I've got Christmas on the brain. I enjoy Halloween and Thanksgiving and prefer the décor that comes with either of those holidays, but Christmas has my heart. I love the time together as a family and the unwritten rule that everybody has to be happy. It's always been this way. As a kid, Christmas was the only day I probably didn't get in some kind of trouble; it was simply overlooked. I think my warm fuzzies stem from that!
One of my favorite parts of Christmas is watching my kids open presents. This has nothing to do with what's in the package they're opening and everything to do with the joy I get from the excitement on their faces and the knowledge that in turn these celebratory times with us will be some of their most cherished memories when they're adults. They're not going to remember what they got, but they will remember the feelings of happiness, love, and family togetherness shared that day.
Though the gifts play a supporting role in the Christmas picture, I do put thought and research into what I'm going to give the kids each year. I want them to have good quality toys they'll use that stimulate their minds in some way. I don't want to waste my money.
But just because I don't want to waste my money doesn't mean I haven't done it. Sometimes no amount of investigation and consideration makes a gift a hit. I have found this to be particularly true when it comes to toys and gifts for babies and toddlers. In the past I have been guilty of giving gifts that are overly complicated for their age or just uninteresting to them. Now that I'm on my third kid, I've learned some lessons about this age bracket and thought I might help out others needing a gift for this group.
Every item listed below is something one or more of my children had (or have in Tres's case) and actually use.
Though this list is compiled with babies and toddlers in mind, you should heed the manufacturer's suggested age for all items mentioned.
*This post contains affiliate links via text and pictures of the items mentioned. If you click on them and ultimately make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. This costs you nothing and helps keep this site running. You can read my full disclosure policy here.*
If your child is old enough to rip paper, they will probably find more fun in opening the gifts than with what they find in them. You could wrap up some toys you already have or leave the box empty. They won't care. I've never met a kid under the age of two who didn't immensely enjoy the process of opening a gift. It's something about the tearing of paper. They love it.
This is a great idea for a cheap way to include babies and toddlers. They're not going to remember or care about gift contents any how. The Boy's first Christmas and birthday taught me this lesson. He is our first and, at the time was, our only child. I went overboard. He was so happy opening those gifts. I knew he'd have a blast with what we got him. Instead, he played with empty boxes for the rest of the day.
We were given a classic Oball when The Boy was brewing in my belly. Not having yet had a child, I didn't appreciate the genius behind its design. But those of you who have had children know that just a few months after they're born they reach a stage where they are interested in objects but cannot hold onto them very well. Oball is a perfect solution to this predicament.
Little fingers can wrap tightly around the thin connections, and all the holes create lots of places for grabbing. Plus, the bright colors are intriguing.
The Oball brand offers all kinds of baby toys based on the great design of the orginal Oball and are easy for tiny hands to grasp and manipulate. Since receiving that first Oball, I have made sure all my babies had one and I have bought Oball toys for other people's children.
Though Oball is clearly designed for babies, it's one of those toys that you'll have for a while. It grows into toddlerhood and even the preschool years. It's an easy to throw ball that won't hurt anybody or damage anything. Winner!
If you checked out The Best Building Toys gift guide, you know how I feel about SmartMax. Since I went into detail in that article, I won't do it here, but please give it a read and see why I like them so much.
SmartMax is one of the best toys I've come across in my time as a parent. This is one of those rare jewels with which all my kids play, despite differing ages and interests. Those differences only affect how they use Magformers. The Boy creates buildings and forts, Little Mama makes microphones for herself and swing sets for dolls, and Tres finds joy in simply sticking pieces together or to any other thing she can find that's magnetic.
Melissa and Doug Sound Blocks
Tres got these farm sound blocks for her first Christmas. There's also a vehicle version.
As you can probably gather from the picture, these blocks are a puzzle. If you correctly align the front with the back of an animal, its sound will be produced. Of course Tres didn't possess the ability to make matches at the time she received these, but she tried. We helped her out and she would get really excited when an animal made it's sound.
She still needs some assistance with these, but she's aware that a match must be made and that a head should go with a back end. Though she sometimes puts the animals' hind parts first or tries to put the wrong head with the wrong body.
To give an honest review of these, I must say that I was kind of disappointed when I received them. The stickers on the blocks didn't look like they would last very long. I thought they would peel off quickly with any degree of use. While they still look that way, I have been pleasantly surprised. After a year of use, they are not peeling. Maybe more surprising is the fact that Tres hasn't ripped the stickers off. She will tear any paper product left in her path of destruction. I have to keep a vigilant watch on our precious books.
Magnetic Drawing Board
The Boy is a little artist. He loves to draw and is quite good. (Little Mama can also draw really well, but she doesn't care for it as much.) For his second Christmas, we got him all kinds of art supplies and drawing toys. His favorite one, and the one he played with for years, was his MagnaDoodle. Man, he was obsessed with that thing. But he grew older and preferred paper and pencil and Little Mama wasn't into it, so we gave it away.
As it turns out, Tres is a budding artist and may love to draw and color more than The Boy did at her age. So, this Christmas she is getting her own magnetic drawing board. Specifically, this one using colored magnets.
I'm pretty positive this is going to be a mega success. They're are plenty of other magnetic drawing boards to choose from, and most come with all kinds of accessories and doodads. The Boy's MagnaDoodle had two stamps with it, and they were constantly getting lost. Sometimes we found them in Little Mama's mouth! So, I knew I didn't want anything like that for Tres--just a simple board with pen.
Even though The Boy didn't care for most of the gifts he got his first Christmas, there was one he did like and play with often. It was an inflatable lion that he could push over and it always came back up. It's like a punching bag for babies. You might know them by the brand name Socker Bopper, but I think bop bag is the more generic term and more applicable to the type of which I'm thinking.
This colorful tiger is the closest thing I can find in style to the lion The Boy had.
We had to show him how to use it, but once he figured it out it was in frequent use. He eventually went from pushing it over to full-on tackling. It lasted a surprisingly long time for something the thickness of a pool float. As expected, it was eventually punctured. Let that serve as a bit of advice. Get a cheap one.
This dolphin is pretty cute. Here's a tyrannosaurus rex if you've got a dinosaur lover.
I will add this disclaimer. While The Boy thoroughly enjoyed his bop bag, I have seen some kids be terrified of them. When considering this gift, take your child's personality into account.
Though this Bat and Wobble Penguin from Fisher-Price costs a little more than the other bop bags shown here, it has a neat extra feature--balls that rattle around in the penguins belly.
Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes Musical Toy
Two of the kids were given this contraption as babies, and all three have played with it. This is not something I would have selected to get them. I don't prefer noisy, electronic toys. I'd rather the toys be quiet and the kids be noisy, if ya know what I mean. But after being a hit with all three of my children (different genders and extremely different personalities), I can't deny its popularity. Perhaps that it's been around for at least a decade is also testament to it's giftability (new word). I have also seen it listed more than once on other lists for baby shower and gift ideas.
I guess it's supposed to be like an IPod. When buttons are pushed, it plays different classical music selections and lights flash. This was especially helpful for car rides with Tres several months back. When she would start screaming, Little Mama would hold this up and make it play music. Tres would calm down and watch the lights. Of course, that meant the entire car ride was digital Mozart or Beethoven snippets played over and over and over... While annoying, I prefer that to a screaming baby.
What is a Moluk Bilibo? I don't know exactly. It's this thing:
It's an open-ended toy meant to be used however the child playing with it sees fit. The Boy got one for his second Christmas (it's toddler friendly but not for babies) and all of my children have played with it. The Boy still uses it all these years later.
When used as shown in the picture, it makes a fun, wobbly chair that kids can use for spinning and toppling over. Little Mama has used it as a bowl when "cooking". When flipped over it has served my children as a hill to climb and their turtle shell for those times when they change species. When turned dome up, it can also be a stool.
This is one that will last a while.
This gem is like those classic stacking toys, but it has a twist. Literally. The center stick has a spiral from top to bottom, so each piece spins into place. Tres got it last Christmas. As she was only a year old, she couldn't manipulate the pieces onto the stick really well. However, she had tons of fun having us put them on there for her. She would watch each one spin into place and then she would pull the stick out of the base to start the whole process over again. She never got bored with it, but that got a little tiresome for us.
Tres can now put the gear looking pieces onto the stick by herself, which she does quite often. The issue that now presents is tracking down the gears, stick, and base after she scatters them to the four corners of the world.
There is another version of this toy called MiniSpinny. It is the same concept of those gear shaped pieces spinning along a center rod, but this version is closed at either end.
Babies can achieve the spinning motion on their own and no parts get separated. Though I like the full-size SpinAgain, I would use the knowledge I have now and get Tres the MiniSpinny instead.
Tonka Toughest Mighty Dump Truck
When The Boy was about a year and half old, he was loaned a few of the classic Tonka steel vehicles. Since they were on loan, we had to eventually give them back. He loved them so much and played with them all the time. It was sad, but my sister saved the day and surprised him his own dump truck. Of the steel vehicles we had borrowed, the dump truck had by far been his favorite. The truck she got him was not all steel (hence less rust and sharp edges), but it was significantly bigger.
From the time he received it until now, this dump truck has seen consistent action from all my children and their friends. It stays in the yard and has held up to some significant abuse. This is a toy I plan on passing down to my grandkids, if it survives until then.
As you probably know, babies like to feel things. Whoever created Taggies certainly knows this. Taggies are blankets, books, and baby toys with tags sewn around their edges. When I was expecting Little Mama, I was given a small Taggies square blanket. I use blanket loosely, as it was about the size of a large quilting square. Like this lamb blanket minus the lamb.
Honestly, I didn't get it. Then Little Mama was born and in a few months started doing her baby thing and exploring with her hands. The little tags fascinated her. From then on, I was a Taggies fan. I even tried making my own version (when I thought I could sew) as a gift for someone else, but that was a complete disaster. In that case, I would have saved time and money just buying the real deal.
As a side note, my mother always used to tell me that I could do whatever I wanted to in life if I just applied myself. I wholeheartedly believed her and still do for the most part. But when it comes to sewing, that bit of wisdom she offered is a humongous lie. Sorry, Mama. It just is. But moving on...
I'm going to let you in on a secret. Here goes: Children like to make noise. You may find it hard to believe, but I assure you it's true. Rather than fighting that, I embraced and encouraged the little Bach within Tres and got her a toy piano for Christmas last year. Huge hit. Little Mama probably plays on it as much as Tres. The Boy can be heard trying to tapout a tune from time to time. It's funny when they think they are legitimately playing a song, but it's completely unrecognizable.
I agonized over which little piano to get. I wanted something affordable and decent looking. I really liked the look of the Schoenhut models, but they're priced a bit high for me. Ultimately, I went with this KidKraft offering.
Why? I liked the colors and it reminded me of Schroeder's piano from Peanuts. Very scientific reasons, I know.
I now think all the research and effort I put into selecting the right one was wasted. I'm pretty sure they're all similar in quality and offer the same degree of performance.
I've also mentioned these awesome little thing-a-ma-jigs on The Best Building Toys gift guide. Like SmartMax, they're good enough to be listed twice.
Squigz are silicone suction cups connected by stems. pipSquigz are a set of three jumbo Squigz that rattle. You can connect them to each other or almost any surface. Babies and toddlers are stimulated by their bright colors, sounds, and various textured surfaces.
One way Tres likes to play with them is by having me secure one to the floor and either batting at it to make it rattle or using her brute strength to pull it off the floor and make it pop.
Infantino Textured Multi Ball Set
My sister has a baby girl who is one month older than Tres. For her first birthday, I gave her this set of balls.
A few days after her birthday party, my sister informed me these were one of her favorite gifts. And why not? All kids love balls, and babies get an extra thrill from the sensory satisfaction these offer.
Tres got the same set for Christmas, and they were among her favorites as well. I find them all over the house and under furniture when I'm cleaning, which is a good indicator of how often they are used.
Just so you know what to expect, these are plastic and not rubber. They don't bounce. They are also easy to squeeze, but ours have always resumed their normal shape after being caved in by rough hands.
Tolo Toys Pony Carousel
You might have had something like this when you were a baby. I'm not sure what the generic name for them is, but you push the center stick down and the figures inside the enclosure spin. The harder or faster you push, the more quickly they turn.
Tres got this last Christmas. She wasn't really strong enough to push the rod down properly, so we all did a lot of the pushing. She would repeatedly ask us, using motions and babble, to make the horses spin. She is now big and coordinated enough to work it all by herself.
I wouldn't call this the most popular toy she has and it isn't played with everyday, but it is used consistently enough to be called a successful gift. It's great for distracting her or focusing her on something positive when she has more dangerous play plans in mind. Plus, it's stinkin' cute.
Kid O Wobbles
This cute little guy makes a great stocking stuffer, which is how Tres received him last year.
As you may have surmised from its name and picture, this toy is like those Weebles with which you are likely familiar. You know that song, right? "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down." Any who...
When pushed over it comes back up. When Tres first got it, she just hit at it to make it fall over and pop back up. While she still does that, she will now also tote it around and say it's her baby or remind me it's an owl and make owl sounds.
There are two other Wobbles available, which are equally cute. This raccoon:
and this fox:
I'll issue this warning. These things are made for small hands and are heavy for thier size. Should you give one to your child, it may go go flying through the air from time to time. So far, ours has held up well and there are no broken lamps or holes in my walls.
That wraps is baby and toddler gifts I recommend from experience. The following items are things Tres is getting for Christmas this year. Obviously, I think these will be good gifts for her age or she wouldn't be getting them, but only time will tell if I'm correct.
Melissa and Doug Hand Puppets
Tres, like every other toddler who has ever existed, is really into animals. She has a particular fascination with farm animals. She was a cow for Halloween, and wore her costume around the house while walking on all fours and mooing. Because of all of that, I thought she'd enjoy these farm animal hand puppets.
There are a few different styles of these puppets. If these farm animals work out, I have the zoo animals in mind for the future.
Guidecraft Screw Block Set
This is exactly what the name implies--a wooden block into which kids can insert screws. It comes with a chunky little "screw driver" for turning the screws.
This seems like it will be great for fine tuning motor skills. That benefit and its great reviews led me to get it, but it is probably the gift I am most unsure about. I don't know if Tres will take the time to sit down and work with it. If we're talking about screws that serve an important purpose and hold together something of value, she would wholeheartedly devote herself to removing them and dismantling the object in question. That chick loves destruction. But as a toy we'll just have to see...
In The Best Building Toys gift guide, I mentioned Tres is getting these unique little blocks. Wedgits can be nested, stacked, linked, and wedged together to make identifiable objects or nothing in particular (which is what Tres will do).
I don't expect her to be able to make anything remotely similar to the creations shown in the picture. I think it's a unique stacking toy, and that's how she'll likely use it. I'm hoping, though, this is something that will grow with her. As she ages, she will be able to produce those more complicated looking designs. Plus, my older kids can also play with this.
Lakeshore Forest Friends Playset
I had this in mind for Tres last year, but I thought she wouldn't be able to manipulate putting the animals into and out of their holes. So, she's getting it this year. Besides being good for motor skills and imaginative play, it's super cute!
This toy is from Lakeshore Learning. If one of their stores is near you, you can pop in, pick this up, and save yourself $5 in shipping. They also offer free shipping with a minimum purchase from time to time on their site.
Slinky Pop Toob
I accidentally stumbled upon these online one day while shopping for something else. I read some good reviews and thought this would be a good stocking stuffer.
It's a tube that expands and contracts and pops while doing it. It's also apparently good for talking into. I'm assuming it somewhat changes your voice. This one might be on the cusp of being too tricky for a toddler to use, but I'm giving it a shot. I'll let you know how it goes.
(Update 1/19/18: I threw out the Pop Toob last week. It was great while it lasted, and all the kids enjoyed playing with it. However, Tres stepped on its middle. Either side of the crushed midsection would still expand and contract, and she could still speak into it and alter her voice. I'm just not a fan of hanging on to damaged toys that have no hope of repair. I still think this is a great stocking stuffer, but I would advise giving it to an older and/or more careful child.)
Toddlers are the wiggliest version of humans. They never stop moving, especially my Tres. To channel that energy and encourage physical activity, she's getting a horse hopper.
There are tons of these to choose from that range from super cheap to ridiculously expensive. The one I selected is cheap and has good ratings in regards to performance and longevity. There were some reviews stating that the paint job on the horse could have been better, but I don't think Tres is going to be that picky. I just didn't want to pay an arm and a leg for something that I know will inevitably be punctured.
That concludes this list of gift ideas for babies and toddlers. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I feel this age group is one of the hardest for which to shop. There are tons of options, but a lot of them simply aren't practical. If you have some suggestions for gifts you have given that have actually been used by the babies and toddlers in your life, please share in the comments!
See my Pinterest board for all gift guides and lists.