Toy Recommendations for Young Children
Birth to 5 years of age
Toys receive a recommendation by The Intelligent Nest if they are:
– Observed, personally by me, in play 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 to enhance freeplay
– Personally owned and/or tested by me
Remember, a child’s mere use of toy is a sign that the toy is meeting the child’s needs. Toys that are exciting for only a moment (battery operated, lights, buzzer types) are generally not worth the money and space (no matter what the packaging promises or how high the Amazon.com ranking). This is a good reason to clear out toys that your kids rarely use and find ones that do stimulate their interest over the long term. Keep in mind when looking the statements made on toy packaging in the stores that all toys for young children are “educational toys”. All play equals learning for young children!
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Toy Recommendations: By the Ages
(15 Recommended toys 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 this toys.
4) Manhattan Toy “Swish Classic”
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) Musical Tables: Fisher-Price and Leap Frog make great editions that motivate babies to learn to stand and cruise.
10) Skip Hop “Activity Gym”: Less over stimulating than other brands and utilizes contrasting colors that capture baby’s interest.
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. A wonderful toy!
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1 Year to 2 Years of Age
1) Discovery Wagon by Haba: Sturdy wagon, with adjustable wheel speeds. Perfect for cruisers and early walkers! This wagon won’t flip if they pull up on it.
2) Tractor by iPlay: Each animal makes a noise when you put it in the tractor. The farmer sings “Old Mac’ Donald” and the tractor honks its horn and flashes it’s head lights and actually moves with tractor noises. A huge hit!
3) Stackadoos by B. (Bristle Blocks): Bristle formation helps ensure success when chunky little hands try to piece blocks together.
4) Corn Popper Push Toy by Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics: Wonderful for early walkers. The sound of the balls popping is positive reinforcement as tots push.
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) Star Builders by Constructive Playthings: Wonderful manipulative!
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 Tunnel by Children’s Factory: I use http://www.creativityinstitute.com for soft play equipment. This is a great starter piece. Pricey, but will receive hours of active play for years and years.
13) Chunky Shape Puzzle by Melissa and Doug: They also make many other wonderful chunky puzzles. Tots love the knobs. When your child outgrows the puzzle, store the shapes in a zip lock baggie and let your child trace them on paper with crayons or markers. This is a essential skill (contour tracing) practiced in preschool.
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) Fisher-Price “Peek-a-Blocks Rollin’ Rumblin’ Dump Truck”: Collect more blocks for additional fun as each block is unique and offers discovery.
2) Water Blocks by Plan Toys: Display this toy with a flashlight in a dark room and let your child experiment with mixing colors of light or pair with a set of wooden blocks to add a new element to construction projects.
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) Melissa and Doug Deluxe Band Music Set: You may need to pull a couple of pieces aside until your younger 2 year old stops mouthing toys, but overall tots and preschoolers love this set. A great selection of music toys.
5) Latches Board by Melissa and Doug
6) Geometric Sorting Board by Plan Toys
7) Fun 2 Imagine Cash Register by Fisher Price
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. 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) Playdough Set by Melissa and Doug: The playdough didn’t work for long, but the tools are great! I recommend keeping them in the nice wood crate for display and buying Crayola Mold and Magic modeling clay because it is not sticky, doesn’t crumble or get lost in the carpet and stays soft if you keep it air-tight.
15) Workshop Box by Fisher Price: A wonderful set for tots who may still occasionally want to put toys in their mouth. All the pieces are safe and create an open environment for imaginative and logically constructive play. Girls and boys love this tool box!
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3 Year to 4 Years of Age
1) MagnaTiles by Valtech Co. – Expensive, but a must have toy for boys and girls. To learn more, read my article.
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) Stamp and Sort Mailbox by Melissa and Doug: Children love to play with this sturdy mailbox with the included letters and stamps (that act like a 3-D puzzle) and love to make their own letters to mail as well. I find that children also like to stuff this mailbox with other toys and objects and use it in many creative ways.
5) Vintage Kitchen by Kidkraft: I recommend choosing the white color option and pairing the kitchen with red accessories. Many kid kitchens come in a plethora of colors that can overwhelm the eye. Kitchens are static items in the home (not rotated out of play) and so it helps to have dymanic (changeable) accessories displayed on the kitchen that stand out and invite the child to play. This kitchen has weak parts in some places, but Kidkraft is very helpful and will replace broken pieces. Also, plan to spend an entire afternoon building it. In terms of value, this is the best kitchen on the market and offers many simple compartments and features that can be augmented with exciting pots, pans, spatulas and other accessories. With kitchens, simple is best.
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) Child-Sized Guitar: The brand is not important, but find one that looks (is) real (skip the buttons and bright colors.)
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) Kid’s Cottage by Bazoongi: This cloth tent/cottage takes about 5-10 minutes to assemble and is great for rotating in and out of play. The door and windows are fun to pop in and out of and the thick cloth material adds a special element compared to vinyl blend tents. Just be careful to not break the rods/poles. The manufacturer company will not replace them.
13) Geo-lastic Art by Anatex: Well made and open ended geo-board with letter and picture cards to help get young ones started. The pegs are spaced well so that little hands can work rubber bands around them.
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.