The Absolute BEST Toys For Kids 12mos to 4 years

I’ve seen a lot of questions about appropriate toys and activities for children ages 12 months and up.  I decided to post my personal list of the BEST toys for 1-4 years!  These are toys that really last too.

Buy sturdy toys.  The investment is worth it.  We had a doll stroller that lasted through my first two children and four years of daycare children.  Just so you know, I bought it at a yard sale for $2.  Then I donated it to a preschool!  Buy fewer things and make sure the ones you do buy will last.

The Best Toys For Toddlers:

Cardboard boxes – Yep, save those big boxes, folks.  Research has shown that kids that use their imagination have fewer mental disorders and are less likely to develop things like Dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life.

Balls – These are great for developing hand-eye coordination.  You can also use them for learning small, smaller, smallest.

Large caps (like laundry soap caps) – These are great for sorting and talking about colors and even for hiding.  Hiding things then finding them helps teach object permanence.  That really helps with separation anxieties.

Blocks (the ones with letters) – Be careful when you buy blocks.  Those fun shapes and colors are actually choking hazards.  Stick with the bigger wooden ones with the alphabet on them.  You can use them for teaching letter recognition and sounds.  Or you can get Duplo ones.  They are great for making big towers and even forts.  Do try to get washable ones.

Cooking items – Pots, pans, large spoons, and play food are all great for kids.  It gives them the opportunity to role-play what they see the grown-ups in their lives doing.  Remember to give them the chance to “cook” for you too!  These don’t have to be fancy but please keep in mind that if you want to use old real pans, etc. keep glass lids away from your little one.  I also suggest that you think about how heavy they are.  Will they hurt very much when your child or their playmate gets smacked in the head with it?

Dress-up stuff – Hats, extra slip on shoes, gloves…any clothing that’s easy for your child to do themselves is great for pretending.

Plastic cups (the stacking toys or kids cups) – These are great for the younger (12 months to about 2 1/2 years).  They help develop fine motor skills but playing with them also helps develop the idea that they can control parts of their environment.

Dolls (boys too), and accessories – These can be baby dolls or stuffed animals.  Children truly benefit from being able to nurture someone else.  These toys give them the chance to practice on something that isn’t alive like a puppy or kitten.

Doll stroller, shopping cart, toy kitchen – No matter what your child’s favorite toy is, they need something to hall stuff around in.  A little wagon or bags are great too.  Don’t worry, you won’t confuse your son if you give him your old purse.  Boys and girls both first identify with mom so they want to do things like her.

Cars and trucks – These are great for whatever!  Kids love to push things around and they learn about cars pretty early.  Do be careful though and get age appropriate vehicles.  Metal ones are great but make sure they don’t have rust or sharp parts.  You also need to be careful and check them regularly for loose wheels, doors, or windshields.

Books! – Board books are best for this age.  They’re easy to clean.  The pages are easy for little fingers to turn.  The pictures are bright.  Try not to get too busy of books though.  It’s tempting to get books that teach a lot of words or ideas.  Don’t do it.  Young children will get distracted or even just get turned off if the book is too stimulating.  Simple is best and can be used later for teaching early reading.

These are my favorites!  What are your must haves?  Share in the comments or post them on your own site and link them back to me here.