Toy Recommendations for Young Children
Birth to 5 years of age
Toys receive a recommendation by The Intelligent Nest if they are:
- Tested, personally by me, and in many cases observed in use by various children in multiple play scenarios
- Actively capture and stimulate the curiosity and wonder of a child in multiple ways and over longer periods of time than average toys
- Developmentally appropriate
- Possess multiple educational functions
Please note that toys recommended for age groups other than your child’s may still make excellent toys. Toys are typically listed under the age that they would ideally be introduced to a child. In many cases, the list before and after the age of the child for which you are shopping can also offer excellent recommendations.
Also, keep in mind that many of the toys below seek to stimulate and not simply entertain a child. They often do not have the same “wow factor” that a battery-operated lights and buzzer toy may offer when opened as a present. They will, however, capture your child’s interest for months and years after the short-lived excitement period of the latest battery-operated toy ends.
To learn more about how to select lasting, developmentally appropriate toys, please read this Intelligent Nest article on how to buy toys that kids will actually use.
For your convenience, many of the toys listed below are available at The Intelligent Nest Toy Store powered by Amazon.com. (The recommendations made in this article have no bearing upon their availability or pricing on Amazon.com and are based solely upon their own merit using the above criteria.)
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Toy Recommendations: By the Ages
(15 recommendations per age group)
Birth to 12 Months of Age
1) “Sophie the Giraffe” by Vulli: Expensive, but worth every penny!
2) Haba Clutching Toys: “Croo-ak” or “Rosella” Babies love to clutch and teeth the hands of these toys.
3) Noggin Stik by SmartNoggin: Responsive to baby’s touch and great for clutching and mouthing
4) Manhattan Toy “Swish Classic”
5) Stacking Toys: Fisher Price “Rock-a-Stack” & “Stack and Roll Cups”, Plan Toys “Stacking Ring” & Green Sprouts “Stacking Cup Set”
6) Anyway Stacker by Oball: There is no one right way! Baby can experiment and be creative.
7) Taggies by Mary Meyers Toys: We love the infant books and balls, wonderful little blankies and baby dolls too. The “taggies” on the toys give baby a chance to grip successfully with their tiny hands.
8) Go Car Go! by Kid-O: Easy to grasp, durable and rubber-coated wheels
10) Skip Hop “Activity Gym”: Less over-stimulating than other brands and utilizes contrasting colors that capture baby’s interest, while still offering plush and washable fabrics.
11) Toy Smith Battat “Sound Puzzle Box”
12) “Babicorolle” Soft Doll by Corolle
13) Rhino Toys ”Oball”
14) Sassy Ring O’ Links: Let them link, rattle, mouth, sort, count or stuff into an old diaper wipes box. The fun is limitless.
15) Rainbow Sound Blocks by Wonder World: Pricey, but worth it! These blocks can be used in many different ways. Putting the blocks back into the wood box is a puzzle, baby can stack the blocks or shine a light through the translucent sides and study the effects, shake the blocks and compare sounds… the list could continue.
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1 Year to 2 Years of Age
1) Discovery Wagon by Haba: Sturdy walker/push chair/ doll stroller, etc… with adjustable wheel speeds. Perfect for cruisers and early walkers! This wagon will not flip if the child pulls up on it.
2) Fisher-Price “Peek-a-Blocks Rollin’ Rumblin’ Dump Truck”: Collect more blocks for additional fun as each block is unique and offers discovery.
3) Double Octagon Builders by Constructive Playthings
4) Fisher-Price “Baby’s First Blocks” (Brilliant Basics Line)
5) Ride-on Car (No specific brand: look for a sturdy car that is a character/theme that your child loves, has a stopper behind back wheels, has a seat that flips up with storage space and a couple of fun buttons and gadgets)
6) Little People by Fisher-Price: Barn, airplane, bus, parking garage, airport and house are all fun and well designed. Pick a theme that your child enjoys.
7) Stuff N’ Pull Scarf Tote by Constructive Playthings: Fun to use with the included scarfs or play a guessing game with other household objects.
8) Fantasy Blocks by Haba
9) Wooden Blocks by Melissa and Doug: Display these in different containers from week to week. One week a shoe box (cut a hole for your child to fit blocks through box in different spots), a coffee tin, a plastic bin, etc…
10) Parum Pum Pum Drum by B. : Wonderful variety of music toys and well sized for chunky hands. Made with mostly with plastic for tots who are teething and like to explore with their mouths. Now includes egg shakers (a favorite among young children).
11) Stella Doll by Manhattan Toy: They also offer a adorable boy doll for big brothers! Toddlers can change the diaper, use the magnetic pacifier and help to dress baby.
12) Soft Play Forms by Constructive Play Things: A wonderful starter set for a gross-motor play area. A good value for soft play equipment and will receive hours of active play for a years to come.
13) Bilibo by Moluk: Try and count the many creative ways children think to play with this toy!
14) Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Learning Piggy Bank: You can recreate this toy using CDs and a shoe box with a slot cut into it and the lid taped on or using Sassy Links and an old Huggies diaper wipes plastic container. Tots love the repetitive act of pushing items through the slots, filling, dumping and beginning again.
15) Cozy Coupe by Little Tykes: Toddlers can’t get enough of this car. They love getting in and out by opening and closing the door.
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2 Year to 3 Years of Age
1) Junior Engineering Building Set by Constructive Playthings
2) Soft Play Tunnel by Children’s Factory: This is a great, versatile starter piece for gross motor play. Pricey, but will receive hours of active play for years and years. I use the Creativity Institute for soft play equipment or you can find it at the Intelligent Nest Toy Store.
3) Magnetos by Guidecraft: Stick with the straight rod and ball set to start. Display in an open bin on the floor or a table. Once your child discovers the magnetic element they will capture and keep your child’s attention.
4) Super Saxoflute by Quercetti: Musical and building toy all in one!
5) Kettler Tricycle with Pushbar
6) Kubix Geometrix Blocks by Janod
7) Fun 2 Imagine Cash Register by Fisher Price: Out of production, but you still may be lucky enough to locate one. If you cannot locate it, New Sprouts “Ring it Up” is a decent back-up option.
8) Mon Premier Tidoo Bathtime Baby Doll by Corolle: Tots love to bathe this baby in the bath, push it in a stroller and wrap it in a blanket. Well made, sturdy, cuddly and cute!
9) Alphabet Stacking and Nesting Blocks by Melissa and Doug
10) Stack and Sort Board by Melissa and Doug
11) Toddler Dress-Up Vests and Hats by Constructive Playthings: Parents often forget to buy dress up clothes for tots (other than princess costumes and capes). Boys and girls enjoy this set. The vests are easy to put on and take off and last for years due to the Velcro sizing tabs on the sides. A must!
12) Children’s Factory Soft Tunnel Climber Set: A big investment that WILL pay off as it promotes gross motor play indoors for days when it is too hot, cold or wet to be outside.
13) Shopping Cart by Melissa and Doug: I have tried and owned various shopping carts. This is, by far, the best!
14) Stackadoos by B. (Bristle Blocks): Bristle formation helps ensure success when chunky little hands try to piece blocks together.
15) Wedgits by Imagability
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3 Year to 4 Years of Age
1) Squigz by Fat Brain Toy Co.
2) Hardwood Blocks: A large set of assorted basic wood blocks with sanded/rounded edges is another must. Store in an open-top container. Costco sells a wonderful set online.
3) Gears, Gears, Gears! by Learning Resources
4) Safety Guard Scooter Board by Gamecraft
5) Play Kitchen: I recommend the Vintage Kitchen by Kidkraft in white. This kitchen has weak parts in some places, but Kidkraft is very helpful and will replace broken pieces. In terms of value, this is one of the best kitchens on the market.
6) Pattern Blocks: Learning Resources sells a decent set on Amazon, but the brand does not matter as much with pattern blocks. Display them in a wide-mouthed open bin.
7) Melissa and Doug Easel: Sturdy, collapsible for storage and adjustable for children of different heights. Use chalk, paints, grease markers, stamps, glue, crayons, watercolors, scissors… the sky is the limit. Be sure to buy the accessory set to accompany the easel to get you started.
8) Discovery Builders by Lakeshore Learning: A manipulative set for each week of the month. Easy toy rotation!
9) Trampoline by ALEX: The legs fold down for storage/toy rotation. Pair with a old sheet and kids like to turn this trampoline into a fort as well. Children like to use the handle bar to hang and flip (not likely recommend by the manufacturer, but it is stable and seemingly safe to do so). Position this toy in a room/area where it is OK to play rough, throw balls, jump and play like kid.
10) Role Play Costume Sets by Melissa and Doug: Well made and creatively designed costumes that enchant young children. Find options ranging from medieval knight to mailman to hair dresser to veterinarian. Great to stock up and keep them in a readily accessible costume bin or bag.
11) Tall Stacker Pegs Building Set by Lauri
12) Melissa and Doug Deluxe Band Music Set
13) Automoblox: Reassemble in different configurations. Creativity and fine-motor coordination required!
14) Play Silks by Magic Cabin: If you are crafty, you can go to the fabric store and recreate this “toy” for much less. Just pick a soft, flowy fabric that can be tied, wrapped, trampled and tugged. Open-ended, creative play will burst from these 35″ sq. selections of fabric. I display mine in a flexible wide, open bin with clothes pins and clips attached to the sides so that kids can clip the silks in different ways to make costumes, capes, canopies, hats, forts, skirts, bandages, flags, etc…
15) Wooden Train Set: Choose Thomas, Brio, Melissa and Doug or Chuggington. The brand does not matter. The tracks and trains can be pricey, so I recommend saving money for other toys (or bills!) and going as generic as possible on the tracks and accessories and choosing a couple of your child’s favorite characters for the trains. No need to buy the whole table as train sets need to be rotated in and out of play.