Our holiday gift guide for kids is based on one thing, my children and how much they play with these toys. Here are my suggestions based only on how much my kids play with them not on any sponsorship or relationship with the company. There are no paid spots on our list although the links are affiliate ones. This might not be the flashiest guide but you can trust that my kids have gotten many many hours of fantastic play and I feel like I have gotten my money’s worth out of each selection.Don’t miss our Book Gift Guide either.
1.LeapFrog My Discovery House was immediately bought after I handed it to my daughter in Walmart while shopping for craft supplies. She was 18 months old and it kept her busy for an HOUR . Yes I said and HOUR. It’s perfect for 12-24 months and even my son liked finding out what each of the many buttons did. Unlike so many busy toys this one is fun to interact with and what toddler doesn’t love turning lights on and off? This toy will fulfill that need without you finding your little one dragging a chair over to the wall switch.
2.Step2 Little Helpers Doll Stroller was another great purchase last year. At 18 months my daughter wasn’t too into this buggy but now at almost 2 and a half she plays with it all.the.time. I love that it’s sturdy but not heavy and I can’t think of any time that she or her brother has flipped or crashed it , it’s very stable. I also really appreciate that there are no folding parts that can lead to pinched fingers.
3.Manhattan Toy Mini’s 3-Pack C9R Red/Black, C9-S Orange, S9-R Blue there were actually bought years ago and ended up packed away when we moved and I just found them in our storage room and brought them out. Both the kids have been playing with them non stop . The cars are such good quality and really fun to mix and match with. I’ve already ordered more for under the tree this year.
4.Melissa & Doug Trunkis have been such an important part of our family travel since receiving them in the spring. As you may know I work with Melissa and Doug but the Trunki’s were bought with my personal toy allowance and I am not getting paid to mention them here. I am mentioning them because my kids LOVE them. My kids have named them , ride them around the house and love the locks that protect their stuff. My favorite thing about them is that they get the kids excited about packing, which is great because that is not something I love doing. They are surprisingly roomy too.
5. LeapFrog Tag Maps: World . This map is amazing we all had fun finding places and of course trying to beat each other at the Map Racer game. I think my husband and I had as much fun playing with it after my son went to bed as he did. My son isn’t a huge fan of Tag books but he loves the maps there is also a USA one although I am partial to this one that lets him explore the whole world!
6. 2010 was the year of Playmobilat our house from an ambulance to a catapult we dove head first into this German toys with glee. My son loves these toys, they fulfill a need for pretend play and give kids great fine motor practice with all those teeny tiny pieces. However there are all those teeny tiny pieces so you may want to invest in some containers to contain them all. In truth my son’s favorite playmobil thing he has is the catalog but after that I would say the
Police Car gets the most action.
7. For my daughter nothing beat out this book Everywhere Babies. She got it for her 1st birthday in June and we have read it probably 10 times a day since. I am ready for a new book for her to love but she is still happily reading this one over and over again. You can read my rave review here.
8. These Star Wars Lenticular Playing Cards got used daily. My son ( and the rest of the family) loves to play Go Fish and beats pretty much everyone every time. We think he is using “The Force” to pick the matching cards from the pond. Card games are great ways to work on memory, math and logical thinking skills. It may also encourage a little trash talking if you have competitive people in your house. Still nothing beats turning off all electronic entertainment and playing a game as a family.
9.Another of my daughter’s favorites is this Melissa & Doug Shopping Cart. We use it to play grocery store but she also just pushes her baby around in it happily putting whatever she finds in the basket. One feature I absolutely love about this cart is that if perhaps a 4 year old gets in the basket there are breaks that push down and the cart won’t budge.
10. Step2 Push Around Buggy – we call this the “Beep Beep” and my daughter took to it like a future Danica Patrick! She loves this thing and it’s surprising how well it pushes not just on grass or pavement but I can even drive it over our gravel driveway. I like how I can pop her in it while picking apples in our front yard , she loves sitting in it and I know she is safe.
11. Little Tikes Spray and Rescue Fire Truck This fire truck has been a huge hit at our house. We bought it for my son as a “Big Brother” gift and it kept him happy and busy while I attended to his newborn sister in the warm days of summer. We worried that it would maybe be too young for him but he happily drove it all over the patio, spraying pretend fires all summer.
12. LEGO Duplo My son got Duplo for Christmas 2009 and it’s been played with daily since. When we were little duplo was a “baby toy” but now with the different sets they have it really does extend past toddlerhood and if like us you have a younger child that you are uncomfortable having little classic Lego around these are a great choice.
13. Fisher-Price Medical Kit How many of us had this as a kid? Mine was in a little beige briefcase. My son came to me to every single OB appointment during my pregnancy and this kit got used almost every time we got home as he played doctor. Now my daughter pretends she is Doc McStuffins and gives check ups to her toys daily. I love the practicality of making children familiar with medical appointments and of course the promotion of pretend play.
14. Lamaze Buzz the Bug Play & Grow When my baby girl is 4 months she was nuts for this toy. It has a multitude of textures, sounds ( she loves the crinkle sound), and hard rings to grasp and bite! It has a hook to attach to straps and I appreciate that it’s big enough to attach to a carrier or stroller too.
15. Educo My Creative Cookery Club I love this kitchen, and so do my kids. It’s not too big, but it has all the essentials for a play kitchen , oven, sink and burners. It also comes with utensils , pots an everyone’s favorites , the salt and pepper shakers. I love that it uses gender neutral colors and it was a cinch to put together even late on Christmas Eve!
16. Melissa & Doug Food Groups This food set is a perfect match for the kitchen but even if you don’t have a play kitchen , learning about the food groups is essential when you are teaching about nutrition. We use these to play grocery store, restaurant and my son’s favorite “Starbucks” . We have had these for a year and they are sturdy and although the age range is 3 and up, there are no small parts and great for a family with a range of ages. Also the crates the food comes in have been a huge hit here as well, they get used with blocks to make cities and ferry boats.
17.Hammer Bench My son is lucky in that many of his toys were “tested” by students in my classrooms for years before he was born. I knew which were hits and which were duds . I’ll be out of luck when he goes to school but this toy was a huge hit in my classroom of 2-3 year olds a few years ago and has been a favorite of my son’s since he was 1 ! A great , colorful option for toddlers.
18. Fisher-Price Little People Build ‘n Fun Farm I have a soft spot for Little People, I think that they promote imaginative play, heck I remember the elaborate stories I made up in my bedroom with my Little People. I chose this toy though because it comes with interlocking blocks and a base to build on. These blocks are easier to click together and take apart than Duplo ( which I love for preschoolers) so they are perfect for young toddlers. My son has been playing with these happily for over 2 years.
19. Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube Like the hammer bench this was a toy I saw tested by many children when I worked as a director of a childcare center. The babies loved this and so did both my kids . They both played with this as an infant more than anything else, well about as much as he played with Sophie( see below). It lights up and plays individual instruments when the side buttons are pushed as well as all together. It’s not obnoxious and the music is really pretty so even when you hear it 3 or 500 times a day it won’t make you want to throw it into your neighbors back yard.
20. Colorfelts Play Boards – The Very Hungry Caterpillar I love books and this is my favorite and this felt board has been the perfect companion for the story. We used to read the book and play along with the felt , but now that my son is older and knows the story as well as I do we simply act out the book on the board. It’s a fantastic , easy , unplugged toy!
22.Melissa & Doug Deluxe Folding Medieval Castle First of all let me say that I write for Melissa and Doug but these castles were purchased with store credit that is part of my compensation package. I chose these and I wasn’t asked to review them or ever mention them in any way. I am telling you about them because my kids LOVE these castles. They both play with them almost daily. My son makes elaborate set ups with Playmobil Knights and my daughter uses hers with Little People Disney Princesses I love watching them use their imaginations soar.
23.Green Toys Tea Set We have had many many tea parties this past year and I don’t imagine 2014 will be all that different. Love this set and how I don’t mind my kids really drinking from the cups.
24. LEGO DUPLO Disney Princess Cinderella’s Carriage I swore I would never buy girl versions of things. Funny how kids have a way of making you eat your words. My daughter loves to build and she loves to build with her favorite princesses. There will be more bought this Christmas, she loves it.
25.Hexbug Nano Habitat Set Hex bugs are so much fun! We like to add on to this habitat set with mazes built with Duplo and have races with two Hex Bugs. I like how my kids get excited about thinking up new ways to put this habitat together. Creative thinking is never a bad thing.