Toddlers are dynamic — they're learning and changing so much every day! And toys can really help them as they develop. "Virtually all toys help in some form of development — and that can be a pot and a spoon for that matter," says independent analyst and toy historian Chris Byrne, aka The Toy Guy. "Toys that encourage exploration and self-guided play really do support the developing toddler." And you definitely don't have to spend a lot to give kids ages 1 to 3 a rich play experience, says Byrne. "Parents should cherish that; it’s the last time they’ll get off so easily!" That said, there are some very cool options on the pricier side if you're looking to splash out. (We've found the top toys in every price range.)
Trends for this holiday season include Squishmallows stuffies, character toys featuring CocoMelon and Bluey and of course, Lego Duplo sets. Toys that help with gross motor development like the Razor Rollie DLX scooter, Tonka 1968 Mighty Dump and the Learn and Balance Set are also great choices. Parents can encourage fine motor skills and encourage creative play with products like Connectix, Play-Doh and dollhouse playsets. But enough chit-chat; let's start shopping!
A perennially popular gift option, Duplo sets help with fine motor coordination, Byrne points out. This new arrival for ages 2 and up is full of enticing, colorful pieces that toddlers will love. "This set is especially cute with the little animals," writes one happy customer, "and will be a great way to teach them about wildlife."
Byrne likes this scooter for toddler development. "Toys that really give kids a chance to immerse in fine or gross motor activities are usually excellent," he says. The Rollie DLX glides well, especially compared to other scooters on the market. And the lights get a big thumbs-up from kids and parents alike. "My 3 year old loves how it lights up and for me I love that there’s no on and off button for the lights," writes one satisfied Razor customer. "It automatically lights up with movement and turns off when it stops."
DJ Beat Boxer has so many fun functions: she responds to toddler touch with motions and sounds, and kids can create music with mixing capabilities. She nods along to the tunes, and her jowls even flap to the beat. Cuddle Mode means this pup emits realistic dog noises and is ready for snuggling.
Pop this water wheel onto the side of the bath and watch your little one spin it with water. There's an included cup for pouring (always a hit), plus a figurine and a baby shark. Put the figure inside the wheel and take him for a ride. Playmobil 1.2.3 is an amazing line of toddler toys; they're high-quality sets that engage little hands and imaginations.
This sweet train set is a fantastic gift option, from a toddler-joy standpoint and also from a developmental standpoint. "The Brio My First Railway hits a lot of these assets — fine motor, creative, interactive," says Byrne. You can get other wooden Brio sets and accessories to add later if your child takes to the world of trains.
This toddler-sized seat (it’s 19 inches high) is a winner. It’s got a cover that comes off for easy cleaning (and yes, you can toss it in the washing machine) and handy side pockets where kiddos can stash toys. There’s even a handle on top so it can be dragged around the house.
You can feel good about gifting this plastic playset: the CoComelon Ultimate Learning Bus is a Toy of the Year Finalist, a Toy Insider Top Holiday Toys inclusion, it’s on Amazon's Toys We Love List and it won a NAPPA Award. So yeah, it’s a sold pick! “The Learning Bus is awesome, but there are also a variety of JJ dolls,” says Byrne, if you’re looking for something a bit more cuddly.
So much creativity can be unleashed with this compact wooden dollhouse. Furniture and pets are included in the 31 pieces, so toddlers are ready to play. Bonus: Assembly is quick and easy. "Amazing quality, my daughter spends hours playing," writes a happy Amazon customer. "Love the modern music twist on a classic doll house."
These new, high-quality dolls from Madame Alexander are posable, sport lots of hair for styling and come with accessories to match their hobbies. One doll plays tennis and eats ice cream; she arrives with a tennis bag, ball, racquet, visor, purse and outfit. Another likes camping and chess! (Best for ages 3 and up due to the small accessories.)
A new toy on the market, Connetix provides fine motor, creative and interactive play. “It is for the older toddler,” says Byrne. “I love these sets, but they may be a little pricey for a lot of parents. The design is worth the money for those who want to spend it, and the magnets are safely embedded and the whole product so well designed.”
A big gift that gives big smiles, this ice cream truck playset is large enough for friends to share. An impressive 27 accessories and 12 cans of Play-Doh are included for maximum fun. “Creative play is always good, particularly when it involves paints, compounds, or other things,” says Byrne. “That’s why I think you’re right on with the Play-Doh Ice Cream Truck.”
Your toddler might enjoy cereal, scrambled eggs or frozen waffles for their first meal, but there are so many other global breakfast options. The colorful pages of this board book depict churros from Spain, Mandazi from Tanzania, Cachapas from Venezuela and other yummy foods. Bright illustrations and easy-to-read text will make this a favorite read.
This red and yellow edition boasts a 75th anniversary proclaiming its status as an enduring favorite. Who needs sounds and lights? Tonka's classic dump truck is a satisfying vehicle without newfangled tech. From the Steel Classics line, this guy is made to last. Toddlers will love hauling dirt, toys or sand and then dumping it out. Let the good times roll!
“Squishmallows are the hottest thing out there this year,” says Byrne of this popular line of stuffed toys. There are so many adorable critters to choose from, you can find your toddler’s favorite animal. “Really cute and well made,” says one Walmart reviewer. “Gloria is a perfect example of original Squishmallow quality. I'm very happy with my purchase.”
A roller, light-up buttons, a pull cord, pretend blade, popping beads... there's just so much to look at and touch on VTech's Pop & Spin Mower. It also functions as a push toy and is great for tots learning to walk. "I got this for my 18 month old to use in the yard and she loves it so much!" writes a happy Amazon reviewer. "She especially loves playing with the toy when daddy is out mowing the yard. It's very cute and it even makes the same sounds that a real lawnmower does!"
Ted Lasso, Rebecca Welton, Keeley Jones, Coach Beard, Roy Kent and Sam Obisanya are all included in this limited-edition set of Little People. The AFC Richmond team is crafted into chunky plastic dolls, perfect for little hands. Or parents might want to keep this collection boxed and display it as a collector’s set! “I love this. Makes me smile,” writes one Amazon Ted Lasso fan. “The details on each one, the box front and back… perfect!!!!”
This open-concept, durable camper is just too cute. Toddlers will spend hours “grilling” with the Stack’n’Stay set, complete with electronic lights and sounds. Other features include Dutch doors, a skylight, wheel, storage and working doorbell. Bonus: the Adventure Camper will look impressive under any Christmas tree.
Sleepy Eyes Owl has two modes for bedtime relaxation: one is 20 minutes of tranquil, volume-controlled music with a nightlight and the other is a sound machine featuring 7 different options. The owl’s eyes slowly start closing, encouraging your toddler to do the same. What a great gift!
This wooden cookie set pairs perfectly with a play kitchen, but works just as well on its own. Included are 12 sliceable cookies that store in a dough tube, 12 toppings, knife, spatula, cookie sheet and a kitchen mitt.
There are over 15,000 5-star ratings on Amazon — it’s a solid buy! “The ‘decorations’ are removable (velcro) so they can add or remove them if they desire,” explains one satisfied Amazon reviewer. “When they are removed, the cookies all velcro together and the toy knife allows them to ‘slice and bake’ the cookies. We look forward to many baking sessions and cookie parties over the next few years!”
“At this age, kids are really starting to engage with characters,” says Byrne of TV and movie tie-in toys. Animated Australian series Bluey is a hit with parents and kids alike. “The important thing about characters, however, is that if they exist in an on-screen environment, they have to be compelling enough so that kids want to take that character off the screen and express themself through play with it.”
Bluey and her trash truck definitely hit that mark! The set includes bins and lots of detailed accessories.
Spatial learning is a great benefit of this quality balance beam set from Little Partners. It’s easy to store and set up, and toddlers will love completing their own obstacle courses and challenges. It’s also perfect for playing “the floor is lava”!
“This is a nice item to build confidence and coordination,” comments one Amazon reviewer. “Solid construction, great finish and very sturdy.”
This little schoolhouse set can be carried anywhere — it folds up into a backpack with adjustable straps. It makes a great travel toy or something to take when visiting friends or relatives. Each room includes furniture and accessories — the tiny toilet even has a lid that flips! Airplane and boat versions are also available.
The hoop adjusts to 6 different heights to grow with your child, making this a gift that’ll last. The base can be weighted with sand for more secure play, and this set can be used indoors or out. “This is the second one we have owned,” comments a 2-time buyer on Amazon. “The first one lasted 15 years sitting outside by the pool. GREAT PRODUCT.”
The caps lock lets you know it’s a winner.
This CoComelon winner has three play modes to provide all kinds of fun. Chase mode encourages toddlers to follow the toy. Hide ‘N Seek has Chase hide and count, and it even moves to “find” your child. The Sit ‘N Play option lets toddlers enjoy all the tactile offerings. Touch the antennas and hear sounds and songs. Chase’s cheeks light up and kids can even ask questions.
Fourteen colorful pieces are included in this set, which helps with color recognition and counting as well as fine motor skills. Over 44,000 positive Amazon ratings agree that Spike makes a great gift! “This hedgehog is adorable,” writes one happy Amazon customer. “My nephew who is 18 months old loved it and played with it for weeks. Would gift again to someone else.”
The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.