What toy should I buy for my toddler?

Ah, toddlers. The pudgy little feet, the explorer instinct coming to life, the spilling of things that you’ve just put away.

Your toddler is a beautiful, messy creature with specific mental and physical needs. We’ll get you inside their heads and help you choose developmentally-appropriate toys for them.

Building That Toddler Bod

Between a kid’s first and third birthdays, they’ll put on about 13 pounds, and grow by 8 inches. What’s more amazing is the growth in their brains, where they’re developing more than 1 million neural connections every second. This is the fastest their brain will ever grow. By the time your toddler becomes a teenager, those neural connections will actually diminish through a process called pruning.

Conel, JL. The postnatal development of the human cerebral cortex. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1959.

Right now, the biggest developments are in their sensory pathways — the way they see, hear, and interact with their world. It’s part of learning to live in the physical world, and the reason that they’re yelling at the top of their lungs and jumping around on your couch right now.

Active Play

With their newfound superpowers, toddlers will love to run, jump, climb and throw. These gross motor skills take a lot of concentration for toddlers and are essential for their development. So the next time your toddler throws a cup of juice on the floor, remind yourself of all that neurological development going on in that little brain of theirs.

Get your toddler moving (and save your house from destruction) by taking them to a playground, on a walk around the neighborhood, and by introducing toys that encourage active play.

Really, really active play.

Here are some ideas for active play toys:
1. Rubber ball— The classic goes way back to pre-historic times. Rolling, throwing, kicking, and chasing a ball are tried and true ways to develop tracking and coordination skills.

2. Ride-on toys — Rocking horses, balance bikes and ride-on scooters are a few examples. Choose toys that are low to the ground and strap up with pint-sized safety gear if necessary.

3. Sand and gardening toys — Let them get dirty with some digging tools made to their size. A miniature shovel, rake, and watering can will keep them active and fascinated for a long time.

Sensory Play

Your toddler is using their senses to understand the world around them. These senses are a foundation for all the other learning they’ll do in their lives, so let them use their eyes, ears, noses and fingers to get familiar with different materials. Bonus: This stuff is cheap!

Here are some ideas for sensory toys:
1. Play dough — Moms and dads know that play dough time = time to get stuff done. Make it yourself, bust out some cookie cutters, and get on with your business.

2. Sensory bins — Doesn’t get much easier than this. Fill a bin with tactile materials, and let them squish, scoop, and pour to their heart’s (and brain’s) content.

3. Paints — We like water colors because they’re easier to clean up, and it’s easy for kids to see how colors mix with each other. Here’s a big list of watercolor painting ideas.

Creative Play

Creative play involves representational thinking and the idea that one thing can also be another thing. Can a pair of undies also be a knight’s helmet? In toddler-land, it happens everyday.

Here are some ideas for creative play toys:
1. Building toys — Between their first and third birthdays, kids begin to sort shapes, stack objects, and play make-believe. A pile of wooden blocks or magnetic tiles encourages fine motor coordination and use of their imaginations.

2. Costumes—Why be yourself when you can be a princess super kitty?Hilarious book btw. Through role play, toddlers learn to put themselves in other people’s shoes and learn how to communicate, empathize and negotiate.

3. Dolls and little figures — Along with balls and sticks, dolls and figurines rank up there among all-time classic toys. Toddlers mimic social behavior with their dolls by feeding them, dressing them and putting them to sleep. Warning: May cause you to melt into a heap from cuteness overload.


Your toddler is growing like crazy inside and out, and is learning to use their body to interact with the world. Support their growth by creating a safe, loving atmosphere for them and by encouraging active, sensory and creative play.

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