Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Play To Learn Toy Inspiration Inspiration - 0-2 Years

***Updated: April 2020***

I've always kind of considered myself a toy snob, although not at all based on cost (one of my son's favorite toys is a piece of PVC pipe). Clutter stresses me out and I don't like waste, so I've always been kind of picky about what I buy my kids.  So many toys are played with for a week or so and then left to collect dust.  I always look for things that have high replay value and will last for years. So much learning happens through play, I want to make sure the things I buy provide ample opportunities.

Recently several people have told me that we always have great toys and have asked for help shopping for their little ones. Since I love shopping for kids and helping out other mamas, I thought I'd create and share list of toy ideas.  It ended up being GIANT to try to accommodate different genders and interests and provide lots of inspiration.  I'm sure I'll add to it as I find new things.

General Tips:

  • I usually look for something open ended.  If it can be used in flexible ways, it is likely to be used more often.
  • I try to avoid things with lots of lights and sounds.  Now there are definitely exceptions to this rule, but if a toy does all the "work," then kids will lose interest quickly. Once they have pressed every button, they have kind of exhausted the toy.  Also, my husband is an audiologist and says a lot of baby toys are loud enough to cause hearing damage.  He recommends putting tape over speakers of loud baby toys.  
  • Materials that will last through a beating are always a plus.  For babies and toddlers I try to avoid too much plastic, since it all feels the same.  Instead, I try to find a variety of textures.
  • Collectibles and stuffed animals really depend on the kid.  While some kids love them and will get a lot of use out of them, that has not been the experience in our house.  Action figures, stuffed animals and other collectibles just end up in a toy bin forgotten (Lego Minifigs being the exception).
  • Not a tip for buying toys, but for extending their use is that any toys with lots of parts and pieces need an easy to use container with a lid.  Toys are no fun if you have to hunt down all their pieces.  I keep all the boxes (mostly cheap plastic shoe boxes) of toys in the basement and then rotate them upstairs.  I don't even mind if multiple boxes of toys being used at the same time, as long as everything finds its way home when it is done.

Younger Babies


Older Babies and Toddlers

  • Dimple
  • Toobs* - We have tons of these.  Because of their wonderful detail, they were initially used for vocabulary development.  They've been added to the bathtub and water table.  Now they get combined with blocks or Magna Tiles to build zoos.  Dragons, Mythical Realms and Knights can all be used to have battles.  Fairies and Days of Old could be added to blocks to make castles or enchanted forests. (Last year, I put Toob figures in the Advent Calendar we made)
  • Squigz* - The have been used on tables, floors, glass doors and in the bathtub.  Archer likes just chewing on them too.  We have the regular ones, but that have some that stick to tables too.
  • Touchable Texture Squares
  • Instruments* There are lots of fun instruments for kids.  I like having a Xylophone and a Lollipop Drum
  • Pound and Roll
  • Spike the Hedgehog - I'll admit, I was skeptical about this one at first, but Archer still plays with it.  The spikes also seem to be a great chewing consistency.
Active Play

Bath Toys
We operate under the belief that you can never have too many kinds of blocks!

  • Plastic BlocksSquare Blocks and Architectural Blocks for fun shapes.  These are nice because they aren't too hard if baby falls on them (or parents step on them)
  • Foam Blocks - Also nice and soft, but not great always for kids that still chew on things.
  • Wooden Blocks* - Colored Blocks or Plain Blocks
  • Magnification Blocks - Let you put things you gather inside and show them off with a little magnification.
  • Balancing Blocks - All blocks need balancing to build, but these also have a curved piece to practice balancing.  You can get different versions.  Here are a few cute ones: Noah's ArkFarmPirate.
  • Nesting Rainbow*Grimm makes a beautiful, but pricy one.  We'll probably be going with a cheaper smaller (less cool) version. I also like the "V" version. Grimm also makes some gorgeous Nature and a Little Flower nesting blocks, but more of "splurg" items.

  • Pretend Play Blocks* - Pretend play is supposed to provide an outlet for kids to learn empathy.  Add that to building blocks and you get some adorable toys.  There's this Blockopolis City that even has puzzle piece roads.  Heroic Knights Castle has little knights and castle pieces.  Farm Blocks have fences, animals and a barn. There's also this cute princess set.
Magnetic Blocks
These end up getting their own category because they have been used pretty much constantly since Xander was 2.  We've slowly added move sets over the years.  Friends always enjoy using them also (as do adults). We've built on the ground, fridge and light table.  There have been geometric designs, skyscrapers, ramps for toy cars, zoos with Toob animals and much more.
  • MagnaTiles - Now these are a bit of an investment, but they're great quality and have good magnets (which allows for better building).  Two years in a row his only real birthday present was a big set of these.  We also have the Glow in the Dark version. 
  • Stardust - these have glitter and mirrors.
  • Big Base Plates - provide a wide base on which to build.
  • Ramps and Stairs - These have been a great addition to our regular tiles.  He builds all kids of buildings and pyramids with them.
  • Fences and Doors - Allow for different kinds of buildings and pens for animals.
  • Tunnels and Domes - more fun shapes to extend the play
  • Domes - Another unique shape to add to buildings
  • Polygons - more shapes from the MagnaTile brand.
  • Pretend Play - now there are more and more ways to play with magnetic tiles.  They have little community workers that stick to the tiles, a train set, a school bus, planes and more.
Play Food*

  • Cars and Traffic Signs has been a hit in our house. I even cut little felt pieces to make "roads."
  • Keys and Cars Garage - has both vehicles and keys for fine motor practice 
  • Emergency Vehicle Carrier
  • Bus and People - Archer is obsessed with this little bus!
  • Take Along Sets have folding sets with blocks and vehicles.  I like that the "roads" or "tracks" are etched in, so don't move with play like regular train tracks. We have the farm set, but there is also a rescue vehicle set and a train set. (Our Thomas trains fit on the tracks).
  • Little People also makes cars and ramps that seem to be popular with toddlers.
  • Janod makes vehicle sets with story boxes to expand the pretend play. 


* - Items with an asterisk appear on multiple lists due to being able to fit a wider range of kids, depending on ability and interest.

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  1. when does baby start playing with toys?
    when should i offer my baby toys? she is a month and a half :) which toys do start with?

    1. It depends on the baby, I think. Mine started with baby paper/Taggies and the Winkel at probably a couple of months, because they're light. Infant stimulation cards with high contrast are great for little babies (you can even print your own). A baby gym or mobile with things to look at and reach for is also pretty great early on, although learning to reach out and grab is a skill that takes some practice! As she gets bigger you could add a mirror and other safe things of different textures and materials.


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