Smart Parenting for Busy & Imperfect People

Toy Recommendation Guide 2014

   P. Tinker toys

Toy Recommendations for Young Children  

Birth to 5 years of age

Toys receive a recommendation if they are:

–  Tested, personally by me, and observed in use by various children

– Actively capture and stimulate the curiosity and wonder of a child in multiple ways and over longer periods of time than average toys

– Safe & developmentally appropriate

– Possess multiple educational functions of play

* This year, I ordered the toys according to my assessment of their overall value and expected frequency of use.  I also included a link within the name of each toy, if available, to the item on Intelligent Nest’s Amazon Toy Store.  You may also click here to be directed directly to IN’s page.

* Please check the categories before and after your child’s age group as I first list toys within the age group that they are best introduced to a child but can still be played with for years to come.

* Please also keep in mind that the toys below seek to stimulate and not simply entertain a child.  They target long-term engagement instead of a short-lived “wow factor” like many battery-operated lights and buzzers toys.  To learn more about how to select lasting, developmentally appropriate toys, please read this Intelligent Nest, LLC article on how to buy toys that kids will use.



* * *

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) Noggin Stik by SmartNoggin: Responsive to baby’s touch and great for clutching and mouthing

P. Noggin Stik


3) Haba Clutching Toys: “Croo-ak” or “Rosella”  Babies love to clutch and teeth the hands of these toys.

4) Manhattan Toy “Swish Classic”: Collapses to fit in a diaper bag!

5) Stacking Toys: Fisher Price “Rock-a-Stack” & “Stack and Roll Cups”, Plan Toys “Stacking Ring” & Green Sprouts “Stacking Cup Set”

6) Rhino Toys  ”Oball”: Great for teaching grasping skills


7) 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.


8) 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.


9) Go Car Go! by Kid-O: Easy to grasp, durable and rubber-coated wheels

P. Go car go

10) Zolo by Kushies Shangrila/Portico:
 Less over-stimulating than other brands and utilizes contrasting colors that capture baby’s interest, while still offering plush and washable fabrics.

P. activity gym

11) Toy Smith Battat “Sound Puzzle Box”

12) Anyway Stacker by OballThere is no one right way!  Baby can experiment and be creative.

P. Oball Anyway Stacker


13) “Babicorolle” Soft Doll by Corolle

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) Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes: I can’t explain it, but babies LOVE this toy.  Its design doesn’t seem to cover multiple modalities of learning, yet babies choose this toy time and time again.  It is the one exception to the criteria listed above.


* * *

1 Year to 2 Years of Age

1) Fisher-Price “Baby’s First Blocks” (Brilliant Basics Line)


2) 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.

P. soft play form



3) 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.


4) 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.


5) PipQuigz by Fat Brain Toy Co.: Suctions to windows, walls, floors and more!

P. pipquigz

6) 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)

Ride on Car

7) Tobbles by Fat Brain Toy Company: So many ways to play!

P. Tobbles

8) 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).


9) Fisher-Price “Peek-a-Blocks Rollin’ Rumblin’ Dump Truck”: Collect more blocks for additional fun as each block is unique and offers discovery.


10) Stuff N’ Pull Scarf Tote by Constructive Playthings: Fun to use with the included scarfs or play a guessing game with other household objects.

11) 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…

12) 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.

13) Bilibo by MolukTry and count the many creative ways children think to play with this toy!

P. Bilibo

14) 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.

15) 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.  It is expensive, but can be used for over three years and is durable and sturdy.


* * *

2 Year to 3 Years of Age

1) 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.


2) Alphabet Stacking and Nesting Blocks by Melissa and Doug


3) 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.

4) Super Saxoflute by Quercetti: Musical and building toy all in one!

P. Saxoflute

5) Stackadoos by B. (Bristle Blocks): Bristle formation helps ensure success when chunky little hands try to piece blocks together.


6) Kettler Tricycle with Pushbar

P. Kettler Tricycle

7) 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 and can be used for years.


8) 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, Little Tykes “Count & Play” is a decent back-up option.

9) Tall Stacker Pegs Building Set by Lauri


9) Mon Premier Tidoo Bathtime Baby Doll by Corolle: Tots love to wash this baby in the bath, push it in a stroller and wrap it in a blanket.  Well made, sturdy, cuddly and cute!

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) Shopping Cart by Melissa and Doug: I have tried and owned various shopping carts.  This is, by far, the best and has survived many unintentional trips down the stairs.

13) Drum by Remo: Sturdy and kids love coming up with uses for it!

P. remo drum

14)  Plui by Moluk: Great science toy safe for children 1+

P. Plui

15) Kubix Geometrix Blocks by Janod

P. Geometric blocks



* * *

3 Year to 4 Years of Age

1)  Squigz by Fat Brain Toy Co.–  Intelligent Nest, LLC BEST TOY OF THE YEAR!!!

P. Squigz

2) 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.


3) 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.

4)  Gears, Gears, Gears! by Learning Resources

5) Safety Guard Scooter Board by Gamecraft

P. Scooter Board

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)  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.


8) Melissa and Doug Deluxe Band Music Set


9)   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.  Display them 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…


10) Teeter Popper by Fat Brain Toy Co.

P. teeter popper


11) 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.

12) Mini Trampoline  Find one where 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.  Position this toy in a room/area where it is OK to play rough, throw balls, jump and play like kid.

13) 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.

14)  Automoblox: Reassemble in different configurations.  Creativity and fine-motor coordination required!

P. automoblox

15) Build a Bouquet by Green Toys: Appealing theme for girls and boys alike and a creative approach to building!

P. build a bouquet



* * *

4 to 5 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) Tinkertoys: Plastic instead of wood like when you were a kid, but now offers better use and durability.

P. Tinker toys


3) Stepping Domes:  The brand is not important, but Constructive Playthings make a great set.  The options for play with this toy are limitless.

P. Stepping Domes


4) Ogo BildPOD by Ogo Sport The pieces are large and flexible offering your child the opportunity to build larger creations (fort, bed, food stand, house, dungeon, castle, etc…) and require their entire body to build and play.


5) Connectagons by Hearth Song/ Magic Cabin: Wonderful toy, but display these in an open bin instead of the opaque bag that comes with them.


6)  Sculpture in a Box by Shapescapes: An instant favorite!

P. Sculpture in a box


7) Teaching Cash Register by Learning Resources: Fits real money and coins!

LR cash register

8) Kinetic Sand It is not 100% mess free like the box will claim, but very minimal clean-up and fascinating texture and effects!

P. kinetic sand


9) Kidoozie SuperSkipper: The whole family can play together as this features multiple settings and speeds and the arms disconnect and transform into everything under the sun.

P. kidoozie super skipper

10) A Set of Simple Colorful Dominos: The brand is not essential.  Make a train, find patterns, make up your own games, play with a friend, organize, make pictures- the sky is the limit.

P. dominos

11) Marble RunA different outcome every time- very stimulating and exciting for young children!  I would only purchase this toy if there are no children under 3 years of age in the house (the marbles pose a very real choking hazard).

marble run


12) Geoboard: Don’t forget to pick up a variety of rubberbands too!

13) Lincoln Logs: Classic for a reason.

lincoln logs


14)  Flying Turtle: Skip the battery operated cars and explore the laws of physics with this great car instead and it will not scratch your floors!

P. Flying Turtule

15) Twig Blocks by Fat Brain Toys: A very unique building experience.



Most toys are available for purchase at Intelligent Nest, LLC’s Toy Store– Powered by

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Happy shopping!

2 Responses to “Toy Recommendation Guide 2014”

  1. Saudi Viera

    I love this list. I found out about it last year and my little one is only 3 months but its great to see things that are worth spending on and also that serve a purpose.


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