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There you are.
Standing in the toy aisle.
You look up, instantly feeling dwarfed by the row upon row of brightly-colored boxes. Somewhere, the bleep/blurp of a rogue too-cheerful toy echoes throughout the store.
Quickly, you pinch yourself to make sure you’re not lost in some Stephen King nightmare.
This is real. The sooner you can get out of this unique form of purgatory the better. Of course, you can’t leave until you’ve picked out the best toddler toy from the the plethora of best baby toys that exist for your Itty Bitty Busy Bee.
How to Find the Best Toddler Toy for Your Toddler
Okay. First things first. How do you know, of these zillions of options, which toy your toddler will actually play with? And which one will be tossed aside for the box instead?
- Option A: Write each toy manufacturer, and ask them to submit testing samples for you and your friends to use. Then create a 150-question survey for everyone to fill out, analyzing the results to determine the best toddler toys. (Don’t forget to remove those outliers!)
- Option B: Read through this article and cheat off someone else’s survey work. Then choose the toy(s) that you feel fit your toddler’s personality best.
Obviously, being the
lazy time-saving delegator that I am, I would recommend Option B.
In fact, let me go a step further and save you from that real-life toy store nightmare completely: I have linked all these toddler toys directly to Amazon (they usually have the cheapest price anyways), so you can skip the haunting toy-aisle altogether.
Different Types of Toddler Toys for Different Types of Play
Not all playtime is created equal. It’s actually really helpful for your child’s brain development if you sprinkle in various forms of “play”. I’ve split these toys up into various “Best Toddler Toy” categories to give you examples for each type.
- Active Play – Moving those arms and legs around, working on balance and gross motor skills.
- Pretend Play – Stimulating the imagination and problem solving skills.
- Cooperative Play – Learning how to work amicably with other kids.
- Quiet-Time Play – Learning how to occupy the mind in gentle ways, preparing for rest time.
- Educational Play – Sneaking in some brain time when he’s not looking
Let me get started breaking down the best toddler toys in each category.
The Best Toddler Toys for Active Play
Help your toddler burn off that extra morning energy with these fun active toddler toys. The more physical activity you can introduce at this early stage, the healthier your toddler will become!
#1.) Dancing Hip Hop Goose
This silly Dancing Hip Hop Goose dances like Justin Timberlake! It will be impossible for your toddler to sit still with this toy. When your toddler picks him up by the neck (because he will), this Ryan Gosling struggles and asks to be put back down so he can keep dancing. A fantastic toy!
#2.) iPlay Bouncy Unicorn Plush
Once winter sets in and your toddler is pinging off the walls, you’ll thank me for introducing you to this Bouncy Unicorn Plush. She will bounce out all her wiggles and be ready for good long nap. You’re welcome. Also comes as a cow, horse, or bull.
#3.) The Croco Balance Bike
The Croco Balance Bike is consistently listed in the top best balancing bikes. Not only will this toy help your toddler practice his hand-and-eye coordination, it an easy way to help him master balance, without the panic that we experienced when we were trying to learn to bike! Super lightweight, this awesome toy is ready to go out of the box, no assembly required!
#4.) Turtle Steps
Turtle Steps is a game you can play with your toddler, making it a thousand times more exciting. Set the “shells” out in the living room, and let your toddler pick a card to see where he should step next. Not only will this give him a chance to practice his balance, he will have to learn his colors too! A scary-free version of “the floor is lava.”
The Best Toddler Toys for Pretend Play
I’ve said this before, but pretend play has a huge impact on your child’s brain development. It can boost vocabulary, decision-making, independence, social skills, and how to express their feelings in a safe environment. It’s where they test out new phrases and work out why things happen the way they do.
Here are the best toddler toys for encouraging a steady healthy diet of pretend play at your house.
#1.) Best Chefs Kitchen Playset
One of my earliest childhood memories of pretend play involved making “food” for my mother to eat. The Best Chefs Kitchen Playset has everything from a kettle for tea to a recycling bin. (Start ’em young, right?)
#2.) Interactive Vet Kit
The Interactive Veterinarian Kit provides your toddler with everything he needs to keep the included plushie strong and healthy. Encourage empathy by letting him check ears, bandage legs, and give lots of kisses.
#3.) Ships Ahoy! High Seas Rocker
Yes, the Ships Ahoy Rocker adds something beautiful to your nursery, but that’s not all it’s good for! This Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award Winner will stir up all kinds of swashbuckling adventures. Don’t forget the eye-patch and ripped trousers, ye scurvy dawg!
#4.) Camping Tent Set
Set your toddler up in the living room with this fantastic camping tent set. For bonus fun, hide the plastic bugs around the room and challenge him to find them while you are making dinner. For bonus bonus fun, hide his favorite stuffed animals, hand him a flashlight, and set him off on a Living Room Safari, while you and Dad make monkey noises on the side. (My kids loved that game!)
The Best Toddler Toys for Cooperative Play
Name ONE toddler in the history of all toddlerdom who didn’t need to practice the sometimes-not-gentle art of cooperative play.
I thought so. Here are four of the best toddler toys that actually involve…*gulp*… learning to share.
#1.) Build-Your-Own Marble Run
Looking for something for your toddler and preschooler to do together? This is it. The Build-Your Own Marble Run creates zillions of different ways these blocks can be constructed to create new runs. A fantastic STEM game for early development!
#2.) Scavenger Hunt Cards
These Scavenger Hunt Cards are designed to encourage cooperative play by recognizing objects, and enhancing problem-solving skills. Here are a few examples of what your toddler will be searching for:
- Can you find something scratchy?
- Can you find something blue?
- Can you find a chair?
- Can you find a hat?
#3.) Construction Site Jumbo Puzzle
At almost two-feet square, the Construction Site Jumbo Puzzle is big enough for your toddler to put together, challenging his fine motor skills, but not so much he gets frustrated. It’s whimsical construction-dog design will fascinate your little builder until the very end!
#4.) Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game
Sneaky Snacky Squirrel has been one of my favorite toddler games to recommend, because I know so many families love playing it (Doubt me? Check out my article on the best family board games.) No reading required, lots of accidental learning guaranteed.
Check out all these awards: Winner of Parents’ Choice Award, Dr. Toy Best Picks, Good Housekeeping Best Toy, Canadian Toy Testing Council, and NAPPA Games Honors.
DISCLAIMER: Obviously, if your child hasn’t yet learned what things belong in his mouth (i.e. food) and what does not (i.e. marbles), I would wait a few more months before introducing this toy.
The Best Toddler Toys for Quiet-Time Play
Okay there parents, time for you to face an important truth: At some point your toddler is going to drop those naps.
There’s no need to grab that paper-sack and put your head between your knees. You’re going to just move “nap time” over to “quiet time.” This is actually a really important thing for your tiny tot, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
Here are the best toddler toys for keeping him happily distracted during the afternoon and pre-bedtime quiet playtimes. (For more on why your toddler actually needs a quiet time, read this!)
#1.) Pull-Back Dino Cars
Your toddler loves cars. He loves dinosaurs. These pull-back Dinocars are a no brainer, especially when you realize that over 7,000 parents have rated them a 5-star gift.
#2.) Build A Bouquet Flower Playset
The Build-a-Bouquet Playset is a STEM toy guaranteed to fascinate your toddler for years to come. There are over 120 pieces for her to arrange, creating all new flowers every time. In fact, when she’s done, why not recommend she color a picture of her new garden to mail to Grandma?
#3.) Magnetic Drawing Board
My girls loved this Magnetic Drawing Board. We took that thing all over the US. It was a car-ride staple. It is entirely mess-free. A simple swipe clears the board to start all over again.
#4.) Thomas & Friends Super Station
A must-have for any Thomas fan, the Super Station has over 35 feet of track and features iconic Sodor locations like Tidmouth Sheds, Knapford Sation, Brendam Docks, and others. You can also connect it to other Thomas & Friends playsets, for even more quiet-time fun.
The Best Toddler Toys for Educational Play
Our last “best toddler toys” category centers around those sneaky little educational toys. The ones that make you feel AWESOME because you know your kid is learning all kinds of stuff, and doesn’t even realize it. You go, Sneaky Mom!
#1.) Spin Again
The Spin Again toy combines stacking AND spinning. *mind=blown* Work with your toddler to practice sorting the discs by color or size, as well as practice hand-eye coordination to get the discs onto the post. Besides being our Mighty Mom’s pick, it was also awarded a Parent’s Choice Silver Honor Award in 2016.
#2.) Spike the Hedgehog
Spike the Hedgehog is a fine motor skill triumph with over 33,000 parental reviews on Amazon. (In case you’re wondering, over 27,000 of those were 5-star ratings.) It’s simple. You pick the color or the number, your toddler selects the spike and inserts it. Easy, but still a toddler educational powerhouse.
#3.) Stack and Sort
The Stack and Sort is another puzzle that your toddler can use for years to come. Start easy, by letting your toddler figure out which shapes go on which pegs. Then, when she has that master, show her one of the cards and ask her to recreate the design. A sure-fire winner.
#4.) City Construction Stacker
The City Construction Stacker provides everything your toddler needs to design his own city, including the streets and the cars. Let him practice his fine motor skills by building skyscrapers in the living room. (And then, of course, channeling his inner Godzilla to knock them all down!)
The Best Toddler Toys for Your Little Tyke
We have successfully avoided the Nightmare on Toy Street, true, but you still have to actually click your finger to finish your purchase.
So why is your finger still hovering? Oh! I get it. You’re still feeling a little unsure. After all, just because these toys have all been vetted and stamped with “Award Winner,” how do you know that YOUR child will squeal with excitement when the wrapping paper gets ripped off?
Can I make a suggestion? Take a minute or two to think over your child’s current favorite toys. When he’s at a playdate, what types of toys does he gravitate towards most? The train set? The toddler kitchen? The trampoline?
Then look over these toys again. My guess is you’ll know right away which are going to be the best toddler toys for your little tyke!
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