We are thrilled to have Susie, the creator of Busy Toddler, share her top toys that will last from toddlerhood through the elementary years. Susie is a former teacher turned stay-at-home mama who created Busy Toddler as a way to help other parents find simple and creative ways to keep their toddlers engaged, active, and learning. You can see her website here and follow along on Instagram here. (Click here to see how to save $10 on her eBook Playing Preschool through 4/14.)
What are the best toys to own?
No pressure or anything but toys are REALLY IMPORTANT. They play a big role in our kids’ lives, and it’s paramount to have toys that inspire them.
Look for toys that are good for open-ended play.
Look for toys that have YEARS of longevity.
Look for toys that all your kids will enjoy (get the most bang for your buck).
The truth is, you don’t have to own a lot of toys – this is one time in life when you can stick to the basics and actually hit a home run.
Below are my top ten toys for toddlers to big kids:
It doesn’t get much more basic or much more perfect than a simple set of wooden blocks. From making towers to fences, car ramps, and even math activities – this is a classic and staple of any toy collection.
Wooden blocks ROCK. Here’s a quick matching activity that shows just how fun they are.
2 | PLAY KITCHEN
A good play kitchen is the backbone of so much play, but not all of them are created equal. Look for a kitchen that doesn’t have batteries, has minimal bells and whistles, and keeps the kids firmly in the play driver’s seat. Simple is best. Let their imagination run wild.
Dramatic play is HUGE in early childhood and should be strongly encouraged. Children use “dress up clothes” to help act out social scenes and learn more about the basics of life. Dramatic play is how children learn to make sense of the world around them. It may seem like they’re just a superhero or firefighter, but trust me: it is so.much.more.
Hear me out on this one before you pass it by. Tea sets are actually amazing. You can get ornate tea sets or simple plastic ones, but they breed conversation and dramatic play opportunities. They’re perfect for dress up, for practicing social skills, pouring skills, and language skills.
Here’s my youngest using his beloved tea set in a sensory bin.
5 | TRAIN SET
Another classic and an absolute must. From toddlers (who may need a hand setting up a train set) to early elementary-aged, building a train track is perfection. It takes planning, creativity, problem-solving skills, and spatial awareness to make a good track. That’s a whole lot of goodness from one very simple toy.
6 | DOLLHOUSE
Forget all the gender associations with dollhouses. Throw them out the window. A good neutral dollhouse is fantastic. A dollhouse is another chance for dramatic play and let me tell you, the stories and play I hear around our dollhouse is the stuff play dreams are made of.
Often the house is “on fire” and the fire department comes to the rescue, animals take it over as a zoo, construction trucks whirl by it building and adding on – the point being: a dollhouse should be accessible to all children. It invites so much play and works so well with so many toys.
7 | LEGOS OR LEGO DUPLOS
Your choice on which one your child is ready for but the message here is to have building and engineering toys. The critical thinking, fine motor skills, and divergent thinking needed to work with LEGOs is the reason LEGOs actually make kids smarter. I’m not joking. LEGOs really are important.
Need a little extra fun with Duplos? Try making a LEGO Bath.
Here’s another toy that’s often mistaken as a gender-specific toy that cannot be overlooked: vehicles are needed for all kids and all play. You can pick wooden vehicles, plastic vehicles, big ones, small ones – just don’t pick ones with batteries. Battery powered vehicles do the work for the child, and we need the child to be in control.
Find vehicles that interest your child, have a variety of them, and open the door to lots of imagination.
9 | TOY ANIMALS (ANOTHER OPTION HERE)
Big animals or small animals – just have a bin of animals. What happens with animals is amazing: they go from being stagnant figures to key players. Animals are sort of the “game pieces” for play. They’re part of the dollhouse family. They drive the bus. They live in the zoo that the wooden blocks made. Animals rule the play world.
It’s amazing how much fun kids can have with just a few animals!
10 | DOLLS
Again, throw gender stereotypes out the window and think long and hard about what a child can do with a baby doll: it’s a chance to practice parenting skills and mimic our every move. Dolls are a patient in a doctor’s office, a guest at a tea party, or someone to dress up and talk to.
Remember, it’s not the number of toys kids, but the variety of toys kids own that’s important.
Basic toys that can be treasured for toddlers to elementary school-aged kids and will become best friends with your child and wonderful companions.
There’s something to be said about the simple things in play life!