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Toys for children (birth to age five) receive a recommendation if they:
- Actively capture & stimulate the curiosity of a child in multiple ways & over extended periods of time
- Are safe & developmentally appropriate
- Possess multiple educational functions to facilitate play
- NOTE: Check the age categories before AND after your child’s age group as toys are first listed at the earliest appropriate age.
- NOTE: Toys below seek to stimulate, and not simply entertain, a child by targeting long-term engagement instead of the short-lived “wow factor” like many average toys. To learn more about how to select great, developmentally appropriate toys, click here.
1) “Sophie the Giraffe” by Vulli: Expensive, but worth every penny!
2) Noggin Stik by SmartNoggin: Responsive to baby’s touch & great for clutching and mouthing
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, peer through translucent sides & shake the blocks as each makes a unique sound.
8) Taggies by Mary Meyers Toys: Wonderful books, balls, blankies and baby dolls. 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
10) Deluxe Fill N’ Fun Water Mat by Early Years: A great sensory-exploration solution for tummy-time!
12) Anyway Stacker by Oball: There is no one right way! Baby can experiment and be creative.
14) Sassy Ring O’ Links: Let Baby link, rattle, mouth, sort, count or stuff into an old diaper wipes box.
15) Hide & Seek Disc by KID O: Great for teething, promotes fine-motor skills & understanding of cause/effect!
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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.
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.
5) PipQuigz by Fat Brain Toy Co.: Textured & sized perfectly for small hands & mouths and suctions to windows, walls, floors & more!
6) Ride on Car (The below car is by “Kettler”, but most brands will do! Look for a sturdy car with a character/theme that your child loves, a stopper behind back wheels & a seat that flips up with storage space.)
7) Tobbles by Fat Brain Toy Company: So many ways to play!
8) Parum Pum Pum Drum by B.: Wonderful variety of music toys and well sized for chunky hands. Now includes egg shakers (a favorite among young children).
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 an adorable boy doll for big brothers! Toddlers can change the diaper, use the magnetic pacifier and help to dress baby.
13) Bilibo by Moluk: Try and count the many creative ways children think to play with this toy!
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.
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***Intelligent Nest TOY OF THE YEAR 2011!
3) Soft Play Tunnel by Children’s Factory: This is a 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!
5) Stackadoos by B. (Bristle Blocks): Bristle formation helps ensure success when chunky little hands try to piece blocks together.
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. We still use ours daily (4 yrs. later and plan to keep them for another 5+ years).
8) Little Tykes “Count & Play”: Best cash register for tots, now that Fisher Price discontinued their classic cash register.
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!
11) Toddler Dress-Up Vests and Hats by Constructive Playthings: 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 tested 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 & kids love coming up with new uses for it!
14) Plui by Moluk: Great science toy & safe for children ages 1+.
15) Monkey Bars Tower by Toy Monster: For indoor, gross-motor play (up to 150lbs. max)
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***Intelligent Nest TOY OF THE YEAR 2014!
Adults and kids can’t get enough of these odd little toys!
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. Costco sells a wonderful set online.
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.
9) Play Silks by Magic Cabin: You can make these by purchasing silk from the fabric store, but I found these to be worth the price. They can be tied, wrapped, trampled and tugged as kids clip, tie & transform them into costumes, capes, canopies, hats, forts, skirts, bandages, flags, etc…
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.
***Intelligent Nest TOY OF THE YEAR 2015
14) Jungle Jumparoo: Indoor OR outdoor safe, gross-motor play for kids and adults. Buy the rope swing for added fun. Also with a sheet, it can transform into a fort and can handle sprinklers, mud and abuse. We LOVE ours and highly recommend.
***Intelligent Nest TOY OF THE YEAR 2013
15) Tinkertoys: Girls and boys alike LOVE to build and create– these make the perfect present for every kid on your list.