The Little Lake County editors and their kids have been busy playing and trying out the latest toys and tried and true favorites to bring you this holiday wish list. All items are ones that we have tried, played with and are kid and parent approved.
Maybe it’s because I’m on my fourth toddler/preschooler. Or maybe it’s because I live in a small house and have minimalist dreams. either way, I find shopping for toddlers to be the hardest of all. Really they just want to open the boxes and then climb in your lap and see what you have. So these items that made our list, are tried and true. The best of the best. Compiled not just from myself, but all the Little Lake County Writers (so a total of 52 different toddler experiences). If you don’t find the perfect gift on this list, well just go ahead an wrap up a bunch of boxes of tissue, they are still toddlers after all!
Best Gifts for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Magic MeeMees by Future of Play
These adorable figurines and playsets are geared for children ages six and older, but I (Jen J.) really think the toy is better for preschoolers, with discretion as needed to any smaller parts. The MeeMees are 100 millionth the size of a human, but what makes these figures unique is that they light up, move forward, and interact with the playset accessories, such as special Magic MeeMees food. Characters convey their emotions through lights and sounds, and play in a sweet, colorful fantasy worlds. These playsets are great tools for open ended, creative play for children either by themselves or with others.
I’m in love with the Sago Mini character books, games, playsets, plush, floormats and apps, so thank goodness there are still young kids in my extended family to indulge. A few apps are free, but most are priced at $2.99 or bundled for a bit more. These are the types of apps parents want for preschoolers, without in-app purchases popping up, and no third-party advertising. Plus, an internet connection is not required to play them. The cute, colorful characters appeal to both boys and girls, and encourages creative, free play among preschoolers. My favorite toy set is the Sago Mini – Portable Playset: Harvey’s Spaceship, which is perfect for both boys and girls.
Preschoolers minds are like sponges: they are constantly taking in the world around them and processing new ideas and concepts. Smart Games allow preschoolers to develop logic, spatial relationships, solve problems and follow simple instructions, and best yet–they can do it themselves. Kids were clamoring over these games this year at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair, and I love the games that are modeled after classic stories such as The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood, and I am a huge fan of the SmartCar 5×5, which is a puzzle game with two levels of play that expands the recommend age to seven years and up.
Melissa & Doug Race Car Carrier Truck
Our family (Melissa) loves Melissa & Doug Toys. With a toddler who always wants to “be like the big kids” they have proven to be invaluable. While he has access to small metal cars the larger, durable and easy to move Melissa & Doug cars, trucks, and rescue vehicles are a favorite. They can withstand all the force he puts on them with out breaking and they are large enough for him to easily manipulate .
Please hear me out. This goes against everything I hold dear in gift giving, it’s a mess, it requires parents, and did I mention the mess. However we picked up two boxes of it from Artist @ Heart Last Year and put it in a tupperware (with a lid!) and a handful of plastic construction trucks. I can say with certainty it’s the best gift my two-year-old got and he still plays with it almost daily. The box keeps the mess (somewhat) contained and unlike clay, it cleans up easily. In fact my kids just use our Cordless Hoover and can do it themselves. Yep even my three-year-old! If this didn’t bring me multiple hours of peace I wouldn’t recommend it, trust me!
This toy was recommended by three different Little Lake County writers so you know these are good. Alli says, “My two year old terrorizes everyone else and their toys, so Magformers get our vote. This is toy they can manage from a young age and grow into building real things!”
(And if your little one loves building things, tomorrow we’ll feature tons of building toys for all ages–so come back!)
When you have a big sister, it is hard to find something “different” that you don’t already have. The Fisher Price Loving Family Vacation Mobile Home provides us with imaginative playing and lots of mimicking which most two-year-olds are down for. She also uses this as a carrier to tote other small toys around the house.
Puzzles are the perfect gift for toddlers because there are so many varieties that teach so many different skills! Melissa & Doug offer some of the best in variety, durability, and ease for the youngest users. Alli recommends the Latches Wooden Activity Board. My two-year-old can finally manipulate this and anyone can practice colors, animals, and numbers with her.
Stackers are a favorite toddler gift so finding interesting and different ones becomes a priority. The Spin Again Toy is a CLASSIC! It intrigues just about anyone who sees it. I (Alli) love that it is more than a traditional stacker–the spinning is captivating and the kids love that they can pull the rod from the base and dump the discs everywhere.
Tea Sets are a popular gift for toddlers, I can attest as we have received four different sets between my two girls. My personal favorite has been the Plan Wooden Tea Set, of course my daughters always preferred the plastic ones that change color or light up.
Alli says: Green toys tea set! We put lemonade powder in the sugar bowl and the kids make “tea” for hours, not kidding–the toy is quality, it actually is like an adult tea set, and we can use it in the bath.
You know the one toy you get (usually from a childless friend or uncle) that you would absolutely never buy yourself. This was it for us, and we ended up loving it. Hyacynth puts it best; “For reasons I have yet to understand fully, the Vtech Rhyme and Discover book is the gift that keeps on giving year after year. Our boys received this nursery rhymes electronic book when they were toddlers, and it captivated their attentions instantly becoming a favorite. Both of our youngest children, ages 4-7, still play with it to this day.” It’s magical and fun and interactive so everyone will love it.
Imaginext toys. Especially this batcave. It comes with a couple of figures and a bat cycle. My son got it when he was 2 and loves playing with it even at 4 now. His most loved toy. My 2 year old now plays with him with it. Additionally they have a plethora of Imaginext action figures out there that can fit the cave (we alone have like 6 different kinds of Imaginext batman figures)
What are you tried and true gifts for toddlers and preschoolers?