I have been thinking of ways of structuring this post to make it easier to read and more comprehensive and the only thing that seems to make sense is to go by brand. We tend to be loyal to companies whose products we like, so if you were to walk into our house, you’d see lots of items by the same brands. It doesn’t mean we are not open to other companies and makers. In fact, on the contrary, I am always looking for new ideas and products, but usually when you happen on a product that really really works, you end up sticking with it, at least until something else comes along.
So it’s even more relevant when it comes to toys. I have favorites, companies that I know I can trust from the safety standpoint and those that make beautiful, functional and fun toys.
A while ago I wrote about toy safety from the toxin standpoint and outlined some of the companies that make better toys with fewer recalls, some that claim they are lead free, BFR free and approach safety consciously. If you’re just starting on my blog, make sure to check that post and then go over the toys that we found useful for the 0-12 months stage. Also don’t miss the post on Tag Toys which are the most unique toys I’ve ever come across.
For now, in case you are looking to replenish your playroom, buy birthday gifts, or are just curious about which toys Lexi plays with on daily basis, or used to play when she was slightly younger, read on!
This has been a favorite from the beginning if you can remember, a really great company with a green approach and amazing toys that foster imagination. All toys are made in Thailand from All Natural Organic Recycled Rubber Wood.
The three Plan Toys toys that get pulled off the shelves more often than others are the following:
We have two mommy and daughter snakes. They aren’t sold that way or anything, but it so happens that Lexi absolutely ADORES having two so that she can share one with me. Right now we’re in the “LEXI TOO!” stage and everything needs to be done together. So she pulls out both snakes, gives one to me (MAMA!) and takes one herself (LEXI!).
The snakes wiggle and move their bodies as you pull them which makes it a bit more fun than a simple pull toy. I think pull toys, in general, have a limited life with the toddlers, depending on their temperament, so at the age 22 months, she’s moved on from the pull toys as they don’t offer a lot of active entertainment for her, but if you have a baby who’s a PULLER (you’ll know what I mean if you do), then know that we really loved this toy when it was developmentally appropriate.
APPEAL: 12-18 months DEVELOPMENT: Fine motor and physical
I am, of course, partial to any kind of photography equipment, even if it’s a toy, and as a daughter of a (non-pro) photographer, Lexi imitates me on daily basis. I allow her to use my real camera to play with but it’s bulky and hard to bring to her eye. This camera makes a nice clicking sound, it feels AMAZING in your hands (I love the rubberwood) and the little kaleidoscope viewfinder makes it fun for kids to “take pictures”. It took Lexi quite a while to get the kaleidoscope part, she eventually knew to put the viewfinder to her eye but didn’t know to actually look through it. And how adorable is she taking a picture of mommy by putting the camera to her mouth? haha
APPEAL: 1Y+ DEVELOPMENT: fine motor skills, role-play.
We have two Plan Toys stackers. I wrote about one in the previous toy feature. This rainbow stacker is a bit different because it requires the precision skill of putting one of the rings with a small hole in it onto a wooden pole. Most kids can’t do it well till 12 months, but once they figure it out, it becomes one of their favorite activities. She will actually sit and play quietly while threading the stacker rings through the pole for a few minutes ( which doesn’t happen often)
Again it’s made of the same rubberwood that feels heavy and substantial and is a pleasant toy to handle- the quality is very apparent.
APPEAL: 12-36 months DEVELOPMENT: fine motor skills, cognitive
We have many other Plan Toys products at home but these three are the ones that get used the most. She’s almost grown out of toys like this at this point, so some time next year I am looking to get more of the pretend play toys from Plan Toys like their fruit and vegetable sets.
Another company that uses only wood, though different type of wood than Plan Toys, and has a great assortment of toys.
We started our Hape collection with the kitchen and have since bought countless products. Their selection is truly unbeatable.
Our play kitchen is very simple and clean looking and fits into the natural wood theme of the playroom perfectly. I would have preferred a solid wood kitchen, and this is particle board, so I let it off gas for as long as I could before assembling. I’ve looked at solid wood kitchens and they are ugly and crazy expensive ( justifiably so, however our of our price range for a kitchen play set). Hape is a eco-company that tries to make green choices, so I feel much better about using a Hape kitchen that isn’t solid wood rather than some other random brand. You win some, you lose some. Of course, the kitchen doesn’t come with the goodies inside so that was purchased separately here: Kitchen Start Set , Food Set, Garden Salad and Fridge (our next purchase)
APPEAL: 12 months+ DEVELOPMENT: fine motor skills, pretend play
A COFFEE MAKER
Soon after she fell in love with the kitchen, I had an idea to buy her a cappuccino maker (technically it’s a coffee maker, but we don’t drink coffee). She loves making real decaf cappuccino with daddy and goes through the whole process as that’s something they have been doing since she was 12 months old. So this was a great way of imitating what we do.
A no-brainer for boys and a fun toy for girls! This is an awesome toy for two kids or more since they can play off of each other.
When buying toys, I don’t really differentiate between traditionally boy type of toys ad girl type of toys because she plays with both equally, so I just go for what I think she would like. Lexi is a a very girly girl, but she also likes cars and trucks and planes.
This racetrack is like a ball tracker seen in other brands but with a car racer theme. You get 4 cars that, when placed on the track, take off on their own, going from side to side and then finish off at the bottom. She was still tiny (12 months) when we received this toy and I had doubts as to whether she’d even get the concept, however she instantly caught onto it and started playing with it.
APPEAL: 18 Months+ DEVELOPMENT: visual tracking, fine motor skills
Pounding? Not so interested. Xylophone? Obsessed!
This xylophone was one of her first true musical instrument obsessions ( and if you follow us on IG, you know that the love for music and instruments has been in FULL since about 16 months ). She would literally carry it everywhere and make us look for it and the hammer if it was missing at all. The concept of the toy is you pound on the balls at the top of the bench and they fall onto the xylophone rolling down and making a pretty sound. The xylophone can be pulled out and used as a separate toy. It’s really perfect for boys who like to pound on things as it doubles as a xylophone and makes music giving them exposure to something boys something don’t pick up on their own: music.
APPEAL: 12 Months + DEVELOPMENT: motor skills, musical, cognitive
This my favorite stacker from the aesthetic standpoint. I love the colors and the shapes. As a toy it has several uses: color sorter, shape sorter, size sorter and the process of threading something through that Lexi enjoys so much. Right now she is NOT into any type of sorting by color or size or shape, she doesn’t have the patience for it ( so like her mama), but I just see the toy getting a ton of use as she changes her interests.
APPEAL: 12 months + DEVELOPMENT: fine motor skills, cognitive
Some of the other favorite HAPE toys:
Hape Alphabet Abacus has been an invaluable alphabet teaching tool (along with some iPhone apps), her first words and letters came from this toy. She rarely uses it anymore since she has pretty much mastered the alphabet, but this has served us well.
Eggspressions– LOVE! What a great concept- egg faces that teach emotions. She loves it and often tries to find the sad and the mad guy and “make them feel better”. She is actually fascinated with those two emotions. She always looks so puzzled when someone around her is sad/crying and makes the same puzzled sad face when she finds her sad egg. These little buddies are one of the main reason she understands those emotions and we have been playing with them to for a while.
Qube Animals– really cute tiny animals ( non-chokable) that are perfect for little hands and sorting or putting in boxes and pretend play. They are also great to take with you on your travels since they are small. Again, we’ve been using them non-stop.
You’ve seen these around on my IG and random photos, as well but I’ve never actually written about them. Boblesis made by a Dutch company and is a super creative and fun play furniture for small and big kids. It’s made of EVA foam that has been tested for formamaide, so it’s completely safe. It’s truly such a universal toy because it can be used in a variety of ways: you can create obstacle courses, use it as table and chairs, practice your balancing skills on it- sky is the limit.
This is the kind of play furniture that will last through the years. 4 year olds that visited out house have loved it, older kids will find ways of testing their balance limits on and of course toddlers and crawlers love exploring it, too.
APPEAL: 6 months – 99 years DEVELOPMENT: physical, cognitive, creative, pretend play, etc
Green Toys are truly amazing! I find myself buying more and more toys from Green Toys. Besides making boy toys in girl colors, and girl toys in boy colors, their toys are just so unique in a way, yet simple and “common sense”. All toys are made in the USA from recycled plastic milk jugs, no BPA, no phthalates.
This was our first Green Toys love. The concept of a tea party immediately sunk in and became one of her favorite (and first) pretend play games. Again, I adore the style and the soft colors of the set, just like any other toy from this company. From the youngest age she would run around pretending to pour tea into a cup and then “drinking” from it.
By now it has developed into full blown pretend play with cooking, and pouring milk and stuffed toys (or daddy, whichever is closer). It does come with small spoons that I removed immediately since she kept them in her mouth while running around and probably won’t bring them back until the concept of “Don’t run with sticks in your mouth” gets through.
APPEAL: 12 months + DEVELOPMENT: fine motor skills, pretend play, social
This is the only traditional shape sorter we’ve ever had and it is brilliant in its simplicity. The shapes are really easy to grab even for the smallest babies who don’t have the greatest coordination, it opens easily to remove the shapes and it has huge aesthetic appeal to me. She still plays with it all the time and can now open it on her own. We have two sets- one of upstairs and one for downstairs, that’s how much she loves it.
APPEAL: 12-30 months DEVELOPMENT: fine motor skills, cognitive
This toolbox (comes in different colors) has fully “workable” screwdrivers, pliers, hammer, saw, bolts and holes , so the toy is self-contained . It’s the type of toy that keeps toddlers engaged for a while and lets them role play and pretend to be just like mommy and daddy.
Lexi loves to regularly grab a screwdriver or a hammer from her box and run to the wall pretending to fix it.
APPEAL: 12 months+ DEVELOPMENT: fine motor skills, cognitive
Other green toys we have and love:
Build-A-Bouquet – she uses these in her sand table and plants flower gardens.
Plane (bought for our first plane ride)
School bus (to help with the school bus fascination)
Oh I love this Play With Me table set. Aside from the beautiful natural finish ( it also comes in other colors), it’s so classy and realistic, as well as high quality. SOLID WOOD, baby, no particle board! We’ve been using it since before her birthday. It was the key piece at her birthday party as you can see in this video below.
I love that they thought of everything when designing this kid’s table: rounded corners (because kids can be so clumsy), so Lexi has never had an accident where she got hurt using it (which I can see being an issue with a square table). I absolutely adore the fact that they thought enough to include one chair for adults. Most kids enjoy playing with their parents rather than alone, so this has been really helpful since sitting on a kid size chair is almost impossible. The “adult” chair is exactly the same but without the back so you can distribute your weight evenly and not balance on the edge.
APPEAL: 12 month + DEVELOPMENT: pretend play, gross motor skills
This is a fun toy for every age. An Elmo character that laughs when you tickle him and make funny noises and then asks you to do it again. It’s always adorable to watch how kids respond to him and pretend to tickle him and laugh at the same time. Lexi has not really watched Sesame Street, but she knows who Elmo is and always points him out everywhere.
Recently we were given a Cookie Monster as a gift, with the same concept of interactive play where you put cookies in his mouth and he “eats” them and sings songs, as well as counts the cookies. Then you get to retrieve them from his backpack ( which is one of the best parts of the toy). Lexi adores the monster and sits there giving me him cookies over and over and over again. The first time she played with it, she sat in her car seat for 30 minutes on the way home playing with it non stop.
ABC TOUCH PAD from B KIDS
B kids tablet is a simplified version of a tablet perfect for the beginning stages of interest in such devices starting from about 6 months. As your baby gets closer to 18 months, she might or might not be more interested in the real version, but if you have kept all iPhones and iPads away from her, this will at least make her feel like she is playing with her own version of an adult toy. Even though Lexi has always had access to the media devices (if somewhat limited), this has presented enough interest to keep her occupied in the car when she is in the right mood. It plays ABCs, 123s and animal sounds depending on the setting, as well as some limited games. The ABC Touch Pad is probably best to be started from 6 months on, however since I never mentioned it in previous toy posts, I thought it was fun enough to include it here. She still plays with it from time to time and can figure out the settings and how to switch from games to abcs, so it does have some limited interest potential even for the older crowd.
APPEAL: 6 months -24 months DEVELOPMENT: fine motor skills, cognitive
And finally a video that spans a whole year: 12 months to 24 months. I remember doing a video of Lexi’s play when she was 6 months. Oh how things have changed. And will continue changing 🙂