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The Best Developmentally Appropriate Toys for 1-3 Year Olds – It can be easy to fill up a shopping cart with toys upon toys for your toddler. We like to think every toy out there creates some sort of educational aspect and helps with child development, but the reality is most of them don’t.
The truth is it can be tough to find developmentally appropriate toys for 1-3 year olds. Most toys are really needless ones to create a distraction for the child and may only last about 5 minutes never to be looked at again.
So how can you be sure you have learning toys for toddlers and preschoolers that can teach them for years and years to come? I have good and bad news. Unfortunately there are no universal guidelines written in stone, but I’ve done the hard work for you.
Now you can just look through this list for ideas for birthdays, Christmas, or any other time of the year!
If you haven’t already, check out my big list of Games for 2 Year Olds that include board games to play with your toddler. Plus my list of Non Toy Gifts for 1 Year Olds for some ideas other than toys!
SmartMax My First Safari Animals
These Safari Animals are such a fun age appropriate way for your child to learn not only colors, but also get them into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
Your toddler connects the middle piece to 2 other pieces to create an animal. They will have so much fun seeing what they can create and learning how the same colors create a true animal.
It’s perfect for children as young as 1 years old, but also entertaining and interactive enough for 2-3 year olds.
My First Brain Quest
Yes, these are the same old Brain Quests you remember growing up, but geared for your growing toddler. I’m all about toys that are developmentally appropriate for their age and this is one of my favorites. You work one-on-one with your toddler to increase vocabulary and help child development.
The two books included build a relationship with the monkey named Max. You meet Max’s family, learn about the seasons and what Max can do, and learn the names of items around the house.
Just 4-5 pages is enough to educate your child for the day. We saw an increase in the words my daughter understood after we started using this within days.
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Munchkin Fishin’ Bath Toy
It’s so easy to get stuck on colors, numbers, and words when looking at learning toys for toddlers and preschoolers. We can’t forget about gross motor skills like coordination! My daughter loved using her fishing pole in the pool this summer and we will be moving into the bath as the weather gets colder.
This fishing toy helps develop hand-eye coordination to “catch” the different items. My daughter is not patient what-so-ever. She gets frustrated at the littlest things, but this has taught her how to take a little extra time and focus.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth toy with a similar concept, Top Bright makes a great magnetic version you can use without any water involved!
Melissa & Doug Water Wow! Reusable Color With Water Pad
This toy is great for more than one reason. It allows your child to color without any mess (it just uses water) and it helps develop the coordination needed to hold a crayon or pen.
My daughter has used these since she was 1 year old (18 months to be exact). She loved coloring them when she was younger and now likes to look for the hidden objects on each page.
They are perfect when on-the-go, especially on planes. You use the water pen to color and find all sorts of different items on the page. When the pages dry, you can use them all over again.
ALEX Toys Little Hands String and Beep
I love developmentally appropriate toys that challenge hand-eye coordination in different ways. This is another great toy to do that.
Your 1-3 year old will take the included string with a wooden “needle” and string the cars together. It also teaches patience and determination as it’s not something easy to do for a 2 year old or even preschooler.
Melissa & Doug Latches Wooden Activity Board
Melissa & Doug is a great company for development toys. If you’ve read my Outdoor Games for Toddlers, you know they make such a variety of toys and games that are actually age appropriate compared to other brands out there. The great part is most are learning toys, including this one.
Think of it like a puzzle without any detaching pieces. That means no lost pieces! Your 1-3 year old learns dexterity and how to move and unlock things in different ways.
Each lock is different, so it can take some time to learn every piece of it. It may be challenging, but your toddler will love to play with it!
VTech Touch and Teach Word Book
I absolutely love toys that grow with your toddler and this is one of them. You can use this as young as 1 years old and all the way up to 3-5 years old in preschool!
It’s a perfect toy to help child development. You can even put in your toy rotation and keep bringing it back when they hit another learning boost. It starts with touching different pictures and hearing different sounds to learning words and letters.
This book is best used when with an adult at first to really talk toddlers through what to do and what letters are. It’s impressive what they can learn in just a few times using it.
I remember when we first started using this with Leah. I was impressed with just how many animal names she already knew!
It’s also a very interactive toy. As your 2-3 year old learns how the book works, they can play with the pages on their own.
Melissa & Doug Match and Roll Shape Sorter
I told you Melissa & Doug was great for developmentally appropriate toys! Obviously we all know typical shape sorters.
Your 1-3 year old probably grew out of them a long time ago or are just about there. This one is different and is more age appropriate for your growing toddler.
It includes 13 different shapes. You look for the color and then the shape. It is much trickier than the average shape sorter, which creates a great challenge for your 1-3 year old.
It still keeps Leah occupied after having it almost a full year now. She still has trouble getting 3-4 of the shapes in without us coaching her to turn it and look at the shape, but she becomes more independent each time.
ALEX Discover Button Art
I’ve just recently discovered button art and it is amazing! This set includes different pictures with circles of different colors with holes in the middle. Your toddler finds the appropriate color and places a button in there.
It’s a great developmentally appropriate toy to not only learn colors, but also follow directions to place the right color in the right spot.
Think of it like a color by number, but a color by color. Plus it’s reusable, which is a win for your budget.
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Magformers Basic Set
Magformers are so cool! I honestly wish I had them while growing up. You can build absolutely anything.
These go beyond your normal building blocks, but honestly take them to a new level. I say they’re the best blocks you can get!
Leah loves helping her dad build a ferris wheel and cars. It has taught her how magnets work and how creative you can be while building. You can alter how age appropriate the magnets are by how to you play with them.
At 2 years old, it’s a toy she needs to play alongside us, but that only means it will grow with her! We can even take these toys to grandma’s house to play with her older nephew in elementary school.
Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pads Set
This is the last Melissa & Doug toy on this list, but definitely a keeper! It seems like all preschoolers love stickers, so why not use reusable ones?
We love to take a scene from this book and place it on the window. Then we put all the reusable stickers in a bowl so Leah can create her own scenery.
It’s a perfect learning toy to keep up without taking up too much space. It can even be switched out for a new scene when they can tired of using it. Honestly, Leah has had the ocean scene up for more than 6 months at this point and she still plays with it multiple times a week.
“My First” Look and Find Books
These are such fun age appropriate books to read to help child development. They are like iSpy books, but for 1-3 year olds. They come in large books (think about a foot or so tall) and also smaller books (think 4 inches). We have both sizes and my daughter loves them all.
The books are usually based on characters from TV shows and movies. Your toddler simply locates different items from the side of the page.
I was amazed how Leah was finding items before she even turned 2. And fast. Each book typically includes a last page that brings you back through the book for additional challenges, which are perfect for those 3-5 year olds.
If your child likes different characters than the ones listed, check under the related products or even search the name of the show along with “look and find” and you will typically find a book associated with it, especially if on Nickelodeon or Disney (if available).
ALEX Discover Learn To Dress Monkey
Meet ALEX. He’s a monkey that you can dress! You can take off his shoes, socks, overalls, and learn to unbutton and zip his pockets. His shoes are even laces, so you can use them to help teach shoe tying down the road!
Leah is still learning how to put back on his socks and shoes, but it’s a great challenge for children as young as 2-3 years old and even up through preschool. It teaches them to be more independent when dressing themselves and can even help teach them tie their shoes in a fun way!
Tuesday 25th of June 2019
Great post thanks for sharing such an adorable toys for babies. i’m very confused on what kind of gifts to buy for my nephew and I was looking for a useful toys ,which can encourage him in learning, those are really the perfect gifts for him. Hope he would love to play and learn with them.
Sunday 21st of October 2018
Lots of fun things! I am familiar with some of them from my grands. Thanks for sharing with SYC. hugs, Jann
Monday 22nd of October 2018
That's great to hear Jann! It's so fun to watch your children and grandchildren learn from toys and games.
Friday 12th of October 2018
My kids have loved many of those, especially the magformers! In fact, those are out on our table right now :)
Saturday 13th of October 2018
I love it! My daughter has been playing with them every day lately!