Nine toys every toddler should have

Build on the "Seven Toys Every Baby Should Have" with these picks for tots.

Learning Stages

By Candace Lindemann

Children's Author & Education Consultant

Candace Lindemann is a published children’s writer and educational consultant. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can also find Candace blogging at While Candace’s degrees prepared her for a career in education, she’s found that the best preparation for parenting is on-the-job training.

To build on the 7 Toys Every Baby Should Have (Musical Toys, Blocks, a Plush Friend, Push and Pull Toys, Silk Scarves, a Soft Ball, and Books), here are my picks for the 9 Toys to Add to Every Toddler's Collection!

Of course, your toddler will probably still want to play with most of the "baby toys" for a while, but now she's also ready for some more "sophisticated" playthings. These toys will encourage your toddler to develop her new motor and mental skills! I consider any good toddler toy to be an "educational toy" because young children learn through play.

  1. Dolls: At some point during most toddlers' development, they will show an interest in a companion that looks more like a human baby. They'll still drag around their favorite plush puppy or bear, but will also want to care for a baby doll--just like Mommy and Daddy take care of them. This stage may be even more exciting for toddlers who are expecting or who have a new sibling. I seemed to have skipped this phase, but both my children love to change, feed, and cuddle their dolls. Doll play allows children to process their own emotions and also develop greater empathy--definitely worth encouraging!
  2. Alphabet Toys: Toddlers will initially realize that letters have something to do with those neat stories you read them. Eventually they will connect letters to the letter names and then it is just a hop, skip, and a jump to the sounds letters make. The best way to encourage pre-literacy skills is to create a print-rich environment. This means that your toddler will have plenty of opportunity to interact with letters and words in multiple ways and formats. One of my favorite letter toys is the LeapFrog Fridge Words Magnetic Word Builder. Along with the ever-popular refrigerator magnet letters, you get three modes of play for a toy that will grow with your child.
  3. Ride-ons: What toddler can resist the allure of a ride-on? Self-powered locomotion is pure toddler excitement. We've purchased or been gifted or tested out so many ride-ons at our house, but I can honestly say the kids have loved them all. My favorites are the sturdy ones and ones that adults or older siblings can push (without bending over--my aching back!) for younger toddlers or toddlers who just feel like a free ride. The kids love the ones that are shaped like any sort of car, train, or truck.
  4. Counting Toys: Another basic skill toddlers begin to acquire is counting and number recognition. Every kid learns these things at their own pace, but fun exposure to the idea of counting will make it easier once your toddler is ready to embark on her first math adventure. We count everything--stairs, buttons, blocks--and numbers are everywhere! Toy telephones, like the LeapFrog Chat & Count Cell Phone, build number recognition while allowing your toddler to play with an all-time favorite, the phone...without accidentally using up the minutes on your plan.
  5. Kitchens: I have yet to meet the toddler who doesn't enjoy play kitchens. If you cannot afford a fancy new one, you'll probably be able to spot one at a garage sale. Or, go green and recycle yours out of cardboard boxes or wooden crates. Just the basic outline of some stovetop burners, a bowl for a sink, and a few cutouts for a refrigerator and oven, and your kids will be junior chefs in no time.
  6. Shape Sorters: Older toddlers will begin to recognize shapes and maybe even correctly identify them. Shape sorters, boxes with holes for various shaped blocks, encourage spatial skills as well as shape recognition. Many of these also have brightly colored pieces that help children learn colors, another toddler skill.
  7. Play Tents: Now that your toddler knows you are not actually vanishing when you aren't visible (Thank you, object permanence! Mommy can shower alone again!), he will love his own hiding spot in a play tent. My mom would always get out the dining room chairs and a spare sheet—still an excellent and frugal option. I also love the convenience of a one-touch or pop-up play tent. My kids will play for hours in their "club house"—exploring caves, taking a rocket ship to the moon, or just relaxing and reading.
  8. Role Playing Toys: Tool sets? Vacuums? Telephones? Mini laptops? If your toddler sees you using something, he is going to want to use it (or a reasonable substitute), too. The most popular option will probably be whatever you spend the most time with in the house. Just remember—he's going to copy EVERYTHING... not just the behaviors you want him to mimic.
  9. More Books! Okay, you are going to see this on my list for every age group. Tag Junior is a great toy/book hybrid that will engage your toddler and encourage her love of reading. Books open up a whole new world and develop that skill that makes all play (and learning) possible—the imagination!