Call me a toy snob, but those irritating noise-making toys drive me nuts. You know, the ones that sing obnoxious songs and then when the batteries start wearing out, the singing toy sounds like it’s dying… They always seem to be stuck underneath a pile of something and keep going off over and over.
When someone asks what the girls want/ need for a birthday or Christmas gift, or when I have a little amazon credit from Swagbucks, I usually lean towards toys that are hands-on, fun for more than 5 minutes, and will grow with my kids.
Disclaimer #1: My kids really enjoy playing with non-toy items! So much so, that I wrote a whole post about their favorite “trashy” toys to play with – “trashy” meaning toys made from things around our house.
Disclaimer #2: I have bought very few toys for our kids. Their relatives and friends are very very generous and shower our kids with very fun presents that we probably wouldn’t buy during our debt-payoff journey. Not to mention, friends and family almost exclusively clothe our kids too! So – public shoutout to our generous family and friends!! 🙂
Disclaimer #3: we do have a few obnoxious-noise-making toys my kids love. Including this and this and this. Also, my kids are drawn towards these toys at other people’s houses because they’re “special.” I just get tired of the sounds. Sometimes my “parenting decisions” are about me not my kids. Maybe i should work on that!? #selfishparenting
If you find yourself shopping for a kid under 3, here’s my opinion on the 8 best toys for toddlers in no particular order.
#1 Fisher Price Little Builders
We have the farm set pictured below, which I bought for $8 at a local kids resale shop.
She was playing with these a couple months ago – quietly concentrating for a long time. (Well, 6 minutes. “Long time” is relative.) I was in the other room. Then she gasped and exclaimed dramatically, “Look mama! I did all the things!”
Yep, that’s all the things. Something about the shape of these blocks and the way they fit together and come apart makes them really great for 1 year olds especially. Easy to put together and take apart (a little easier than megablocks or duplos), but not as tumbly as wooden blocks.
I haven’t seen that same farm set anywhere, but this one* looks like a great starter set.
#2 TEXO building toys
Addie got this toy as a gift for her second birthday from her Aunt & Uncle and it has been well-loved. I would put it in the tinker toys genre.
It comes with a book with ideas of things to build and they’re really fun.
Ben and I Our kids love it.
At first, right around when she turned 2, she liked just fitting the pieces together like a puzzle or building towers.
She currently likes to fill every hole and spin them around. #safetyfirst
Emma likes to pull the sticks out. They make a good team. This 2 minute long video might be a little long if you’re not a grandmother of these children, but still, it’s pretty cute.
More recently, we’ve pulled out the manual/ building guide that came with the kid and it has a ton of fun ideas for things to build. She and I worked on a house the other day.
Right after this, Emma came charging into the scene and toppled the whole thing over. There were tears. Learning to handle disappointment – these are the “intangibles” that toys + siblings provide us, folks. 😉
These Texo toys are made by Guidecraft and come in 65, 100, or 210 piece sets. I’m guessing we’ll add to our collection over time. At the time I’m writing this, you can buy the 65-piece kit on amazon for $20.99 (prime eligible) or the 100-piece set for $20.49. The 100 piece kit retails for $57 so that’s a good deal! 🙂
#3 – A baby doll + stroller
Addie’s favorite baby is my old bitty baby, who is very loved but has some scars.
She loves to read to her, push her around in a stroller, pretend feed her with recycled baby food jars and formula containers. I bought a doll stroller for $10 at walmart. It’s held up SO well. This Amazon stroller looks decent too.
[Update – Addie was gifted a second stroller for her 3rd birthday, so now the girls LOVE to push them around together. Or crash into each other. The strollers are actually the go-to item that gets fought over at play dates too. The little boys and girls alike love pushing things or other kids around in our baby doll strollers!]
#4 – Puzzles
Our kids both LOVE puzzles. The first one we ever had was this one:
When she turned one, she was gifted this awesome Melissa and Doug puzzle holder & puzzle set! We keep it in a corner of our living room with a sheet nearby so that an emergency puzzle fort can be made at any time.
Both girls LOVE this chunky shape puzzle.
Somehow, both our children have loved (and still love) puzzles. We own each of these types of puzzles, and they are all very well loved. I labeled the types of puzzles with what I think is the approximate age group for each puzzle, and there are some links below.
Some of the Melissa & Doug chunky puzzles stack, as pictured above. 2 skills in one!
Addie did the number/color/letter knob puzzles around 15-18 months and learned her uppercase letters, numbers, and colors. She especially liked mixing up all the fish colors to be funny 🙂 Let it be noted, I have not done any of these with Emma and she’s now 18 months old. #secondchildproblems
The 12 piece wooden puzzles are a great transitional puzzle to go from toddler puzzles to jigsaw puzzles. The States Puzzle taught Addie her states! If she ever hears someone mention a state, she yells out, “oh that’s like in my states puzzle.” The jumbo floor puzzles were a favorite starting around age 2 1/2. [Update: the jumbo floor puzzles are still her favorite at age 3 1/2. She’s done 24-40 piece ones over and over until she memorizes them, so we’ll probably get a couple bigger ones soon.]
Other ways to find new puzzles are: craigslist, library, garage sales, or swap with a friend.
#5 – Magnatiles
These are a new toy for the girls – they were gifted for Emma’s birthday. I first saw them at a friend’s house – she had a 5 year old and twin toddlers, and said it was one of the toys they play with a LOT at every age. So far, that’s been true for us too. And I’m not going to lie, Ben and I may or may not think they’re pretty fun.
We also sometimes lay them out flat and make roads or patterns. Or we put them all over the fridge or dishwasher.
This is the set we have. I’ve also seen other brands on Amazon that were a little less expensive. This Playmags set looks fun.
#6 – Duplos
Addie never gets tired of these. They’re toddler sized legos. I mentioned before we have this cute build-and-read lego set.
But the girls also just like to build random things – towers and other imaginative concoctions. I also usually bring a few in the car for long trips. Those can last a long time of car-ride entertainment. And by long time, I mean 5 to 10 minutes. It’s definitely another ‘collection’ we’ll be adding to over time. Here are a couple good starter kits on amazon: lots of duplo blocks, OR a variety “deluxe” set with some characters too.
[Update: at 21 months and 3 years old, duplos are one of our kids’ FAVORITE toys, and they have been for months. Our 3 year old loves building this set with the directions and some help from mom and dad. Our 21 month old loves stacking pieces on top of each other. They play with them every single day. #worthit]
#7 – Painting & art stuff
If I would sit with Addie and supervise art, she would do this all day. But I also have a one year old, and I don’t really want to sit around and watch her paint all day. Is that selfish? Probably. (I feel like we’ve already talked about #selfishparenting). Anyway, our painting setup is as independent as possible and once I get her set up, she’ll sometimes paint by herself for 20 minutes or so. A friend gifted us this awesome ikea easel & paper roll so she loves to paint on that. Or here’s a similar one on Amazon.
We also have colored pencils, crayons, markers, do-a-dot paints, & dry erase markers in the kitchen. I always thought I’d be one of those moms who does cute pinterest art projects, but I’m not. Maybe as they get older? It doesn’t feel worth it right now when painting on blank paper and coloring in dollar store coloring books will suffice 🙂 I just print the do-a-dot pictures for free online. Google “free do a dot pictures.”
#8 – Trains
I see these a lot on craigslist and FB garage sale sites. Here’s a good starter track set for $28. If your budget is slightly bigger, this one ($40) looks similar to ours – tracks, accessories, and trains. Random fun fact – don’t worry about brand. All the train track toy companies agreed to a standard fit so that they’d work together. Don’t ask me how I know this.
And if you made it to the end of this SUPER LONG post, CONGRATULATIONS!! You get a bonus tip!!! 😉 Wood glue that darn train bridge together. It holds up well and is so much easier and more fun for the littles to play with. It’s the small things.
Well, those are the 8 most played with toys at our house these days.
So, I have to ask… What toys do your kids like? (all ages recommendations welcome)
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