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A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to get cable for the first time. We’ve been loyal Netflix watchers for many years, but I recently discovered my love for NFL football (yes it took 37 years, and I credit Patrick Mahomes for igniting the spark…but that’s a little off-topic). The point is, you can’t watch football on Netflix, so we decided to switch to cable, which has been great. Except for the commercials. Specifically: the TOY commercials, yikes!
In the past few weeks, I’ve seen SO many advertisements for toys based off of t.v. shows, movies, and video games. Bright, flashy toys. Novel toys that sometimes even make ME think Ooooh, I want that! But in my experience, those are the toys that a child will get, play with a few times, then set aside for the next flashy thing. They lose interest because they can only be played with in one way….they’re not open-ended and require little or no imagination. And most of the time, they don’t provide the opportunity for problem-solving, creativity, or learning.
As a parent, teacher, and caregiver, I want the toys I give to kids to have some sort of benefit! There are plenty of options for high-quality toys out there – it’s just that sometimes you have to look past all the enticing advertising and dig a little bit to find those gems. Which is why I’m here today: to make it easier for you to find the perfect gift for the toddler in your life that will help them learn and grow in healthy ways. These brain-boosting gift ideas for toddlers ages 18-36 months are broken down into categories that are essential for growth and development: ABC’s & 123’s, problem-solving, large motor, fine motor, science & art, and my personal favorite: books! I guarantee you’ll find a gift (or two) that will be perfect for the little one in your life! Happy shopping!
While toddlers don’t need to know the names of letters or numbers yet, early exposure is important. If they’ve already seen them over and over, it will be a lot easier for little ones to recognize those letters and numbers as they begin learning them formally in their preschool years. Here are some super fun gift ideas to get them started:
Spell-Your-Name Alphabet Railroad by Fat Brain Toys
Oh, how I would have loved this as a kid! Sold as individual letters that hook together with magnets, you can create a name train for your toddler. Such a fun way for them to get to know the letters in their names!
Letter Blocks by Learning Resources
As little ones play and build with these letter blocks, they’ll start to see how each one is different. That’s the first step in being able to recognize and name letters! Also available in numbers.
Acorn Soup game by Peaceable Kingdom
Introduce your toddler to counting with this fun game that has you making recipes with wooden ingredients.
See Inside Peg Puzzles by Melissa & Doug
Not only will toddlers start to recognize letters, numbers, and shapes, but they’ll also be working on fine motor skills and problem solving as they try to fit the pieces in the right places.
Farm A to Z Puzzle and Playset by BeginAgain
A 26-piece wooden farm puzzle that has one item for each letter of the alphabet. Toddlers can put the puzzle together or use the pieces for pretend play – but either way, exposure to the letters on each piece will help set them up for learning success.
Toddlers are incredibly curious about how things work. At this age, they’re starting to test and re-test cause/effect relationships and are constantly trying to find out “What happens when…” This is problem-solving at its finest! Here are some ideas for toys they can safely explore these ideas with:
1-2-3 Build It Rocket-Train-Helicopter by Learning Resources
Toddlers ages 2 and up will have a blast trying to figure out how these vehicles go together, then playing with them when they’re complete.
Big and chunky magnetic sticks and balls that encourage little ones to experiment with building and engineering.
Ladybug’s Garden by FatBrain Toys
An adorable twist on the classic memory game. Little ones look under the wooden ladybugs to find two pictures that match. Great for memory, building vocabulary, taking turns, and fine motor skills!
Foam Blocks by EWonderworld
Safe for toddlers who like to throw things (and non-toxic for those who put everything in their mouths), these soft blocks are a great way to build engineering skills and encourage open-ended play.
Grimm’s Tree Slices by Grimm’s Spiel & Holz Design
These beautifully colored non-toxic wooden blocks have no sharp corners and can create some really beautiful towers. A great option for your toddler’s first wooden blocks.
Crawling, walking, climbing, running all day long. Where do they get all that energy? And how can you provide opportunities for them to move and explore their newly found motor skills in a safe way? Maybe one (or more!) of these gift ideas is the answer:
Let’s Play House – Dust, Sweep, Mop by Melissa & Doug
Once your toddler can walk, s/he will love to pretend to be just like Mom or Dad with these perfectly-sized cleaning tools. A great way to help them figure out how their muscles work together to get the job done!
Bilibo Seat by Moluk
Toddlers will love all the ways they can play with this versatile toy: they can sit inside it, spin it, wobble it, or turn it over and balance on top. Buy a few and they can use them like stepping stones.
Astronaut Tent & Tunnel by Utex
Help your toddler wear off some of that never-ending energy with this super cute tunnel. Crawling (even after they walk!) is so important for developing core muscle strength.
Balance Bike by Strider
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that neither of my kids learned to ride bikes without training wheels until they were 7 or 8. I wish I had known about these balance bikes back then! They help kids figure out how to balance on a bike without having to figure out the pedals at the same time. So cool! They come in 5 colors too.
Easy Build Bricks by Lakeshore Learning
These are like huge Legos – so much fun! Not only will toddlers be working all their major muscle groups as they build and stack, but they’ll also be developing engineering and problem solving skills.
As a kindergarten teacher, I have seen so many students come to school without the ability to hold a pencil or cut with scissors. I wouldn’t expect toddlers to be able to do either of those things yet, but it’s really important that they have the hand strength when the time comes. Here are some fun games and activities to help your toddler develop fine-motor skills:
Fine Motor Forest Friends by Lakeshore Learning
A way-too-cute way to get toddlers working those little hand muscles. It comes with 7 forest animals that pop in and out of a tree.
Make-a-Face Sticker Pads by Melissa & Doug
My kids loved these sticker books for a few years because they could make so many silly creations. Peeling off stickers and putting them back down requires a lot of fine motor work, and these stickers are big enough that toddlers won’t get too frustrated with them.
Bee to Hive Matching Game by Coogam
Made out of wood & non-toxic paint, this irresistibly adorable game will help toddlers strengthen their hands, whether they try to grab the bees using the included tongs or just with their fingers.
Scooping Crabs by Lakeshore Learning
Little ones can play with the shovels and crabs in the sandbox, tub, or the playroom. Not only will they develop hand-eye coordination, but they can also practice sorting, counting, and color recognition.
Catch & Count Magnetic Fishing Rod Set by Melissa & Doug
Toddlers will have so much fun trying to catch these magnetic fish! They’ll be building hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills as they catch the fish and wind up the reel. As they get older, they can use the spinner to work on number recognition and counting too.
Toddlers love to get messy. Parents (usually) don’t. But allowing them to be messy in a controlled way is so good for them in so many ways! Plus, I’ve found that many of the activities below will keep a toddler busy for a long time. Go ahead and let them get a little messy with these toddler-friendly products:
Jumbo Brush Set and Spill-Proof Containers by Melissa & Doug
Technically, this is 2 separate items, but they’re better together! Your toddler will love painting with these big & chunky brushes – they’re so easy for their little hands to hold! And parents will love the spill-proof paint cups…less mess to clean up!
Twisty Water Droppers by Learning Resources
Toddlers can explore cause & effect and how water works with these jumbo water droppers. Put a few drops of food coloring in the water and they can also have some color mixing fun.
I’ve known many parents who don’t let their kids play with it because it can make a mess, but Play-Doh is SO GOOD for little ones! Not only does it allow them to get creative, but it also gives their little fingers a good work-out and it can be therapeutic (a.k.a. it can keep them calm and quiet for a long time!). Excellent tip from my mother-in-law: buy a vinyl tablecloth and put it under your child’s chair while they play to make cleaning up super easy!
Building Bath Pipes by Boon
Explore cause & effect in the tub! Toddlers will love bath time when they can fill and spill water with these pipes that suction to the tub wall.
Water Doodle Mat by Fansteck
A jumbo 40″ by 40″ mat that your child can color on without making a mess! Younger toddlers can start by just using the pens, then as they grow, you can add in some of the accessories.
I believe in nothing more strongly than getting kids to love reading, but toddlers are so busy and often don’t like to sit still. So how can you get books into their hands when they’re always on the move? With interactive books (books that have an element of play in them)! Of course, I recommend you read them your favorite picture books every day at times when they’re calm (like right before or after nap time), but don’t forget to stock some of these interactive books in your playroom too:
Learning Letters Washable Activity Book by Lakeshore Learning
Toddlers will love putting all the squishy little objects into the letter pockets. Great for fine motor skills and letter recognition!
Wearable Books by David Lemke
Spark your toddler’s imagination with these hilarious interactive books! Your little one will love looking in the mirror as she holds the book up to her face and “wears” it as you read the words.
Poke-a-Dot Books by Melissa & Doug
These books have little plastic dots on each page that make a satisfying “pop” when you push on them, which is definitely going to keep little ones engaged. The Alphabet Eye-Spy is shown, but there are lots of others to choose from.
First Look & Find books by PI Publications
These hidden picture board books are easy enough for toddlers and feature their favorite characters. They may need your help at first but soon they’ll be “reading” independently!
Maze Book: Follow Me by Roger Priddy
Little ones will have a blast following the finger mazes through the different scenes in this book. There are lots of different finger-tracing books, but I like these for toddlers because the mazes are indented. Great for hand-eye coordination!
So, was I right? Did you find the perfect gift for your toddler? I sure hope so! Now head over to this post for gift ideas for babies (0-18 months):