Our Recommended Toys and Activities for Kids

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In no particular order, these are some of the toys we like to see in toy boxes for little ones.

1. Wooden Blocks

Toy box - blocks
Wooden Blocks

If there is one toy every parent absolutely must have, it should be the wooden blocks. Children can develop so many skills with a set of blocks; stacking, balance, and creativity are just a few. If you want to extend the learning, getting a set of dual purpose blocks can hit two birds with one stone. For example, the Alphabet/Number Blocks below can also teach alphabets and numbers, and “triples” as a pull-along toy.

Toy box - blocks
Building Blocks

Another benefit of blocks is that it can double up as props for make-believe activities. A set of coloured blocks like Melissa & Doug 100 Piece Wood Block Set could be used in pretend cooking. In a fruit salad, blue blocks could be blueberries, green blocks as kiwi fruit, red blocks for strawberries, and yellow blocks for bananas. As a soup, the blue blocks could be the water, green blocks as veggies, yellow blocks for eggs, and red blocks for meat.

2. Shape Sorter

Shape sorters are another staple toy for the toy box. If you want something that doubles up with another activity, a sorter like the Melissa & Doug Shape Sorting Clock is great as it can help teach numbers and introduce time.

Toy box - shape sorter
Shape Sorter

3. Stacking Toys

Toy box - nesting dolls
Nesting/Stacking Toys

Stacking toys are already covered in blocks, but something like the Fisher Price Stack and Roll Cups can double up for both “stacking” and “nesting doll” (see toy number four).

4. Nesting Dolls

Nesting dolls are one of the recommended toys for the toy box in Bright from the Start. The idea behind this is to help your child learn about sizes. If you do get a set of nesting dolls, please be aware that the smaller dolls can be potential choking hazards. A child should never be left unattended with nesting dolls.

5. Toy Kitchen

Toy kitchen sets are a really nice addition to the toy box regardless of whether you have a boy or a girl. If you’re conscious of the budget, you can get really creative with some old cardboard boxes. If you’re not inclined, there is plenty of ready-made options available.

Toy box - play sets
Play Kitchen

If you want to go simpler, a toy stove or simple cooking set with basic food items works just as well. You can also use the coloured bowls, plates, cups and cutlery from IKEA. These bowls and cups can double up as toys for water play. Children can practice pouring water from one receptacle to another without making too much of a mess. You can also let your child play with some old pots and pans. Just be sure that they are safe for your child to play with.

Toy Workbench

If your child is more of a handy-person, you can also go the toy workbench route. These are great because they also help children develop fine motor skills as they learn how to use the tools.

6. Musical Instruments

The best musical instruments to introduce to your child are the real ones. Understandably, this can be quite expensive so toy replicas can also work.

Toy box - instruments
Musical Instruments

Another alternative is to get basic instruments like a harmonicarecorder, or xylophone, or noise makers like a drummaracas, or bells to introduce your child to making music. If you are keen to introduce your child to the piano, a toy music keyboard can be a good place to start.

You can also make your own noise makers. Fill empty bottles with rice or beans and you have a set of maracas. Use empty tins as drums and beat them with a ruler or spoon. Pots and pans make a great drum kit, too.

7. Wooden Activity Cube

Toy box - activity box
Activity Box

These cubes usually come with a variety of activities. The bead maze is great for developing finger dexterity and fine motor skills which is important for self-feeding and writing later on.  The activity cube is probably not an essential item for the toy box, but it is a great way to get one toy with multiple activities on it. For instance, you can get a cube with an abacus, a clock, a shape sorter and a xylophone and you will have covered some of the toys on this list.

8. Wooden Train Set

Toy box - train set
Wooden Trains

There must be an undefinable quality about trains that has the ability to attract kids by the droves – not just the boys but little girls as well, otherwise Thomas the Tank Engine wouldn’t be such a famous little engine.

9. Dress Up Clothes

You don’t necessarily have to get store-bought costumes to make up a dress-up box. Blankets, scraps of fabric, and old clothes can be upcycled. These can also open the door to more open-ended, creative play as children decide what and how to dress up.

Toy box - dress up
Dress Up Clothes

See also: The Importance of Imaginative Play

You can also make your own DIY costumes. Here are some old ones we made for Book Week at school:

10. Lego


LEGO is one of the best toys for brain development. It can encourage creativity, help children to follow instructions, and develop visual-spatial skills. Younger children can start with Duplo and move on to Lego when they’re ready.

There are lots of Lego alternatives available now which are more affordable. In our experience, some of them are harder to fit together. This can be discouraging for younger children who may complain it hurts their hands.

See also: Benefits of playing with LEGO

11. Jigsaw Puzzles

Peg puzzles with single pieces or chunky wooden puzzles are great for introducing puzzles to little ones. These can progress to find the matching half and eventually to puzzles with more pieces.

More about the benefits of jigsaw puzzles:

12. Board Games


Board games are usually aimed at children slightly older children, but simple games like Candy Land can be introduced to children as young as 3 years. One of the biggest benefits of board games is that they teach children about following a set of rules. According to the Tools of the Mind program, this is beneficial for developing executive function, one of the best predictors for future success.

See also: The benefits of playing board games

13. Boxes, pillows and blankets

Like dressing up and the toy kitchen/workbench, these are great for free play. When my parents bought a new fridge, my brother, my cousins and I spent hours playing with the box. That box was a slide, it was a bus, it was a tunnel, and it was a well. It was the source of creative entertainment until it broke. Similarly, I’ve seen my kids create some pretty interesting play scenarios with pillows and blankets. Once, my son linked up our pillows and pretended they were trains. Another time, he piled up the pillows and blankets to make a slide. We’ve used the blankets for picnics, going camping, making hidey holes and cubby houses, too.

See also: Building a toy house from cereal boxes

14. Play Dough

Buy a set or make your own – play dough is great for encouraging creativity and fine motor skill development. As kids grow older, you can create things with air-dried clay.

15. Art Supplies

Keep an art box with paints, crayons, markers, stickers, glue, kid-safe scissors and all the other basic stationery items. Also keep old magazines to cut out and paste. It is a terrific way to help children learn basic skills required for school – cutting, pasting, writing and drawing. You can also help your child make birthday cards for family members and other significant people in their lives. Keep your child’s artwork – frame them up, make a scrapbook or stick them on the fridge. This is a great way to build your child’s self-esteem – as you value and show off their creations and accomplishments.

See also: The Benefits of Art on the Growing Child


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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