Two-year-olds have boundless curiosity but only short attention spans, so focus on gifts that will spark their imaginations. These could include toys which help them develop their imagination — like a Play-Doh starter kit, or a BBQ play set that lets them play adult. We spoke to 16 parenting and child experts to compile an extensive shopping guide to suit any budget. From wooden toys to educational gifts, these presents will help toddlers make sense of their world and develop new skills such as matching, sorting, and balance. By the way, we also have gift guides for 1-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds.
The best games and puzzles for 2-year-olds
Simple puzzles or games help develop concentration, problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination. Plus, they’re great for socialisation as Good Play Guide founder Amanda Gummer explains: “Two-year-olds are still learning to play nicely with others, so toys that give them the opportunity to share and take turns will be great for their development — but are likely to need frequent adult intervention. Rachel Vecht, a teacher and mum-of-four who founded the “Educating Matters” seminars, says: “Montessori make some great first puzzles with separate ‘whole’ pieces that you can actually play with once the puzzle is complete.”
“Matching-pairs games help develop toddlers’ memory and logic skills,” says Gummer. “Little ones can match the head and tail ends of each animal and, as they get older, move on to a more challenging memory game using the same cards. It also encourages fast-paced turn-taking, so children can learn this vital social skill at the same time.”
If you’re looking for a puzzle without Peppa Pig, Nina Malone, founder of the Dope Black Mums podcast, recommends this set featuring pictures of people from the Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa tribes of Nigeria. “It has different difficulty levels in one box, so it is great for multiple ages and is a fun way to learn about history,” she says.
Lisa Clegg, author of The Blissful Toddler Expert, says 2-year-olds will love learning how to roll a ball with a bowling set. These animal skittles are a great choice, as the soft ball is perfect for playing indoors and the colourful characters can also be used for imaginative play.
The best role-play toys for 2-year-olds
“At this age, children love to copy the adults around them,” says Gummer. “Any toys that encourage this make a great gift.” Andrea Yavasheva, early-years programme officer of the National Deaf Children’s Society, adds that role play gives children “the opportunity to develop important social skills such as turn-taking and helps them to think about how other people might think, feel, and act.” Gummer likes this barbecue set, as it includes plenty of accessories, which means kids can start ‘cooking’ straight away. “Food items can be added or combined with other toys for other role-playing games, such as playing shops,” she adds. [Editor’s note: Gummer’s recommendation is sold out everywhere, but after some snooping we found this equally delightful alternative].
Toy food encourages an interest in fruit and vegetables, which can help set toddlers up for healthy eating habits in years to come. Vecht recommends getting a set “where the fruit and veg are stuck together with Velcro, so a child will actually feel like they are cutting it.”
Unlike most items in a toy kitchen, this scaled-down version of a Kenwood mixer really works, so your child can help make pancake batter, cake mix, or icing. Angellica Bell, Celebrity Masterchef winner and author of Fantastic Eats & How to Cook Them — Fabulous Recipes for Children to Make, told us “a mini mixer is great, especially for saving little arms.”
Louise Pentland, author and founder of Mothers’ Meeting podcast, says her 2-year-old is enjoying playing with this mini-ice-cream cart. It comes with activity cards featuring the orders of six hungry characters, so parents don’t have to worry that they’ll be required to come up with endless orders.
Strategist contributor Lauren Crosby wrote that this goofy plastic bowl by Swiss company MOLUK was a hit with her sons, aged 6, 4, and 2 years old. “It can hold the weight of my 6-year-old when he turns it upside down and uses it to balance on one foot,” Crosby wrote. “When playing dress-up, my 4-year-old places it on his head as a fireman’s hat. If cars are out, the 2-year-old makes use of the Bilibo’s wavy edge which allows it to be used as a tunnel or bridge for cars to race under and over.”
A doctor’s kit is “an absolute must” for hours of interactive role play, according to Vecht.
Vecht recommends getting a doll’s buggy for toddlers, as they love looking after their own “babies” and taking them for a walk — and parents will love the fact the wheels on this one have a rubber edge, which will reduce the noise as they speed along wooden floors.
Little CBeebies fans will instantly recognise this iconic spotty bag, which features a button that plays different sounds and phrases from Mr Tumble’s show. Gummer previously told us that “Kids love putting things in and out of bags, and this toy allows them to role-play going to school or nursery. It’s nice for them to have something that can make it feel fun.”
This wooden train track is something a toddler will play with for years, according to Ockwell-Smith — there are countless sets available, so their miniature railway can grow with them.
The best books for 2-year-olds
This series of picture books comes recommended by four of our experts. Vecht and Yavasheva suggested getting That’s Not My Tiger … in our gift guide for 1-year-olds, and Vecht recommends you add to your collection for a 2-year-old, as the tactile pages will continue to delight this age group.
Julie Elliott from the Royal Society for Blind Children says these tactile and bright books really capture the attention of kids with visual impairment. You can also get a version that has been adapted to include Braille, which Caireen Sutherland, principal education officer at The Royal National Institute of Blind People, says is good as, “although a 2-year-old may not yet be reading text or Braille — familiarity with different written media is important.”
Clegg recommends this book about three little owls who are waiting for their mummy to come home, as it will help children learn there’s no need to worry when their parents are not near. “I always get choked up when the mother comes home. Every single time,” she admits.
When we asked booksellers to tell us about the best books for LGBTQ+ families, Lisa Knowlton, the children’s buyer at 192 Books, recommended this one. Knowlton described it as a “a big-hearted book with good writing and charming illustrations.” The story focuses on a little girl, Stella, who brings her two fathers to her school’s Mother’s Day celebration. Emily Woods, who runs children’s marketing and school partnerships at McNally Jackson, added that “it demonstrates children being curious and inclusive of other nontraditional families in their classroom and community.”
Siobhan Freegard, founder of ChannelMum.com, says you can’t go wrong with any title by Julia Donaldson. We’ve selected this board book, as 2-year-olds will enjoy the clever way the animals foil the baddies’ plan. [Editor’s note: This product is back in stock on December 21.]
The best outdoor toys for 2-year-olds
“Balance bikes help to build a child’s confidence, without worrying about toppling over, before they progress to a bicycle,” says Gummer. “This one is a great option — it’s lightweight, sturdy, and easy to steer. Plus, the chunky tyres make the bike very stable, so mounting and dismounting is easier for little ones.” [Editor’s note: this product is currently out of stock].
For a more affordable option, Vecht suggests choosing a wooden balance bike. This red, white, and blue one is sure to attract admiring glances down at the park. We like that it has a soft, padded saddle.
If you prefer stabilisers to balance bikes, Ockwell-Smith says this is one trike she would recommend above all others. “It is iconic and in my opinion still the best trike you can buy — it’s pricey but is a definite family heirloom,” she says. [Editor’s note: this price is converted from Euros].
“Water and sand tables are a great investment for this age,” says Gummer. “They are perfect for creative, sensory play and can be used for small-world play as children get older. This one has two separate basins, plus pipes and a movable excavator shovel to encourage youngsters to experiment with pouring and digging.”
Vecht and Sutherland both recommend sensory balls, as toddlers will delight in exploring the different textures and sounds that they make. “They can be used for multiple activities, such as visual location and tracking skills, turn-taking, and hide and seek,” suggests Sutherland.
The best construction toys for 2-year-olds
“Toddlers love the opportunity to create and experiment, and construction toys give them the chance to do this over and over again,” says Gummer. “They’re one of the most versatile types of toys because play can be as simple or as complex as the child wants it to be, from a basic tower, to a house for a dinosaur.” Gummer recommended a free-building set of these colourful magnetic cubes in our gift guide for 1-year-olds and says they would work just as well for a 2-year-old. If they already have a set, then go for a themed pack like this transport one. “All of the blocks work together, so you can keep adding as many Magicubes as you want for even more creative possibilities,” she says.
Ockwell-Smith calls Duplo “an absolute classic that all homes should have,” and Vecht and Clegg also recommend getting a starter pack for 2-year-olds.
These blocks are made from sugar cane, and they’re compatible with Duplo, so they can be added to any sets you already have.
Recommended by Elliott and Natasha Crookes, director of public affairs and communications at the British Toy and Hobby Association, these textured bricks can be constructed into bright and colourful creations. There are special bricks, such as faces and wheels, to help inspire a child’s imagination. Elliott adds that Sticklebricks can help develop fingertip sensitivity and resilience, which is important for children who will learn to read Braille when they’re older.
The best push-along toys for 2-year-olds
“Push toys are a fun way to encourage activity and continue to develop a 2-year-old’s gross motor skills and coordination” says Tessa Trabue, Let Toys Be Toys campaigner and co-founder of the Toymark Award. Push the duck and hear the feet flip-flop as they hit the ground.
“This has a gentle curve design, making it easy for little ones to grab and push,” says Trabue. “The wood used in this toy is from exhausted rubber plantations, and the E-zero glue has been specially developed as a safe and eco-friendly alternative.”
The best arty gifts for 2-year-olds
When we asked crafting experts to tell us about the best gifts for children, this colour-in top came recommended by Annalees Lim, author of the Happily Ever Crafter activity book series. “Children will be kept busy colouring in these beautiful designs. They then get to spend many more hours enjoying wearing them and showing off to their friends.” The top is made from a lightweight jersey blend and the fabric pens use UV ink which sets once air cured for 24 hours or ironed by a parent.
“No family home is complete without Play-Doh — for the best smell and brightest colours, you can’t beat it,” says Ockwell-Smith. Two-year-olds will love feeling the soft dough between their fingers as they sculpt shapes, and Elliott adds that it “is great for building up dexterity skills.”
The best stacking toys for 2-year-olds
The best bedtime and bath toys for 2-year-olds
Turn your bathtub into an ice cream parlour by dripping a little bubble bath into the top of the cornet. Add water, then pull the lever to see the “ice cream” bubbling up into the cone. “Bathtime is a great time for bonding, so toys like this can encourage language and communication skills,” says Gummer.
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