The benefits of play for children have long been touted by parents and experts alike, with studies showing that kids can not only learn through play, but that playing together can strengthen relationships and promote mental resilience.
While we’re firm believers you don’t need to transform your home into a toy shop in order to engage little ones, if school and nursery shut-downs showed us one thing, it’s that having toys that stimulate and entertain – ideally without making a huge mess – will help engage our kids’ imaginations as well as helping with their physical development and learning skills.
We’ve rounded up the best kids’ toys brands for all ages and stages. From toys that your child can enjoy on their own to building, play-acting, board games and more.
You’ll find toys at all price points, with stylish wooden designs and bright-and-noisy plastic toys, too (don’t hate us; your child will love them).
For parents who really want to minimise clutter and cost, you have options. Toy rental companies like Whirli and Toy Box Club introduce kids to a wealth of toys from beloved brands, without any commitment. You simply borrow and exchange toys at your leisure, so you don’t have to worry about the kids getting bored with something and not wanting to play with it ever again.
Lego has always been a firm favourite with kids of all ages, and we’re seriously impressed with the brand’s new products and launches, like the botanical collection sets (confession: we purchased this for ourselves, not the kids, as a late-30s birthday treat).
Other new releases our kids have been enjoying include Lego DOTS (2D shapes geared to arts-and-crafts lovers rather than building obsessives) and VIDIYO sets, which combine an app with minifigure fun. Collaborations with Super Mario, Harry Potter, Marvel, Winnie the Pooh, Friends and Star Wars ensure hours of building – and then playing – fun for kids of all ages. Even stepping on the odd Lego piece now and again can’t dampen our enjoyment of this brand.
The Yoto is one of our most favourite toy discoveries of the past year. It’s a smart speaker that plays books, stories and music. It also has an in-built radio and podcast, doubles as a nightlight and clock (you can use it for sleep training) and has truly made multiple lockdowns more bearable, entertaining both our younger kids with phonics cards and sounds and our older ones with Roald Dahl classics and bedtime meditations. You can even make your own bespoke cards so kids can listen to relatives’ voices, or yours, whenever they like.
Brio is the Swedish brand beloved for its train tracks and transport sets. Made from FSC-certified wood, Brio’s trains and tracks are beautifully crafted and built to last. So, even though they’re pricey, they will stand the test of time, getting passed between siblings and even going from one generation to the next. One trick if you want to save cash is to buy an initial starter set from Brio and then supplement it with extra bits of track from Ikea.
Lottie is a toy brand which designs dolls based on the average proportions of a nine-year-old rather than an adult, with an impressive range of outfits and interests (fossil hunter, musician, gymnast, to name but a few). Better yet, many of the dolls are inspired by amazing real-life girls, like activist Mari Copeney, who raised awareness about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Lottie dolls can be played with anytime, anywhere (they easily slip into bags), and you can also set up a Lottie world for the kids with accessories like stables, tree house, tents and more. And yes, boy Lottie dolls are also available.
Melissa and Doug is one of the best toy brands for kids, with a huge variety of items from dress-ups to dolls to crafts kits, as well as developmental toys for babies and toddlers. Lots of the items are wooden, which is a plus, and there’s plenty to encourage imaginative play, like pretend food sets and animal kits – the new fishing set (£32.99, Smythstoys.com), complete with rods, is fun. Melissa and Doug is also fantastic for stationery items like water-pad colouring books, stamping sets and sticker pads, and prices start at around a fiver.
We’re not sure what it is about these animal families, but the kids adore them. Even as they get older they’re still keen to play with these toys which first debuted in Japan in the 1980s (our eight-and-a-half-year-old has recently found her way back to Sylvanians).
The selection of woodland creatures with their endless wardrobes, homes, furniture and vehicles allows kids to get deep into imaginative play. They’re pricey so you’ll want to hang onto these… plus they’re currently trending on TikTok so even your older kids might be interested again.
If you’re after a delightful wooden toy brand that does pretend play toys very well, we’d recommend Great Little Trading Co (GLTC), which has everything from mud kitchens and toy kitchens to doll’s houses and teepees.
We absolutely adored testing out the newly launched wooden post office (£47.60, Gltc.co.uk) with its unbelievable attention to detail. Not only can you weigh parcels on the scales and post mail through the letterbox, it includes a bank card so kids can pay for postage and postcards with Velcro stamps. Almost like the authentic post office experience... except far lovelier, with no queuing!
With a selection of brands from Nerf to Play-Doh, Hasbro knows exactly what it takes to appeal to kids at all stages. The Play-Doh Crunchin’ T-Rex (£17.99, Smythstoys.com) which eats and then “poops” out colourful dough, is our top recommendation for your next playdate with three-to-six-year-olds – they’re obsessed. Hasbro also makes some of our favourite family board games, like Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Cluedo, Operation and Jenga.
This French toy brand has everything from kid-friendly flower presses, to soft toys with accompanying wardrobes to classic board games. It’s also our go-to for retro-style wooden games: the brand’s giant Mikado (pick-up-sticks) set is great fun, as is our family’s favourite version of 4-in-a-row from the brand, made of wood with red and blue coloured discs. Handily, it folds down, making it travel-bag friendly (and a summer holiday essential).
Lockdown life really showed us the value of having nursery-style toys in the home – even with limited space. Little Tikes is our pick for outdoor toys, whether you’re after a sand pit or a slide, a water play feature or a Cozy Coupe. These are must-haves for the toddler set – although Little Tikes also caters to older kids with its Tobi smartwatch (£39.99, Littletikes.co.uk).
The fountain factory water table (£56.99, Littletikes.co.uk) is a bit like a pint-sized version of the London Science Museum’s fabulous water play area, designed for hours of (wet), science-based play. Perfect for a child on their own or with friends.
Tomy’s hide and squeak eggs (£9.99, Jojomamanbebe.co.uk) are quite possibly the world’s best toddler toy, combining sounds with shape sorting and colour recognition – we have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love them. Tomy is also the brand behind every bath toy your toddler will want, as well as a selection of top board games like Articulate and Greedy Granny.
You don’t need a pool or the sunshine to enjoy Aussie brand Sunnylife’s inflatables – Sunnylife’s glitter-filled beach ball is the toy most played with in our home at the moment. In addition to other inflatables like pool rings and fun floats, you’ll find sporty toys like portable table tennis sets and beach bats, jumbling tower blocks and mini backpacks filled with stationery goodies.
Smartgames is all about learn-through-play games, and the portable editions of 2D and 3D puzzler games that entertain kids and adults alike are especially popular. This is also our top pick for single-player games like Pirates Crossfire (£19.99, Smarttoysandgames.co.uk), Three Little Pigs (£23, Smallable.com) and Camelot Junior (£24.99, Smarttoysandgames.co.uk), which provide hours of fun – and teach logic and critical thinking skills as kids play.
From colouring books to stickers to every type of felt tip under the sun, Djeco is the ultimate toy brand for crafty kids. The brand is going from strength to strength: newer releases include stunning make-your-own kaleidoscope toys, moving robots and light-up kits that combine tech with art. Djeco appeals to all ages but gets bonus points for keeping older kids interested as they design interiors bits for the bedrooms they’re (constantly) redecorating.
This new Turkish brand is one to have on your radar: the premise of Toyi is that anything can become a toy, from an old book to a used butter tub and even loo roll. Each set comes with a selection of different, colourful pieces from bands to tubes, giving kids the chance to upcycle whatever they already have into something new and creative, while promoting STEM and motor skills. It allows for endless exploration and creativity as kids can keep remaking items into new creations. Ours adore these and it feels like the potential for creation is infinite.
German brand Schleich is known for its figures and play-sets, whether your child likes farm animals, wild animals, dinosaurs, or fantasy creatures like monsters and unicorns. These are made with wonderful attention to detail, and some have added features like jaws that open and shut. We’re seriously impressed how one T-Rex and a stone monster turned lunch with two three-year-olds into an hour of brilliant fun.
We first discovered Edx Education’s toys and games in the pandemic, and we have to say they’re great fun for preschool and primary-aged kids. With colourful shapes, counters, number bean bags, stacking cubes, beads and more to learn and play with. They also come with handy trays so you won’t instantly lose everything once you’ve opened the box.
If micro-robotic creatures are your thing – and why wouldn’t they be? – then Hexbug is worth checking out. The robotic arenas and construction kits are great for kids who love building, while the remote control, LED fire breathing dragon and mechanical bugs provide hours of fun as they wriggle around your floor.
Two words: shopping list. Undoubtedly one of the best games ever invented for toddlers, Orchard Toys also has a selection of puzzles, matching games and board games with an educational slant to help kids master spelling, reading and times tables.
This subscription service for kids is packed with cool science experiments: kids can create an artificial ocean floor or turn soap bubbles into flames. It’s incredibly easy to use and engaging, plus the starter kit has everything you need to attempt science-lab scale projects from your kitchen table. You can even take chemistry lessons online or via your phone, used as a VR headset.
Mel sets are designed for kids five and up, and yes, they can entice kids off their phones – the potential of being involved in a (monitored) mini-explosion trumps the latest TikTok trend. You can also get 25 per cent off the first month of any Mel science subscription boxes using this link, with the promotion code: Indybest.
While we can’t deny Leapfrog’s singing, light-up and musical toys aren’t top of every parent’s wish list, they are truly hits with the kids. Whether you opt for an interactive laptop toy or a singing ice cream truck that helps kids learn to count the choices are endless. My Pals Scout and Violet, which are personalisable soft toys that chat to little ones and just £25.99 each, are firm favourites in our household. Also, the Leapfrog leapstory (£46.99, Leapfrogstore.co.uk) is a brilliant audio storyteller that’s taught our kids fairy tales and Greek myths.
These eco-cardboard building kits might just be the antidote to computer and phone games for older kids, provided you have a keen builder in the house. They do require a lot of concentration as kids slot together various pieces, but the end result is worth it as they end up creating a marble run.
For the latest discounts on kids’ toys and other essentials for your little one, try the links below:
Setting off on a long journey? Here’s our best toys to keep kids occupied, from card games to tablets