them as youngsters, they continue to play with them (evolving that play) as they grow older.
The small animals my daughter got for 2nd birthday are the same ones she’s playing with today at age 7.
As opposed to trendy, flashy toys, open-ended toys are often simpler toys. They allow children to be in the driver’s seat of play. We want to see a child playing with a toy. Not a toy telling a child how to play with it.
These open-ended toys most often support independent play in early childhood.
They are the toys that will often help a toddler learn to imagine, create, and think. They’re the tools toddlers use to navigate the world, act out social situations, learn to problem solve, explore, and develop.
Open-ended toys are powerful.
How to find the best toys for kids
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.
For 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.
Please go back and review previous lists before settling on this one.
Toys don’t have a gender
This list is gender neutral (as all toys are).
Everything on this gift guide is fantastic for both boys and girls, and equally loved by all.
Please don’t skip past a play kitchen, doll house, or cars because of preconceived ideas of toys. All kids want to cook, care give, practice social scenes, or race vehicles. Toys are gender neutral, no matter what any marketing department tells you.
Revealed: The best toys for toddlers gift guide
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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.
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.
There is a reason this toy has 16,000 reviews and a 5-star rating. It’s magical. My kids are 6, 7, and 9 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.
This simple vehicle is everything in early childhood: It comes with 3 cars, the transporter truck, and endless possibilities for play. It’s just a good toy. Period.
- Ferry with 2 cars (great bathtub toy)
- Garbage truck (forever a favorite)
- Dump truck (I can’t remember play life before this truck)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 5 years – it’s a joy for ALL my kids.
- A bigger/taller version of my doll house
- Another version of the same with a few more bells and whistles
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.
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.
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.
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 6, 7, and 9 (along with the toddler neighbors) adore this toy. It’s a winner.
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! LEGOs 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 9), 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.
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.
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. It sells as a horse or unicorn… any fans of Spirit reading this?
My daughter got this for her 2nd birthday – it’s still in her play rotation. She’ll be 8 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. Eight years later, they still get the play job done.
Another GREAT toy for dramatic play – a cash register turns a playroom into a restaurant or a grocery store. This is a fantastic toy (and it’s a good simple size).
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 seven 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.
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’s a play staple.
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 good one to own.
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 (this one comes with a case for easy storage) is a staple.
Another chance for dramatic play: costumes! This is a fun collection to grow… grow this slowly and over time (more listed below).
- Chef’s costume
- Construction worker costume (holds such great memories from the past 6 years)
- Scientist costume
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.
An absolute stand out. This is a new toy 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.
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.