12 best development toys for 1 to 2-year-olds that aid learning

From building blocks to trikes and a clapping monkey, inspire your little one’s imagination and creativity

Cathy Adams@Cathman
Saturday 10 April 2021 08:34
<p>The switch from baby to toddler – which happens around after the age of one – opens up a whole new world for children</p>

The switch from baby to toddler – which happens around after the age of one – opens up a whole new world for children

Children change so much all the time and the words “everything’s a phase” is something that has come out of every sleep-deprived parent’s mouth at some point.

But the switch from baby to toddler – which happens around after the age of one – opens up a whole new world for children and their long-suffering parents.

It’s between these two birthdays that children typically learn how to walk and talk; and their personalities start to emerge. There’s a lot going on in their brains as they’re taking in the world around them and learning new things every day.

Toys start to take on a new meaning, as you’ll notice that your child begins to play with them differently – perhaps beginning to understand that blocks can be stacked on top of each other; that a particular shape fits through a hole; or that a toy will make a sound if pressed in the right way.

It’s fascinating to watch them learn these skills, especially when you’ve spent the past year slumped over several large cups of coffee.

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“By this age, it’s likely that your one-year-old is already infinitely curious and craving exploration, especially of objects from the real world,” says Jessica Rolph, co-founder and CEO of Lovevery, a company that makes stage-based toys for babies and toddlers.

“We recommend simple, thoughtfully designed play things, created from real materials like wood to encourage deeper, more imaginative play.

“Research suggests that playing environments featuring natural elements help children concentrate, focus, and even calm down, which can be enormously beneficial to their cognitive development.”

We tested these development toys on a 13-month-old baby –who typically gravitates towards brightly coloured toys that can be bashed together to make a noise – and an 18-month-old baby tested the toys that are geared towards babies nearer two. Taking into account cost, the range of activities offered and whether they entertained the children for periods – every parent’s holy grail – we’ve compiled a list of the best toys available.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Lovevery the block set

This 70-block set, from child development experts Lovevery, is one of the most comprehensive kids’ toys on the market. Solid wood blocks in varying shapes and colours are ideal for building spatial and problem-solving skills. With this gorgeously designed set, children can build towers, thread blocks together, build a car to pull along and jump over hurdles – there’s little they can’t do.

Its parts can also help children understand concepts such as gravity and velocity, not that our tests came anywhere near that: my son preferred banging the blocks together and babbling happily as he did so. In short, this stylish set, which also packs up neatly, is a real investment piece (note the price tag: perfect for a grandparent gift) that is suitable for any children one year and above.

Little Dutch pure & nature wooden race track

This wooden car set, designed with a very Scandinavian sensibility, is ideal to improve little ones’ coordination. The vertical stacked race track comes with four tiny cars that are released at the top and shoot down to the bottom. Our 13-month-old watched carefully as we showed him how to do it, then impressively placed the cars on the top track and watched them zoom down to the bottom, which kept him amused for minutes at a time. The four small cars themselves make a great toy on their own, too. Made in pastel-coloured wood, the race track is also very aesthetically pleasing.

Oyoy abacus rainbow

A gender-neutral toy in muted pastel tones, this gorgeous abacus rainbow from Nordic brand Oyoy is just as much a lovely nursery decoration as it is a developmental toy. Older children will enjoy counting the beads strung on the metal; while younger children can work on their fine motor skills by pushing the beads from one side of the abacus to the other. For parents looking for an extra-special birthday gift with the added bonus of improving motor skills and coordination, this abacus would be an ideal candidate.

Baby Gund clappy the animated monkey

Any parent will know that singing and clapping is a big part of childcare, as it encourages social development skills. This plush monkey from US brand Baby Gund sings and claps in two modes (including a cute rendition of If You’re Happy and You Know It), which delighted our little one, who was focused on copying the monkey’s movements. As it’s so huggable, the monkey doubled up as a comforter. Suitable from 10 months.

Lalaboom educational beads and accessories

There’s not much you can’t do with this plastic accessory set, which comes in at a very attractive price. There are 24 different plastic pieces, which hook together in various ways, whether that’s screwed, clipped or laced together.

The set, designed with Montessori principles, is designed to grow with your child: as they get older they will evolve from banging the beads together to understanding how to lace or screw them to one another. They’re brightly coloured and differently textured, which is perfect for developing creative minds and uitable from 10 months onwards.

Miffy wooden train set

The classic kids character Miffy is the motif on this sweet wooden train set, which encourages development of kids’ hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. The train and carriages are made up of various wooden segments, which can be stacked and clipped together, some of which are emblazoned with Miffy characters. A nice toy for parents who have had enough of primary coloured plastic.

Chicco ABC Sam the pop up mole

This bilingual musical toy aims to teach children aged 10 months and over basic language skills in English and French. The colourful shapes on the front can be slotted into place to make the mole pop up, and it sings both ABC and 123 in French. However, the sound is very quiet (the speaker is on the bottom of the toy) which wasn’t ideal.

Lamaze 3-in-1 airtivity center

This hardworking play table, suitable from six months, is guaranteed to keep little ones entertained while they learn. Promoting visual development, tactile processing, motor skills as well as problem solving, the ocean-themed air table does a variety of things including making plastic sea creatures “swim” around the table, all while playing a real earworm of a tune. The toys either spin, wave or rattle, thanks to the air power.

The table was a great source of entertainment for our 13-month-old and helped keep his attention during a nappy change, which was priceless for us. The only downside is that it takes up a lot of room.

Halilit baby’s first birthday band musical instrument gift set

We’ve found that musical toys are an instant hit with young children, as they love to bang them together to make different noises (oh, the noise…). This cute set is a great starting point for younger babies – it’s suitable from 12 months – and includes several easy-to-grip instruments including a rattle, a shaker and a bell to help develop children’s musical abilities.

John Adams playing blocks

Developing hand-eye coordination is the name of the game with these vibrantly coloured “fun bricks” from games expert John Adams. The bricks come in all shapes and colours, including wheels and characters for role play, that slot together; and they’re easy to hold and handle, perfect for developing hands.

They’re suitable for children 18 months and up, although we found that younger children could enjoy banging them together too. Parents, be warned, make sure you tidy them away at the end of the day: they have a habit of ending up everywhere.

Micro XL trike

Kids need to work on their physical development as well as their intellectual and social skills, which is where this trike comes in. It helps to develop all kinds of things including posture and balance as well as coordination; and is a good halfway point for children who aren’t confident movers yet.

The XL version, which comes in snazzy colours including red and aqua, comes with a harness, which should put parents’ minds at ease when zipping younger kids around on it. We loved how easy it was to install and store (it folds up super flat and can be easily stuck in a cupboard) and how smooth it was to push along both in the house and on the street. Parents have total control thanks to the slick long handle; and we found the children were delighted by being out of the constraints of the buggy for once, and loved how independent they were.

Kid’s Concept sorting box

You can rely on stylish children’s website Alex and Alexa to stock good toys, and this sorting box from Nordic brand Kids’ Concept is no exception. Made of light plywood, the simple box comes with punched shapes – including a star, hexagon and triangle – that wooden blocks fit through.

It’s an elegant, clever toy that encourages children to match the shape with the correct hole – even though our little one had more fun pulling the blocks out of the box and putting them back in. The box doubles as storage for the shapes when not in use, and it looks neat on a shelf. It’s a popular piece and is expected to restock on 19 April.

The verdict: Development toys for 1 to 2 year olds

It comes with a hefty price tag, but Lovevery’s heirloom block set ticks all the boxes for toddler development, plus it looks gorgeous. For development toys on the lower end, we loved the Little Dutch wooden race track and the Lalaboom educational beads.

Encouraging imaginative play, here are the best Montessori toys for hours of fun

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