At one year of age, most tots are content to sit on a floor mat and knock around a bunch of multi-colored cups. But those days are decidedly over once they reach the two-year mark. Now, you have to consider a lot more than just choking-hazard avoidance when choosing a gift. After all, two-year-olds are famously fickle, and because their verbal and emotional skills are developing so rapidly, they require a lot more stimulation than they used to. So, whether you’re shopping for someone else’s child or eager to find a toy that will keep your own offspring occupied for 15 minutes, check out our list of favorite toys for twos, specifically designed to take the guesswork out of toddler-pleasing.
1. Kinetic Sand
Winter is coming. But beach season lives on in all our hearts, right? The novelty of making sandcastles and sand pies indoors will win the heart of any two-year-old, and the stuff sticks to itself so cleanup is a cinch. Plus, the sensory magic of kinetic sand makes it both engaging and surprisingly soothing. (You will probably buy another package for your desk.) So go ahead and bust it out for a pretend play “beach day.” No judgment here if you roll out your own towel right there on the couch.
2. Play kitchen
This worthy investment will entertain your kiddo for literal years to come, and teaches valuable reasoning skills and frustration tolerance. (Oof, it’s very hard to transport a spherical piece of produce on a plate!) Mostly, though, it’s just lots of fun, because it’s undeniably empowering for a small person to butter someone else’s toast for a change. Once that’s old hat, they can stock their kitchen with a trip to the grocery store or even use it to run their own restaurant.
3. Teepee Playhouse
Toddlers are high energy and love to bounce from one activity to the next, but even the two-year-old psyche benefits from a little quiet time. This canvas teepee comes in solid colors and is attractive enough to leave out all the time—stock it with comfy cushions, stuffed animals, a stack of books or a simple puzzle, and carve out a permanent space for your toddler to unwind.
4. Little Tikes Big Waffle Block Set
The price tag may seem a bit steep for a block set, but unlike those wooden alphabet blocks that were relegated to the dusty reject bin, this toy’s appeal has staying power. Anyone who has built a block tower with a two-year-old knows that the activity can often feel like a game of Jenga that has taken a turn toward tragedy (one or both of you may end up crying into a sippy cup), but these are a game-changer. Not only is the interlocking waffle design great for fine motor skills, it also gives your ambitious kid a chance to build something that won’t immediately fall over. If that sounds like a cop-out, rest assured: There will be another opportunity to help your two-year-old develop frustration tolerance within the hour.
5. Little Tikes Fun Zone Pop-n-Splash
Ever noticed how delighted children are at this age by something as simple as flipping a light switch on and off? The Little Tikes Pop-n-Splash has a variety of mechanisms (cranks, levers, stomp pads) that show cause and effect through interactive play with water and colorful balls. Best of all, more than one kid can get in on the fun at a time, so younger children can parallel play with friends, even if they’re still making peace with the notion of sharing. If you have or know a two-year-old with a summer birthday, this is the gift to get.
6. Bubble Train
Train-obsessed two-year-olds experience what appears to be unparalleled joy when presented with a new locomotive. Don’t bother pondering whether or not you have ever known that kind of happiness in your own life. Do gift this toy to any child who loves trains—it blows bubbles like steam!
7. Play Dinner Basket
Maybe the hefty price tag on the play kitchen doesn’t square with your budget, or maybe it just doesn’t suit the occasion. The wonderful thing about pretend play, the foundation of learning at this age, is that the vibrant imagination of a child is mostly unfazed by niggling gaps in logic. In other words, a two-year-old doesn’t actually need a miniature oven and stovetop to get really into make-believe cookery. Simply teach your tot a few fun sound-effects (sizzle, chop) and he will be whipping up a feast with nothing more than an armful of fake food. This particular set is great because of the basket, a useful prop for pretend grocery store visits and picnics, as well an easy storage solution.
8. Coloring Poodle
Your child’s art is SO amazing, except when it’s all over the walls, sofa, floor… (What? All that austere, Danish furniture is basically begging for a Crayola makeover.) But if you’ve repeated the words, only on paper, so often they’ve lost all meaning, it might be time to change tack and offer up a plush surface that’s actually meant to be colored on. Creativity and untainted upholstery: Thanks to the Alex Toys Coloring Poodle, you really can have it all.
9. Expandable balls
By the age of two, children are only just discovering the concepts of emotional regulation and self-soothing (and let’s be honest, most adults are still honing these skills). But the tried-and-true strategy of taking deep breaths is made less abstract and more accessible to a toddler with the aid of an interactive prop. These expanding and collapsing balls have sensory appeal thanks to their knobby texture and colorful, flower-like design, and in times of crisis, a child can use one to mirror the movements of her own chest as she learns to inhale and exhale deeply to calm down. If this deep-breathing mumbo jumbo makes your toddler extra pissed, fear not, the durable plastic construction stands up just fine to passionate kicking and throwing.
10. Magnetic Fishing Puzzle
The two-year-old in your life has lost interest in the elementary peg puzzles of last year (you know, the ones with chunky wooden farm animal pieces that have actual doorknobs in the center) but definitely has not graduated to jigsaw puzzles, or anything made of cardboard for that matter. The sea creature pieces of Melissa & Doug’s fishing puzzle present the perfect challenge because the shapes are not that obvious, and the magnetic fishing pole requires serious hand-eye coordination, so your tot will keep strengthening both fine and gross motor skills, too.
11. Alex Toys Rub a Dub Tub Tunes
By the time a child turns two, there’s a good chance he’s over good ol’ rubber duckie. Freshen up the bath toy selection with these underwater instruments from Alex Toys. The Rub a Dub Tub Tunes toy features a floating xylophone and water drum, but probably the coolest of the included instruments is the set of five flutes, which can be filled with different levels of water to create a variety of sounds. The waterproof song sheets can be used to produce specific, corresponding notes on the instruments, so the more serious student can get a beginner’s lesson in how to read music. The folks at Parents Magazine voted this one of their best toys of the year, and it won iParenting media and NAPPA Gold Seal award, so it’s safe to say it’ll be a hit in your bathtub.
12. Water Wow
Toddlers will love this mess-free art activity, which allows them to bring color and life to fun scenes with only a water-filled paintbrush pen. Once the water dries, the color disappears so each page can be revisited again and again. Water Wow activity books are particularly fun and helpful for long drives and meals out.
13. Sit and Spin
Dizziness. To most adults, it’s an unpleasant physical sensation often associated with poor judgment and one too many glasses of Sauv Blanc. But for pint-sized people, it’s the epitome of fun. The Sit ‘n Spin was dreamed up and made real by a child-whispering genius back in the ’70s and it’s still available in all its glory today. The best part about this gift is announced right in the name: Because kids sit and don’t stand, you can watch them delight in their dizziness without worrying that they'll fall down or bump into sharp furniture corners.
As with all forms of development, toddlers reach the big physical milestones at different times and with varying levels of grace. The Costzon tricycle is a great way to encourage any two-year-old’s newfound physical freedom and developing agility, since it’s just the right size to be used as a ride-along to practice balance and steering, before moving on to trickier things like pedaling.
15. Etch A Sketch
It’s easy to see why this classic favorite has stood the test of time. With an Etch A Sketch, the aspiring artist can doodle the day away and each clean canvas comes without the clutter of a million loose sheets of paper. It’s great to bring along for car rides to keep an antsy kiddo busy, and it’s useful in a restaurant, too, because you won’t have to crawl under the table to retrieve crayons every few minutes.
16. Brio train set
These wooden train tracks are a beloved stand-by and a must-have for the mechanically-inclined toddler. Tiny hands will have no trouble using the chunky interlocking tracks to create a variety of sprawling layouts, and the budding train-enthusiast will get hours of entertainment from leading the locomotives over and under bridges, up and down sloping tracks and around loops. The set is also compatible with all other Brio railway kits, making it easy to upgrade any time.
17. Tool set
Got a future HGTV star on your hands? Crafty toddlers will get extra creative as they come up with new projects and hone their fine motors skills by picking up and putting down the assortment of hardware and basic tools. The wood aesthetic is simple, sturdy and a lot better looking than some of the tacky plastic alternatives.
18. Doctor Kit
You don’t need to be familiar with Doc McStuffins (and good for you, if you’re not!) to know that young ones love to nurture and nurse their stuffed friends. A good doctor’s kit can provide hours of pretend play fun. It also gives kids the opportunity to act out their own experiences at the doctor’s office and, if they clock enough hours running the show at the Imaginary Care Unit, the next trip to the pediatrician might feel less intimidating.
19. Take-apart Airplane
Designed to encourage shape-sorting and concentration, Battat’s take-apart toys are both fun and educational. Although the manufacturer recommends this product for ages three and up, we think it’s easily mastered by a two-year-old, since the chunky airplane parts and plastic battery-operated drill are very easy for small hands to work with. Plus, this gift will still be engaging for at least a couple years after that second birthday. After all, a take-apart airplane is also a put-together airplane.
20. Vacuum cleaner
OK, this one might sound a hair odd as a gift for a two-year-old. But as anyone who has ever watched a toddler gleefully dismantle every tampon in a 50 count box can attest: Mundane household objects are sometimes better than the best boutique toy. Your budding neat-freak may or may not use the handheld vacuum cleaner effectively, but trying will be fun. (And there’s zero chance of contribution with those similarly-priced “pretend” cleaning supplies, just sayin’...)