Call me a toy snob, but those irritating, noise-making toys drive me nuts. You know…. the ones that sing obnoxious songs and then when the batteries start wearing out, the singing toy sounds like it’s dying. They always seem to be stuck underneath a pile of something and keep going off over and over.
So, when someone asks what the kids want/ need for a birthday or Christmas gift, I usually lean towards suggesting toys that are hands-on, fun for more than 5 minutes, and will grow with my kids and last for all 4!
Our young children really enjoy playing with non-toy items! So much so, that I wrote a whole post about their favorite “trashy” toys to play with – “trashy” meaning toys made from things around our house.
I have bought very few toys for our kids. Relatives and friends are very very generous and shower our kids with very fun presents that we probably wouldn’t buy during our debt-payoff journey. Not to mention, friends and family almost exclusively clothe our kids too! So – public shoutout to our generous family and friends!!
We do have a couple obnoxious-noise-making toys my kids love. Including this and this and this. Also, my kids are drawn towards these types of toys at other places because they’re “special” and cool and we don’t have many.
I just get tired of the sounds so we don’t have a ton of them here. Sometimes my “parenting decisions” are about me not my kids. Maybe I should work on that!? #selfishparenting
If you find yourself shopping for a kid under 3, here’s my opinion on the 8 best toys for toddlers in no particular order.
#1 FISHER PRICE LITTLE BUILDERS
We have the farm set pictured below, which I bought for $8 at a local kids resale shop.
She was playing with these a couple months ago – quietly concentrating for a long time. (Well, 6 minutes. “Long time” is relative.) I was in the other room. Then she gasped and exclaimed dramatically, “Look mama! I did all the things!”
Yep, that’s all the things. Something about the shape of these blocks and the way they fit together and come apart makes them really great for 1 1/2 – 2 year olds especially. At 9 months, our kids enjoy just dumping these out, chewing on them, etc… (they’re big enough that they’re not a choking hazard). Then, around 1.5-2, they start putting them together. Even at 3 and 4, my kids like to play with these, especially if they’re “babysitting” the baby
I haven’t seen that same farm set anywhere, but this one* looks like a great starter set.
#2 – A BABY DOLL + STROLLER
Addie’s favorite baby is my old bitty baby, who is very loved but has some scars.
I bought a doll stroller for $10 at walmart. It’s held up SO well. This Amazon stroller gets good reviews if you would rather order from Amazon on your couch in your yoga pants than trek to Walmart with your children. (Said everyone everywhere ever.)
[Update – Addie was gifted a second stroller for her 3rd birthday, so now the girls LOVE to push them around together. Or crash into each other. The strollers are actually the go-to item that gets fought over at play dates too. The little boys and girls alike love pushing things or other kids around in our baby doll strollers!]
#3 – PUZZLES
Our kids both LOVE puzzles. The first one we ever had was this one:
This awesome Melissa and Doug puzzle holder & puzzle set has been well loved! It’s 100% full of puzzles, mostly Melissa & Doug wooden ones for 2-3 year olds.
Both girls LOVE this chunky shape puzzle.
We own each of these types of puzzles, and they are all very well loved. I labeled the types of puzzles with what I think is the approximate age group for each puzzle, and there are some links below.
- Melissa & Doug chunky stacking puzzles, as pictured above. 2 skills in one!
- Addie did the number/color/letter knob puzzles around 15-18 months and learned her uppercase letters, numbers, and colors. She especially liked mixing up all the fish colors to be funny 🙂 Let it be noted, I have not done any of these with Emma and she’s now 18 months old. #secondchildproblems
- The 12 piece wooden puzzles are a great transitional puzzle to go from toddler puzzles to jigsaw puzzles. The States Puzzle taught Addie her states! If she ever hears someone mention a state, she yells out, “oh that’s like in my states puzzle.”
- The jumbo floor puzzles were a favorite starting around age 2 1/2. [Update: the jumbo floor puzzles are still her favorite at age 4. She’s done 24-48 piece ones over and over until she memorizes them, so we’ll probably get a couple bigger ones soon.]
Other ways to find new puzzles are: craigslist, library, garage sales, or swap with a friend.
#4 – MAGNATILES
These are a new toy for the girls – they were gifted for Emma’s birthday. I first saw them at a friend’s house – she had a 5 year old and twin toddlers, and said it was one of the toys they play with a LOT at every age. So far, that’s been true for us too, and our oldest is now 7. All the kids love them! And I’m not going to lie, Ben and I may or may not think they’re pretty fun.
They lay them flat and make roads or patterns. Or put them all over the fridge. This is the set we have.
***UPDATE AFTER 4 YEARS*** we’ve grown our Magnetic Tile Collection over the years ever since being gifted that first one pictured above. We mostly have purchased this Playmags set over and over. Now we have a giant bucket and it gets used a TON. Once it’s old news, I put it away, or move it to a new location in the house, or re-stack them, and they’re fun again. They last forever and all the brands seem to be interchangable.
All 4 of our kids have enjoyed playing with these from ages 9 months to 7 years old and every age in between! (Older kids that come over seem to enjoy them too…) I’m a huge fan.
#5 – DUPLOS
Addie never gets tired of these. They’re toddler sized legos. I mentioned before we have this cute build-and-read lego set.
But the girls also just like to build random things – towers and other imaginative concoctions.
[Update: at 21 months and 3 years old, duplos are one of our kids’ FAVORITE toys, and they have been for months. Our 3 year old loves building this set with the directions and some help from mom and dad. Our 21 month old loves stacking pieces on top of each other. They play with them every single day. #worthit]
[Second update: At 3 and 4 years old, our kids still love duplos. We have this giant platform to build on, which takes the whole duplo-game up a notch. They’re one of the coveted quiet playtime toys, which you can read about in this post.]
[Third update: We now have 4 kids ages 2-7, and honestly, all 4 of them still play with duplos sometimes, even though the big kids also have little Legos they enjoy. We have a pretty big Duplo collection now, and it’s fun for all ages!]
#6 – PAINTING + ART STUFF
If I would sit with Addie and supervise art, she would do this all day. But I also have a one year old, and I don’t really want to sit around and watch her paint all day. Is that selfish? Probably. (I feel like we’ve already talked about #selfishparenting).
Anyway, our painting setup is as independent as possible and once I get her set up, she’ll sometimes paint by herself for 20 minutes or so. A friend gifted us this awesome Ikea easel & paper roll, which she loves. Or here’s a similar one on Amazon.
We also have colored pencils, crayons, markers, do-a-dot paints, & dry erase markers in the kitchen. I always thought I’d be one of those moms who does cute pinterest art projects, but I’m not. Maybe as they get older? [Update: they’re older… nope. Don’t do ’em. All about leaving them to do what they want with random art supplies. ]
I just print the do-a-dot pictures for free online. Google “free do a dot pictures.”
#7 – TRAINS
We snagged ours second hand on Facebook marketplace. Here’s a good starter track set for $28. If your budget is slightly bigger, this one ($40) looks similar to ours – tracks, accessories, and trains. Grab 1 or 2 easy-to-assemble bridges too! Those are the most fun!
Random fun fact – don’t worry about brand. All the train track toy companies agreed to a standard fit so that they’d work together. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Well, those are the 7 most played with toys at our house these days.