What will your toddler like to unwrap for her next birthday or holiday celebration? In truth, most toddlers still love celebration songs, games, and wrapping as much as any presents. But when friends and family ask, suggest gifts that foster development and skills in fun ways.


Why they’re great gifts: Reading to your toddler builds language and literacy skills long before she can read on her own. Early vocabulary and listening skills help predict later success in reading and other school subjects. And your toddler can’t have enough good books.

Some ideas: Books that are best bets at this age have engaging, imaginative illustrations and help develop basic language and number concepts. If your toddler shows an interest in a special topic, like animals or cars and trucks, look for books that feature them. Caring and sharing messages and cultural diversity are all a plus; scary plots aren’t.

Authors behind many toddler classics: Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar), Donald Crews Freight Train), Ruth Krauss (The Happy Egg), P.D. Eastman (Are You My Mother?), Leslie Patricelli (Potty), and Eric Hill (Where’s Spot?).

Action Toys

Why they’re great gifts: Toddlers love to move! Anything they can ride on, push, pull, or otherwise move with helps them practice motor skills and coordination—and burns off some of their boundless energy.

Some ideas: Consider wagons, pedal-free bikes, doll strollers, play grocery carts, pull toys, plastic bowling sets, pounding and hammering toys, and large and small balls.

Problem-Solving Toys

Why they’re great gifts: Toddlers practice skills over and over through play. So toys that give them a chance to figure things out on their own help build creative and logical thinking skills. Such activities also help kids work on fine motor skills, spatial relations skills (how things fit and work together), and hand-eye coordination. Also great: open-ended toys for creative play that can be used in many different ways.

Some ideas: These kinds of toys include puzzles with large pieces, shape sorters, nesting blocks or cups, art materials (play clay, paint, thick crayons), and wood blocks.

Gifts That Inspire a Love of Nature

Why they’re great gifts: Research has shown that children who spend time outdoors are more physically active, more creative in their play, less physically aggressive, and show better concentration. Exposure to nature also plants the seeds early for becoming more eco-sensitive later in life.

Some ideas: Try a big net for catching bugs or minnows, toys for outdoor play (such as balls), a sand box and sand toys (shovels, dump trucks), and gardening tools (like a child-size rake and watering can).

Special Outings

Why they’re great gifts: Not every gift has to come in a package. Research has shown that life experiences make people happier, and your toddler will be no exception.

Some ideas: Encourage friends and family to celebrate by bringing your toddler somewhere special and new. Suggest a day at the zoo, a farm, or a garden; a backyard tea party; a visit to a different playground; or a performance for young children (of music, dance, or puppets, for example). Be sure to take photos, too, so you and your toddler can revisit the experience for years to come.