The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

12 best gifts for two-year-olds: From puzzles and games to dolls

What do you get the toddler has everything? We’ve got ideas not even Santa’s elves will have thought of

Catherine Hufton
Monday 01 November 2021 13:20
<p>If you have rambunctious little toddlers to buy for it’s best to start thinking about present lists sooner rather than later </p>

If you have rambunctious little toddlers to buy for it’s best to start thinking about present lists sooner rather than later

It’s that time of year again when we need to start thinking about the Christmas shopping, and if you have rambunctious little toddlers to buy for, you may already be wracking your brains to find just the right gift.

From educational to interactive and comforting, two-year-olds need plenty of stimulation but their toys still need to be safe for little hands and robust enough to put up with a lot of rough and tumble. So where to start?

Francisco Anselmi, managing director, international of Melissa & Doug offered us his expert advice: “Children at this age are little sponges soaking up learning by exploring their world in a hands-on way. Manipulatives (e.g., small blocks, chunky puzzle pieces), activity stations, sorters, and stackers are developmental play toy categories that stimulate senses and encourage fine motor skills.”

He added, “Toys with bright colours and realistic, relatable details give parents the opportunity to converse with their child about the toys’ features and the world they live in, helping to boost language development.”

How we tested

With Francisco’s advice in mind, we road-tested a wide range of toys, gadgets and puzzles that were engaging enough to keep a two-year-old interested for months – if not years – to come. Each toy was tested with the help of some very energetic toddlers who held no punches when it came to sorting the good from the “this is rubbish mummy”.

Read more:

We’ve included a range of gifts to suit all budgets as well as an assortment of smaller stocking fillers and big statement presents.

The best gifts for two-year-olds in 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Yoto Player: £79.99,
  • Best for bookworms – Toni box starter set: £70,
  • Best for making learning fun – The Enthusiast Play Kit: £120,
  • Best for inclusivity – My First Soft Kaloo doll: £19.06,
  • Best for encouraging connection – Carotina Baby Plus my first feelings: £7.99,
  • Best for travel and holidays – Cosmos+ Headphones: £44.99,
  • Best for stocking fillers – Gruffalo bath time set: £12,
  • Best for multiple children – Hape fire station: £69.99,
  • Best for Cocomelon fans – Cocomelon interactive bedtime JJ doll: £27.99,
  • Best for pretend play – Get well doctors kit play set: £26.90,
  • Best for little collectors – Maileg Mice sister mouse: £23.95,
  • Best for encouraging concentration –Hopping around australia Mizzie The Kangaroo puzzle: £14.50,

Yoto Player

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

It took just a few hours for the Yoto box to become a firm favourite in our homes. This connected screen-free speaker is designed for children and controlled with music and story audio cards that you slot in at the top. Once you’ve set it up using the easy-to-use Yoto app, you can control the box via your phone and enjoy additional features such as podcasts, Yoto radio, sleep sounds, white noise and exercise packs.

One of the things we love most about this gadget is just how easy it is to use. You can even record your own content onto blank cards or the app and play them through the speaker. We found that it was a great way to get our toddlers away from the TV. The sleep sounds function was also very useful to block out household noise while younger siblings were napping.

The one downside is that you might find that your two-year-old finds a lot of fun in taking the cards in and out before the story or music gets going, so you may want to place it out of reach once your child has chosen an audio card to listen to.

Toni box starter set

Best: For bookworms

Rating: 10/10

We’re always in favour of toys and gadgets that get the kids away from screens for a while, and the Toni box is as fun as it is educational. Simply download the app to set it up, and pop a Toni character (which can be bought separately for £14.99) on top to listen to an audiobook of your choice.

It’s robust and safe enough for almost anything a two-year-old can throw at it. The colourful leather case and simple design that’s free from screens, cables and buttons, means they can play with it freely without you having to worry. It can also be controlled by the app that allows you to adjust and set the volume for day and night and use without wifi after initially setting it up. This was a big hit in our households, especially at bedtime, and is a gadget we’ll know we’ll be using for years to come.

Lovevery the enthusiast play kit

Best: For making learning fun

Rating: 8/10

If you’re hoping to add an educational element to your child’s Christmas sack, you might want to consider a Lovevery play kit. This U.S-based early childhood brand makes stage-based subscription play kits that are designed by child development experts to help parents make the most of playtime.

We trialled “the enthusiast” which is designed for two-year-olds and comprises seven high-quality items. Inside you’ll find weighing scales to teach your little one about balance and measurement, a sticky shapes glue station to encourage concentration and careful crafting, and a sort-and-stack peg puzzle for learning basic shapes. The main clincher here is that the kits are delivered as part of a subscription service and can’t be bought separately, so you’ll receive a new play kit every three months for a year. If you’re ok with that, then you’re on to a winner.

Kaloo my first soft doll

Best: For inclusivity

Rating: 7/10

The rose Kaloo doll is by far the most adorable entry in our gift guide and we kind of wanted to keep her all to ourselves. She’s super soft and the perfect size for hugs with loads of gorgeous details including heart embroidery, a floral dress and a ribbon on her back which you can write your child’s name on. Best of all, she’s machine washable so can go on all the adventures your toddler wants to take her on. Kaloo’s tendresse doll range is also very inclusive and includes different ethnicities and genders so there’s a character for everyone.

Carotina Baby my first feelings

Best: For encouraging connection

Rating: 7/10

The Carotina Baby my first feelings puzzle was created to help toddlers match feelings to scenes while acknowledging emotions and giving names to them. We really enjoyed playing this with our toddlers and found it to be a great way of bonding, especially after a big tantrum or during a period of change (the arrival of a new baby in our case).

It includes 12 puzzles in total which covers a wide range of feelings so there’s plenty of different scenarios for you to talk about. It may be a little too advanced for some two-year-olds but is definitely a great way to start introducing language about emotions and get older siblings involved too.

BuddyPhones cosmos+ headphones

Best: For travel and holidays

Rating: 9/10

Great for plane journeys, car trips and at home, the cosmos+ noise-cancelling headphones are an award-winning and safe way for children to enjoy audio. They’re capped at the WHO-recommended level of 85dB so they don’t damage hearing, and engineered with certified safe materials that are hypoallergenic.

These are available in a range of colours and animal designs, and we trialled the sunny-yellow lion headphones which garnered a lot of excitement from our mini testers. They also come in a matching protective case and can be plugged straight into a device or used with wireless Bluetooth. We think they make a great gift for a child about to go on their first flight or train journey.

Gruffalo bath time set

Best: For stocking fillers

Rating: 8/10

Rumour has it that there’s a new adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo coming to TV screens this Christmas, so what better way to celebrate than with this bath-time set? The perfect stocking filler, it comes with a soft toy, moisturiser, hair and body wash that are formulated using real prickly pear extract. The bath products are also vegan friendly, and ophthalmologist tested so are mild, gentle and suitable for sensitive skin. We’re planning on giving ours as a sweet little Christmas Eve gift before bedtime – followed by a cosy screening of the Gruffalo, of course.

Hape fire station

Best: For multiple children

Rating: 9/10

If you’re looking for that big statement present for Christmas morning, we think that the Hape fire station is a great choice. It comes in flat pieces with screws and an Alan key and takes about 30 minutes to assemble which you may want to do on Christmas Eve away from impatient hands. Its wooden design includes a working garage, office, sleeping quarters and fireman’s pole, as well as a helicopter, and fire truck. There’s also plenty of cute little accessories including a flag for the rood, fire bell, satellite dish and very noisy emergency siren (which you can disable by taking the batteries out if it gets too annoying).

We found that this was ideal for slightly older two-year-olds who have started to enjoy independent pretend play but it was also a huge hit on playdates. The one downside was that we weren’t quite sure why the set only came with one fireman – two would have been nice.

At the moment the Hape fir station is only available for click and collect.

CoComelon interactive bedtime JJ doll

Best: For Cocomelon fans

Rating: 8/10

Love it or loathe it, Cocomelon is the hit YouTube series that toddlers don’t seem to be able to get enough of, so we had to include the JJ bedtime plush doll in our Christmas line-up. Interactive and cuddly, it plays the show’s popular Yes Yes Bedtime song when you squeeze his tummy as well as a range of phrases and sounds. We found that the doll became a great companion for our kids on car trips and bedtimes alike, but it lost a couple of points in its scoring because we thought the doll’s sounds and songs were a bit limited. We would have liked it to play a bit more of a variety – to save our sanity if nothing else.

Melissa & Doug get well doctors kit play set

Best: For pretend play

Rating: 9/10

Melissa & Doug’s get well doctor’s kit playset includes 25 pieces in total and comes in a cute little medical bag. Toddlers can pretend to check temperature, heartbeat, blood pressure, eyesight, and hearing with syringes, play scissors, a reflex hammer, play bottles, and bandages, and there’s even a lanyard to add your child’s name to. We even stuck on a passport photo too for an added touch of fun. The playset has become a regular favourite in our children’s toy boxes and for the price, we don’t think you can go wrong.

Maileg Toys big sister mouse in matchbox

Best: For little collectors

Rating: 8/10

If your little one likes collecting things and enjoys pretend play, Maileg mice are a great range to introduce them to. Each mouse is Danish designed and beautifully housed in a matchbox-style cardboard box which our children loved opening and closing and taking the mice in and out of. The sister and brother mice are also a great idea if, like us, you’ve just introduced a new baby to the family and want to help your toddler celebrate their new older sibling status.

Each mouse and its accompanying accessories are on the more expensive side though, so we’d suggest making sure your child really loves it before investing in lots of pieces from the wider Maileg collection.

Hopping around australia Mizzie The Kangaroo puzzle

Best: For encouraging concentration

Rating: 9/10

From rainy, winter afternoons, to stressful days when something a little gentler is needed, a set of puzzles is always handy. This gorgeous set from Mizzie the Kangaroo celebrates Australia with three different puzzles on a 3mm thick board. We tried ours out on one particularly challenging afternoon with a newborn and a grumpy toddler with a temperature and it really helped to calm everyone down – including the parents.

The verdict: Gifts for two-year-olds

Of all the toys we trialled in this review, the Yoto Player has to be our favourite for the whole family. The music player, podcasts and sleep sounds have been playing in our homes every day since we started testing it, and we love how easy and safe it is to use. It’s also suitable for a wide range of ages making it well worth the money if you have multiple children.

The Hape fire station and Melissa & Doug doctor’s set come in joint second place for the quality and interactive nature of their designs – not to mention how well they went down with our two-year-olds.

Voucher codes

For the latest offers on kids’ clothing and toys, try the links below:

Looking to reduce your child’s screen time? Take a read of our guide to the best kids’ audio players

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in