With Christmas approaching (and my son’s second birthday the day before), we have been preparing ourselves for a few new gifts coming down the holiday pipeline. This process has helped us reflect on the best toddler toys that brought our kids the most joy throughout the years and determine what we will be passing along to the donation bin and what we will keep. As parents to four boys ages 20 months to 19 years, we have seen our fair share of toys. We have been gifted a ton and spent our hard earned money on more than we care to admit. Luckily, we have never had cable tv so our kids have been spared from a lot of toy marketing, but I’ll be darned if the licensed and junky plastic didn’t occasionally find its way into our home.
We learned the hard way just the types of toys that inspired play versus frustrated our children. We saw what came in and was promptly sold or donated because it sat unused after the initial day of excitement. This creates a lot of shame for parents. Wasting money is NOT fun. We also sadly saw MANY toys break without cause and really upset our children. Toys from discount stores are the worst for this because for some reason they are SUPER exciting for kids and the most devastating when they break 😦 You really get what you pay for.
Over the almost two decades as parents, we learned and changed, and started to embrace simplicity. We have shifted directions into a more minimal approach to all things “stuff” and trying to live a life free from debt. So, for our youngest we took a different approach to toys. We had a few things that we had saved from his older brothers (and a couple from my own childhood, hello Fisher Price Record Player!). The rest we carefully researched and chose open ended and gender neutral toys that we thought would not only engage our child, but also spark his imagination and help him learn without overwhelming him (and us!). If we were buying it, even if it was second hand, we wanted good quality that they will last us many years. So, without any further blah, blah, blahs – here is the rundown of our favorite educational and open ended toys, really all you would need and then some, for a child age 1-2.
Car run – This run was a bit of a splurge, so it was my sons main gift from my husband and myself for Christmas. We have definitely gotten our moneys worth out of it! It has held up so well, is super sturdy and all of our kids enjoyed playing with it. I’ll note that we didn’t love the size of the balls for a one year old, so we put them away until he’s a bit older. They arent a choking hazard per se, I just didn’t like that he was trying to fit the whole dang thing in his mouth. That doesn’t decrease the value of the product in my eyes, since a lot of the other wooden car run sets I was looking at had cars that were too small for my comfort. I liked that this one came with both balls and cars and was colorful while still being made from wood and neutral. I see the plastic versions of this in fairly decent shape second hand all the time so that is a good place to check.
LUEUR Wooden Car Ramp Racer Toddlers Race Track Toy Ball Track with 3 Wooden Cars and 2 Balls for 3 4 5 Year Old Boy and Girl Gifts
Wooden drum – Everyone in the house has fully enjoyed this little drum by Plan Toys. The sound is beautiful and not obnoxious. The drum itself has held up very well and the mallet has taken a beating – between teething and our Covid-puppy having a turn. However, it’s still intact!
PlanToys Solid Drum Wooden Musical Toy Instrument (6404)
Books – Really I could go ON and ON about books. These are the only thing we still buy for our kids during the year (otherwise they are spending their own money). As homeschoolers, we see the value in developing the love of reading from an early age and we have a lot of children’s books. We visit the library frequently and we buy a ton of second hand book and occasionally new books if we cant find what we need from the free or used places. These are some of our favorite books for age one.
Baby Beluga (Raffi Songs to Read)
First 100 Board Book Box Set (3 books)
Noisy Baby Animals (My First)
Basic blocks – There are so many wooden block sets to chose from but I wanted some that served more than one purpose. We loved these Wonderworld Rainbow Sound Blocks sensory wooden blocks. They are so beautiful and the perfect quantity for a one year old to build a tower with. He would also balance some wooden Grimms balls on them and they are so beautiful with light reflecting through them. They are excellent little musical shakers and each makes a different sound.
Wonderworld Rainbow Sound Blocks – Stackable Hollow Shape Block Toys – 7 Piece Set
These are another excellent investment if they are in budget.
Grimm’s Mosaic Square of 36 Wooden Cube Blocks with Storage Tray, 4×4 Size
Animal Toys – Wood or plastic, We bought several duplo animals second hand off facebook marketplace. We practice animal noises and match the toy animals to the pictures in our board books. We had our eyes on some beautiful wooden hand carved animals but since this is likely our last baby and we have a puppy that still loves to chew, we decided not to go that route. We don’t love plastic but these have really served us well, will grow with him, and they pair well with our duplos which we can pass down to someone else or sell when we are done. They come in very large sets (up to $100) or cheaper starter kits like the one below, which are great suggestions for aunts and uncles wondering what to buy your baby for Christmas.
LEGO DUPLO Town Farm Animals 10870 Building Blocks (16 Pieces)
A Stuffed Bear – This is super basic, but every baby loves a good bear. I chose one that was small enough to be handled by a toddler but big enough that it will still be fun for him when he is older. Pricey handmade stuffed animals are super trendy right now, and very adorable, but we went with this super simple affordable bear and it’s been a great purchase and has held up very well. We don’t keep many stuffed animals in our house so I wanted one that was versatile and could be used in all sorts of play. I like how he sits upright on a shelf without falling over and the floppy arms and legs and large eyes make him adorable. My 7 year old named him Fred.
GUND Toothpick Teddy Bear Stuffed Animal Plush Beige, 15″
Ball – We had a few different ones that worked okay, the small ones tend to lose air pretty quickly and the fuzzy ones get pretty filthy. Our favorite and best for small hands was similar to the one below, but we got our from target where they keep the outdoor toys and it was probably $5, we liked it so much we ended up getting one to keep at my moms house in Florida for when we visit. It has not needed to be reinflated like the smaller sensory balls that come in sets need to be.
Sensory Ball for Baby and Toddlers – 7 inch Toy Encourages Fine Motor Skills – Squeeze Toss Roll and Bounce for Hours of Entertainment
Pull back cars – Amazon sells these great little cars as a set but Target actually sells them by the each, so if you prefer to just have one, that is an option. They make a great inexpensive stocking stuffer. My kids enjoyed racing them, so that was a great activity they could all do together and even with their large gaps in age and it didn’t seem like a “baby game”.
B. toys by Battat BX1909Z Mini Pull-Back Vehicles Set, Multi, 3Pc Truck, Camper Van, Police
Grimms Stacking Cups – these things are the best and I cant wait until next Christmas when we can give my son the stacking rainbow to go with them. This seemed like the PERFECT Grimm’s starter set for a young age and it is fairly budget friendly as far as Grimm’s items go. Note: Covid seems to have made an increased demand on educational and wooden toys so the price on these seems to have gone up a good bit.
Grimm’s Set of 5 Small Wooden Stacking & Nesting Rainbow Bowls, Red Outside
A Stacking Toy– We have the MULA stacking ring toy from ikea and it has really been great. Before my son could load it back up, he would dump the rings out, stack them on top of each other and often use the stick as a sword (which has a rubber stick, which is a clever and appreciated design, versus the solid wooden ones of other brands that can really hurt!) to knock them down.
I also want to mention that for a one year old, none of these items will be used to the best of their potential unless you play with your child some, show them how to use them and engage with them in positive ways as they learn and explore the toys. Toys themselves are not necessary for development and often babies and toddlers much prefer household items. There are SO many activities that can be done for free, with items you already own, it just requires a little bit of imagination (or a Pinterest search). Toys are fun but none are really essential and they can’t compare to the benefits gained from play and engagement from family or loved ones. 🙂
I hope this list is useful to you. What was you little ones favorite toy? Please leave a comment if you have suggestions for other readers. ❤
Note: All of these we purchased with our own money. Nothing is sponsored, however the items above include affiliate links, if you make a purchase with that link a small percentage will be given to us to help support our blog expenses.