One of the things I’ve always struggled with around Christmas and birthdays with little kids is that I have no idea what toys kids like. I mean, at one or two years old, kids don’t ask for presents yet! This is the first year that Joey is asking for specific gifts (a scooter – sure, and a horse “a real horse, not a toy horse” – um, no!) It’s especially tough when family and friends want to know what gifts to buy, and I’m like, “um, let me google that…” Joanna is now almost three (what?!) and Oliver is almost 17 months and play with pretty much all of the same toys, even if they’re a little too old for him or too young for her, so I thought it might be helpful to share what toys have worked best for us. We based this list on the things that both our kids play with most often, that have worked for them from about ages one to three*, and that we as parents don’t despise having in our house… mostly ;)
We make a huge effort to keep our toy supply minimal, so we put thought into every gift we buy and limit Christmas gifts to just one from Santa and one from us, for each kid (plus a couple of books). Their grandparents get them more, but again we put a lot of thought into the list that we give them. That means we’re not going to just buy a bunch of toys and hope they get played with. We like toys that can grow with a child, that can be used imaginatively, that don’t take up a ton of space/make a ton of noise/drive us insane. Obviously some things are more popular than others, some gifts that we might be excited about as adults aren’t so cool to kids, and some things that are super annoying to parents are the favorite of kids. And sometimes despite all our best efforts, all the kids want to play with is a piece of string and a sock!
Here are ten of of our favorites:
Toy ukulele — When Joey was little, I let her play with my ukulele and she LOVED making music (I went through a phase where I was very into learning how to play the uke. I practiced all the time. I even put on a little show for some friends. I was not good. Ha.) So when Olly was coming along, I bought a toy uke, mostly because it went with the theme of his room, but also because I wanted to have an instrument that was made for kids (instead of breaking mine). It makes them so happy to pluck the strings and hear the sounds. Kids love music and making noise!
Ice cream scoop set — I’ll admit I only bought this because it’s cute and because Andy makes ice cream, but this toy gets played with a lot in our house by both kids. Even I’ll play sometimes! The pieces are all magnetized, so you use the scooper to pick up the scoops of ice cream and put them on the cones. I only wish all of the pieces fit into the ice cream box to make it easier to put away, but it’s cute enough to leave out.
Drum set — this is one of those “I never would have bought this” gifts that is not very parent friendly, but holy moly the kids love it. They literally play with this every day, multiple times. Joey got this for her second birthday, but Olly loves to play with it too. It has a lot of settings that allow kids to explore different sounds, from songs to instruments to animal noises, like little DJs, and there are games that our kids don’t play yet. Sure it’s noisy, but it’s worth it for something that the kids enjoy… and at this point I have learned to totally tune it out!
Alex learn to dress kitty — This adorable stuffed animal features zippers, buttons, snaps, pockets, shoes and socks — all the things little kids love. Joey got this doll when she was about one, and now Olly is at the age where he is becoming really interested in playing with it as well. The best part is, even once the novelty of zippers wears off, this doll is still just a really sweet, cuddly, large stuffed animal that can be hugged and loved and played with for years.
Magnet tiles — One of our newer toys, this has been a huge hit. The magnetized pieces all fit together so you can build 3 dimensional shapes and buildings, whatever you can imagine. Joey loves to build so she spends a lot of time making things and gets so much pride in showing us her creations. Olly doesn’t know how to build on his own yet, but he enjoys snapping the pieces together … and smashing whatever his sister builds!
Shape sorter — We have this Vtech shape sorter drum, which is a little noisy and annoying but not the worst and the kids like it (I usually just try not to turn it on). We also were given a hand-me-down, old-fashioned Tupperware shape sorter that I really love because it’s simple and doesn’t make noise, and the kids love it just as much as, if not more than, the noisy one. I try to rotate them out so the kids can play with each of them and reinforce their learning in different ways. Now that Joey is past wanting/needing to learn her shapes, she likes to take the shapes out and use them in other imagination games, which I think is a good way to extend the life of toys.
Wooden blocks –This is just the perfect kind of basic toy that every kid should have. At Joey’s age, she loves to build houses and castles. Olly loves to move all the blocks from one place to another and takes that activity very seriously. I know this is something that we can have in the playroom for years.
Housekeeping set — Toddlers LOVE to help and I will encourage that as much as possible! They love to grab a broom and “help” us sweep the floor whenever we’re sweeping, and I love that they get a sense of accomplishment and pride from doing it. This set comes with a broom, mop, duster, and dustpan and both of our kids love to play with it. Joey got this for Christmas last year and it’s been played with every single day since then. If only it would last through age 18!
Two-piece puzzle — This one is a bit of a stretch because Olly isn’t playing with it yet (other than to just look at the puzzle pieces), but I wanted to include it because it’s a toy I like. I can’t remember exactly when Joey started being able to put puzzles together, but this was the first one she did. It is a set of ten two-piece puzzles that teach animals and their homes — matching a horse to a stable, a bird to a nest, etc. Joey loved playing with this on her own and with me, and now that she has outgrown the puzzle part of it we use it to play a “memory” game together that I really like.
Reusable coloring books — I recently discovered these reusable coloring books and they’re life changing. Kids use water to “paint” the page and reveal an image, and when it dries, the image goes away, so it can be played with over and over unlike a traditional coloring book. These are a great way to keep a kid occupied without making a mess, and both of my kids enjoy them. They’ve also discovered it’s fun to use the paintbrush to “paint” on our chalkboard wall, and since it’s just water, that’s totally fine with me!!
I’m interested to see how this list changes as our kids gets older because I think Olly will naturally always play with whatever Joey’s playing with even if it’s “too old” for him, and Joey tends to want to play with whatever Olly is currently playing with, as if there aren’t ANY other toys. Do you have any toys that you would add to this list? We’d love to hear!!
*Some of these toys might be recommended for an older age group. Use your discretion to determine what you think your own child can handle safely.