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The ideal gift can be hard to find, but when shopping for a toddler it should be both educational and entertaining. Luckily, play and learning are one and the same in early childhood, says Dr. Jody LeVos, chief learning officer for HOMER.
From building blocks to books and everything in between, there are tons of options out there for toddlers of all ages. Just be sure to check each pick's recommended age, educational value, and durability before you purchase.
Here, the best gifts for toddlers.
Mega Bloks 80-Piece Big Building Bag, Classic
Award-winning Mega Bloks are the perfect gift for toddlers. The Mega Bloks Big Building Bag comes with 80 durable, high-grade plastic pieces that are ergonomically designed for a toddler's hands to easily manipulate. They effortlessly snap together for hours of building and rebuilding fun.
"Our toddler was easily able to grasp and manipulate the blocks due to their larger size, but we did notice that they don’t encourage fine motor skill development in the way that slightly smaller blocks would."—Hailey Eber, Product Tester
Alex Toys Button Art Activity Set Kids Art and Craft Activity
Button Art is specifically designed as a toddler toy and to increase hand-eye coordination, develop fine motor skills, and encourage creative play. With chunky buttons that easily snap in and out of place, Little Hands Button Art includes a variety of activities. Toddlers can complete any of the 10 different brightly-colored pictures.
"We found that the smooth plastic buttons—which measure 1.25 inches in diameter—were ideally sized to fit our toddler’s tiny hands. They snap easily into place with a satisfying click and come out just as easily.."—Hailey Eber, Product Tester
VTech KidiBeats Kids Drum Set
VTech is a leader in kids electronic learning toys. The KidiBeats Drum Set promotes interactive learning that keeps little hands and minds busy. With three drum pads and a cymbal, the KidiBeats Drum Set lets toddlers rock ‘n’ roll to their own beat or to nine different melodies. The set has four different modes that teach letters, counting skills, phonics and memorization with follow-along tunes. The drum and cymbal pads light up in follow along mode to help kids keep the beat.
"Our toddler was initially drawn to the lights and sounds, but he quickly tired of all the bells and whistles. It seemed he found them overstimulating, and we felt the toy encouraged passive instead of engaging play. Of course, older toddlers might stay engaged longer if they can follow the learning sequences, which offer the ability to teach both letters and numbers."—Hailey Eber, Product Tester
P is for Potty!
P is for Potty — and for the perfect present! The toddler years are the time when every parent is challenged with potty training. P is for Potty is a bestseller for kids between one and 3-years old and is essential to helping moms and dads ease little ones into this stage. P is for Potty has over 30 lift-and-peek flaps on 12 pages to keep tots curious and engaged.
Hide N Side Ball Pit, Play Tent and Tunnels
Before purchasing this, just be prepared for your child to never want to end play time. This set consists of a ball pit, tunnels, and a few tents. It's suitable for ages one through six and is sure to provide hours of fun. The material is durable, easy to clean, and the set comes with a convenient carrying case.
LeapFrog Number Lovin' Oven
The Number Lovin’ Oven by LeapFrog has a whole lot of fun and learning baked in. Over thirty different songs and phrases and sixteen different ingredients let kids explore numbers, temperature, time, and basic math through interactive play.
Designed for kids as young as 2 years old, the Number Lovin’ Oven includes an easy-to-follow recipe card for things like fried eggs, pizza, and cupcakes. Little chefs can slice the loaf of bread or pizza for sharing, hear the skillet sizzle when it’s placed on top of the oven or bake up a batch of cupcakes.
Little Tikes Shopping Cart
There’s a reason why the Little Tikes Shopping Cart has been a favorite toddler toy for years. This is one toy that boys and girls will use for hours, engaging in imaginative role play as they fill the cart just like mom and dad do at the store.
The Little Tikes Cart stands at two feet tall and is made from durable, BPA-, latex-, PVC and phthalate-free plastic. The easy-push wheels are designed to protect indoor surfaces, yet they’re durable enough for outdoor use.
Moonlite Eric Carle Junior Starter Pack, Storybook Projector For Smartphones
Story time just got a major upgrade thanks to this Moonlite projector. The device attaches to your smartphone (it's compatible with most devices) and displays vibrant, fun images from Eric Carle books. The set includes the projector and two story reels. This can be projected on the wall or ceiling to truly gives kids an immersive story time feeling.
Sesame Street Love to Hug Elmo
This Elmo doll loves to give hugs and will sing and dance when you give him a cuddle. He stands are just over a foot tall and speaks English and Spanish when requesting hugs. This toy is a winner because who doesn't love Elmo?
Radio Flyer Inc. 3-In-1 EZ Folding Wagon with Canopy
Schlepping small people and their stuff just got a lot simpler with this foldable red wagon, which can be used in three ways: To haul two children around (there are even seatbelts and back cushions), to carry all the gear you might for the park or beach, and, when you drop the zipper, as extra, bench-style seating.
The wagon also has two cup holders and the foldable canopy protects kids from the sun.
Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Servin' Up Fun Food Truck
When looking for a toy for a toddler, pretend play toys are a great place to start. Not only is it adorable watching your kid act out scenes, but it's also fun for parents to get in on the action.
This food truck can have your toddler slinging out tacos, pizza, burgers, and more. When your order is ready don't forget to pay up with the adorable talking cash register. This food truck will be a fun activity for the whole family.
Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Cookie Set
This colorful, sturdy play baking set is nice enough to rival the tools you have in your own kitchen. It comes with 12 sliceable cookies that can be stored in a tube, 12 toppings, a knife, spatula, cookie sheet, and kitchen mitt. Kids will just know they're having a blast making pretend treats for each other—not that they also happen to be practicing early math concepts and fine motor skills.
Fisher-Price Linkimals Smooth Moves Sloth
The smiling sloth, which is part of the Linkimals line, is pretty adorable, and even claps his hands and bobs his head to the music. When your toddler presses the buttons on his feet, they'll hear phrases relating to numbers, colors, opposites, and the alphabet, with plenty of flashing lights and music to keep them entertained.
There are other Linkimals sold separately, including an otter and a moose, and if you pair two or more together they're designed to interact with each other by singing and talking.
VTech Mix and Match-a-Saurus
The best toddler toys teach while also being engaging. This VTech toy uses role play with a mix of emotions, music, and characters to help work on their feelings.
Children ages 2 to 5 will work on their fine motor skills as they load up the dinosaur with different tiles. When the dinosaur comes to life your kid will learn how to express different emotions all while having fun.
Fisher-Price Bounce and Spin Interactive Puppy with Lights and Sounds
Aimed at kids ages 1 and up (with a maximum weight of 55 pounds), this adorable canine provides a stable-yet-bouncy play spot. The handlebars feature a snazzy light-up roller that little ones will love to spin, and parents can choose between having the toy play music only, or sing the alphabet, numbers, and other simple words.
Learning Friends 100 Words Book
Designed for kids 18 months and up, this interactive toy was created to help toddlers build early vocabulary skills in both English and Spanish. There are three play modes: Words (more than 100 are covered), fun facts, and music, and each page is devoted to a different category, such as animals, food, opposites, and body parts.
Melissa & Doug Chomp & Clack Alligator Push Toy
For those who aren't quite walking, this toy will help them learn to keep their balance. For when they are officially on the move, they'll love to zoom this around the house (and probably into your walls and furniture, so watch out!).
Besides helping them get on their own two feet, they'll also be entertained by the chomping alligators, spinning butterflies, and ladybug wooden beads that clatter as they move this toy.
Learning Resources Spike the Fine Motor Hedgehog
Spike the Hedgehog has a lot going for him. His removable quills—12 of them in four different hues—help toddlers practice their fine motor skills as they maneuver them in and out of the holes, and kids can also use the pegs to practice sorting, counting, and color recognition. But the thing parents may appreciate the most is that his quills pack up neatly into his shell when it's clean-up time.
Little Tikes Activity Garden Baby Playset
This play center might take up some valuable real estate in your home, but it's packed with activities guaranteed to delight your little one at a mix of ages and stages. It can be switched from a closed structure for babies to an open, two-sided design for toddlers. There's an archway to encourage crawling, a ball drop, shape sorter, toy piano, and telescope.
Fat Brain Toys Shape Factory
Fat Brain consistently creates exciting toys for kids. This toy requires kids to fit all 10 shapes into the appropriate slots. Not only do they learn about shapes, but this is also a great way for kids to enhance motor skills. This is an ideal toy for kids two years old and up and the chunky pieces are designed for their little hands.
Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Activity Center
Though this toy is all about encouraging motor skills, kids will just appreciate how fun it is. The wooden activity center has pretty much everything to captivate a child's attention, from spinning dials, beads, gliders, and more. The toy measures just over 22 inches tall and has a sturdy base.
Learning Resources Smart Snacks Number Pops
Learning about numbers and colors can be fun, especially when it comes in the form of ice cream. Kids have to match the popsicles with their corresponding shells, which have different colors and numbers of dots. This simple, but fun toy is intended for kids 18 months and up.
Lamaze 3-in-1 Airtivity Center
Kids grow so fast, so it can be hard to find a toy that grows with them. However, this 3-in-1 center is just that. The toy can be played on the floor or table, depending on whether your child is learning to sit or stand. The fun toy uses air to create movement with the fish, seaweed, and other sea creatures which swim and spin.
We bought three top-rated gifts for toddlers and our reviewers tested them for 10 hours. They took them home, had their own kids try them out, and observed their responses. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using these gifts for toddlers, from their durability to their educational value. We've outlined the key points here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.
What to Look For in a Gift For a Toddler
When you’re buying gifts for children, you want to make sure that the one you pick is age-appropriate. It might not seem like a big deal to buy a toy suited for 5-year-olds for a 3-year-old toddler, but products for older kids often have smaller pieces that can be dangerous in the hands of young children, says Kristin Morency Goldman, senior advisor of strategic communications for The Toy Association. Use the age recommendations on the packaging as a good judge of how safe and engaging a toy will be.
Toddlers are busy practicing new skills all the time. Because they’re learning constantly, you may want to consider purchasing a gift that has some sort of educational value. That doesn’t mean it has to be boring, though—block sets, dollhouses, and toy ovens can all teach young children cognitive reasoning while helping them practice their fine motor skills, says Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in South Overland Park, Kansas.
Stability and Durability
Toddlers are notoriously rough with their toys, so it’s a good idea to look for toys that can withstand heavy use and the inevitable drops that’ll happen as your toddler develops better coordination and organization. Thick, durable plastics or solid wood toys are best equipped to withstand this type of usage.