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Toddlers are hard to buy for, harder even than teenagers maybe? (Okay, not quite that hard.) 3 year olds especially have so much, and they can’t tell us what they want really, yet they still need fun gifts and new challenges. And of course we still want to buy for them! So in the name of shopping smarter and getting gifts that are both sure to be a hit and will last longer than an hour before falling into toy-box oblivion, this is a list of some of the very best gifts my toddler has ever received for Christmas and his birthday (and everything in between).
Moon In My Room is basically a moon-shaped night light (about as big as a dinner plate but very lightweight) that hangs on the wall. What makes it awesome is not only does it totally look like a real moon, but it has a remote control that lets kiddo see and cycle through all the moon’s phases (from sliver to full) and turn the moon on and off from bed. AND (this is my favorite part) it automatically turns itself off after 30 minutes of inactivity. So it’s great for helping kiddo fall asleep without staying on all night (or requiring mom to come in like a ninja at 10pm and turn it off). Educational, functional, and fun.
These are not your average puzzles — these giant floor puzzles from Melissa and Doug are 3-10 feet long (depending which one you get), and feature big beautiful pieces that are super fun to put together. And while regular table-top versions are great for fine motor skills, patience and sitting still, these larger ones have all the same cognitive benefits plus some hopping, jumping, and running opportunities while bopping around the living room putting them together on the carpet. There are numerous styles to choose from, we have this one and this one and love them both.
Our little guy loves taking things apart and putting them back together and this 3-dimensional build-your-own-engine puzzle has been a regular in the play rotation for over a year now and is still going strong. All the pieces come off and go back together, and there are spark plugs and pistons and other engine parts. Screws and tools work well and are great for improving dexterity and fine motor skills, and look a lot like Dad’s real stuff.
Remote control cars are a rite of passage of sorts. And this one is perfect for toddling toddlers as it’s easy to control and tough as nails. Learning to steer it well will take some time but it’s fun regardless of what direction it’s headed — and at this age kids just love the concept that they press the button here and something happens with the car over there. Plus there’s music and working headlights! Ours received this at 1 1/2 years old I think actually, and now at 3 1/2 is still having loads of fun with it.
More building and puzzles! This take-apart toy crane has been dismantled and rebuilt in our house hundreds of times (thousands???). It just doesn’t get old! (For him, anyway, ha.) It works and rolls and drives and grabs, and then everything comes apart and separates, down to just an orange chassis, once you start undoing the bolts and screws. And the best part about the whole thing? The power screwdriver. It’s got surprisingly good power for being battery operated, goes in forward AND reverse, comes with 3 interchangeable bits (switching them out is half the fun), and the batteries in it last forever.
Costumes aren’t just for Halloween! This didn’t really occur to me until this Halloween when the costume I bought for trick-or-treating became an endless source of fun. The key? Get one at least a size or two too big, so he can get in and out of it easily and potentially wear it awhile, plus fun accessories are a must. Buzz Lightyear must have his jetpack and wings! (“To infinity, and beyond!”)
7. Play Tent (Space Adventure Roarin’ Rocket)
Forts don’t get easier than this, especially in the house in the dead of a Minnesota winter when the four corners of our living room are getting all too familiar. Or in the summer, outside in the backyard. Play tents are super versatile and pop up in minutes, instantly creating a whole new world of fun and games, privacy and (perceived) independence. Note: when buying a tent pay close attention to the dimensions. Not all tents are created equal when it comes to size — some are much smaller or shorter than others (this one is nice and big).
8. Kick Scooter (Razr Jr Lil’ Kick Scooter)
Like a tricycle for scooters, these toddler versions of the hi-speed ones for adults make for fun physical activity while improving balance and coordination. Kick scooters come in lots of styles but this type with two wheels on the back and one in front is the most stable for littles just figuring them out. Be aware that it may seem impossible at first, but kids as young as 2 years old (or younger maybe even?) can quickly figure it out and start pushing along with one foot. And depending on the size of your house these are okay for using indoors (we do!).
Super cute and fun to read, If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t! was given to us by a family friend and has quickly become a regular in the bedtime story rotation. It’s full of personality and humor (I’ve laughed more than once reading it), and it’s beautifully illustrated in a unique style.
Noyo’s “Not Your Ordinary Crayons” are seriously amazing. They are big and easy to handle with soft color that goes on much more vibrant that regular crayons, they’re washable (woo hoo!), they finger blend like pastels, and add a wet paintbrush and they become watercolors! There are tons of colors and they come in a handy carrying case, with a spot for each crayon to snap into its own spot (so no big jumbly mess with caps coming off, etc). You know you’re a mom of littles when you get excited about really great crayons and paints in one, ha! (But seriously, grab these.)
I love this more gender-neutral “dollhouse” option for boys. Manhattan Toy’s MiO Modular Wooden Building sets are the sweetest, most charming little playhouse collection, featuring numerous sets and expansions that work together all with clean lines and a simple style that encourages creativity. Building units and blocks pile and stack, each serving multiple purposes for an endless mix of possibilities to encourage playing house as well as creative construction activities. And the bean bag people are so darn cute! Easy for clumsy little hands to grip and manipulate, and they have a satisfyingly firm “plop” to them when playing and positioning. Plus we have 14 characters in all (a mix of people and animals) and no two are the same!
And P.S., I just noticed there’s a castle!
What have been your kids’ best gifts? Share in the comments — we can all use the ideas! :)