Our Favorite Gifts for 1- to 3-Year-Olds
Finding the right gift for a toddler can be challenging. Everyone’s picking from the same tired roster of toys, often noisy, disposable ones that don’t hold a kid’s interest for long. We’ve given and received our share of successful gifts, as well as duds. All of our picks below are things the kids in our lives found fun and engaging long after the initial thrill of something new wore off—and were favorites of the adults in the home as well.
Regardless of what you choose, we highly recommend wrapping the present, even if it’s just in newspaper, because at this age, unwrapping often brings as much joy as what’s actually inside. And if you have more gift ideas, please share them in the comments.
Everything’s better with eyes
Stick-on googly eyes can make just about anything more entertaining. While I often tuck sheets of these in with presents for other kids, my 2¾-year-old and I also like to use googly eyes to decorate those gifts. I start with a foundation of kraft paper, and Andie draws on it with markers or crayons, and then puts on these eyes, stickers, and washi tape. It’s very wabi sabi, and also a fun way to get the task done. I’ve bought individual adhesive googly eyes in bulk before, but the backing can be hard for even adults to remove. Andie can peel the Creativity Street Peel and Stick Wiggle Eyes off the sheet by herself, and the three sizes included in this pack are easy for a toddler to handle and to stick where she pleases. Note that these eyes could be a choking hazard; monitor your kids while they’re using them.
Many toddlers go through a period of ball obsession, but the littlest kids can find regular soccer or playground balls difficult to grip or catch. When they were really young my kids loved colorful, grippy balls similar to these from Edushape or the Gertie Ball. The visiting friends who would throw or roll one back and forth with them dozens of times were a hit as well.
$15 to $50
A first piggy bank
Last update on 2019-04-25 PST - Details
My daughter received this toy piggy bank as a gift when she was 1, and as far as noisemaking plastic toys go, this one is a winner. Andie liked being rewarded with the pig’s cheerful responses and songs when she pressed its snout or dropped the large coins through the slot, and I liked how mercifully brief—and not too loud or grating—the songs and noises are. The pig helps with developing motor skills and teaches colors, counting (in Spanish, too!), and all that other important stuff. Now that Andie is nearly 3, she’s less interested in the pig, but it’s great for younger toddlers.
Not just for pretend tea
I don’t think anyone passed through our house during my daughter’s toddler years without being coaxed into sitting for a colorful tea party with her and Tolo’s Teatime Shape Sorter. The teapot is sturdy and well-made, satisfyingly weighty, and easy for young children to carry. I know it can survive at least three years of consistent abuse from tiny hands. The clear plastic insert can be used with real liquids or removed completely so the teacups can slot in. It’s a fun alternative to the traditional shape sorters for littles, and a great first tea set.
A rainbow they can hold
Grimms Spiel und Holz makes beautifully crafted wooden stacking and puzzle toys that are as pleasing to look at as they are fun to play with. My 2-year-old niece loves to see their classic rainbow stacker in its fully assembled form and has endless fun taking it apart and imagining new uses for the individual pieces. So far we’ve used them as a belt, a phone, a hat, and a headband, and I have no doubt that we’ll continue to add to the list. Once playtime is over, you won’t mind seeing the rainbow stacker on your shelf. It’s such a lovely, cheery object that you may even opt to keep it there long after your child has outgrown stacking toys.
A classic hopper
Rody is a rounded, inflatable vinyl pony that’s perfect for a toddler who’s bouncing off the walls. My little kids loved to hop, scoot, and bump around the house on Rody, and because Rody is soft and springy, I loved not having to worry about them scuffing the floor or banging into walls. It’s hard not to smile at the pony’s cuddly shape, poppy colors, and cartoony-cuteness (it kind of looks like a Jeff Koons sculpture).
$50 and up
Three stories, endless role-playing
Last update on 2019-04-25 PST - Details
Hape’s three-story All Season House is bright, gender neutral, and open on all sides. My daughter loved that she could reach into any room from almost any spot to adjust the furniture and play with the wooden people (sold separately). I liked the extra furniture sets and accessories we could buy (like these pets). This was a staple toy during her toddler and preschool years, until we got a puppy who eventually devoured everything in the dollhouse, including the two families who lived there.