That first year zooms by quickly, although those sleepless nights of early parenthood can feel like they last forever. One minute you’re recovering from her birth and falling in love with her sweet little face, and the next minute she’s saying her first words and taking her first steps. (Shopping for toddler toys for a loved one’s kid? I know this feeling: it seems like just yesterday that your friend’s kid was a wrinkly little newborn peanut, and the next thing you know, she’s gone mobile and developed a preference for tutus.)
Each step towards a new physical or cognitive skill happens through playtime, and toddler toys are tools that help kids reach each developmental goal. Walkers and push-and-pull toys will help them take their first steps and refine their balance; stacking blocks will help them refine their ability to grip and manipulate items. And early pretend-play toys teach verbal skills and intellectual skills. So I’ve divvied up this list of great gifts by skills and play pattern: toddler toys that help kids learn to get around, toys that improve fine motor skills, and toys that encourage creative play. Any of these items is a great gift for a busy toddler, so just pick the one that fits your budget (or, let’s be honest, the one that you think is cutest) and you’re all set!
WALKERS AND PUSH TOYS
Skip Hop Rolling Owl Push Toy, $24.99
This super cute push-toy is a total hoot! Playtime combines cause-and-effect play with motor-skill practice: the owl waddles forward and beads tumble as the toy rolls along.
HaPe Zebra Walker, $69.99
As your child toddles along behind the zebra walker, the zebras “gallop” forward. Kids can start by using the handlebar to pull up, then experiment with how their forward motion affects the motion of the zebras, and then, when they’re confident walkers, they’ll use their walker for pretend-play as a shopping cart, doll stroller, and more.
Wishbone Mini-Flip, $99.00
This clever multipurpose ride-on can rock or roll! Early walkers can use it as a push-toy, and older kids who have gotten the hang of having their feet on the ground can enjoy it as a rocker or a rolling ride-on.
Haba Carpenter Pixie Walker Wagon, $299.99
This deluxe walker combines all of the toddler play patterns we mentioned above into one great toy: not only does the Pixie Walker Wagon support baby’s earliest walking efforts, but it also comes with a silly little plush friend, colorful play tools, and colorful balls to knock into the wagon.
FINE MOTOR CHALLENGES
Brio Magnetic Wooden Building Blocks, $19.99
Sort, stack, and clickety-clack! These wooden blocks make a wonderful noise when the safely-embedded magnets inside click them together. The bold, saturated colors make these baby blocks irresistible, and they’re super fun to stack and knock down.
Kid O Sort-A-Shape House, $29.99
Kids will learn matching, colors, and problem-solving as they push the boldly-colored shapes through the appropriate slots. It’s also a lot of pretend-play fun to imagine just who lives in this cunning little house!
Tolo Pop-Up Dinosaurs, $39.99
Get ready for giggles: there’s an adorable dinosaur hiding in each of these eggs, and kids will love seeing the fun surprise that happens when they push a button or turn a knob.
Alex Toys My Busy Town, now on sale for $78.74 (usually $104.99)
There’s a reason why you see a wooden activity cube in every preschool and every pediatrician’s office: they’re great for keeping little hands busy pushing beads along a maze, and turning and spinning other pieces.
CREATIVE AND PRETEND PLAY
Kidoozie Snug & Hug Baby Doll, $19.99
This snuggly sweetie is super huggable and kissable, and is utterly irresistible for a kid who wants to pretend to be a little mommy (or daddy). Her eyes close when she’s laid down for a nap, and her clothing is removable, so kids can practice getting their dolly dressed.
Jellycat 12” Bashful Elephant, $20.00
Have you hugged a Jellycat today? These royal favorites make the most lovable companions for every kid, with silky-smooth fur and floppy bodies weighted perfectly for hugs.
Mirari MyPad Touch, $29.99
Glowing screens are irresistible to little kids, but toddlers aren’t great at taking turns (and their propensity for dropping things makes us reluctant to hand over the iPad). This age-appropriate substitute mimics the look of your tablet, and rewards your child’s exploration with over 50 fun sounds and phrases.
Green Toys Flatbed Truck & Race Car, $32.99
This playset is good green fun! Made from recycled milk jugs, these two boldly colored vehicles are made to fit together: the little red hot rod can ride in the blue truck’s tilting flatbed, or be played with separately.