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In this post, you will learn the BEST toddler gift ideas! Whether it’s for a birthday, Christmas gifts, or just for fun, I guarantee your toddlers will love these. How do I know?
We have had a toddler in our house for the last 7 years. (All 4 of our kids were born within 5 years.) And our toddlers have all loved the same basic toys – so have our little toddler friends. In fact, many a seemingly-fun toddler toy has been chucked aside while digging through the toy bin for a specific mini backpack or stack of magnatiles.
This post is divided into a few different lists:
- Myth of educational toddler toys
- All time favorite toys for toddlers
- Non-toy things toddlers love to play with
- Toys that are fun to give & great to pull out sometimes
- Little toys (think – stocking stuffer or something small)
- Favorite toddler books to give
Here we go!
Most “Educational” Toys are a Waste of Money
Your toddler does not need a toy that shouts the ABCs to be learning. In fact, children under the age of 5 primarily learn through unstructured play. (I’m a homeschooling mom and all our kids, so far, have learned to read before age 5.) You can research that more for yourself another time, but I mention it here for 2 reasons:
- To convince you not to waste your money on the newest educational toy fad that’s being marketed at you.
- To give you permission to spend on fun, open-ended toys that your kids will play with for years to come.
Things on my list below will, for the most part, be used by all ages of kids for years and years to come.
All Time Favorite Toddler Toys
1. Magnetic Tiles
These might be my #1 favorite toy of all time. Our kids never get sick of these, and so far, I’ve seen kids ages 6 months – 10 years old enjoy them at our house.
If a child already has some magnetic tiles, it’s still fun to add to their collection because as they get older, it’s fun to play with a larger number of magnets.
The off-brands tend to run around $0.50 per piece, whereas Magnatile brand tends to run closer to $1.50. We’ve owned several brands of magnetic tiles and I can’t see a big enough difference between Magnatile and the off brands to pay 3 times the cost.
One year, we gave our kids these larger pieces to make the collection more fun! They play with these all the time!
We don’t have the set pictured below, but my 2 and 4 year old boys love playing with cars and building wooden train tracks, so I think this might end up on one of their birthday lists 🙂
Our Duplos are extremely well loved! Duplos are the big version of Legos. We’ve had several brands of building blocks type toys over the years (mega blocks, fisher price builders, off-brand duplos, fat brain toys little blocks, etc.)
The original Duplos are the most loved, period.
The duplo train and classic box below are my 2 favorite beginner sets to give a 1-2 year old, and a big giant platform (from Target) makes a Duplo collection way more fun!! I recommend sticking to brand-name for this toy. They stay together better, and the off brands aren’t always compatible (even when they claim to be).
TIP – check your local Facebook Marketplace for secondhand Duplos 🙂
3. Stroller/ Wagon to Push
Every child of ours (and every toddler that comes over to our house) has loved playing with a pushable wagon or grocery cart or stroller of sorts. The picture on the right happens to show the strollers being used for dolls/ animals, but the picture on the left is more often the situation… the toddlers put all manner of random things in and out of a push toy, push it all over, empty it out, fill it back up, and on and on.
Here are our personal favorites when it comes to push toys:
- Best push wagon for a new walker around 9-15 months old (It’s still fun years later though!)
- Best plastic grocery cart (pictured above)
- Best cheap stroller under $15
- Best fancier buggy style stroller under $40
4. Giant Bouncy Ball
Think – the kind you can buy at Target or Walmart in the summer in those giant ball-cages on the end cap. So fun! Our toddler will play fetch with himself with one of these for quite a long time. And just when the game gets old, you can pull out a laundry basket or cardboard box and show them how to play basketball 🙂
5. An Awesome Swing
These swings might be one of the top 5 gifts we’ve ever given!
We have this giant swing on our tree outside– it’s fun at all ages and you can adjust the height so a toddler can hop on themselves. Our 2 year old loves to just lay on it on his tummy and swing himself.
We also have 2 of these hammock swings inside! The kids love them, and they’re fun for years to come. In addition to the swing, you’ll want to grab a swivel kit so it swings more easily. If you don’t own a stud finder, you’ll want a cheap one like ours to be able to find the studs in the ceiling to hang it from.
DON’T GET THIS ONE – We tried one of these pod swings and didn’t like it! Would NOT recommend.
When we add gymnastics stuff to our basement, we’ll probably put a more traditional swing like this.
Swings are way better than a regular toy 🙂
7. Water Table
I pull our basic water table out every spring. It’s not fancy, but it gets a TON of use by all ages of kiddos. We usually hit the dollar store for some new buckets and shovels each year, and then toss them before winter. The toys never seem to last more than a year.
8. Sensory Bin
If you’ve never had a sensory bin, I know it sounds like a horrible disaster. But, if you can teach your little ones appropriate sensory bin behavior, this bin of rice could keep your two year old relatively quiet & in one spot for 30 minutes.
Plus, it is an amazing activity for building fine motor skills. And if you go the plastic container route, it costs next to nothing.
For years, we had a large, shallow under-the-bed style bin as our sensory bin. I stored it under something with some rice in it, and periodically swapped the rice out for dried beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, ice or whatever.
We recently upped our sensory table game and added this ikea table with two trofast bins inside. This cost me less than $60 and was so worth it! I love this setup for more easily accessible sensory play, now that all of our kids have learned appropriate sensory bin behavior.
Sometimes, they put the table tops on and use it for art or other play too. We had little kids’ chairs laying around, but these ikea stools work perfectly if you don’t have kids’ chairs already.
Here’s a cute sensory toy kit that would be a fun gift to go along with the table or bins, although, I usually just let my kids raid the kitchen drawers. The downside is that I’m usually missing my favorite tools 🙂
9. Wooden Train Set
This is the type of thing you can find used on Facebook Marketplace as well. (I got a humongous set that I actually split between our kids and my nieces/ nephews one year.)
It’s a better gift around ages 2.5 – 4, but I’m including it on the toddler gift list anyway because it’s so well loved at our house. Any time it gets old, I put the bin away for a couple months. When it gets pulled back out a few months later, it’s all fun again.
We prefer NOT to have a train table… the flexibility of playing on the floor is more fun!
For a 2 year old, the parents will probably have to build the train tracks at first, but the kids will get the hang of it!
My recommendation is to get a simple set like this, plus a couple fun bonus bridges/ tunnels like I linked earlier! If you have leftover money in your budget, grab an expansion pack. The more basic tracks you have, the more fun. The fancy houses & people & tree accessories never get played with though, in our experience.
Toddler Gift Ideas That Are NOT Toys!
1. Something to Carry Around and Put Stuff In
Think – a bag, box, or basket of sorts.
Our kids (and all their friends) seem to play some version of a travel game quite often. They all find a purse, lunch box, mini backpack, suitcase, or tool box. Then they fill it with random items, bring it to the airplane (or bus or van or whatever they’re pretending), and off they go. This game can go on for hours, so I highly recommend encouraging it.
At the end of the day, you can play a race-to-put-it-all-away game and everyone can help return the random items inside the various containers to their proper homes.
We have these roller backpacks for our girls’ homeschool co-op, but they get a lot of use for playing travel, our weekly library haul, and for real travel. Highly recommend! (I know a rolling backpack doesn’t really feel like a toddler Christmas gift… Trust me, though, it’ll be WAY more fun than some random plastic, noise making toy.)
Other fun bag options, all of which our kids have loved a similar version of:
- Mini rolling suitcase
- Red Mini backpack (under $15 and comes in lots of colors)
- Toolbox – the tools are fun for a while too! But even after the tools are old news, that container will be gold. Our current resident 2 year old sleeps with a toolbox full of random toys almost every day. 🙂
- Mint green medium size backpack with tons of pockets!
- Blue & Red medium sized backpack – also tons of pockets
- Stylish mini backpack – adjustable straps; multiple colors available
2. Kitchen Utensils
Walmart has a great selection of colorful, cheap kitchen utensils! You could gift them in one of the above bags and I guarantee a toddler would love it.
Non-toy gifts are always the preferred play toy anyway.
3. A giant box.
Enormous boxes were fun in the 1990s and they’re fun now. My kids just got some huge wardrobe boxes from people who moved, and they’ve been going strong in our basement for a couple weeks.
If you’re feeling really creative, you could cut and tape it in such a way that it’s a play house.
4. Old Cellphones or Cheap Calculators
These are the most coveted non-toys toys at Grandma & Granddad’s house. Bonus points for a flip phone or keyboard pop out phone. (You can actually buy cheap, old, nonworking phones too! 5 phones for under $30.)
These are the style of calculators my kids love to play with!
Toys that Are Fun Sometimes
I know that’s a rather anticlimactic heading, but I couldn’t think of how else to say it! These toys are all ones we own that my kids love… sometimes.
They don’t get used every single day like the magnetic tiles or a mini backpack. BUT, they get good use when friends come over, or if I put them away for a while and pull them out to feel “new” again. Sometimes I’ll get one out for a toddler to get us through the last 30 minutes of the big kids’ school work in the morning.
- Plastic Cash Register – remember these old school ones!? A very well loved toy for sure!
- Pop up animals toy – I’ve given this a lot for 1-2 year old birthdays because every single 1 or 2 year old who’s come through our house manages to find this and loves it.
- Baby doll – boatloads of choices on Amazon for under $15.
- Fisher Price Little People with vehicles or builder blocks – some favorites here have been BUS | HOUSE | FARM | VEHICLES WITH PEOPLE
- Little Tikes Rider Toy – this thing is so fun! But I get tired of it inside, not gonna lie 🙂
- Little Tikes Mini Trampoline – this was a very well loved basement toy for our toddlers. If I brought it into the main area of our house for a while, it’d get tonnnnsss of use! Then I’d usually get tired of it and put it back downstairs. Haha! Downside – It does take up a bit of space and doesn’t really collapse easily.
- This Random Egg Matching Toy (pictured below) – we have the one that matches certain numbers of dots, but the shape ones are fun too for a younger toddler!
Little Toys/ Stocking Stuffers
Some of the previous toys mentioned would make great stocking stuffers – fake phones, calculators, sensory bin accessories, kitchen tools.
I have a pretty strong preference to not give junk for gifts 🙂 If you’re giving these as stocking stuffers, you’ll need to take some out of the packaging. Here are some other ideas for stocking stuffers for 1-3 year olds.
- New reusable water bottle – this is our favorite for toddlers! (And we’ve tried TONS over the years haha)
- Paint sticks (relatively mess free)
- Dot paints (my personal favorite for toddler art)
- New wooden train – fun to add to a collection, or just get a set like the one below and they can magnet the trains together and drive them around on any hard surface
- New wooden train bridge – if the child has a wooden train set, these are our 2 favorite bridges for toddlers (#1, #2)because they can put it together themselves!)
- Custom board book with pictures of people they know
- Keys – can order a 3 pack or just run to the hardware store. Don’t forget to put them on a fun key ring 🙂
- Fun hat and/or new mittens (here are several cute hats for kids with good reviews under $15)
- Silly socks or slippers
- Play silks – sounds random, but kids love these!
- Foam Sword – our kids got these from Grammy one year; a huge hit at our house!
- Change purse/ zipper pouch – here are some (or check the dollar spot at Target)
- Fun night light – like this tap on cat one!
- Train Bridge – If the child already has a wooden train set, add a new fun bridge to it! These are our 2 favorites for toddlers because they can put them together themselves. (#1, #2) The brand doesn’t matter; all wooden train sets are compatible. Both our boys and girls have loved wooden trains and accessories.
- Keys – grab some at your hardware store, or here’s a 3 pack. Don’t forget to put them on a fun keychain!
- Change purse/ zipper pouch – Probably cheapest in the Target Dollar Spot or at the Dollar Store, but here are some cute easy-to-order ones
- Chapstick – we gave our 2 and 3 year old toddler girls chapstick in change purses one year in their stockings and they ignored all the other presents that year. 🙂
- A cool night light – This cute tap on cat one is fun!
Best Books to Give Toddlers
These are the books that are so well-loved in our home we’ve had to replace a couple after a few toddlers read them 1,000 times.
Anything Sandra Boynton, but especially the following:
- Moo Ba La La La
- But Not the Hippopotamus
- The Going to Bed Book
- Pajama Time
- Happy Hippo, Angry Duck
- Blue Hat, Green Hat
- The Original Where’s Spot Book – all 4 of our kids have liked this Spot book the best.
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
- Little Blue Truck – the original
- Dear Zoo
- First 100 Words Book – here’s the one our kids love; here’s the box set
- Rolie Polie Olie – our current two year old LOVES this book, but it’s not my favorite to read after the 100th time – haha
- Goodnight Gorilla
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
- The Napping House
- Freight Train
We store our books out in a large, shallow basket like this so that they’re easy to grab any time.
So there you have it! A ton of toddler gift ideas that are guaranteed to be fun. My kids and I promise 🙂
If I missed anything that your kids love, comment below with ideas to share.
P.S. Check out this guide to a Super Simple Advent With Toddlers that Won’t Stress You Out!