Toddlers learn best through playing and many toys help develop their cognitive abilities as well as fine motor skills. Here is a list of the best educational toys for 1-2 year olds in the early toddler stage.
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In our family, both kids have fall birthdays, so in the summer I have to start thinking about gifts for both birthdays and holidays. When it comes to educational toys for young toddlers, think beyond toys labeled specifically as 12 months and up.
Many 1 year olds will enjoy toys that say 18 months and up, and they very quickly start playing with toys that are labeled 2+. You do want to be careful to stay away from toys listed as 3+, as those will likely have small pieces that can be unsafe, especially for teething toddlers.
If you have a child turning 1 between now and Christmas, you will want to start looking at these as great gift options.
Types of Toddler Educational Toys
Toddler educational toys can include toys that help teach colors, shapes, letters, and numbers. They can also be toys that help develop fine and gross motor skills, key milestones for 1-2 year olds. During this stage, many are learning to walk, run, and jump, which is just as important as identifying a circle versus a square.
1-2 year olds can also begin working with crayons to develop fine motor and pre-writing skills. Coloring books and jumbo crayons are a great and inexpensive way to teach toddlers!
Toddler educational toys can be organized into categories to help your child learn the following skills:
- Gross motor
- Fine motor
- Early literacy
- Early numeracy
- Pretend play
Below you will find my favorite options for toddler educational toys, both as a parents and a teacher.
Toddler Educational Toys for Gross Motor Skill Development
This first bicycle is a great option for younger toddlers. With the shape of the trike, it is easier for them to pedal and navigate at younger ages.
If your child is a little older or has better pedaling skills, you may want to look into the Radio Flyer 4-in-1 Stroll ‘n Trike. The nice thing about this one is that parents have a handle on the back to help navigate and stop them if needed.
I did find with my daughter that it took her a little longer to figure out pedaling with the 4-in-1, but she did not have as much challenge with the junior trike.
Jumping on a trampoline not only helps get energy out of young kids, it also helps with bone development from the impact.
Little Tikes markets their trampoline for the youngest jumpers, and this will be a good option if you have an early toddler.
For us, our kids have always been at the top of the height chart for their age, so sometimes they can outgrow toys too quickly. I am always having to look at the height of toys to make sure we will get the most bang for our buck.
We ended up buying this indoor trampoline marketed for adults, but that was still safe for kids. With this, my 4-year-old can jump as hard as she wants without me worrying about her breaking it.
Toddler Educational Toys for Fine Motor Skill Development
These crayons are winners for two reasons with young toddlers. First, they are larger than normal crayons, so they are easier for younger hands to grip. Second, they are triangular shaped so they do not roll on the table.
These crayons saved me from many meltdowns with my daughter as a 1 year old, because she would cry if crayons rolled off the table while she was coloring.
If you are also looking for great coloring book options for young toddler, I love this coloring book as the pictures are large and the lines are much thicker.
This 100-piece wooden building set has been a hit with both my kids. For my daughter who is obsessed with organizing and putting things in order, she would separate them by color and shape over and over again.
For my son, he likes to challenge himself to see how high he can stack the blocks without falling over.
In addition to helping with fine motor skills, these blocks also help with early STEM education and developing spatial reasoning.
Toddler Educational Toys for Developing Early Literacy Skills
Books, Books, and More Books
At this age, the absolute best thing you can do above all else to develop early literacy skills is read to your child. Every day, set aside time to read a few books with your toddler.
For young toddlers, they are not likely to have the attention span for a 30-minute reading session. This will get better over time. At this age, read the books they enjoy. If they love lift-a-flap books, read those. If they love musical books, read and sing those. The biggest thing is to just read.
To start getting students used to some basic colors, shapes, and numbers, I like this Disney Baby board book. When your toddler gets a little older, the Hello World! book set has some great options that increase their vocabulary for the world around them.
For 1-2 year olds, I do recommend still sticking with board books if you are going to leave them in their room or by themselves. Toddlers can destruct a picture book in 5 seconds. Ask me how I know.
While I do not recommend drilling your toddler with flash cards every day, my daughter loved looking through these. She is a highly visual learner, so they worked great for her as another layer of visual stimulation.
For 1-2 year olds, flash cards should focus on letters, numbers, colors, shapes and first words. You do not need to be worrying about sight words, addition, and subtraction at this stage.
For toddlers on the older end of this age range, I love the Brain Quest cards. They have multiple sets for early learners before kindergarten. Again, don’t make this stressful or long, but it is just another tool for early literacy.
These are also great to throw in your diaper bag if you are at a restaurant or waiting in line.
Toddler Educational Toys for Developing Early Numeracy Skills
Lego Duplo sets are a great option for developing early numeracy skills in toddlers. These help with numeracy through spatial reasoning skills.
In addition to numeracy skills, Lego Duplo is also great for fine motor skill development, so a win in multiple categories.
Lego Duplo comes in sets of all kinds, including ones that include their favorite TV show and movie characters. Some are even designed specifically for bath time.
Puzzles are a huge hit in our house. My daughter started playing with puzzles right before turning 1 year old, and she has been obsessed ever since.
The Melissa and Doug First Shapes wooden puzzle was the first one that I purchased for her. I liked it because the knobs were big and it was also teaching basic shapes.
For early toddlers, make sure to look for wooden puzzles that have the knobs so that they can pick them up easier. My favorite set that we have used a lot with both kids is great because it includes 6 puzzles and an organizing rack.
As they get older, this will not be necessary and many move to jigsaw puzzles quickly. My daughter was putting together 48-piece jigsaw puzzles on her own before her 3rd birthday.
Toddler Educational Toys for Pretend Play
Many will ask, how is pretend play educational? Pretend play is critical to toddler and preschooler development, as it helps them learn to communicate and build their creativity and imagination.
Pretend play is also how they start becoming more independent and learning to spend some time playing by themselves. This is super important when your toddler starts fighting nap time and starts needed to do more of a quiet time.
This Fisher Price Smart Learning Home was a gift from grandparents when my daughter was a young toddler. It was a huge hit from the beginning and has still been for over 3 years! Kids love playing with things that look like a house, and it has lots of interactive features.
The design also is made in a rounded shape, so when you put it against a wall, kids can feel like they are hiding away in their own space without actually being away from you.
Little People playsets are some of my favorite toys for early toddlers. They are safe for children as young as 1, but can be played with for years. There are dozens of playsets to meet your toddler’s interests, and they are made out of quality materials that can stand up to lots of heavy play.
One thing I have found interesting with these toys is how many different ways kids can play with them. For my daughter, she enjoyed the characters, and would move them around and play with them for long periods of time. My son, on the other hand, enjoys the actual structures, such as the barn or school, and will interact with those pieces for a long time.
Having multiple Little People playsets are also a great way for siblings to play together without fighting over the same toys. One can be playing with the school and another with the school bus at the same time.
These toddler educational toys listed above will last for several years of play and even through multiple children. The best part is that these toys entertain while also providing a quality early learning experience for toddlers.
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Comment below to let me know what your favorite educational toys are for your 1-2 year old.