What should I get my toddler or preschooler for Christmas?
What are the best gifts for toddlers that will last and be appreciated?
These are tough questions!
We've had almost twelve years of birthdays and Christmases where we have either been buying toys for toddlers or preschoolers... or both at the same time!
That is a crazy amount of stuff when you think about it.
Over time we realized that if we bought toys that kids in both stages could enjoy (both toddler and preschoolers), then we could have less stuff, save money, and enjoy the gifts more.
Today I'm going to share my strategies for deciding what toys can come into our home and my top gifts that work for BOTH toddlers and preschoolers.
How do you decide what toys to bring into your home?
Before we consider what new items should enter our home each year, we take inventory of what we already have.
1. Take inventory
A few years ago I started keeping track of the most played with toys in our home. I also made a detailed list of the sort of toys that our kids played with at their play-based preschool that seemed to encourage the best sort of play.
It is hard to make smart purchasing decisions until you know what you have. You also need to look at the space that you have and where you're going to store things.
For example, those giant life-sized jeeps that you can drive around the neighborhood look cool, but if you don't have any garage space for one... you don't want to add that to your home.
But... these cardboard blocks? These have been totally worth making space for. The kids play with them all. the. time.
Better to decide and know before you go and buy it.
With the information from our inventory, we started donating a lot of the flashy toys and random items we'd been gifted that our kids didn't play with and that we didn't like as parents.
After all, I abide by Joshua Becker's motto that, "Living life is more enjoyable than managing and organizing stuff!"
Once you've looked at what kids play with, what you have space for, and you've given some of the items you're not using away... you're ready to dive into gift giving!
RELATED: Read more about being Clutter-free with Kids.
3. Be the Gatekeeper
As a parent, you get to decide what sort of toys can come into your house. Being a gatekeeper was something that was hard for me at the beginning when my oldest was little.
Once we had four kids, and less space in our home, it became extra important for my sanity and the chaos factor in our home, for me to be more aware of what sort of toys and gifts were allowed into our home.
We still aren't perfect. This is a constant work in progress for us. It will be for you too. Just start!
What Types of Gifts Should We Give?
As our kids have grown, we have begun only focusing on three types of gifts. These are the types of gifts we give to our kids and that we also ask family members to give to them.
1. Open-ended toys- Toys that allow for unlimited play and use of kid's imagination.
2. Experience gifts- Aquarium memberships, craft supplies, tickets to a concert, craft subscription kits, etc.
3. Useful Gifts- These are like shoes or pjs or underwear... but are less exciting, so we'll skip those today.
Will every gift that we receive or give follow our plan perfectly?
Of course not! But having a plan, helps us direct things a little bit.
Awesome Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Over the past several years, I've been watching what the toddlers and preschoolers gravitate to in my home and I made a special list of just those items that we use and play with regularly that work for both groups of kids.
Why do I want toys that work for both toddlers and preschoolers?
Because I selfishly want less stuff!
Both due to space constraints and because I feel like it is excessive to have too many toys and feels wasteful.
If you have a toddler and a preschooler, these toys are ones that both can enjoy, but often in different ways.
Kids can only pay attention to a few toys at a time, so less is more. Less is also more powerful.
Kids develop so many great skills as they dive in and create great relationships with their toys. They become more creative as they find new ways to use their toys too.
You will notice that most of these toys below are not really "big" gifts that take up tons of space.
Although I loved our train table and kitchen for a short period of time, these didn't stick around long in our home for any of our kids and I wanted my rooms back. Kitchens can easily be made out of sterilite containers with some play food and train tracks can be drawn on a big roll of paper.
Some toys are great toys for preschool or grandma's house, but you don't always need to have them at your house. At least we didn't!
30+ Toy Ideas Toddlers & Preschoolers Will Both Love
These toys below are some of our favorites. Click on the name of the item below to be taken to the Amazon Affiliate link.
Magformers are ageless. My tween will play with these and so will my toddler. Any magnetic toy works- picasso tiles, magformers, or magnatiles. If you don't have some. Buy them!
These are such a classic toy. You "must" have one. I love sitting down and playing with these with my kids.
Having a dollhouse with a few dolls and furniture pieces is awesome. Kids naturally gravitate to the house and love to do pretend play. The dollhouse is also a springboard for all sorts of other play. The Paw Patrol gang and several of our other action figures like to hang out there too.
You can never really have enough of these. I find these all over my house being played with. We love Hot Wheels cars and Melissa & Doug trucks and cars.
RELATED: Check out our favorite toy cars and trucks in our post 11 Ways to Play with Cars.
Construction Trucks- Mini CAT machines
We use these weekly in our sensory bins and also love to shove them in my purse to take with us on the go.
We love to start with chunkier puzzles for toddlers and work up to bigger floor puzzles with preschoolers. The older kids often like the chunky puzzles too because they get that instant satisfaction of completing them quickly. Go here to see several of our favorites puzzles.
Dress Up Clothes
Pretend play is not only really important for kid's imaginations, it is also really important for helping kids develop their language skills! Pretend play sets are great tools to help kids get in character and start pretending!
Wooden blocks are another classic "must have" toy. I am always happy to be gifted more blocks since you can never seem to have enough when kids are building! Wooden blocks are great jumping off spots for play. Kids often bring their favorite characters or other toys to play inside whatever they made using blocks.
I love these blocks so much better than big plastic blocks. They are fun to build with and can make tall structures! Kids love building tunnels with these and driving cars through them too. They also get to practice hand-eye coordination and other skills as they balance the blocks and make towers. If you get tired of them being big, you can also make them flat and store them easily.
You can buy one nicer doll or several at the Dollar store. It really just depends on how your child is using the dolls and how often. My toddler and preschool classes love to carry babies around, feed them, get them dressed, and rock them.
What do I mean by this? Disney Princess toys, Paw Patrol characters, Hatchimals, PJ Masks figures, etc. A lot of toddlers and preschoolers go through phases with these toys. I totally dive in and let them go "all in." A few years ago when my son was out of the stage, I gave all of our Paw Patrol figures away thinking that my new baby wouldn't be interested. I was WRONG. Two years later I had to rebuy the whole collection. Now I keep these little figures like they are gold. They will probably stay with us forever.
We take twelve packs of Hatchimals everywhere with us. All four of my kids have one. They kept them entertained for two thirteen hour drives this summer. Total winners!
Dinosaurs can be used for so many things! Making prints in playdough, stomping around with them outside, doing some pretend play, and even trying simple dinosaur sensory bin activities.
These are such a neat way to introduce numbers and letters to kids! The little robots change into numbers or letters and transform learning time into all sorts of imaginary play time.
Marble Run (with adult supervision)
Marble runs are so much fun to watch and stick marbles on if you are younger... and so fun to build when you are older. Toddlers typically like putting marbles down the runs again and again. Sometimes they also like knocking down the runs. Preschoolers enjoy building and experimenting a bit more. Both kids can enjoy this toy in different ways!
I love how high quality the Hape Quadrilla marble runs are. We've had ours for almost eight years and it is still going strong.
We had a train table for a few years and then I wanted my space back. Instead we just build with tracks on the floor or make craft paper train tracks. So many great problem solving opportunities arise from building and playing with trains!
My kids are stuffed animal hoarders. I especially loved stuffed animals that can double as puppets.
Although the different themed DUPLO sets are awesome, the classic creator sets that come with a big box and a bunch of different ideas are my favorite. These big boxes foster creativity and help kids realize they don't just have to make one specific thing to then put it up on a shelf to display. They can constantly be trying new things!
We got our BluTrack a few months ago. It is a flexible car ramp that is fun to move and sticks to a variety of surfaces with a suction cup. All four of my kids love it. We also got the ramps set to try with it. I love seeing all the different ways the kids use the track around the house.
Pretend play time needs a cash register! We rarely keep the little tiny coins for long, but the kids have fun opening and closing the register and pretending to buy things.
We received this activity table as a gift from Simplay3 over a year ago, and it is one of our most played with items. We set up different sensory bins every few weeks and also use it for other activities. It's easy to clean and I love that it can fit several kids comfortably.
The Micro mini scooter is perfect for kids ages 2-5. They can zip around the neighborhood and develop so many great motor skills while the ride. We bring ours in the car on vacations and when we're on errands. Our kids love to have a few minutes to ride if we need to wait around for anything.
It is hard to pick my favorites ones of these! We have so many and the kids love using the animals, vehicles, and figures in all sorts of other play around our house.
Many of the Little People sets are fun for both toddlers and preschoolers. This dollhouse is typically hands down the most popular spot. It isn't too huge and it is easy for kids to carry around.
Easels are a fun place for kids to explore chalk and art activities. There are so many easy activities you can do with kids at an easel, which is why it is on my "must buy" list.
This is the only truly big gift we have on our list. We've had ours for over five years now and it gets played with almost every single day- rain or shine- and all ages of kids (toddlers to teens) have fun on it.
Do we have other toys roaming our house in addition to these? Yes! Most are on their way out and are barely played with.
Experience Gifts for Kids
A few years ago we began encouraging our kids to think of experience gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Each year for Christmas they are given the gift of an "adventure" with mom and dad, instead of any gifts. Even the youngest kids get an experience. We also encourage Grandparents to give a toy or two and then also give an experience gift when possible.
At our house, Santa exclusively gives an experience gift and stocking candy.
Sometimes Santa gives the kids a fun trip somewhere and sometimes it is a membership to a local place.
To make it more tangible, the experience gift always comes with a picture of what it is and usually a fun note too.
What are some good experience gifts for kids?
Here are a few experience gifts that have been our favorites so far:
- Zoo Trip or Membership
- Aquarium Trip or Membership
- Passes or Membership to a local Children's Museum
- Trip to a local amusement park
- One on One date to a favorite place (nail salon, local trading card store, local park, etc)
- Tickets to a concert (doesn't need to cost money)
- Date to a favorite restaurant (or indoor McDonalds playland)
- Tickets to a sporting event (doesn't need to cost money)
- Kid-friendly subscription box (one time gift, not an annual subscription to reduce waste/clutter)
- Craft Supplies- You can read my "must have" craft supplies here
- Sensory Bin materials- my friend Susie has got you covered on this one here.
On Christmas Day or a birthday, kids only need a few small gifts to be happy and content. In fact, often toddlers will be happy with just the giant boxes that the toys come in.
As kids get older, the experience gifts become more powerful because they give a gift of connection as well.
Do you have any other favorite experience gifts you've given or received?
What other toys would you add to my "must have" list?
Want to see our gift lists by age? Check them out below:
- Gift list for One Year Olds
- Gift list for Two Year Olds
- Gifts list for Three Year Olds
- Gifts for Four Year Olds