The Parent Coach: Toys by Age and Stage

Gift ideas for each stage, including baby, toddler and preschooler

Along with the holidays, comes the desire to give just the right gifts. I just tripped over a truck on my way over to this laptop. I can feel two balls at my feet, my eyes are cast on piles of puzzles. My brain is spinning, trying to figure out just how I will outlive these toys and how I can ever buy just the right gifts for my sons, nieces, nephews and friends’ children. Desperate for answers that are not pulled out my carol-ringing brain in a toy store, I dug into my piles of research notes on what toys, and not just toys, but what play, is most meaningful at each stage of a young child’s development. Here’s what I am using to pick out the right toys for the many little ones I adore:


One year olds are on the go! Many toddlers start walking right before or after the first birthday. As explorers they not only motor about, they also enjoy stories, say their first words and love to experiment. They are engrossed in figuring out how the world works. For the sake of ease, the toy list for one year-olds is split into two stages.1-year-olds

12–18 months

  • Toy keys or a padlock and its keys
  • Water and bath play toys: bucket, spray bottle
  • Balls: Inflatable ball 5–6” in diameter, sensory balls
  • Board books: Real pictures of people and animals in the child’s life
  • Play telephone or old discarded phone
  • Child size broom, mop and dustpan
  • Scarves for peek-a-boo
  • Large size hand mirror
  • Stuffed toys
  • Pound-a-Peg
  • DIY: Collection of different shaped blocks or objects to sort into piles

18–24 months

Anamalz Wooden Brown Bear


By the second birthday, a toddler starts to put phrases together and graduates to simple sentences. Language learning is a highlight of this age. Two year-olds engage new physical activities: jumping from heights, climbing, hanging by their arms, rolling and rough-and-tumble play. They have good control of their hands and like to do things with small objects. As a toddler nears preschool age, she grows a vivid imagination and dives into dramatic play.

Felt Alphabet

3- to 5-year-olds

Age three marks the start of preschool. Preschoolers have longer attention spans, they ask a lot of questions, love to play with their friends and hate to lose! Make believe, explorations with increasingly sophisticated fine motor skills including visual arts, construction and an interest in problem solving are the highlights of this stage.

After all my research, when my husband recently embarked on a last minute business trip, I couldn’t recommend an apt toy for our nephew. As I sweated the fact that his beloved uncle would walk into the house without a gift, I paused and realized that the little fellow would probably be most happy with many hours of his uncle’s time. I kissed my husband bye with a whisper, “Don’t sweat the gift, and spend a whole morning with him, just you and him. Arrange your work so you can do just that!” And he did. I wish you much leisurely time with the little ones that you will be taking gifts to. 

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