Two-year-olds have boundless curiosity but only short attention spans, so focus on gifts that will spark their imaginations. We spoke to 11 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.
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.”
When the eight farm-themed pieces are lifted out of the puzzle, it plays a nursery rhyme. Victoria Millsop, manager at Fledglings — an online shop that is part of a disability charity called Contact — recommends this sound puzzle, as “the eye-catching pictures and noises encourage sound and sight associations as well as sensory play.”
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 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. Two-year-olds may initially find using the barbecue tongs tricky, but this will help develop their hand-eye coordination and dexterity.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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
“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
Stacking helps toddlers develop their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, plus once they’ve built a tower, they’ll love sending it tumbling down with a well-aimed push. As well as being beautifully designed, they also provide “endless building, designing, and stacking opportunities,” says Ockwell-Smith.
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.
“Bedtimes can be fraught when you are 2, so make it easier for toddlers by picking a pair of PJs with their favourite character,” advises Freegard. A comforting pair of PJS may seem an unusual gift, but it is one they will get wear from and make the bedtime routine calmer and easier.”
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