Building blocks are a great toy for toddlers.
Educational toys can help toddlers learn matching, counting, colors and sorting.

The Best Educational Toys for Toddlers

When kids are between 12 and 36 months old, they are beginning to explore their world. These toddlers’ brains are growing so much as they gain tremendous amounts of information about themselves and the world around them. It only makes sense then, for parents to seek every way possible to encourage this growth and development. Even the toys toddlers play with can boost their knowledge and creativity, so let’s look at the best educational toys for toddlers.

The Importance of Matching Toys to the Abilities of Your Child

Children are rapidly acquiring skills during the first years of their life. A child who cannot even hold themselves up to sit will be walking without assistance before you know it.

When picking toys for your toddler, it is essential to find toys that match their skills and abilities. Offering a toy that is too complicated can lead to frustration and disappointment, as the child is unable to use the toy effectively while a toy that is too easy will not promote new skills. Similarly, an overly simple toy may not hold interest.

Younger toddlers will have differing interests and abilities from older toddlers. Kids around one year of age will be interested in:

  • Exploring their physical skills
  • Climbing
  • Simple puzzles
  • Matching games
  • Games and toys that mirror adult tasks like cooking and cleaning
  • Items that are soft and help to express affection
  • The process of loading and dumping, emptying and filling, setting up and knocking down

Older toddlers will have a separate set of abilities and interests. A child who is two may like:

  • Testing their physical skills with jumping, climbing, hanging, throwing and running
  • Playing with smaller items as they challenge their motor skills
  • Items with different colors, textures, shapes and colors
  • Art kits that focus more on the process of creating art more than the finished product
  • Imaginary play in either fantasy or real-life roles
  • Hearing stories told by others

As your child transitions from a young toddler to an older toddler, many of the toys they play with at one year of age will be obsolete by the time they are two. This shift in play is normal and acceptable, so you may want to stick to buying a few toys at a time, rather than investing in numerous or expensive toys that do not grow with the child.

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Toy Categories for Toddlers

When selecting toys for your toddler, you will want to focus on a combination of active, manipulative, make-believe, creative and learning play toys. Active toys are items that a child can ride on or has to move around quite a bit to utilize. Manipulative toys are ones that children can play with while sitting in one place. Make-believe toys foster imaginative play. Creative play toys center around music and art. Learning toys help to build a new understanding of concepts like matching, counting, colors, shapes and sorting.

Active toys for toddlers include:

  • Toys that push and pull across the floor like wagons and baby strollers
  • Trucks and vehicles with large wheels that can move across the floor or ground outside
  • Ride-on toys without pedals, especially ones that make sounds and have room for storage
  • Sports equipment that is soft, brightly colored, and offers visual effects and a level of interactivity
  • Play equipment that is low to the ground and includes tunnels, climbing platforms and swings

Possible manipulative toys for toddlers include:

  • Wooden or plastic blocks for stacking and making simple buildings
  • Puzzles with large pieces made of foam or wood that are easy to manipulate
  • Pounding and hammering toys
  • Toys that nest together or stack
  • Items that involve counting or sorting colors and shapes
  • Sand tables and water trays

Toys that are best for make-believe are:

  • Soft baby dolls and their accessories
  • Stuffed animals
  • Hand puppets that represent animals or people
  • Dress up costumes
  • Kid-sized equipment for cooking, cleaning, landscaping and shopping
  • Trains and other transportation items

Creative play toys include:

  • Musical instruments that operate by shaking or banging for younger kids
  • Drums, horns and whistles for older toddlers
  • Large crayons and markers
  • Clay and finger paints
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Colored paper and blunt scissors

For learning play, consider toys that include:

  • Board games based on chance with large pieces
  • Hidden picture books with heavy paper
  • Short books with simple, repetitive stories
  • Dominoes
  • Items designed to teach skills like colors, numbers and shapes

Leading Brands for Toddler Toys

Many wonderful toy companies are out to aid the growth and development of kids everywhere. Some of the leading brands include:

  • Melissa and Doug
  • Little Tikes
  • Lego Duplo
  • Leapfrog
  • Step 2

If you are ready to outfit your home with more toddler-friendly toys, check out these top toy ideas to bring joy to all the toddlers in your life:

  • Good Housekeeping Toy List
  • Ultimate Toy List from
  • Best Toy List from

Scroll through these lists to find the best brands and items for your family’s needs. Remember, search for and order a variety of toys to meet the needs of your toddler.