Top Ten Toys

If I could start my kids’ toy chest all over again from the beginning, knowing what I know now, these are the things I would get. Since we have four kids under the age of five, we have a lot of experience in this area and lots of no-go’s. These are definitely the top ten things (for each age group) that got the most yardage—both developmentally and interest-wise.

Little Babies (0-6 months)

  1. rattles
  2. teether or pacifier
  3. interlocking (linking) rings
  4. baby mirror
  5. kick chair (bouncy seat w/toys)
  6. ducky (for bath)
  7. puppet (hand or finger)
  8. baby’s first book–waterproof (“Hello Bee, Hello Me”)
  9. Musical or rattling thing for the carseat handle
  10. Crib toy they can reach

Older Babies (6-12 months)

  1. stacking rings
  2. balls, different types
  3. toy or talking phone (one of your old cell phones works fine too)
  4. chunky or board books (Goodnight Moon, Very Hungry Caterpillar)
  5. mechanical or wind up toy
  6. play piano (w/push buttons)
  7. attachable (in/out) toys
  8. something that spins by pushing with finger (suction toy)
  9. bead racer or abacus
  10. walker/ride on toy

Young Toddlers (9-18 months)

  1. Stacking cups
  2. Busy box
  3. push and popper
  4. Spin N Say
  5. Something that shows and sings the alphabet
  6. something you pull like a train behind you
  7. wooden puzzles
  8. shape sorter
  9. potato head
  10. toolbox set (banging, aiming, twisting—even girls can use this)

Older Toddlers/early preschoolers (18-36 months)

  1. Basic wooden blocks
  2. medium legos (Duplo)
  3. dress up clothes
  4. Toy racecar set, train set, or something that has a vehicle and a closed circuit the child can repeat
  5. doll or stuffed animal; action figure set (for imagination/manipulation)
  6. crawling station, tube, fort
  7. something you string or sew
  8. play doh
  9. crayons, colored chalk
  10. pretend food/kitchen set (even boys, just don’t get pink and teapots)

And for the older ages (36 months+), here is a good website to start with  It’s mostly construction toys, but it has some good places to start—mostly foreign companies that make educational toys.  For another good catalog with educational toys, try  You have to download the catalog there to browse the products, but they’re really good for both genders.

And the last thing I’d definitely purchase for any age would be a Silly Songs CD and musical instrument set. It’s never too early for kids to be exposed to music, instruments, and clever words. The blowing, banging, shaking, singing can drive you crazy but it is one of the most fun and educational things they can do. And then you can have car sing-alongs or comfort times with all the nursery rhymes they know.


Children’s Classics

Ok, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here because I know there are A THOUSAND places you can go to get good kids’ books lists.  But I’m going to put some here just for posterity.  These are books that are worth adding to edify your little children’s library for all-time.  It doesn’t include some of the staples, but it does include books that I have read personally and consider either good literature or good education.

First Books  

  • Spot
  • Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • The Snowy Day
  • Goodnight Moon
  • Guess how Much I Love You?
  • Pat the bunny
  • Hello Bee (Sassy)
  • Curdoroy

Preschool Books

  • Curious George
  • Ferdinand
  •  Make Way for Ducklings
  • One Fine Day
  • Blueberries for Sal
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
  • Harry the Dirty Dog
  • Little Bear
  • Bedtime for Frances
  • The Velveteen Rabbit
  • The Story of Babar
  • Caps for Sale
  • What would you do with a Kangaroo?
  • Frog and Toad
  • If you give a Mouse a Cookie
  • Are You My Mother?
  • Madeleine
  • Jesse Bear, What Will you Wear?
  • Tikki Tikki Tembo
  • The Carrot Seed
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon
  • The Little Engine that Could
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
  • Two Little Trains Going West
  • Angus Lost
  • Katy-No Pocket
  • Prayer for a Child
  • The Big Green Pocketbook
  • Ask Mr. Bear
  • The ABC Bunny
  • Play With Me
  • Stone Soup
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Judy Dunn books (“The Little Puppy,” “The Little Kitten” etc)

PreK/Kindergarten Books (Harder/Longer)

  • Mike Mulligan  and His Steam Shovel
  • The Little House
  • The Tales of Peter Rabbit
  • Paddington Bear
  • The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh
  • My Little Golden Books

Finger Foods

For years, my toddlers have lived off of this finger food diet.  Not that I don’t ever cook, but it is not frequent enough.  Plus, they are picky about spices, temperature, texture, and new foods, so I can’t get them to eat most soups or casseroles yet.  And they’re not big meat eaters, usually.  With four toddlers, I need things quick, safe, healthy, and in bulk.  Portable in a bowl or baggie helps!

Most are raw, and most are available in healthy or organic form.  Some are moderately unhealthy or require minimal cooking.  Adjust to your needs as necessary.

Early munchers:

  • cheerios
  • bananas (cut in half long-wise first, then sliced)
  • corn or rice chex
  • pieces of toast (with a little butter or jelly… no honey!)
  • cooked peas, corn, or carrots (diced)
  • grapes (quartered)
  • small pieces of ripe pear
  • graham cracker squares, spritzed with water first if necessary
  • raisins

Older munchers:

  • wholesome bread
  • crackers
  • cereal
  • mini carrots
  • string cheese, diced cheeses
  • dried fruit
  • bagels
  • peanut butter toast (honey ok)
  • frozen pizza, cut up
  • pretzels w/humuus
  • all types of fruit, cut up
  • green beans or squash pieces
  • cucumber
  • granola bars
  • pepperoni
  • mini rice cakes
  • soy nuts, peanuts (vary types so they don’t get allergies)
  • chicken nuggets, fish sticks, turkey sausages
  • tater tots or frozen fries
  • roll ups (tortilla wraps with filling, sliced up)
  • grilled cheese (sometimes you can stick tomato or other healthy things in there)
  • bagel “pizzas” with humuus, tomato sauce and parmesan, or whatever
  • frozen waffles
  • small steamed broccoli florets with asiago sprinkled on top
  • small tortellinis or raviolis (spinach when possible)

Spoon foods:

  • cottage cheese
  • applesauce
  • yogurt
  • macaroni and cheese
  • small pastas
  • fruit cocktail or fruit cups
  • cole slaw (the sweet kind, not vinegary)

Chores little kids can Actually do

I am so tired of reading childraising literature that talks about the importance of getting your kids into chores.  I mean, I am a (recovering) neatnik and appreciate the importance of cleanliness very much.  But people writing on this topic always seem to  suggest chores I’d never give my 2, 3,4 year olds. Or they forget that little children often mess up more than they clean… they just like to help!

So from my clean (ha ha ha ha!!) home to yours, here is a list of chores we have ACTUALLY found that our kids can learn and do safely and independently after some initial instruction (including two children with mild special needs).

  • sorting laundry (by person, by type of item)
  • matching socks (they can do this better than I can!)
  • putting silverware away (if you don’t want them on a stool by the drawer, take the tray out of the drawer and put it on the kitchen table with them in a chair)
  • load the silverware into the dishwasher (nothing sharp)
  • dragging a small bag of trash to the front door (my four year old can take it outside and put it in a nearby trash can)
  • running cups and things from the living area to the kitchen
  • returning clothes and shoes in the living area to the proper bedrooms
  • helping me take the groceries to the kitchen (one box at a time)
  • putting some small items away on the bottom shelf of the pantry
  • putting some small items away in the refrigerator (soda cans in a line, fruit in the crisper)
  • sweeping crumbs off the floor with a dustpan (not the two year old, but he can pick up dropped cereal and put it in the trash can)
  • “washing” their places at the table top with a rag or sponge
  • “washing” the car with an adult
  • throwing trash away or large things on the carpet (we started this at about 15months old)
  • picking play-doh or whatever out of the carpet
  • organizing their toys into proper containers (by type of toy)
  • taking small things to the basement, or obtaining obvious things from down there (paper towels, toilet paper, etc)
  • standing up the DVDs in the cabinet, books on their bookshelf
  • wiping a toilet or sink with Lysol wipes
  • hang up their own jackets, towels, backpacks (once you’ve installed some low sticky-hooks)
  • find/retrieve an object in another room

Things we have found our little children can’t do very well or very safely, even though they are sometimes suggested

  • make their own beds (but they can put their stuffed animals & pillows back on)
  • help cook
  • get their own clothes (too difficult to open drawers, select something practical)
  • get something out of the car (too difficult to open/close doors safely; too hard to search intelligently most of the time)
  • sort dirty from clean laundry
  • pour their own drinks or carry them (the 4 year old is getting close)
  • set the table (unless it’s all plasticware, empty)
  • fill the dishwasher (too fragile, too strategic of a skill)
  • clean up their own spills (without getting it everywhere or being too wasteful of towels)
  • really wash anything (ditto)
  • dust (too dirty, too likely to get polish on their hands)

Toddlerwise Activities

When I had two toddlers at one time, I started scouring the internet for things to do at home.  I wanted things I could do with them, and things they could do independently.  They weren’t ready for taking turn games at that time, but later they were able to handle that, so then I needed some more low-risk activities.  I had three boys in a row, so most of the activities are geared towards boys!!  Substitute as necessary for girls.  Here are some ideas:

For parent and child interaction

  • Storytime
  • felt board math or stories
  • sand/salt tray (writing practice)
  • crafts/puppets with bags, popsicle sticks
  • sorting, counting coins; using a bank or change separator
  • cooking together (pizzas or muffins are easy, or toast with designs in raisins on top)
  • phonics or reading games
  • making cards to family/friends
  • homemade play-doh (Koolaid for coloring)
  • clean-up time
  • Finger-painting
  • Making a video or tape recording
  • drawing lessons
  • identify the object (by noise, feel, taste, etc.)  Use a bag or shoebox filled with rice, beans, sand, or whatever.
  • I Spy
  • “Hotter/Colder” games (locating a hidden object)
  • “I’m thinking of an animal that has…”  Or use a different theme.
  • Simon Says
  • Red Light, Green Light
  • Tracing, cut-outs, rubbings, connect the dots, Tic-Tac-Toe
  • Tangrams/Copy the configuration (with blocks)
  • Guess what I’m drawing (Pictionary)
  • “Let’s do something nice for [family member].”
  • Field Trip

For independent play, possible with one child (some need moderate supervision)

  • Legos (large, medium, or small legos)
  • Puzzles (try taking away the picture when they become too easy, or mix two puzzles together for a real challenge)
  • Dominoes, modified for one player
  • Memory game, modified for one player
  • Stringing beads (different pasta shapes work well too)
  • Sewing cards
  • Blocks
  • Action figure set (Bob the Builder, Dora/Diego, Little People, whatever)
  • Free drawing
  • Play-doh (add cookie cutters, a roller, and play-doh scissors)
  • coloring books (probably needs supervision)
  • mosaics (Melissa & Doug make a good one)
  • Tool sets–hammers, pegs, screws, bench, etc
  • race cars or trucks, train sets w/tracks
  • Sink/water table time (supervision necessary)
  • Bath time
  • Drawing with chalk on the driveway
  • whiteboard/chalkboard
  • Magna-Doddle, etch-a-sketch
  • pasting with glue-stick (get a tub of foam shapes from the craft store)
  • Sandbox
  • Farm/barn with animals (try adding fence pieces, which most kids love to work)
  • Lincoln Logs
  • Tinker toys
  • Bubbles (in the bath tub is great for clean-up reasons)

More than one child:

  • Candyland
  • Dominoes
  • Memory game
  • Hopscotch
  • Sandbox
  • Tag, ball-play
  • Hide and Seek
  • Chef (plastic food/kitchen station)
  • Make believe: detectives, explorer, fireman, policeman, teacher, dogs/lions, Dragon-warriors, mommy and Daddy… (make hats, telescopes, shields, etc. as necessary)
  • Following the Leader
  • Telephone games, Whisper down the lane


What kinds of manners are appropriate for 2,3,4 year olds to learn? What things can reasonably be expected at these young ages?

These are things we work on with at least moderate success. Of course they need reminders all the time, but the point is not memorization as much as it is a general awareness of other people/their property. This type of orientation is more important than success with any one rule.

Saying please and thank-you

Shaking someone’s hand when they greet you

Saying excuse me when you pass

Saying excuse me when you burp (or worse!)

Covering your mouth when you sneeze/cough

Giving younger children a toy, letting them go first

Waiting for their turn, giving someone else a turn

Sitting at least semi-correctly and acting at least semi-politely at the table

Saying I’m Sorry when you do something wrong

Giving a crying child a hug or kiss, getting them help

Sharing a treat, gift

Saying no, thank you when offered something they don’t want

Giving up “watch me” (“look at me”) or “watch this”

Not yelling across the house (or playground, restaurant, mall) for parent

Giving up “me first”

Taking shoes off in someone else’s house

Asking to use the bathroom or have some food in someone else’s house

Keeping feet off the furniture

Keeping legs down/closed

Not standing in the way of the TV

Not standing in the way of two adults speaking

Interrupting politely, at appropriate times

Not bossing around; asking permission of someone else to help, enter, etc.

Cleaning up toys they got out (especially in a doctor’s office, friend’s house, etc)

Not yelling in a restaurant, library

No whining; using an adult voice to ask permission

knocking before entering (waiting for an answer is harder, but at least you can get a warning signal!)

Turning off lights when leaving a room

Not stepping on toys or other people

Giving others “space”

Giving others “a spot” when they are watching, playing, etc.

Being careful around a baby or someone laying on the floor

Not touching, waving things in people’s faces

Not pulling hair or touching people’s bodies inappropriately; keeping hands to themselves

Not answering questions intended for others

Saying something nice when someone gives you a present (even if you don’t like it)

Saying “bless you” when someone sneezes

No fake coughing or making weird noises