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.
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 & 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 ways from puzzling the blocks back into the wood box, stacking, peering through translucent sides to making music with each unique shaker block.
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) Lamaze Clip & Go Firefly: Love this brand…many great options to choose from!
11) Spin Again by Fat Brain Toys
12) Anyway Stacker by Oball: There is no one right way! Baby can experiment and be creative.
13) “Babicorolle” Soft Doll by Corolle
14) Sassy Ring O’ Links: Let Baby link, rattle, mouth, sort, count or stuff into an old diaper wipes box.
15) Click n’ Play Balls: Non-toxic & non-crushable balls for Pack n’ Play or ball pit
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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.
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 & Learn Learning Piggy Bank
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).
9) G Baby by Geomag: Magnets for chunky hands!
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. Kids tend to find a way to play with it through elementary school.
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 & Sam Doll by Manhattan Toy: They also offer an adorable boy doll! 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) Toddler Wobbler by Brio: Sturdy walker with a place to stash important stuff. Plus, it has adjustable wheel speeds & brakes. Perfect for cruisers and early walkers! It is more expensive than plastic walkers, but it can be used for over three years and it is durable and sturdy.
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2-YEAR TO 3-YEARS OF AGE
1) Magnetos by Guidecraft: SmartMax is another great option for a similar product.
2) Alphabet Stacking and Nesting Blocks by Melissa and Doug
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.)) ***Intelligent Nest TOY OF THE YEAR 2011!
4) Super Saxoflute by Quercetti: Music, science and building toy all-in-one!
6) Kettler Tricycle with Pushbar
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 (5 yrs. later and plan to keep them for another 5+ years).
8) Fisher Price Basics Cash Register: Retro and magnificent! It is a classic for a reason.
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) Zycom Zykster 2-in-1 Scooter & Balance Trike: Versatile fun for tots, ages 18-36 months, on the go!
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.
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) Learning Resources Mix and Measure Set: Toss (or save) the guided activity card and just let kids play with these well-made measuring tools. Mix and measure colored water, shaving cream, oil, sand, etc… You’ll have these for years!
15) Monkey Bars Tower by Toy Monster: For indoor, gross-motor play (up to 150lbs. max)
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3-YEAR TO 4-YEARS OF AGE
1) Squigz by Fat Brain Toy Co: Adults and kids can’t get enough of Squigz! ***Intelligent Nest TOY OF THE YEAR 2014!
2) Play Kitchen: I recommend the Vintage Kitchen by Kidkraft. 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.
4) Gears, Gears, Gears! by Learning Resources
5) Safety Guard Scooter Board by Gamecraft
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: You can make these by purchasing silk from the fabric store, but I found this set to be worth the price (we’ve had ours 5 years now and they have 5+ years of wear left on them). The silks can be tied, wrapped, trampled and tugged as kids clip, tie & transform them into costumes, capes, canopies, hats, forts, skirts, bandages, flags, etc…
10) Kids First Robot Engineer: STEM toy made for boys and girls! Available in other themes like amusement park and automobile as well. Plus, the storage container is an actual tupperware and a storybook is included. They hit this one out of the park! ***Intelligent Nest TOY OF THE YEAR 2016
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) Jungle Jumparoo: Indoor/outdoor safe, gross-motor play for kids and adults. Buy the rope swing for added fun. Also with a sheet/parachute, it can transform into a fort and can handle sprinklers, mud and abuse. We LOVE ours and highly recommend. It is worth the price! ***Intelligent Nest TOY OF THE YEAR 2015
15) Tinkertoys: Girls and boys alike LOVE to build and create– these make the perfect present for every kid on your list. ***Intelligent Nest TOY OF THE YEAR 2013
***Intelligent Nest TOY OF THE YEAR 2012
2) Plus Plus Assortments by Plus: Tiny, rubber puzzle pieces that you can build into 3-D figures. Cool for kids and adults!
3) Stepping Domes: The brand is not important, but Constructive Playthings make a great set. The options for play with this toy are limitless.
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
6) Sculpture in a Box by Shapescapes: An instant soothing favorite for kids and adults!
7) Teaching Cash Register by Learning Resources: Fits real money and coins!
8) Dr. Eureka Speed Logic Game by Blue Orange: This toy set can be played cooperatively or independently. What could be more fun than experimenting with beakers?
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.
10) GoldieBlox: Even boys like this innovative STEM toy designed for girls– Build machines & tell a story at the same time!
11) Marble Run: A 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).
12) Mindscope Neon Twister Tracks: Fun for boys and girls, plus this set has a newly designed car and is still compatible with the old tracks
13) Lincoln Logs: Classic for a reason.
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!
15) OgoSport Mezo OgoDisc
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25 Top Toys for KIDS 5 to 10 Years OF AGE
**In no particular order
- Two Bros Bows Bow & Arrow (comes in various colors for boys/girls)
- Little Bits STEM Kits (various prices/sizes of kits | amazing toy!)
- Quadrillion by SmartGames
- Snapcircuits (sets are interchangeable so you can collect them all!)
- KEVA Contraptions & Structures
- Flippin Chicken
- Bugs in the Kitchen by HEX BUGS
- 4M Fun Mechanics Kits
- Fort Magic: Fort Building and Construction Toy Kit
- Rock and Roll It Flexible Instruments
- Sew Softies by Orb Factory
- 3D String Art
- Doinkit Darts
- Creativity for Kids Terrariums (amazing kits for boys and girls)
- Think Fun Games (esp. Rush Hour, Laser Maze, Rush Hour)
- Spooner Boards
- Just Jump It 8ft & 16ft Ropes (you can’t imagine what they come up with for these)
- Thames + Kosmos Kits (expensive but well done!)
- Geomag Construction Sets
- SmartLab Ultimate Secret Formula Lab
- Zoob Builder sets
To purchase: If you live in the NoVA area, visit Doddlehopper in Falls Church, VA (my favorite toy store)