Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Toddler X's Top 10 Toddler Toys: Older Toddler Edition (2 - 3 Years)

Tegu blocks...amazing!

It's hard to believe that it's been a full year since I published my list of Toddler X's Top 10 Toddler Toys. It's even harder to believe that several of those toys -- the Hape Switchback Racetrack, the Green Toys vehicles, the Melissa & Doug Grand Piano, and Rody, the inflatable horse, in particular -- are still favorites in Toddler X's playroom today. I guess it just goes to prove the point I made in my initial post last October: if you buy well-made, interesting toys, your toddler will be playing with them year after year.

A perfect toy, if there ever was one.
A year and a half in our household,
and still going strong.
Even though several of Toddler X's 1-2 year old toys are still in the rotation, with an additional Christmas and birthday under our belts (and with generous grandparents and a mommy who loves these toys as much as her toddler!), we've added some other winners that I know will be favorites for years to come.

If you're looking for something special for an older toddler -- say 22 months and up -- the following are our absolute favorites.

If you do plan to buy these, or anything else from Amazon, I'd very much appreciate you doing so via the affiliate links on this page. Thank you!

1. Kid Kraft Retro Kitchen.

Kid Kraft Red
Retro Kict
A gift from the grandparents last Christmas (when Toddler X was about 22 months old), this amazing kitchen has seen action almost every day since. It was a beast to put together (thanks, Mr. X!), but oh so worth it! It is well-made, adorable, and the perfect size for a toddler -- I imagine he'll be playing with it until he's 4 years old, if not longer.

The pretend play that we enjoy with the kitchen is endless -- Toddler X makes us breakfast, lunch, and dinner, tea and coffee, and any number of other creative things (I've found stuffed animals in the oven and my wallet in the microwave). It's a great distractor in the morning while I'm trying to get that first cup of coffee down -- "Buddy, could you make me some breakfast? Ooh, eggs -- can you make me some toast to go with them? And bacon? Orange juice? Can I have a fork? A napkin?" -- all the while sitting in a comfortable chair, sipping away, as he runs back and forth.

I'd say 50% of our friends have this exact same kitchen (it comes in various colors -- pink, white, and light blue, in addition to the red one we have), and the kids gravitate to it at each house. Whimsy, the new play space in Saratoga, has two of these, and even though he has one at home, the kitchen was one of the first things Toddler X ran to on our first visit there.

I put this at #1 on my list for a reason: it's my all-time favorite toddler toy and a great buy for any kid 18 months and up.

2. Hape "Playfully Delicious" Kitchenware.
Going along with the kitchen/pretend play theme, I have to share our absolute favorites in the toddler kitchenware department: the Playfully Delicious line of goodies from Hape.

Hape's beautiful, well-made wooden toys have been favorites of ours for a long time -- they're the ones who make our beloved Switchback Racetrack -- and it's no surprise that their kitchen products are equally wonderful.

We have the Pop-Up Toaster Play Set, the Gourmet Kitchen Starter Set and the Coffee Maker Play Set, all of which are absolutely delightful. The toaster, in particular, is lots of fun -- it pops up some darling wooden toast, and includes butter, a knife and honey for topping it -- and the coffee set is a perfect match for mommy and daddy's Keurig. Again, I can recommend these without reservation.

Hape's other "Playfully Delicious" sets -- everything from kitchens and cash registers to salad bars, pizza sets and full pancake breakfasts -- also get great reviews, so if you're in the market for play food or other items, check these out.
3. Magnetic Building Toys (Tegu blocks or Magna-Tiles).

Last Christmas, on the recommendation of an SV Toddler reader, we bought our first set of Tegu blocks. I was skeptical at first -- though I loved the company's eco-friendly mission and their investment in the development of the Honduran economy, the price was a little hard to swallow for a toy. But as I started reading the reviews, and tested some of the blocks out at a friend's house, I realized that these aren't just some toddler toy -- they're an investment in years (literally, years -- I can see Toddler X playing with these at age 10, and heck, I like playing with them at age 36!) of creativity. I bought one set and I was hooked. Oh yeah, and Toddler X was too.

These incredible magnetized blocks, with which you can create amazing feats of wooden engineering, are one of the best family playtime items I've ever seen -- the three of us work together to create cool structures, after which a certain one of us works alone to "accidentally" dismantle them. In addition to our original set -- the 22 Piece Tegu Endeavor Magnetic Wooden Block Set, Natural -- we now have supplemental sets of cubes (the 4 Piece Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Cube Set, Jungle) and a pocket pouch of triangle and diamond shapes (the 6 Piece Tegu Pocket Pouch Prism Magnetic Wooden Block Set, Mahogany), which create even more building options and are excellent for travel.
Tegu  blocks occasionally go on sale on Amazon, so keep an eye out if you want to start your own collection. If you don't like the natural color that we've chosen, they have several different color offerings, and a number of different set options, from the massive Original Set to the introductory Pocket Pouch.

While we've gone the Tegu direction, several of our friends have made similar investments in Magna-Tiles, and those are pretty darn incredible too. Like with Tegu blocks, these flat-ish magnetized triangles and squares allow for some incredible feats of engineering and craftsmanship, and their bright colors and partial translucency make for quite a spectacle. Toddler X has enjoyed these everywhere he's seen them, from popular play spaces to friends' houses.

We're probably going to stick with building our Tegu collection rather than starting a Magna-Tiles collection too, but I believe the two building toys are equally awesome for older toddlers, so I wanted to recommend them both so you can pick the one that works for you.

4. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Easel.

Another Grandma X gift, this easel is a beautiful piece that is (along with our Kid Kraft kitchen) the focal point of our play room. It has a white board and a chalk board on reverse sides, as well as containers for paint cups or chalk (you have to buy the actual paint cups/paint separately). One of the neatest features is that it grows with your toddler -- I believe it has three heights and can move up as your toddler does. We keep paper in the holder and colored pencils and chalk in the bins at all times, and Toddler X will occasionally pause in his other play to wander over and draw something, then resume what he was doing. It's a great piece that I highly recommend.

5. Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway

My impressive feat of
railroad engineering
Wow. Talk about something that wasn't even on our radar a year ago, and is now one of our -- and I do mean our, as I love playing with it too -- favorite toys. My sister got Toddler X a Thomas Starter Set and a few accessories for Christmas last year (at 22 months), and he loved them so much that she (and we) got him some more for his birthday in February. Since then, we've been picking them up here and there for special occasions, and we've amassed quite a collection!

High quality wooden railroad tracks and trains are toys that can be played with for generations -- my mom still has a basket of the Brio ones that my brother and I played with as kids -- and they're also toys that can be played with well into the elementary years. They're fun for toddlers, of course, but they also help build dexterity (as they connect the track pieces) and problem solving skills (that bridge has to go somewhere, and two tracks that meet at right angles just aren't gonna fly). And when mom gets ahold of them...well, see the picture above.
We've had the best luck with the Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway tracks/accessories -- while many other brands fit with them, these seem very sturdy and consistent (some others, like the Ikea ones, fit awkwardly, and some have strange connectors). Toddler X's favorite accessory, by far is the Deluxe Over-The-Track Signal -- it makes dinging noises, the lights change from red to green, it's toddler heaven.

He also loves the Search Light ('cause it lights up and turns) and the Quarry Mine Tunnel (something about its little swinging door just makes his day). There are so many other accessories that he (and I) want to get that I think we have special occasion gifts covered for the next year or two.

6. Learning Resources Calculator Cash Register.

This is another incredible toy that gets use every. single. day in the X household. With a fully-functional calculator, it's a great learning toy, and with cool sounds (when you hit numbers, open up the drawer or swipe a credit card), it's just a lot of fun as well. It is heavy and incredibly sturdy -- no joke, Toddler X probably knocks it off the table onto the hardwood floor at least once a week, and it's still working fine -- and the pretend play options are endless. We play pet store (I line up all his stuffed animals and he comes pet shopping), shoe store (ditto with shoes) and grocery store (he grabs all the food items he can find in his shopping cart, I ring him up, we load everything into a reusable grocery bag, and he heads over to his kitchen's refrigerator to unload). We've found the same toy at our preschool and the various play places we visit -- seems that everyone who knows toys loves this gem. A winner all around.

Just a note: We've put away the small plastic coins that came with the cash register for the time being, and if you have a younger toddler, you may want to as well. While Toddler X isn't really the type to put things in his mouth anymore, I didn't want to take a risk, and he's perfectly happy with the paper money and credit cards anyway.

7. A Shopping Cart (Little Tikes or Melissa & Doug)


Pet shopping (Toddler X style, at least), grocery shopping, and just hauling all your belongings from room to room are activities that demand a shopping cart, and Toddler X uses his constantly.  We have two -- one at home, one at grandma's -- and both are great; you can just pick based on the look you like and your budget. The Melissa & Doug cart is metal, very realistic, and very popular, but is pricier than the Little Tikes cart, which we have at home and which works just as well. I've never met a toddler who doesn't like shopping carts, making them a perfect toddler toy.

8. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Magnetic Letters & Numbers.

Toddler X is really into numbers and letters these days, and I credit a good deal of that to these magnet sets, which he's had for almost a year now and absolutely loves. They're cute, well made (we've only had one issue, where an E got soaked in milk and lost part of its covering), and, because the entire back in magnetized, don't run the risk of a small magnet getting loose and being ingested, as the old plastic ones do. In addition to the refrigerator, we purchased a magnet board from Ikea and keep it in the living room -- Toddler X finds time to play with his letter and number magnets every day.

9. Melissa & Doug Jigsaw Puzzles.

At Toddler X's two year check up, his pediatrician saw him easily completing the peg puzzles at the office, and said that it was time for him to move on to puzzles with interlocking pieces. We had one that he'd been given for Christmas -- a beautiful 48 piece space scene -- and I bought a few smaller ones.

At first, he wasn't even close to understanding how they worked, and we only brought them out once in a while, lest he become frustrated. Now, seven months later, he absolutely adores his puzzles, and can find connecting pieces quickly and easily. It is such a joy to watch those skills develop!

Here are the puzzles we enjoy, ranked from easiest to most difficult. All of them are awesome.
  • Melissa & Doug Playful Pets Jigsaw (12 pc) (above, right): This is a great first jigsaw because it comes in a wooden frame, making it easy for kids to get a sense of the edges/corners. There are only two non-edge pieces in the puzzle, so once you have the edges established, it's pretty easy to finish. The pieces are actually wood (versus cardboard), so hard to hurt. Finally, the picture, though cutesy, appeals to toddlers, and since they're all familiar animals, it's easy for Toddler X to see the connections from piece to piece.
  • Melissa & Doug Deluxe Construction in a Box Jigsaw Puzzles: We actually have a couple of different sets of these puzzles (jungle animals, trains), which come four to a box. They're still really easy (only 12 pieces, so again, there are only two non-edge pieces), but minus the solid frame that the one above has. These are great 'cause they're super portable -- we always take them on vacation.
  • Melissa & Doug Solar System 48 pcs Floor Puzzle (above left): This is one of the best gifts Toddler X has ever received -- it's an awesome puzzle that we all enjoy doing together. While the puzzle pieces are large and easy to manipulate for little hands, this one is definitely not intended for 2 year olds -- if yours enjoys puzzles, though, it's a great challenge. Toddler X has made huge strides in being able to fit the pieces of this one by himself, and when it's put together, we sometimes leave it on the floor for days, just because it looks so cool.
(It's also lots of fun to use the Solar System puzzle as a base for playing with the Green Toys Rocketship that we love -- the other day, Toddler X loaded a spaceman into the top capsule of the ship, some play food into the bottom capsule, then took them all around the puzzle to land for a picnic on the moon. I love that he came up with that himself!)

    10. Plan Toys Solid Wood Tea Set.

    Toddler X has enjoyed making tea at his friends' houses for a while, but although we had a cute little coffee maker, we didn't have a tea set at home. As I set out to look for one, I had a hard time finding any that weren't extremely "girlish".

    Here's the new Green Toys set,
    if you're curious.
    The one brand I usually look to for kitchen wares -- Hape -- makes one, but the reviews were mixed, most saying that it is really, really small. Another favorite brand, Green Toys, makes a cute one in pastel colors and, as I just discovered while writing this post, now one in primary colors too! (The primary colors one is literally brand new -- it wasn't on the market a few months ago when I was purchasing a tea set for Toddler X.) But I knew I wanted wood, so I kept looking.  

    Finally I found the Plan Toys set, and yay! It is exactly what we needed. Toddler X absolutely loves all the little components (though I did put the tiny sugar cubes away for the time being, for the same reason as I set aside the cash register's coins), and I love how cute everything is, particularly the tiny tea bags. So glad that my research led me to this one.

    11. Green Toys Tool Set.

    What is an 11th item doing on a Top 10 list? I tried, I really did, to narrow our favorites down to just 10 toys, but there was absolutely no way I could leave Toddler X's Green Toys Tool Set off the list, so 11 it will be.

    I bought Toddler X and all his little pals these tool sets for their birthdays last January and February, and I think they were a hit all around -- ours certainly was. Toddler X loves to pound things with the hammer and "ply" all manner of things with his pliers (seriously, "Mommy, can I ply your nose?" is not a stretch.) He knows the difference between the Phillips head and flat screwdrivers, and has a blast with his little saw. This is such a sweet set and can do very little damage to the rest of your house, while still providing lots of toddler fun. They have the set in both pink and blue -- a perfect gift for any toddler.

    12.  Melissa & Doug Sand Toys. (I hope nobody is teaching their toddler to count based on my posts, because I'm about to add a 12th item -- actually, a 12th category -- to my Top 10 Toddler Toys list.)

    Sitting at the playground yesterday, it struck me that I had completely omitted from this list some of our most frequently used, and highly recommended, playthings: the bag of sand toys that sits in our car and travels with us to playgrounds all around the South Bay. These toys get hard use all year and are absolute champions of sand play, either at the playground, in the backyard, or at the beach. I get asked about them by other parents all the time, and kids flock to them at the playground.

    For a long time, our sand play stash consisted of a reusable grocery bag filled with a mishmash of cheap plastic shovels from the Target dollar bins, coffee cups I'd found in my car, and occasionally a tupperware if Toddler X was lucky.

    Now, don't get me wrong -- these are all excellent playthings, and every toddler should use them from time to time. But when Toddler X's birthday rolled around in February, and we chose to host his party at a park where sand is the primary ground covering, I decided we needed to provide the partygoers with something a bit more substantial to play with. At the same time, Toddler X didn't really need any more toys inside the house, so we decided that a nice set of sand toys would be our big gift.

    The following are what we settled on, and I can't recommend them highly enough:
    The tote bag is amazing, not only because it is adorable, but because it has an inch or so of wide mesh at the bottom, such that you can load it up with your sand toys (which always seem to contain every grain of sand to be found at the beach, right?), then give it a good shake, and the sand filters right out the bottom. It's an ingenious design, and one that has helped reduce the grains of sand that actually make it into the car. Its short handles are very toddler-friendly, and Toddler X loves to carry his bag of toys from the car to the playground. There are also two small pockets on the outside, into which you can stick sunblock, a hat, whatever. They have this bag in various sea creature designs, but we went with the crab and love it.

    The toys themselves are true winners as well. They are all thick and sturdy, cute and fun. The nesting buckets are huge Toddler X favorites, and also favorites of all his buddies (and all the kids who come over to us at the playground after seeing our cool toys). They're easy to transport, easy to make sure you've collected all of them at the end of the day (provided you can count to four), and fun to use for transferring water from a water feature or building sand sculptures (each has a sea creature design at the base). The clicker crab bucket fits nicely around the stacking buckets, and all fit perfectly in the bag. The two shovels are sturdy (no snapping plastic here) and perfect for toddler hands.

    Obviously I'm a bit more careful with Toddler X's sand toy stash now than I was when it consisted of empty Starbucks cups as buckets, and a spare spork as a shovel, but we haven't had any problems with them getting lost or taken, and it's been about 8 months now. Just be sure to put your child's name in permanent marker and you're all set -- the bright colors make them easy to spot when you're ready to depart, and since they're different from all the basic yellow plastic shovels that you see at the park, it's not hard to determine what's yours.

    So there you have it -- our top toys right now, at just over 2 1/2 years, all of which I'd recommend for any toddler ages 2+ (the puzzles and Tegu blocks would trend toward the older side). Let me know if you have any questions about these items, as they're all among our favorites and I'm happy to share more details.

    If you're looking for toy recommendations for younger toddlers, please see last fall's Top 10 Toddler Toys post.

    Happy toddling!

    1 comment:

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    Hmm...what to do today?