What makes a toddler toy a “GOOD” toy?
We’re all tired of noise making toys that have a 3 month age expiration, date, right? So we found quality options that meet the following criteria:
- doesn’t take a lot of space (relative to intended use)
- quiet enough to survive (no electronic noise, no whistles or screeches)
- educational, sensory rich, or designed for motor function skills
- is interesting for multiple age phases (minimum of 2 years of use)
- does not use LED or blue light (proven to inhibit sleep patterns)
- doesn’t need batteries
With these specifications in mind, we have rounded up the best of the best for your toddler! From 12 months to 3 years should be able to enjoy each of these and benefit from using them, all while keeping from driving you crazy! And the best part? No maintenance required.
2017’s Best Educational and Mentally Stimulating Christmas Presents For Toddlers
GuideCraft Grippies Magnetic Building Kit
Skill Set: STEM Introduction
Age Range: 8 Months – 10 Years
Magnetic building kits are probably in our favorite toy lists for every age range this year. The creativity and longevity of these STEM sets are unmatched.
The Grippies brand set, in particular, is stellar because it engages older kids with its functionality (not to mention adults: who doesn’t love sticking magnets together?) but the wide ends and stimulating grips on each piece mean that your child will transition them from chew toys to building pieces almost seamlessly.
Think your baby is too young to build? You’d be surprised! Watching their minds recognize the cause and effect of seeing and feeling two Grippie pieces pull together is something you will want to have on camera. It’s like a whole new world opens to them when they feel that solid little click!
If you’re wanting to encourage your older children to engage with your toddlers, this is the toy that will make it a natural occurrence!
- These pieces are built to be sturdy and long lasting, regardless of how addicted your little ones are to them!
- The use of magnets and shapes bridges multiple age gaps so that all the members of your crew will be excited to engage with them.
- Use of soft, and yet pretty, vibrant colors make them a feast for the eyes as well as the hands.
- Appropriate for either gender without customization or changes
- STEM toy for problem-solving skills for infants and toddlers, and teaching the function of magnets for older children.
- Expansions possible – more sets equal more building options, and more building options mean more hours of play!
- Rubber material means they are not noisy to play with, or likely to be damaging or painful if thrown or used as a sword by a distracted tot.
- Rubber attracts dust and hair which can be annoying. Vacuuming before play and using them on non-carpeted surfaces is a good bet for avoiding this, as well as using an anti-static spray on them occasionally.
Fat Brain Toys Tobbles Neo Stackers
Skill Set: Fine Motor Skills
Age: 6 Months – 2 years
This new take on an old classic allows toddlers a lot of grace for inaccurate stacking. With careful weighting done so that they can be stacked and nested in haphazard ways, they add to the fun of toppling the stack over by spinning on their bases!
The grippable textures and invitingly vivid colors beg your toddler to attempt to layer them onto each other, instilling basic physics and cause and effect into their minds as they watch the towers grow and tumble.
- These wiggling, spinning, toppling pieces are inviting for creative play because of the variety of possible combinations and movements.
- The Tobbles are great for multi-person play in the form of stacking competitions and silly “knock down” games.
- Delightful sensory play for little hands is due to textures, edges, and weights, giving them a somewhat addicting aspect for children who are especially atune to touch sensors.
- It’s tempting to little ones to use as hard tossing balls instead of stacking pieces.
- Occasional issues with pieces breaking in half at the seam line mean you may want to keep that receipt on hand for a possible replacement!
LEGO DUPLO Building Blocks
Skill Set: Motor Function skills
Age Range: 18 months – 5+ years
I’m always surprised at how tiny hands can figure out DUPLO blocks.
I love them, not just as an intro to LEGOs, but as a kid-friendly and endlessly creative toy. I know 10-year-olds who are still happy to flop down next to a pile of these blocks and build away with the toddlers. They function exactly like LEGO blocks, but with a size and ease of attachment that lets the littles use them for years.
And they are easy to clean. (You can buy a cheap mesh bag and throw them in the washing machine)
And they make good bathtime toys.
And you can expand and customize your collection as much as you want.
These are an all-around classic win that encourages creativity while giving incredible fine motor practice.
- Due to being made by LEGO, there is a wide age range and variety of options for customizing to your child. From cowboys to spaceships to doll houses and kittens, DUPLO has pretty much every option available.
- Excellent to use these for teaching early stage math and color skills.
- Great for refining fine motor skills and grows with the kids.
- You can throw them in the washer in a mesh bag for quick sterilization.
- Can be noisy — we recommend using them in a carpeted space
- Killer awful to step on with bare feet. The plus side of that is that it will be a soft intro to actual LEGOS. Kind of like walking barefoot in the yard gets you ready to brave the gravel driveway.
Green Toys Model Cars, Trucks, Airplanes
These solid little classic toys are a fantastic size for little kids, and lightweight enough to not overwhelm them.
With a quality construction, we’ve personally had ours for years now, and they still look new. They go out in the backyard and to the bathtub and hold up well to all the love (and tough love) that the 3 and 7-year-olds give them.
The rounded edges and lightweight also mean that the 13-month-old is now choosing the bright colored airplane out of piles of toys on a regular basis.
Constructed from 100% recycled material, completely free of BPA and phthalates, and dishwasher safe, the selection of classically styled vehicles is completely essential to every child’s collection!
- Recycled and “green” materials come from chemical free milk jugs to ensure that your kid isn’t playing with toxic materials.
- Rounded edges to prevent scraping.
- Durable build that will hold up to yard or bathtub. Or camping trips. Or ballet class. Or whatever random places a three year old carries their favorite car.
- Dishwasher safe for super easy cleaning.
- Made in the US to minimize emission needs.
- Also available: seaplanes, helicopters, trucks, submarines, cars, tea sets, etc.
- I haven’t actually found any 😉
Janod Crazy Doggy Wooden Cart
This little cart is weighted well enough that with a few toys thrown in as extra weight it is ideal as a push walker to help your infant learn to walk, but then will continue to be a favorite for the next several years as it acts as a shopping cart, stroller, lawn mower, or whatever else your toddler’s heart desires.
Whether you choose the doggy cart or the stinking adorable rabbit cart, your kiddos will spend hours pushing and pulling all their best stuffed animals and dollies all over the house.
Toddlers will effortlessly graduate from learning to walk by using the carts as support to enjoying them as shopping buggies, strollers, picnic baskets, zoo carts, cars, and every other vehicle imaginable for all of their toy friends!
- These carts are built durable and are good for many year’s use – potentially a multi-generation toy. How cute would it be if your grandkids learned to walk behind this one after you pull it out of the attic 25 years from now?
- Genderless but adorable — everyone in the family can enjoy these and there’s no need to replace them for the next baby.
- Unobtrusively small, but large enough for older kids to enjoy. They also make cute nursery decor when baby is too young to enjoy them!
- Not quite heavy enough for a learning walker without adding a few things to weigh it down, but neither is my Fisher Price walk behind lion toy that has creepy giggles that go off in the middle of the night.
Hape Pound and Tap Bench With Slide Out Xylophone
Skill Set: auditory, motor skills, cause and effect
Age Range: Infant – 3+ years
Hape has done it again, with an ace level quality toy that hits on every area. Your xylophone toy just got combined with your hammer toy, and together they are quieter and more fun than ever before.
For infants, the bright colored wooden balls are intriguing and a great size for holding and rolling.
As a toddler, hammering the balls through their spots so that they roll down the keys with a pleasant chiming sound becomes both entertaining and emotionally rewarding.
As they continue to grow the xylophone and hammer become a musical instrument that they can play real tunes on.
- Beautiful, vivid colors and real wood construction equal a feast for the eyes and hands.
- Gentle sounds for many types of play make it unoffensive, especially in a play room or bedroom. Probably not the best livingroom toy, though.
- Musical concept training shows that different keys generate different tones and pitches.
- Cause and effect training from knocking the balls through the holes to generate music.
- The xylophone has been reported to be out of tune for the last couple of years, without improvement noted — Hape doesn’t seem to mind. Those who have never had any musical training aren’t likely to mind, but avoid this toy if you can’t ignore an out of tune scale.
CaaOcho Baby 4″ Sensory Natural Rubber Rainbow Ball
Skill set: sensory play, motor skills
Age range: infant – ?
Especially a bright colored ball with awesome patterns and textures on it?
CaaOcho made this 4″ ball the perfect size for an infant to be able to grip and a toddler or preschooler to still want to play with. The raised and divoted patterns in each section make it a thrilling sensory piece, while the rainbow colors are beautiful and visually pleasing.
It may seem silly to list a ball in “greatest toys of 2017”, but for thousands of years there hasn’t been anything invented that holds a child’s attention or stimulates their play as well as a simple round creation.
Finding ways to enhance what is proven to already be the best is the ultimate way to move forward.
- Painted with gorgeously vivid primary colors arranged in a rainbow pattern for visual flow. So much more pleasant than black and white polka dots.
- 6 different tactile textures for stimulation and sensory delight. I can’t hardly let go of it to share with baby.
- 4″ size means easy for small hands to hold but large enough to not get easily lost or forgotten. Also, this size translates into a perfect “catch” ball for beginning to learn to play.
- Completely chemical free materials for absolutely safe chewing and licking (you know they do it) play. No worries about scraping paint off with their teeth, because the paint is certified food grade!
- Natural rubber smell with zero chemical off-gassing scents. While natural rubber isn’t a smell we tend to love, it’s actually somewhat soothing, and less repulsive to a baby nose than the plastic and paint smells of most toys.
- Natural products are not as durable as synthesized, chemical based products. The glues don’t hold as well and you might have to replace it before your child is tired of it.
- Food grade paint is 100% safe for ingestion, but more likely to chip and fade. Use only gentle, non abrasive cleaners to preserve the bright colors as long as possible.
STOCKING STUFFER ALERT: Check out the hermetically sealed natural rubber bath toy collection by CaaOcho for adorable, super safe, won’t-grow-mold-inside stocking stuffers!
Tegu Travel Pals Building And Stacking Wooden Magnets
Skill Set: STEM, Motor function
Age Range: 0-99
The first time I was handed these blocks I felt my brain trying to explode out of my skull. Wooden blocks that were pretty and felt awesome, but that were also magnetic. It legit blew my brain.
The sensory effect of these smooth, natural pieces being drawn magnetically together is addictive.
There really isn’t another word for it.
Tegu prides themselves in making “heirloom quality” toys, meaning that they want these to last until your great grandkids throw them out the hovercar window.
Also, they’ve gone above and beyond to meet every family size and style with kits that range from the 6 piece travel set to 130 piece classroom kits that come in wooden cases.
And all of their sets are compatible with each other.
So whether you are wanting to create a collection to replace all your block and magnet sets with one beautiful brand, or just wanting a 6 piece set for a road trip, or anything in between (monsters? robots? racecars? animals?) TEGU is the brand to check out.
- Massively brain stimulating for open-ended play times that encourage self-guided, imagination-based actions.
- Ultra high-quality build that is designed in the US and manufactured in Honduras for minimum emissions.
- Super safe: Naturally safe: no lead, no plastic, non-toxic, water-based lacquer finish, no small parts
- The larger and more advanced sets have specific magnet placements that can be frustrating for small children, so the toddler starter sets are recommended for beginning building.
Step 2 Deluxe Art Master Desk
Skills: Arts and crafts, fine motor skills
Age range: 12 months – 6 years
You may think your little one is too young to benefit from a desk and chair set yet, but this low to the ground seat and dry erase surface are a perfect combination for introductory coloring and crafting.
The dry erase desk surface means that you can start your tiny one with a washable dry erase and a paper towel and watch them experiment with marking and wiping for hours on end.
As your toddler gets more interested and responsible, you can outfit the gazillions of storage spaces this art desk offers with age-appropriate supplies, eventually graduating them to watercolor paints, sharpie art supplies, craft clay, paint, scissors, and whatever else the little Van Gogh desires.
Having a designated “mess” space is also invaluable for things like Play Dough and glitter glue. So instilling in your kid that they have an “art zone” at an early age will make containment of those messes much easier later on.
I cheated a bit with this one, as it fails in one of our criteria points: it has a light that requires a battery. I personally don’t recommend using the light, since you don’t want them sitting under a bright blue bulb in the evening, but that’s up to you. If your school/playroom doesn’t have good lighting then it is necessary to prevent eye straining and frustration.
- Lots of storage spaces make this potentially a one-stop-spot for all your kid friendly craft supplies. The large bins on the side, space under the writing desk, and shelf full of compartments make it easy to organize with a large storage capacity.
- Encourages kids to organize their belongings, which we all know is a challenge!
- Compact enough to put in an out of the way place, but stil provides a designated space for creativity.
- Assembly is very difficult without a screw gun. Because the holes are not predrilled so that the screws will grip, it takes a great deal of arm strength without a power tool to help.
- The markerboard surface is a little flimsy, and a lot of parents are concerned that it won’t last, however it is only a $6.00 replacement at the replacement part website.
Hape Scoot Around Kids Wooden Ride On Balance Bike
This beautiful little wooden ride on toy is the perfect introduction to all things bicycle. It’s a timeless look, with its nontoxic yet vivid coloration and non-marking rubber-rimmed wheels, and is ideal for letting your beginning walker scoot around their bedroom and living space. Before you know it, they will be flying around with their legs lifted and a massive grin pasted on their faces.
An added bonus is the skill they will learn of climbing off and on by themselves, that will save you a lot of sanity once they are older and want constantly lifted off and onto rocking horses, swings, tricycles, and the like.
As the balance bike trend is taking off, pedaling is going out and scooting is thoroughly the “in” activity for teaching to toddlers. The more narrow base of wheels on this means that they will get marginal bits of balancing practice, and the scooting motion will prepare them to step up to a 2 wheel balance bike around 3 years old.
However, just because they graduate to a more complicated ride, that doesn’t mean they will be done with this little beauty. Until they are too heavy for it to hold them, they will enjoy rolling around the house on this beautiful chunk of wood.
- True to HAPE style, this product has super simple assembly and minimal frustration.
- Beautiful beechwood and lime green coloration makes for a soothing combination that will beautify almost any children’s environment.
- Durable build for longevity of the toy.
- Non toxic finish and materials for safe play for any child!
- Hmmm. Other than an occasional manufacturing defect, this product seems to be issue free!
Little Tikes Cozy Coupe 30th Anniversary
Skill Set: Gross Motor Skills
Age Range: 6 Months/Sitting – 8 Years
No classic toy list would be complete without a Cozy Coupe. I’m a mom now, but I actually remember a lot of hours spent playing in one of these. It was a race every time church let out to see who would claim the car first, and then reluctant turn rotations were forced by big siblings and parents.
We all wanted to drive.
And the one I played on as a little girl is still in our churchyard, being loved on a weekly basis.
Nowadays the Cozy Coupe looks a smidgen different,
but still operates the same. The major new differences that they’ve made are two very needed additions:
- A push handle in the back of the roof for parentally guided adventures.
- A removable floor board so that your tiny tot can be pushed around without their feet snagging on the ground before they are ready.
Both make me love Cozy just a little bit more.
On top of that, they’ve add a whole set of adorable options for “characters” for the car:
- the pink “princess”
- the police styled “patrol”
- the ready-to-rumble “truck”
- the sleek looking blue “sport”
- the fire truck themed “ride and rescue”
- the 30th-anniversary blue and pink “princess”
- the classic red 30th-anniversary “coupe”
So if you have a passionate little volunteer firefighter, you can get them the best outdoor toy ever invented AND a new firetruck in the same box!
- With its plastic wheels, you can designate this as an indoor or outdoor toy, and it works well in a moderately small amount of space. Since it’s moved by ‘Flinstone’ power (walking on the ground while sitting inside to push it forward) it’s slow and safe, and unlikely to destroy your home as an indoor toy.
- The flood board removes all of the concerns that parents have had in the past for kid’s feet getting twisted underneath or tiny tots sliding through the floor onto the ground.
- Putting this thing together may ruin your marriage. DON’T ASSEMBLE ON CHRISTMAS MORNING! Make sure you put it together a couple of weeks ahead of time and hide it in the garage or something like that. It comes broken down into every tiny part.
Fly Bike Foldable Indoor/Outdoor Toddlers Glide Tricycle
Skill Set: Gross Motor Skills, Balance
Age Range: Walking/1-year-old – small preschooler
Don’t mistake me for beating a dead horse after listing the Hape Balance Scooting Ride on Toy up above — this toy is for an entirely different purpose — mainly that it’s a compact toy that encourages physical activity but can go almost anywhere with you. It even fits in most stroller baskets so that if your kiddo gets worn out you can push them both home!
Also, it’s the next level of balancing practice for your toddler, since it has only one front wheel and is steered by the small, scooter styled handlebar.
The Fly Bike folds down into a fun little skateboard sized package and comes fully assembled that way so that you don’t have to even think about assembly.
The coasting motion needed for good balance bike use or riding a bicycle with no training wheels is effortlessly accomplished when this toy is introduced. None of the fear factors of a balance bike are there, but all of the muscle memory is the same and the beginnings of self-balance are established.
Not to mention that it’s so lightweight that your kid will be carrying it themselves before they grow out of it!
- It’s lightweight and super compact, making it ideal for apartment life or indoor use.
- With rubber wheels it works well indoor, on grass, or on concrete.
- Easily teaches the “coasting” method of riding.
- Folds down to a stroller or car trunk size that makes it perfect for campgrounds, parks, play dates, trail walking, outdoor festivals, and etc.
- Occasionally manufacturing defects are all we could find as dirt on this model. We’ve never had an issue with it, and the vast majority of others get years of happy use and growth out of it!
I hope you’ve enjoyed our 2017 Christmas Gift Roundup — Please share it with your children’s Grandparents, Aunts, and Uncles to ensure that you don’t lose your ever-loving mind before January 1st!