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36 Best Christmas Gift Ideas for Babies & Toddlers

Brand-new little ones are some of the most fun people to buy holiday gifts for. For many parents, it’s hands down one of the most special times of their lives. The holidays can become routine for adults, but kids restore the magic.

But as excited as parents get, your 6-month-old has no idea what holidays are, much less what a gift is. You prop them up in front of the pretty wrapped packages for all the photo ops and never get more than a bewildered expression in response.

Still, that doesn’t mean parents – or friends and family – don’t want to get the new baby something special. There are few things more magical than sharing experiences with little ones for the first time, no matter how much trickier it is than buying gifts for older children who can tell you exactly want they want.

All isn’t lost. Humans change more rapidly in their first few years than at any other time in their lives. They go from tiny, helpless babies who can’t speak, hold their heads up, or even discern colors to walking, talking children with their own ideas and opinions. And there’s a variety of gifts you can buy for babies and toddlers to help them to achieve those important milestones.

Gift Ideas for Newborns & Younger Babies (Newborn – 6 Months)

To a baby, everything is something to play with – it’s how they explore their world. So the best gifts for babies are those that help them discover and experience it. They focus on Baby’s sensory development, like eyesight and hearing, or on encouraging their use of gross motor skills, like grabbing, sitting, and rolling over.

Newborn Baby Tummy Time Colorful Play Gym

Gross Motor Skills

Motor skills are the actions we take with our brains and muscles. Gross motor skills involve bigger movements, like sitting, crawling, and rolling over. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from birth to 6 months, babies are working on the ability to hold their heads up, push up with their arms, push down with their legs, and roll from their stomachs onto their backs. All these movements will eventually allow them to crawl and then walk. The right products encourage them to reach these milestones.

1. A Tummy Time Helper

Spending time on their tummies is vital for babies. It develops their neck and shoulder muscles, which are crucial for helping them achieve milestones like sitting up and crawling. Tummy time aids are things for a baby to look at and play with while they’re on their stomachs, including:

2. A Baby Gym

Baby gyms are multipurpose play centers babies play with when they’re on their backs. They help babies reach all kinds of early milestones. For example, they help develop babies’ cognitive capacities by giving them interesting things to look at and inspire them to reach for toys hanging from overhead grab bars. This helps develop their gabbing capacity and ability to roll over.

There are a variety of gyms that help babies develop gross motor skills, including:

  • The Baby Einstein music and language play mat enhances a baby’s sensory development with a kick-and-play piano. It also includes seven detachable toys and a prop pillow for tummy time.
  • Babies don’t fully perceive colors until around the age of 4 months. Until then, according to WebMD, a newborn can only see black, white, and gray. Experts believe exposing babies to high-contrast black-and-white images and bold geometric patterns encourages the development of babies’ eyesight. The high-contrast black-and-white design of the Tiny Love Gymini deluxe play mat comes with a mobile, several hanging toys, and a soft cloth book for Baby to look at during tummy time.
  • The Disney Baby Mr. Ray lights and music gym features characters from Finding Nemo, including Mr. Ray, whose stingray body forms an overhead canopy with lights; a Dory finger puppet; and a prop pillow for tummy time.

3. A Floor Chair

Floor chairs develop a baby’s ability to sit up, another major early milestone. Until Baby can do it on their own, the chair helps support their muscles, keeping them in an upright position.

Some feature-rich floor chairs do double-duty by giving Baby something to play with too, including:

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills involve small movements using the tiny muscles of the fingers, toes, wrists, lips, and tongue. At this age, babies are mastering the ability to grasp objects, which will eventually allow them to manipulate them – including bringing food to their mouths and playing with toys.

4. Squishy Blocks & Bumpy Balls

Bumpy balls that give babies plenty of interesting things to feel develop a baby’s fine motor skills, as do squishy blocks made of plastic or fabric that crinkles. The more babies want to touch things, the more they use the small muscles in their fingers and hands, leading to milestones like grabbing.

Be careful not to give a baby anything made of a material they can bite off, like foam. It’s a choking hazard. A few baby-safe gifts that come with plenty of interesting things for a baby to touch include:

5. A Toy Bar

Toy bars are the best things for encouraging a baby’s grabbing milestone. Because the toys hang overhead – either from a stroller, baby carrier, or baby chair – babies have to reach for them if they want to play with the toys.

Toy bars that easily attach to strollers and car seats and have plenty of fun toys to reach for include:

  • The Tiny Love Meadow Days Sunny Stroll stroller arch features a variety of toys to captivate Baby, including a baby-activated propeller and several toys that rattle and crinkle. The arch has a universal clip to attach to nearly any stroller, baby carrier, or car seat.
  • The Baby Einstein Tunes with Neptune musical toy bar comes with three cute ocean animal toys and plays 45 different songs. It easily attaches to baby carriers with its universal Velcro straps.
  • The Taf Toys Tropical Orchestra arch includes several musical toys sure to keep babies entertained. Even better, the clip-on arch is jointed so you can angle it closer to Baby, bringing the toys within reach.

Cognitive Development

In the earliest stages of life, babies’ brains work tremendously hard. In fact, in the first three months of life, their brains grow by 64%, according to a 2014 study published by the journal JAMA Neurology. Some of the things babies’ brains are doing include learning to recognize faces, following movements with their eyes, using their hands and eyes together, and babbling – an initial attempt at using language.

From the moment they enter the world, babies are constantly taking in everything around them. Gifts that focus on babies’ sensory development – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell – help them experience and process the world, thereby growing their mental connections.

6. High-Contrast Books

The line of baby books including “Hello Garden Bugs,” “Hello Baby Animals,” and “Hello Ocean Friends” features the types of high-contrast images that develop babies’ eyesight and help grow their vocabulary by introducing them to bug and animal names.

7. Musical Toys

A 2016 study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences found that music improves babies’ language development. So while parents don’t always appreciate the noise of rattles, drums, and tambourines, toys that make music have a positive effect on babies’ development.

Imaginative Play

Babies don’t have the capacity to create imaginary worlds in the same way older children do. But toys traditionally used for pretend play – like stuffed animals – are still useful. They give babies interesting textures to explore and intriguing faces to look at, sparking babies’ curiosity in the world around them.

8. Stuffed Toys

When buying “a lovey” for babies, remember a toy like this should have nothing that can come off, like eyes and noses, which could become a choking hazard.

9. Baby-&-Me Toys

In the beginning, babies relate to their world in very concrete ways. They grasp objects in their hands and process them with their senses – they look, touch, taste, smell, and listen to the noises they make. As babies’ minds develop, they start to experiment. They squish things together, toss them, and tear them. Eventually, the first moments of imagination appear in the form of imitation. Babies copy the movements and sounds of people around them.

This is the beginning of pretend play, and as frivolous as it seems to grown-ups, play is necessary for children. It helps them develop crucial social, problem-solving, and language skills.

Although babies aren’t able to truly pretend, toys that encourage imitation, like key-shaped teethers and toy cell phones, help spark imagination and creativity. Find these items and more in a soft, plush form in the My First Stuffed baby playset from Gund, which includes a stuffed purse, cell phone, compact, credit card, and keys. Or go with a My First Toolbox stuffed playset, also from Gund.


Gift Ideas for Infants (Ages 6 – 11 Months)

Babies change rapidly over the first year, which means toys that suit a 3-month-old won’t necessarily suit a 6-month-old. A baby who’s 9 months old is opened to a whole new variety of toys. To cut down on the turnover, think about toys that have staying power. Once a baby hits 9 months, toys labeled 9 to 36 months can keep the attention of a baby or a toddler. Even better are “convertible” toys you can adjust or transform to grow with the child.

Happy Baby Playing With Toy Walker Colorful

Gross Motor Skills

At 6 months, most babies have mastered holding their heads up, rolling over, and even sitting unassisted. So, the second half of the first year is all about learning to crawl, pulling to stand, and eventually walking.

10. A Baby Jumper

Baby jumpers help develop infants’ leg muscles, preparing them for walking. The best jumpers also include plenty of toys and activities to keep a baby entertained.

The Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo features cute jungle animal friends and rewards babies’ jumps with lights and music. The seat also swivels 360 degrees, so they can play with the included peek-a-boo tiger, animal toy bar, or spinning rainbow rattle. Plus, it comes with three height adjustments, so it’ll grow with them.

Or go with the Baby Einstein Neighborhood Friends Activity Jumper, which features three activity stations – including a musical light-up piano, spinning toys, and a flower garden – plus loops to hang additional toys. The seat also swivels 360 degrees, so babies can access all the activities. And it’s adjustable to five different height settings.

11. A Ball Pit

Ball pits develop both fine and gross motor skills. The Melissa & Doug Turtle Ball Pit is a bestselling baby toy that comes with 60 balls for baby to hold on their own or push through holes while they sit inside a plush turtle. The turtle features a non-slip bottom, crinkling feet, a squeaking button, textured ring, mirror, fabric tags, and even a soft ball-shaped rattle.

12. A Pop-Up Tunnel

Tunnels encourage babies to crawl. They’re so attractive to curious little minds that babies can’t wait to explore them. The Hide-N-Side Hide-n-Seek pop-up tunnel is a basic tube that features a rainbow of bright colors.

Or for a deluxe crawling experience, try the EcoSun play tent. Babies can crawl through the tunnel, rest in the tent, or play in the colorful ball pit. Plus, the fabric is breathable, nontoxic, and even mosquito-proof if you want to set it up outside. Amazon reviewers note you must purchase 400 to 600 balls to fill up the pit.

13. A Crawl Toy

Crawl toys are fun interactive toys and games that encourage babies to crawl by chasing balls, following after furry friends, or otherwise making them want to move and play.

The Skip Hop Explore & More Follow-Me Bee encourages babies to chase with lights, sound, and movement. Plus, it includes three stages of play, so it’s suitable for babies at all stages of development. Pre-crawlers can play with the pop-out bee ball. It stays nearby for beginner crawlers who aren’t yet up to a chase. And it moves in a random pattern while flashing lights and sounds for advanced crawlers in hot pursuit.

Similarly, the VTech Baby Lil’ Critters Roll and Discover ball features bright colors, sounds, and animal friends, plus a built-in motion sensor that rewards Baby’s movement with sounds and phrases.

Ball-popping games are also a hit with babies, encouraging crawling by shooting balls for babies to chase. The VTech Pop-a-Balls Pop and Surprise ball center features two twisting slides and fun animal “doors” that interrupt the balls’ rolling and a music center that plays melodies and flashes lights.

14. A Push Walker

Once a baby is pulling to stand, a walking aid they can push around helps them develop the necessary coordination for walking unassisted.

The Fisher-Price Learn with Me Zebra Walker has a sturdy four-wheel base that won’t easily tip over, a variety of interactive toys, and a motion sensor that rewards Baby for pushing it around.

For a toy they can keep playing with through their toddler years, the Fisher-Price Smart Car has a handlebar for babies to push it around. Plus, it’s a bouncer and a car they can scoot and steer as they grow into their toddler years.

Fine Motor Skills

At this age, many toys do double duty – encouraging babies to use the large muscles in their legs and arms to pull themselves up while giving them buttons, switches, and spinners to manipulate with their fingers.

15. A Music Table

The interactive toys on music and activity tables encourage babies to pull themselves up to stand, a precursor to walking. They also have toys to squeeze and push to create lights and sounds, which aids in both cognitive and fine motor skill development.

The Baby Einstein Discovering Music activity table includes a guitar, drum, French horn, piano keys, and a music book Baby can flip to activate different melodies.

Or go with the Sytle-Carry learning activity table, which features a piano keyboard and several buttons, switches, and sliders for changing sounds and melodies. It also has a wide range of activities that can entertain a child into their preschool years, like toy bars, gears, and an electric train.

16. A Playhouse

Similar to tunnels, playhouses designed for babies encourage them to crawl by giving them exciting things to play with and explore. They also have switches, knobs, shape sorters, and other small toys that help develop babies’ fine motor skills.

The Little Tikes Activity Garden play set comes with several interactive toys, including a shape sorter, a piano, a ball drop flower pot, and a telescope. It also features a take-along play panel with a bead tumbler, mirrored spinner, gears, and clicking bugs. Plus, it transforms from a four-sided playhouse to a two-sided activity center, giving babies a wide range of play options.

Or go with the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Learning Home. This contemporary makeover of the old Laugh & Learn playhouse features “high-tech” amenities like a smart home hub, solar panel, keypad door “lock,” and shape-sorter recycling bin. It also includes a kitchen, home office, ball drop rain gutter, and crawl-through front door, plus three stages of learning to teach letters, colors, and numbers and over 200 songs, sounds, and phrases.

Cognitive Development

As a baby gets closer to 1, they gain new cognitive and motor skills that give them access to a greater range of learning toys. These include copying the sounds and gestures of others and responding to sounds with sounds of their own, the early stages of conversation-making. Babies at this age may have even spoken their first words. They also show more curiosity about objects and reach for things out of their range, look for things you hide, and point to things they want.

Babies’ brains continue to grow at this age through sensory exploration – they learn about their world by putting things in their mouths, picking up objects, and passing them from one hand to another.

17. Touch-&-Feel Cloth or Board Books

Cloth books that crinkle and have tags for babies to pull enhance their sense of sound and touch. The “Peek-A-Boo Forest” book by Lamaze is an interactive baby book that includes a rhyming story to aid in language development. And the Taggies Touch & Feel soft cloth book includes fun crinkle paper and a squeaker.

Board books full of interesting textures also encourage sensory development. The Noodle series features an adorable panda and a variety of surfaces for babies to touch and feel. It includes the books “Noodle Loves the Beach,” “Noodle Loves Bedtime,” “Noodle Loves to Eat,” “Noodle Loves the Farm,” “Noodle Loves the Zoo,” and “Noodle Loves to Cuddle.”

The “Never Touch A …” series is also full of interesting textures and fun characters, including dragons, sharks, dinosaurs, monsters, and polar bears. The pages of these books instruct kids not to touch a dragon because of their sharp teeth or scaly skin or spiky tails. At the same time, they encourage that very thing with pages full of nubby, wavy, or bristly textures molded from soft silicone.

18. A Stacking Toy

Stacking toys teach babies about spatial relationships, colors, and sorting. And one with interesting textures that’s safe to put in their mouths deepens the learning with sensory exploration. The Sassy Stacks of Circles stacking ring includes vibrantly colored and patterned rings that squish and rattle. Plus, each ring features a different bumpy texture.

Another stacking toy with loads of sensory details is the iPlay, iLearn First Stacking Rings. It features plush rings made of different fabrics. Plus, each ring makes a sensory-stimulating noise. There’s a beeping duck, a windmill rattle, a sunflower rattle, a teether ring, and a crinkle ring, all of which slide onto a plush center pole.

Imaginative Play

Though kids won’t be fully capable of real pretend play until they’re 18 to 24 months, according to What to Expect, providing a baby with a supply of toys helps them develop the capacity for using their imaginations later on.

19. An Interactive Toy

Interactive toys help babies learn everything from words and letters to shapes and numbers and stimulate their senses through lights, sound, and touch. And they do it all in the form of a pretend playmate, like a dinosaur, puppy, or zebra.

One of the hot toys for babies, the Fisher-Price Linkimals Smooth Moves Sloth is a cute friend that teaches babies letters, numbers, and songs through sound, light, and motion. The sloth claps its hands, bobs its head, and lights up.

Or go with Fisher-Price’s BeatBo DLX. BeatBo is a character that has been enjoyed by enough babies and toddlers to spawn its own line, including portable plush music and light toys and large-scale dance mats. The latest in the line features music, dancing motions, and colorful lights in addition to a variety of textures to stimulate a baby’s senses.

Plus, the DLX features four different modes. Dance, move, and learn mode includes music, lights, and spinning moves to encourage Baby to move around. Record and remix mode lets you say something to BeatBo for him to sing back as an original song. Interactive play mode allows BeatBo to respond to Baby’s singing and dancing. And in dance party mode, BeatBo dances to any song you play for him.

20. An Animatronic Stuffed Animal

The baby-safe animated plush toys Flappy the Elephant and Flora the Bunny by Gund are super-soft and cuddly. And they also play one of babies’ favorite games – peek-a-boo. Their big floppy ears drop down to cover their eyes, then lift back up again thanks to the built-in animatronics. You push buttons in their feet to activate the effect, including causing their ears to “dance” to the song “Do Their Ears Hang Low?”

But this toy isn’t all fun and games. According to the CDC’s list of developmental milestones, peek-a-boo is an essential cognitive milestone for a 9-month-old baby.


Gift Ideas for Toddlers (Ages 1 – 2 Years)

When babies become toddlers, they seem to bloom almost overnight into little kids. It’s only a matter of time before they’re walking and talking. Their brains are capable of more complex exploration, and they enjoy banging things together, taking things in and out of containers, and finding hidden objects. They also begin developing their vocabulary, and by the time they’re 2, they can talk in sentences.

Little Girl Baby On Plastic Tricycle

Gross Motor Skills

A baby becomes a toddler when they learn to walk – in other words, to toddle. In the blink of an eye, they go from containable crawlers to little runners who take off faster than parents can catch them. These are some of the most active years in the human lifespan. So toys designed to develop toddlers’ gross motor skills are all about channeling that energy.

21. A Ride-On

Ride-on toys help toddlers develop coordination, balance, and the large muscles in their legs. The Little Tikes Lil’ Rollin’ Giraffe looks like a tricycle but is purely push-powered – perfect for toddlers who don’t yet understand or haven’t developed the coordination to pedal. Or opt for the more traditional four-wheeled Little People Music Parade ride-on, which includes a variety of playable instruments and recorded melodies.

22. A Push Trike

Like a ride-on, a trike powered by parents develops toddlers’ balance and coordination. Plus, it doubles as a fun stroller. The SmarTrike baby tricycle is a four-in-one toddler vehicle that converts from stroller to ride-on to training trike to full-on tricycle. Or opt for a straight-up push trike complete with a handle for parents to push.

23. An Indoor Sports Center or Playground

Sportlike games that keep kids active are perfect for high-energy toddlers. But it isn’t always possible to get outside. Toddlers will have a blast shooting balls into the basketball hoop of the VTech Smart Shots sports center as they watch their score rack up on the display board.

Likewise, a toddler-size indoor-outdoor playground helps them burn off energy while exercising their large muscle groups. The Simplay3 Young Explorers Adventure Climber features a slide and climbing towers with tiered platforms.

Fine Motor Skills

By this age, children have developed the ability to grasp and manipulate large items. They aren’t yet ready to manipulate small pieces like Legos, even if they wouldn’t put them in their mouths. But large blocks, activity boards, shape sorters, and chunky puzzles are easy for toddlers to manipulate, and they teach little ones about shapes, colors, and sorting.

24. A Building Set

Blocks develop the fine muscles in toddlers’ fingers and hands and encourage their hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, and creativity.

A few blocks sets that are the right size for toddlers include:

  • Mega Bloks, which are like extra-large Legos – potentially more fun for toddlers than regular stacking blocks because they can interlock the pieces.
  • Duplos, which are a line of Legos designed for 1 1/2- to 5-year-olds. The Lego Duplo My First Animal Brick Box contains a mix of animals – an elephant, a crocodile, a lion, and a giraffe – all on wheels.
  • Tegu magnetic wooden blocks, which teach toddlers about cause and effect by using magnets to hold the blocks together.

25. An Activity Board, Cube, or Desk

Any kind of board, cube, or desk that holds a variety of gears, locks, zippers, sliders, and buttons enhances toddlers’ hand-eye-coordination and the fine muscles in their hands while keeping them entertained.

A few with plenty of activities to keep toddler hands busy include:

26. A Chunky Puzzle

Puzzles are a multipurpose toy. They develop fine motor skills and cognitive capacities. This is the right age to start experimenting with shape identification and color sorting, which chunky puzzles are great for.

Melissa & Doug leads the market in chunky wooden puzzles for toddlers. Their fire truck, safari, and dinosaur puzzles are full of bright colors and fun characters.

27. A Shape Sorter

Shape sorters help toddlers learn to recognize shapes and colors. Opt for the old-school blocks and bucket or up the learning experience and fun with a multipurpose sorting toy like the BettRoom geometric sorter. In addition to learning shapes and colors like they do with a traditional sorter, toddlers also have to count the pegs to see which shapes fit. Likewise, the Fine Motor Hedgehog from Learning Resources teaches numbers and counting in addition to fine motor skills.

Arts & Crafts

Up until now, babies weren’t capable of doing much more with arts and writing than smearing some finger paint across a page. But with all that focus on developing their fine motor skills, toddlers are now able to grasp crayons, pencils, and paintbrushes. Their newfound abilities make many toddlers excited for arts and crafts projects.

28. A Water Painter

Encourage your toddler’s creativity mess-free with a water drawing pad. The Aqua Magic Doodle Pad lets kids create pictures in six different colors using only water. For a portable version that keeps toddlers entertained on long road trips, try the B. Toys Water Doodler portable drawing board.

29. A Mess-Free Coloring Set

Crayola makes a whole line of products that allow toddlers to color with markers without making any mess. When toddlers scribble on Color Wonder paper, the Color Wonder markers burst into bold colors. But they won’t leave any color behind on fingers, clothes, or walls. Buy them individually or invest in a Color Wonder set.

For another mess-free coloring option, go with the My First Crayola Touch Lights Musical Doodle Board. It’s a multisensory experience that lets toddlers draw with lights and sound. And you can turn off the music if they want to play in quiet areas like doctor’s offices.

30. A Washable Paint Set

While parents generally appreciate mess-free options, there’s something to be said for messy play as well. Messy play enhances children’s sensory experience, which is vital for cognitive development. Plus, it aids in developing fine muscle control and hand-eye coordination because there are definite consequences to how kids paint, splatter, or slick on materials. But you can keep the cleanup minimal with washable paints.

The Crayola Washable My First Fingerpaint Kit comes with big pieces of glossy paper and easy-to-squeeze paint tubes. And while you still need smocks or tarps, if spills happen, parents can clean them up more easily than with regular paints.

Language & Cognitive Skills

By the age of 1, many toddlers have developed a 50-word vocabulary. And they learn quickly. According to research published in the Journal of Applied Psycholinguistics, children recognize more than 1,000 words by the age of 3. Interactive books, toys, and music all help develop their language skills.

31. Vocabulary Books

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long acknowledged that reading to kids is important. It boosts their vocabulary and early literacy skills. The book “Baby Einstein: First 100 Words” is like a picture dictionary for toddlers, matching words with their corresponding images. And “This Is Baby” by late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon teaches them names for various body parts in a fun, easy-to-remember way.

32. Interactive Books

Interactive books enhance the usual bedtime story routine by encouraging kids to participate. By making funny noises and performing specific actions, kids move from passive listening to active engagement. The book “Say Zoop” by Hervé Tullet asks kids to join in with exciting sounds and words when they press the dot. Its predecessor by the same author, “Press Here,” is similarly entertaining for toddlers, encouraging them to press, shake, and tilt the book to make the dots change size, position, and number.

33. An Electronic Learning Toy

Using lights, sounds, colors, and imaginative elements, electronic learning toys teach toddlers colors, numbers, and letters while engaging them in play.

A few fun electronic learning toys for toddlers include:

  • The Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn First Words Smart Puppy, which lets toddlers slide colorful word blocks over a reader to hear sounds, words, and songs.
  • The Vtech Mix and Match-a-Saurus, which teaches kids words and emotional development with dinosaur spikes. They can choose spikes to make their dinosaur happy, angry, or sleepy and select music and character options for a Choose Your Own Adventure-style play experience.
  • The VTech Sit-to-Stand Ultimate Alphabet Train, which teaches numbers, letters, animal names, and communication skills. Plus, it develops gross motor skills through a variety of configurations: floor play, walker, ride-on, or pull cart.

34. An Electronic Toy Instrument

Music helps develop language skills through pattern recognition, and toddlers who sing and memorize song lyrics enhance their vocabulary. Plus, toddlers who dance to music build coordination. They also learn about cause-and-effect relationships when they experiment with different instrument sounds and rhythm patterns.

A few music toys suitable for toddlers include:

  • The Mirari Pop Pop Piano, which shoots stars out of organ pipes when toddlers press the piano keys.
  • The VTech Zoo Jamz Piano, which lets toddlers play four instruments in one: piano, violin, xylophone, or saxophone. Plus, it comes loaded with more than 20 melodies, and light-up keys teach the songs while toddlers follow along. It even comes with a microphone for singing.
  • The Vtech Kidibeats Drum Set, which lets them jam on four drums in four modes of play, working on a toddler’s coordination skills while they make music.

Imaginative Play

Toddlers are more aware of the world than babies, which means more opportunity for imaginative play. This is the age when they’ll start to become interested in dress-up and playing pretend.

35. A Play Set for Realistic Role-Play

According to What to Expect, children’s transition into pretend play begins with acting out the roles of individuals they encounter in their everyday lives, like Mom and Dad, supermarket clerks, or doctors. A playset helps them develop their imaginations by giving them plenty of opportunity for role-playing. Plus, play sets come loaded with multiple doors, knobs, buttons, latches, and switches for toddlers to explore, aiding in the development of their fine motor skills.

When shopping for a play set, go with one that’s super-sturdy. Though plywood sets are often more attractive than chucky plastic sets, they need to stand up to your toddler, preferably for a few years.

The Step2 Modern Metro Kitchen is a robust plastic set that withstands toddler abuse. It has a variety of features common in contemporary real-life kitchens, including recycling bins, a stove and fridge with look-through windows, and a farmhouse sink with a gooseneck faucet.

They’ll also need something to make in their new kitchen. The Slice-and-Bake wooden cookie play food set from Melissa & Doug and the Serving Shapes tea set let them host fabulous tea parties while learning shapes, numbers, and colors.

But first, they’ll need to buy the groceries. A play cash register teaches kids about money. The Little Tikes Count ‘n Play Cash Register comes with color- and size-coded coins to teach numbers and counting. To go with it, give them a 53-piece play food set with fruits, vegetables, and a shopping basket. The LeapFrog Count Along Cash Register is also feature-rich and more advanced for toddlers who are ready for it. It allows them to scan groceries and count out change, and it comes to life with over 50 words and songs.

Or they can treat their playmates to lunch with the Fisher-Price Laugh ‘n’ Learn Servin’ Up Food Truck. Toddlers can take turns “driving” the truck and serving up tasty play food or being the customer. The truck comes loaded with dozens of sound effects, songs, and hands-on learning that advances as your child grows with the included Smart Stages technology.

36. A Play Set for Fictional Role-Play

As they reach the age of 2 and beyond, kids’ pretend play becomes increasingly complex, symbolic, and imaginative. They enter into fictional worlds with more ease, which allows them to further develop their creativity, problem-solving, and social skills.

With the Elsa Ice Castle by Little People, toddlers can get in on the “Frozen” fun with toddler-safe Elsa and Olaf figures and an ice palace complete with a staircase that slides in and out, lights that turn on and off, and a button that makes it play “Let It Go.” Plus, it’s verifiably toddler-approved. It won a 2019 Good Housekeeping Toy Award because it so successfully kept toddlers enthralled.

If your little one is more into race cars than princesses, go with Little People’s Loops ‘n Swoops Amusement Park. Toddlers will have a blast sending vehicles flying down the roller-coaster ramp, where lights and sounds reward them at the end. And if they’re into superheroes, throw in a set of DC Super Friends vehicles, which work with any Little People car track.


Final Word

It can feel a tad overwhelming to shop for babies and toddlers, especially if you’re not the parent or don’t know a lot about kids. They’re too young to have developed concrete interests, and if you don’t live with them, it’s hard to know what kinds of toys are developmentally appropriate. Although manufacturers label toys with age ranges, every child is unique, and some kids are ready for a toy long before the age on the box.

When in doubt, always err on the side of caution. It’s better at this age to skew too young than too old. Until children hit the age of 3, any toy with small parts is a choking hazard. Babies and toddlers constantly put things in their mouths because it’s one of the ways they learn about the world. Plus, if the child isn’t physically or cognitively ready for a toy, they won’t get much enjoyment out of it.

But outside their developmental age, you really can’t go wrong when choosing a baby or toddler gift. At this age, they’re often just as happy with the box as the toy inside.

Are you enjoying a first Christmas with a little one this year? What are you buying for the babies and toddlers on your list?

Sarah Graves
Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, education, and creative entrepreneurship. She's also a college instructor of English and humanities. When not busy writing or teaching her students the proper use of a semicolon, you can find her hanging out with her awesome husband and adorable son watching way too many superhero movies.

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