DIY/You Don't Need Toys

  • Minimalism: Limit Toys

    • Some blogs describe taking away most/all of kids' toys

    • I like this blog's approach to focusing on toys that are "open ended, encourage creativity and allow for flexible play"

  • DIY: Especially when he was a baby, Adam seemed to have the most fun with toys that aren't meant to be toys—they're just everyday objects

    • boxes - OMG his favorite

    • kitchen ware (spoons, pots/pans) - lots of fun making noise, etc.

    • toilet paper rolls - early on he mostly "ate" them, but later became various kinds of objects (animals, binoculars...)

  • Books - see the separate page on this

OK But Maybe Some Toys

...nevertheless, here are some "designed to be toys" that Adam enjoys/enjoyed.

0 to ~3 months

  • to be honest, Adam didn't play with many toys at first—blankets, rugs, etc. were plenty interesting

  • small plush stuffed toys were occasionally interesting

3 to 12 months:

  • small plush stuffed toys - one we got for free from a flight that was his favorite for a long time (and easy to slip into a diaper bag)

  • Wooden Blocks - especially when we make a tower Adam loves to knock it down; some are useful for teething, too. There are a bunch of varieties you can find online; I don't think there's a particular brand that is "best" but here are two great ones we got as gifts:

    • Uncle Goose Blocks - are gorgeous and have a wide range of letters and other designs (some friends got us ones with Italian!)

    • [not sure what the other one was...]

  • Sophie la Girafe - as mentioned earlier, can be useful for teething

  • Hape Pound & Tap Bench with Slide Out Xylophone - we got one of these from a friend; Adam loves playing with the xylophone and rolling the balls around

  • The Mystic Panda (Playgro Panda Loop Rattle) - we got this as a gift from someone and thought it was creepy...but especially when Adam was 3-5 months, he would stare at it all the time

  • Oball Rattle - easy to hold and fun to roll, Adam loves this and we've heard from multiple other parents that this is their infants' favorite toy; cheap and available at most Walgreens --> FYI was recalled but it seems pretty hard to break it in the way they're concerned about

  • Green Toys - almost everything these folks make is high-quality, although some of them are more general-purpose/imaginative than others. Adam's favorite so far are the Stacking Cups.

(Somewhat) Ignore the Age Recommendations

It's up to you how much of a stickler you want to be, but some of the age recommendations on packaged toys seemed a bit ridiculous to us. For example, the Pound & Tap Bench, above, is recommended for 1 year and up, but Adam had lots of fun with it at ~5 months. As far as I can tell, there wasn't any safety risk (although yes, he wasn't really able to use it as intended yet).


Toys are really about Play—here's some interesting advice about playing with kids:

Toddler Toys

  • Mini Micro Scooter

    • Adam absolutely loves his scooter; these are *very* popular with toddlers and preschool kids in SF

    • We ended up getting the "Deluxe" model that has an adjustable handlebar (which seemed worth the extra $10)

    • There are other brands, but they didn't look as well-made (and these go through some abuse)

    • Note: you can take them apart (key for when we bike to the park), see this video for how to do it (although we had more luck "upside down", standing on the handlebars and pulling the rest of the scooter up)

    • They're also relatively easy to fix—we had a couple parts break from wear-and-tear, and wrote about the warranty, and they gave us a discount on the parts (and if you sign up on their website you get free shipping)

    • ...they also have a model that you can sit on designed for 1-2 year olds, but we never tried that

  • Brios (or other wooden train sets)

    • Adam didn't start building train sets until he was ~2, but he loved playing with the trains even earlier

    • Most wooden train sets are compatible with each other; we got a bunch of Brios as a gift and they seemed pretty high quality, but we've heard good things about other brands too

  • Legos (and Duplos)

    • Adam really got into these once he turned 2

    • We inherited a bunch, but apparently Craigslist is the best place to get these used

    • If you want to get them new, Costco has some of the best deals on large sets of blocks

  • Magnet Blocks

    • There are a bunch of brands out there, but our favorites are Magna-Tiles (which Adam's preschool has used for years)

  • Balance Bike

    • The new consensus is that it's easier for kids to learn how to balance without pedals before adding pedals (versus the "old school" way I learned with "training wheels")

    • We inherited a bike from some neighbors, but Wirecutter has some picks for balance bicycles

  • Art Supplies

    • Paper, crayons, paint, glue, etc. are all fun...Target tends to have pretty good deals on most of this (or if you want to go fancy, check out Blick Art Supply)

School-Age Toys

  • Brios, Legos, etc --> most of the Toddler stuff listed above should last you until your kid is at least ~6-8 years old, maybe more

  • Pedal Bike --> once your kid is ~4 years old, consider moving to a pedal bike. The Wirecutter has some recommendations; we went with their more expensive Woom recommendation since they seem so well-made and Adam's friends/parents all loved it.