The Best Toys for Toddlers
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I don’t generally write gift guides: mostly because, well, they’re pretty boring, really, and, let’s face it – no one really needs me to tell them to buy a scented candle and a nice pair of socks, right?
For the last couple of weeks, however, Terry and I have been embroiled in an apparently endless debate on the topic of What to Get Max for Christmas Given That He Already Has Everything, and I figured some of my fellow parents might currently be doing the same thing. (Er, for their own kids, obviously, not for Max. That would just be weird…) For the benefit of anyone shopping for a toddler then, I present this list of Max’s favourite toys, between the ages of 1-2..
Before Max was born, one of the things I was absolutely DETERMINED we would not do, under ANY circumstances, was to allow our house to be taken-over by toys – specifically one of those gigantic toy kitchens everyone seems to have. Like, NO WAY would that be happening, nuh-uh. Luckily, Terry agreed with me on this. “There’s no need to get him one of those things,” we told each other smugly. “Why, we’ll just let him play in the REAL kitchen if he’s that interested in it!”
Fast-forward to the start of this year, and there’s my dad on his hands and knees in our home office, valiantly constructing the gigantic toy kitchen we’d become convinced was the only thing in the world likely to give us 5 minutes peace while we worked. So, yeah, THAT worked out well, didn’t it?
In fairness, while the toy kitchen hasn’t given us any extra time to work (Because, when he plays with it, Max likes us to play with him. Oh, the countless hours I’ve spent sipping pretend tea, and picking toy chips out of the rug….), it IS still one of Max’s favourite toys, and he plays with it most days. My parents found Max’s kitchen at Aldi Online (Because, yes, there is an Aldi Online: who knew?) and it sold out within days, unfortunately, but they currently have three similar options at different price-points, and there are obviously tons of other stores peddling these things to weary parents who just want to sit down and have a cup of coffee… even if it’s a pretend one, sipped from a toy cup their toddler produced from his mini washing machine. If I had my time again, I’d totally get him one of these vintage style ones, because that’s the person I am, basically, but there’s a toy kitchen out there for every taste, really, and don’t even get me started on the world of laundry playsets, I mean, SERIOUSLY.
(Oh, and in terms of what to put inside the kitchen, Max was sent this set from JoJo Maman Bebe, which is awesome: so much so, in fact, that he once insisted on taking one of the carrots from it to the park with us, which, yes, meant that muggins here ended up walking around carrying a fabric carrot all afternoon. And not for the last time, either…)
This was a Christmas gift from my parents last year, and while it took him a few months to get the hang of it (Max was just about to turn one when he got it…), it’s now hard to get him off the thing: in fact, he loves it so much that we actually brought it with us when we went to Piperdam lodges last month, so he didn’t have to be parted from it for even a few days. (The wheels and handlebar fold down, so it’s really portable, thankfully…) This is another toy that gets used every day, and will hopefully prove to have been a good introduction to the larger tricycle his grandparents have bought him THIS year…
(ME: I really hope you haven’t gone too OTT with Max’s Christmas presents this year.
MY MUM: No, we’ve hardly got him anything, really: just a house and a car…)
(And, I mean, OK, it turns out it’s a cardboard house and a bike, but STILL…)
TOY CARS. ANY TOY CARS.
We’re not believers in the idea of “gendered” toys, so Max has everything from dolls and teddies to train sets and other typical “boy” toys. What he loves more than anything else, though, is cars – ANY kind of cars. In fact, just this morning I got an Amazon delivery, and he jumped right inside the box, telling us it was a car, and he was going to drive it “to Bulgaria”. (After our holiday there, he’s assumed that all journeys end in Bulgaria…) This boy is OBSESSED with cars: to the extent that we now have two giant boxes filled with them, and they’re generally the only toys I bother bringing with us when we’re off out somewhere. Luckily for us, toy cars are pretty inexpensive, so we’ve picked them up in various different places, but my top tip here is to try Gumtree / Facebook Marketplace if you need to get your hands on a lot of cars, fast (Yes, I’m aware that I made that sound like you’d be doing something dodgy here, and if that makes the toy cars a bit more interesting to you, pretend away…): people tend to sell off huge collections of the things once their kids outgrow them, so it’s a rich source of used (toy) cars.
If your child is similarly car-obsessed, meanwhile, two other things I’d recommend are some kind of road-inspired play mat or rug, and/or a toy garage: the first time Max saw one of these, he played ON HIS OWN with it for at least 20 minutes, and that was the first time that had happened EVER, so, you say ‘garage’, I say ‘miracle’…
Speaking of cars, though, here’s a classic that some of you might remember from your own childhoods…
LITTLE TYKES COZY COUPE
It’s the Little Tykes Cozy Coupe, and, as you can see, Max is as pleased as punch to be driving it. This one was a hand-me-down from some family friends, whose grandson had outgrown it, and it lives at my parents’ house, because we didn’t have the space for it here. Max loves it so much, however, that Terry and I have just bought him another peddle car for his birthday, AND Terry has cleared out the shed to make room for it, too. The car is a gift for Max, but the clean shed is a gift for ME, and I’m honestly not sure who’ll be happiest, really…
ANYTHING WITH HOLES YOU CAN POST THINGS THROUGH
On the right, a toy workbench, on the left, a wooden zoo train. These were both gifts, so I don’t have links to them, unfortunately, but while they’re two different toys, the appeal for Max is exactly the same: they have holes that you can post things through, and that makes them the best thing ever (Other than cars, obviously…) as far as he’s concerned. (He does use the tools in his workbench, too, but his favourite thing about it is the three holes on the side, which you match with the correct shape.)
(It’s also useful for Jellycat transportation purposes…)
Max has a few other toys that fit this general description, and there are obviously tons of similar ones out there. We’re doing our best to discourage him from posting things through the actual letterbox, meanwhile, but I fear that’s something of a losing battle…
TOY VACUUM CLEANER
Max is just coming out the other side of a lengthy hoover obsession: so, they haven’t quite lost their fascination entirely for him, but he has at least stopped asking us to get the hoover out every day, so he could play with it. He is, however, still very enamoured by this toy version, which was a first birthday gift that’s still going strong. This is quite possibly the noisiest toy ever invented, but anything that encourages him to think cleaning is fun gets the thumbs-up from me, so long may his love of hoovers last!
Or, “^&%$*&( Play Doh’, as it’s known in our house. I hesitate to recommend this, actually, because the truth is, I really, really don’t recommend giving a toddler access to Play Doh. Seriously DO NOT DO THAT: they eat it, and then trample anything they haven’t eaten yet into your rugs, and you’ll still be picking the stuff out of your soft furnishings by Christmas, basically. So, no, Play Doh is definitely not a great toy for toddlers from a parents’ perspective. Max, however, would strongly disagree with this: he absolutely LOVES the stuff, which is why, every so often, I give in, make him promise not to eat any of it, and then get it out of its hiding place, so we can have another go at it. And then, twenty minutes later, I inevitably find myself packing it all up again, while saying, “THAT’S IT, IF YOU’RE JUST GOING TO KEEP EATING IT, THE PLAY DOH’S GOING AWAY!”
I suspect this situation will likely continue for quite some time.
If you’re willing to hover over your child the entire time they’re playing with this, though, and you’re not particularly attached to any of the carpets in your house, your child will probably LOVE it, trust me.
(Also, check out those sausages! I feel like I’m wasted as a blogger, really, when I could have such an amazing career as a sculptor or something, no?)
(This photo was taken over a month ago. I found one of those ‘peas’ hiding in the rug earlier this week. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
COLLAPSIBLE BALL POOL
Max discovered ball pools at soft play over a year ago, and has loved them ever since. We toyed (no pun intended) with the idea of getting him one of the posh sponge-sided ones with the colour-coordinated balls, but they were just too expensive at the time, so we’d resigned ourselves to doing without… until my parents discovered a giant bag of balls in a local charity shop one day last year, and fate seemed to be a-callin’. At first, they just emptied the balls into either a giant cardboard box, or the pack n’ play they keep at their place for Max to nap in when he visits, but after a while, they succumbed to the lure of one of the collapsible versions shown above. (I know Max looks like he’s being tortured here, but he’s just playing, I promise…) These are obviously designed to be put up and down at will, so you don’t have to keep them out all the time, but it’s such a pain having to keep filling and emptying it that my parents just leave it up, and shove it into the spare room when it’s not in use. Terry and I, meanwhile, are just glad it was their idea to get one of these and not ours, although, I have to admit, Max does absolutely love it, so if we had a bit more space at home, it’s definitely something I’d consider.
WOODEN SHEEP TOY
This wooden sheep was actually the first toy we ever bought for Max, back when I was pregnant with him, so I’m ridiculously happy that it’s turned out to be one of his favourites: it’s definitely one of the few toys I know I’m going to have to keep forever, even once he’s outgrown it! It’s made up of wooden discs, which you link together to create the body of the sheep, and each one has two different colours on the inside, so it’s a good way to help children learn about colours, too. Max calls his ‘Ba Ba’, and often asks to take it to bed with him, which I guess tell you everything you need to know about his fondness for a simple wooden sheep…
Exactly what it says on the tin (Well, the box…), these are chunky, stackable crayons that are mercifully easy to wash off your floors and furniture when the inevitable accident occurs with them. I actually think Max enjoys stacking these more than he does actually drawing with them, so there’s that, too.
Finally, I’m not going to write too much about specific books, because there’s a post about some of Max’s favourites here, and you can also find an updated list on my Amazon store, but we read every single day, and any time I’m asked for gift ideas for Max, I suggest a book, purely because I don’t think you can ever really have too many, really. (It’s a good job I think that, too, because we’re part of a book club at Max’s playgroup, and while I thought it was going to save me a ton of money when we joined, the reality is that I’ve just had to keep buying him his own copy of the books he gets most attached to: d’oh!)
When I see Max’s toys listed like this, it seems like a ton of stuff – and, well, it IS, obviously. I just want to quickly add here, though, that most of these items were either gifts, or were picked up second hand: we’re big believers in shopping on Gumtree or at thrift stores for toys, because so many of them are barely used before they’re outgrown, so even the larger items I’ve shown here don’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money. I’ll also just quickly point out that, as much as he loves all of the items on this page, Max’s absolute FAVOURITE ‘toys’ right now are…
- A stack of bracelets he found while I was tidying my jewellery box last week, and which he now insists on playing with every day. (He calls them “The Brace-loots.”
- A blue stone he found in his Uncle Niko’s driveway this summer.
- A courgette we bought at the supermarket this week, and which he insisted carrying out of the store, and then holding all the way home. He has so far refused to allow us to cook it, as he prefers to just place it on his high chair, where he can reach out and pet it every so often, while saying, “Nice courgette”.
- The contents of any drawer in the house, regardless of what’s actually in it,and whether or not it’s suitable for him.
- My toothbrush.
If none of those are what you’re looking for, though, you’ll find everything in this post, plus a few extras, over at my Amazon Affiliate Store!