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The Best Gifts for 2-Year-Olds, According to Child Development Experts

These toys will help them develop independence, be creative, and make sense of the world.

 When buying gifts for 2-year-olds, aim for toys that speak to their developmental progress, as well as, their interests. You want to invest in toys for 2-year-olds that encourage them to explore the big, bright world around them. Some great ideas include books, doctor’s kits, household play items, construction toys, toy lawnmowers, and other toys that encourage them to use their imagination and mimic the activities they see happening around them. Books are always a good idea too.

While 2-year-old kids tend to master new skills daily at this age, they learn the most by watching their parents go about their daily lives. They are avid observers of…”you,” says Rebecca Parlakian, the senior director of programs at Zero to Three. “Imitating how you use your phone, carry your bag to work, or make dinner is how toddlers learn about the world.”

Kids this age also vacillate between wanting to play with others and flying solo. They’re starting to speak in simple sentences and are honing the fine art of defiant behavior, so most likely, your toddler’s favorite word, at this point, is a strident, uncompromising “no.” 

“What they lack in self-control, older toddlers make up with enthusiasm and determination.” says Rebecca Parlakian, the senior director of programs at Zero to Three.” This determination can be channeled towards toys that challenge their emerging problem-solving skills, like good old wooden blocks, simple puzzles, and even art materials like washable crayons, markers, and paints,” says Parlakian. These toys for 2-year-olds check all of those boxes.

The Best Toys for 2-Year-Olds

Toddlers work on their gross motor skills as they try to knock the monsters down with this plush bowling ball.

It's magic! Actually, it's not, but it sure will seem like it to your toddler. These soft foam blocks are magnetic and rotate 360 degrees. They help kids learn all about shapes and colors, and encourage open play, as kids create mythical sea creatures or magical castles or whatever else they dream up.

Not only is this toy a feast for the eyes. But it also teaches toddlers the basics of math and gravity, as they figure out how many weighs the monster can hold on each side of the scale.

A classic fun toy that never loses this appeal, this spinning saucer teaches toddlers to sit, spin, and balance themselves. Sometimes, we forget that simple can be spectacular. This spinning saucer is not only fun, but helps toddlers practice balance, coordination, and motor skills.

Sure, this beautiful wood balance board helps kids with their gross motor skills. And it teaches them about staying upright. But in a pinch, it also becomes a bridge or a tray or a tunnel.

Magnets are cool. So very cool. As this set of weird and offbeat magnetic shapes that come together to mimic what kids see on one of the 24 included cards. They can either follow the card challenges, or veer off and do their own thing. Either way, they learn about shapes and colors, and are immersed in problem solving as they try and decide what piece goes where.

We can't say enough great things about this STEM set: It's an open-ended toy construction set that comes with 67 play components, a battery-powered record and play unit, and working tools sized for 3-year-old hands. Here's the kicker: Kids can record sounds so whatever they build plays back what they recorded. And making farting sounds never gets old.

Another standout toy, this one lets kids create their own waterpark. Sure, it's a bit messy. But who cares? Just wipe up any spills and let your child go to town, turning the crank to help the water flow and thus creating a lazy river, and moving the floating rafts and animals around. It's hands-on STEM learning at its best.

We recently gave this very set to a 2-year-old and watched as she played with it for an hour, utterly mesmerized. She used the discs, spheres, cones, and funny ears to make elephants and unicorns and didn't even realize that in doing so, she was developing her color and shape recognition and fine motor skills.

Free play is the best play, and this set of 85 colorful, chunky blocks empowers toddlers to build whatever their imaginations come up with.

Sensory and imaginary play: This set comes with 100 pieces of felt, which kids layer onto a board to create flying fish and swimming birds. In doing so, they work on their motor skills and let their creativity fly free.

This is much more than just a puzzle. It's a colorful dinosaur that's 3D and teaches toddlers about shapes and numbers. Sold.

Going do the doctor can be scary. Vaccines can be scary. This kit helps demystify the process. It includes the medical case, a syringe, reflex hammer, disinfectant, stethoscope, otoscope, thermometer, tongue depressor, prescription notebook, pencil and bandage roll.

When you're looking for toddler gift ideas, the chance to imitate a parent will always win points. To boost your 2-year-old's imagination, you get kid-safe tools made from durable, soft plastic. The set includes a saw, hammer, screwdriver, wrench, drill, and toolbox.

Oh no, cat has a cold and dog has a fever! Little veterinarians can treat them with this complete set, which includes a stethoscope, thermometer, syringe, ear scope, tweezers, clamp, cast, bandages, and ointments. It's pretend play for the win.

A wooden sailboat that can be used in the bath, the pool or on land: Kids work their motor skills as they load the boat up with passengers, and send it on an imaginary mission.

Young inventors build simple, non-motorized models of the robots they construct and fix while at a candy factory. The robots have moving parts, wheels, and gears, and the pieces are easy to connect and snap together, and give those motor skills a nice workout.

So listen, maybe your kid is the next Meryl Streep. Maybe not. But regardless, these hand puppets are a great entry point into pretend play, as kids create and act out stories.

These are magically fun blocks that stick together, almost like Velcro, so kids can build whatever they want with zero frustration. Plus, these bristly blocks help develop dexterity and hand-eye coordination. And they foster endless, limitless imaginary play.

It's the magnetic version of paper dolls: Kids swap out outfits, hairstyles, and accessories as much as they want, dressing the character over and over again. It's a fantastic way to work on concentration and motor skills.

A Rube Goldberg machine for your toddler, this wooden toy for 2-year-olds teaches them about gravity, speed, and momentum as they they roll a ball down a dual-sided mountain.

Kids put the magnetic pieces together to build a whale. Or something they dream up. It helps them refine their motor skills and work on their concentration.

Making pretend meals is a key part of early play. Kids work their motor skills when they put the fruit into the blender, and again when they use the ladle to remove the pretend drink.

These 24 textured squares are easy to put together and pull apart, so there's much less frustration as children concentrate on building soaring skyscrapers and towering castles. They're a better option for kids who prefer to work with the same shapes.

Pretend foods are wonderful to have on hand, because they allow kids to mimic what they see their parents doing. Which, quite often, is making something to eat. This delightful set includes one turtle-shaped toaster, one plate, two slices of toast, two bagel slices, and a knife for buttering the toast. Thus working the fine motor skills.

It's never too early to introduce kids to music. Give them a taste of guitar magic with this kid-sized instrument. It's a classic six string design that stands 26 inches tall.

Kids conduct simple experiments on color mixing and shining pennies, and get age-appropriate tools to do so. The 22 piece set includes everything they need: A beaker, magnifying glass, funnel, eyedropper, flask, tweezers, goggles, one large six inch test tube (with lid and stand), two small test tubes (with lids and stands), plus 10 activity cards.

A perfect starter kitchen, this one introduces kids to the concept of real-world toys. It comes with one pot lid, one frying pan, one spoon, and one spatula. The knobs on the stove make clicking sounds, because of course they do.

It's like a play version of the Nugget couch. It's a set of six foam blocks, encouraging kids to play together as they build forts, castles, and other fantastical creations. They're easy to move, stack, and carry around, helping kids with their motor skills.

Kids work on their fine motor skills while also learning about feelings. It's a win-win with this clever toy, which features avocados that come with a spinning pit that displays unique emotions. Children learn to identify what it means to be sleepy or happy or frustrated.

Toddlers, and older kids, too, are obsessed with Magna-Tiles for a reason: they look cool, are easy to use, and encourage creativity. This set made our Best Toys of 2019 list. The open-ended quality of the tiles is everything you want in a toddler toy.

Kids can try their hand at brushing, inspecting, and even removing teeth with this sophisticated dentist set. (The wooden mouth ensures you won't become their test subject.) Familiarizing toddlers with these tools might even help them be less afraid of the dentist.

Alphabet blocks are as classic as they come, and this wooden set, which is corralled in a lovely wagon, has vintage good looks. The best learning toys for 2-year-olds grow with them as they build skills. In the beginning, your toddler will have fun sorting these blocks by color; by the time she's 5, she'll be spelling out sight words.

A brilliant and compact ride-on that goes from push mode to tricycle mode to bike mode. It comes fully assembled and when you're done, you fold it up and stow it away.

Not only do these pretend foods mimic what kids see at home, they come apart when kids chop them thanks to their self-stick tabs. Kids not only get one pretty awesome pretend play cooking set, but they also hone their motor skills when they put the meal together.

We don't normally like toys that light up and play music, but this one is an exception because it encourages movement. This sweet little puppy plays music when kids pull her around, thus building gross motor skills. Plus, when kids push her buttons, they learn numbers and colors.

This deceptively simple and colorful set helps your 2-year-old develop and build motor skills, and recognize different hues.

This no-peddle bike lets kids move themselves along by pushing with their feet instead of pedaling, eliminating the need to have balancing skills they may not have mastered yet.

These balls encourage sensory development and physical activity. They're small enough for little hands, but big enough to be thrown or kicked or bounced around, helping kids hone physical skills and learn new ones.

Trains help kids explore and learn about their environment. And you really can't get much better than this Brio set, which includes a railway engine, animal wagon, five wooden animal characters, an interactive farm, two curved railway tracks, and two ramp tracks. Kids learn the basics of building and connecting things together with this classic train set, which encourages open-ended play.This makes it one of the most practical gifts for 2-year-olds. Plus, it works with all other Brio sets, so it grows along with your child.

Good ol' Play-Doh not only challenges kids to make stuff cooked up by their imagination, they then serve up the pretend food at pretend meals. Kitchens are key to fostering pretend play. And this Play-Doh cooking set comes with cutters, a knife, fork, spoon, plate, six cans of Play-Doh and food attachments. Dinner is served.

This dough is solid because it's made from actual ingredients we recognize (like flour) and lets your kids go nuts by making the garden of their dreams. Sorry in advance for the mess, but sensory-play items that provide physical stimulation always rank among our favorite age-appropriate toys for 2-year-olds.

This gorgeous art easel is at home in the playroom or your living room. It comes with a roll of paper, chalks, paints, jugs and brushes; one side of the easel is white magnetic board and the other side is chalkboard. And there are three cup holders for markers, brushes, and crayons. It's something that will last forever and look good doing it, while also encouraging self-expression and creativity.

Kids can rock on this critter until they're five, so that's plenty of time for a good time. And while rocking, they help hone their sense of balance. The rocker has solid wood handles and precision-shaped runners for a smooth ride, every time.

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