I shared the first part of this list 15 Worthwhile Toys for the Early Years a few weeks back, because the toy industry, children’s movies/TV and related products, Pottery Barn Kids, Target (both of which I LOVE!), educational products, etc. can be SO damn cute and manipulative, much like our little ones… and then bam! Or “CRUNCH!” Or “OW!” You’ve stepped on one of thousands of toys or supplies… no matter how much your munchkins actually help put them all away.
Be sure to read Rigor in Play and Part 1 for more on the power of play and my thoughts on age recommendations, the educational aspects of toys, our intentionality with what and how play materials are made available, and some educational philosophy to back me up. Yay!
Of course, I have to reiterate the importance of supervision to ensure safe play first.
But now, let’s get to the next 5 items on my list of top pick toys for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. As with the first 5, these meet my criteria of lasting over time, interest, multiple children, and multiple ages and stages.
6. Wooden Blocks
To me, blocks are THE MOST open-ended toys, and all children should have them. Maybe that’s the Pre-K teacher in me talking, because no Pre-K classroom is complete without unit blocks. The smallest block is too small to pose a choking hazard, and though wood is somewhat hard (no throwing), its also somewhat soft, meaning teething babies will love gripping a block, mouthing it, and they’ll leave no bite marks and swallow no broken bits. As babies gets older, they’ll enjoy banging blocks on the floor, banging two together, stacking them, lining them up, knocking them down, transferring them into buckets or the back of a little dump truck. We currently have the Melissa & Doug cube blocks in a wagon and some by Fisher Price (see Amazon links below) but once we have a dedicated play room, we will get a unit block set with different geometrical shapes and architectural elements.
Bonus Perk: One of our favorite games for a while was Builders and Bulldozers: Momma vs. Babies. Even the toddler could really get into that, and it helped him get over his frustration at the babies always knocking over his constructions. It was super heartwarming to find a game I could play with all three of my monitos. Also, I feel like its obvious but worth mentioning that block play promotes imagination, representational thinking, mathematical concepts, scientific thinking, and deep sustained attention and play.
7. Walker Shopping Cart
For a period of two months, while the twins were first pulling to standing, cruising and walking with support, I reeeeally debated buying a second one of these, and I still think it would have been worth it. Baby girl took to it first, and was then appalled when twin brother discovered it and wanted it for himself. Big brother was equally distraught because he wanted to push his stuffed crocodiles, or the babies (EEK!), around in it. I looked at my 1600 sqft house, imagined my hubby’s voice at tripping over another big wheeled toy, and decided I’d better not, because I would rather deal with the babies crying than my hubby crying if he stubbed his toe. (Love you hubby!) Also, I blinked and then the babies were simply walking without any support, so thankfully they could take turns with other less stable push toys around the house (like the lawnmower or toy vacuum cleaner).
Which reminds me, this shopping cart, is a winner because it is SUPER stable, with a wide base, which also explains why having two would have made floor space tight. It’s also multi-purpose/age. I prefer it to other walkers that supposedly double as interactive toys without the base once baby outgrows the walker, because I would rather promote pretend and active play than sedentary play with some gadget, even if it does play 50 fun songs. We keep the shopping cart next to the play kitchen, next to the actual kitchen, so the babies have plenty of ideas for how to play with it beyond using it as a walker… or you know, it can be a stroller for baby dolls and plush toys, even mean crocs, if your little one is a bit older.
Bonus Perk: The basket will also provide you extra space for toys. Ours currently houses some play food and our Stack ‘n Spin Burger Toy, also made by Bright Starts and sure to provide hours of fun, dancing, and giggles, because of the light up button and songs.
8. Alligator Pull Toy
We found the adorable rainbow version of this Dancing Alligator Pull Toy at our neighborhood toy store, but I suppose the green one (Amazon link below) would also do. This is a WELL made toy, and my kids have all loved it. Its tends to be forgotten for a few days, and then rediscovered and made a new obsession for a week or so. There is just something so cute about a walking baby pulling along a wooden pull toy and looking back at it with glee, then picking up the pace, lest the toy catch up with him, then giggling some more as the toy picks up pace with him. Cause and effect, yo.
Best Perk: Even as a baby, our first born was inventive enough to pair this with a second toy for even more fun. Before he could walk independently, he held the alligator’s rope firmly while also pushing his Shopping Cart Push Walker (see above). And now, he likes to secure the rope to his riding dump truck, and hear it clack behind him as he races his dump truck up and down the hallway. It’s loud but stinking’ cute.
9. Little Tikes Cook ‘n Grow Kitchen
The Pre-K teacher in me feels very strongly about providing children the opportunity to pretend play, especially with home and family roles because after all, that is what they most see and understand during the early years. Kids will do what they see, and they don’t divide us by gender unless we teach them too. There is nothing wrong with boys taking on roles traditionally thought of as feminine in their pretend play nor for girls to do the same with traditionally male roles, because that is how they explore the world around them, and don’t we want our boys and girls looking up to hard working, respectful adults regardless of whether they are male or female?
Best Perk: This convinced my hubby that this type of pretend play, specifically of kitchen/home duties, is not just for girls. We have watched our little ones’ imagination, language, motor skills, and self-help skills blossom from the play that is promoted by this play kitchen. Plus isn’t it just adorable when your toddler brings you a cup of coffee or pretends to help clean up the dishes? Now as soon as he’s able to do that for real, I’ll be doing great!
10. Reading Chair
Remember how I said I LOVE Pottery Barn Kids, well I know they are overpriced, so no, our reading chair isn’t from there, but you could look at their “Anywhere Chairs” to see what I’m talking about. Our chair was a great find of my SIL’s from Homegoods, gray and white elephants to match my firstborn’s nursery, but not babyish, so it still works for him. They always have an awesome collection featuring different patterns that are on trend, styles, and sizes. Recently I also found a little gray love seat because the babies were fighting over the reading chair.
I know this is not a toy technically, but I had to throw it in there because my twins sure think it’s a toy, and it has provided HOURS of entertainment and the most adorable peals of laughter. The chair and, now, love seat are used for playing tag, musical chairs, for watching cars and trucks vroom back and forth and off the edge, for baby gymnastics (thank God for foam mats) and countless other playful moments.
Bonus Perk: A good sized cozy chair can also be the perfect spot for shooting monthly pics of baby, especially while snuggling a cozy plush toy baby will grow up with. In the picture above, Aman helped announce that I was expecting!
Sidenote: It took me forever to get the second part of this written, because I’ve been busy planning for our Disney family vacation, enjoying Disney and time as a family (yay for the hubby getting a whole week off!), and then moping for a few days that the vacation was over. I’m good now. We think.