Here are just a few of the benefits of getting a play kitchen for your 2-year-old:
they’re good for hours of play
they’re used for years starting around age 2
they come with an endless supply of imaginary coffee, pancakes, and whatever else you’d like, ma’am
Play kitchens are so popular that many, many companies have created their own models. You have plenty to choose from.
Before you look through the full list of play kitchens at the bottom of this post, though, here are some pointers.
How to Choose a Play Kitchen
Size / Width
This thing is basically a piece of furniture. You wouldn’t buy a couch or a chair without measuring for it first, so do yourself a favor and measure for this — especially if you don’t have a lot of room to spare, or you expect it to fit in your kitchen area so your kid can play alongside you.
Most play kitchens are designed height-wise for a wide range of kids. Width is the bigger issue.
However, most of you are probably looking for a more traditional, sturdy play kitchen.
Solid wood is nice, of course, but a solid wood play kitchen typically costs over $300 — more than many of us are willing to spend. Plus, they can get pretty heavy, which is annoying if you plan to rotate it throughout your home.
The plastic play kitchens tend to come with more bells and whistles (light-up oven ranges, beeping microwaves), and are lower maintenance (typically pre-assembled and easy to move around).
However, I think it’s tough to beat the clean designs and the solid but lightweight build of the wooden particle-board play kitchens, which make up the majority of the play kitchens listed below.
Aesthetics and Design
Looking through some of these toys, I find myself wishing my own real-life kitchen looked as nice.
How much you’re willing to spend for a fancy, modern play kitchen probably depends on where you plan to put it.
Keep in mind that rotating toys’ locations is one of the best ways to renew your kids’ interest in them, so even if the kitchen will start out in your play room, you might eventually move it into their bedroom or the dining room.
Most play kitchens are designed to be stationed against a wall, but others are designed to be placed in a corner. Some are even designed to let kids make use of both sides of the kitchen, front and back, which is the best use of space.
Some of these play kitchens come pre-assembled, and others come in a box with a bunch of small parts that you have to put together yourself.
Generally, play kitchens come with choking hazard / small parts warnings, either because small parts could break off under stress or because the pre-assembled parts could be choked on.
You have to be careful. I almost didn’t even include play kitchens on this site because they essentially all come with choking hazard labels. However, I couldn’t just ignore them because parents are clearly still buying them for 2-year-olds and 2-year-olds love them — I see plenty of Amazon reviews confirming this.
Other than small parts, I’ve noticed that the heavier wooden models can pinch little fingers in cabinets. I’m also sure it’s quite possible for a little one trying to scale one of these heavy kitchens to pull it over onto themselves, so keep that in mind as you choose. Anchor any heavy, tippable play kitchen to the wall, just like you would do with furniture.
Accessories and Features
Some play kitchens come with a bunch of pretend food and cooking utensils. For others, you’ll have to purchase them separately.
I’ve found that kids will happily make lots completely imaginary food once they have the kitchen and perhaps a few plates, so don’t let a lack of accessories influence you too much. Play food or kitchen accessories make great gifts from other family members or friends who are looking for easy, smallish gift ideas.
As you’ll see below, some kitchens really go for it with a fridge, stove, microwave, sink, and storage, and other keep it simpler with just one or two of those items.
Keep an eye out for storage within the kitchen for the accessories you’ll probably end up with.
Where to Buy a Play Kitchen
It’s not difficult to find play kitchens secondhand.
If you have a kids’ resale shop nearby, check it out. I think plastic kitchens are especially easy to clean up and disinfect because you can hose them off.
Craigslist is also a great place to check for play kitchens if you’re cool with that and stay safe.
Otherwise, you can of course pick one up at your local toy store or order one on Amazon, which is where I link to throughout this article because I’m part of their affiliate program. (That means I get a small commission if you buy anything as a result of seeing it here.)
Kitchen Stove and Sink Combo
Requires 3 AA batteries. Working oven timer with alarm.
! Includes clear, acrylic panels in the oven and microwave, turning stove knobs, and built-in egg compartment in the refrigerator.
Town and Country Combo Kitchen
Monaco Combo Kitchen
chrome faucet, dials that click and turn, a steel sink and modern metal handles.
Wooden Deluxe Kitchen
Marketed as "safe." Reviews say it took a long time to assemble this one.
ECR for Kids
4-in-1 kitchen features a stove and sink and a refrigerator and cupboard with storage shelves
Sink features water knob, turn faucet and storage shelves; stove has 4 burners, 6 movable knobs, acrylic window and interior shelf
Servin' Surprises Kitchen and Table
Recognizes every Servin' Surprises food item and responds with appropriate phrases, sound effects and songs
Oven slides off and stovetop flips to convert into an activity table
Center of table also provides storage for easy clean up
Comes with magical serving tray, pizza, cookies and service for 2
My Creative Cookery
comes with cooking sets and wood toy food
Rotating knobs and oven storage
3 and up
Cook and Serve Kitchen
Includes turning knobs and chalkboard
NYBAKAD Play Kitchen
Ikea Duktig Mini-kitchen
Comments said that this is at IKEA for $99
Toddler 2-in-1 Kitchen
Uptown Play Kitchen
3 and up
Gracie Play Kitchen
Compactly folds up for easy storage
Includes 32 kitchen accessories
CHOKING HAZARD. Top critical review warned of small washers coming off easily.
Retro Kitchen and Refrigerator
Vintage Play Kitchen
Choking Hazard - Small parts
Grand Corner Kitchen
Large Play Kitchen with Lights and Sounds
Play and Store Kitchen Playset
Cook n Learn Smart Kitchen
Super Chef Kitchen
Clicker knob above oven door. Burner has electronic cooking sounds. Chrome look towel rail
Refrigerator door opens, room inside to store food. Feet under base add height.
Includes: 1 Coffee Pot, 2 Plates, 2 Cups, 2 Forks, 2 Knives, 2 Spoons, 1 Frying Pan and 1 Phone
Ultimate Cook Kitchen
Electronic cooking sounds on stove top and sink; Cappuccino maker for modern play. 38 pieces
Melissa and Doug
Features refrigerator, cook top, oven, removeable sink, a working timer, and more
Melissa and Doug
Deluxe Pretend Play Set
Melissa and Doug
Chef's Kitchen Pretend Play Set
also comes in pink
Naomi Home Kids
Gourmet Kitchen Set
Sink and Fridge
Country Cottage Wooden Playset
Best Chef's Kitchen
inner cubbies: 9x4x6"
Elegant Edge Kitchen Playset
Contemporary Chef Kitchen
Lifestyle Deluxe Kitchen
Dream Kitchen Playset
Includes small 3-piece train set
Grand Walk-In Kitchen and Grill
Includes a 103-piece accessory set
has 3 realistic electronic features: grill, stove top, and phone
Its large sink with faucet, custom appliances, and "stainless steel" refrigerator enhance role play
Attached dining area
Valuable storage areas throughout
Classic Play Kitchen
Pink Play Kitchen
Little Chef Wooden Play Kitchen
Retro Wooden Play Kitchen
Dollhouse and Kitchen Double Side Playset
One side is a kitchen, and the other side is a dollhouse. Simulated Fire Switch with Stoves. All Pull-out Storage Boxes and Cabinets
Wood Cooking Pretend Play Set
Pull-out Storage Shelves and Cabinets. 3 Holes for Ventilation and Moisture-proofed.There is also a microwave with stick on numbers and timer to provide the illusion that an item is really being heated up. Keep track of play time with the clock above the kitchen set and be sure to store some Knick Nacks or flower plants above in the wooden space that is meant for extra storage or decorating.
Until my son was 3, he mostly wore hand-me-down or gifted shoes that I happened to luck into. But after months of waffling over the price tag, I finally bought him some shoes made by the company Plae — these, to be specific.
Perhaps you’d like to know why a mom who rarely buys new or full-priced apparel for her kids (or herself, for that matter) will now happily drop $60+ on these shoes each time her son outgrows a pair.
Well, I’ll tell ya.
Let’s get this out of the way first: I did not get any money, deals or shoes in exchange for this post, but it does contain Amazon affiliate links.
1. Kids’ shoes should help kids move.
If you — a grown up — wanted to go on a long run or take an arduous hike, you’d make sure to wear comfortable and appropriate shoes.
Well, a young child is almost constantly doing the equivalent of jogging, parkour, or hiking the Appalachian Trail.
I understand now that appropriate footwear really makes a difference for kids. Here’s what I noticed after investing in better kids shoes:
The first time my barely-3-year-old hit the playground with his new Plae shoes, I was shocked when he walked — nay, RAN — right up the slide with no problem. That task had been oft-attempted and seemed impossible in his old boots. That contrast alone convinced me that I should have gotten him better footwear sooner.
If you can’t easily bend a kid’s shoe using your two hands, it’s not a good sign. My kid never tripped and fell as much as he did wearing pair of cheap, stiff backup sneakers. Plae shoes are as super light and flexible without sacrificing sturdiness.
It’s such a bummer to see a small child struggle to run because their shoes keep flying off. I think parents opt for slip-on styles because we like the independence they give kids. Well, it turns out that we don’t have to sacrifice fit for independence. Hear me out:
2. Kids shoes should be easy for kids to put on.
Plae shoes open up wide when they’re unstrapped. That means your little one can easily shove his own foot inside and secure the Velcro straps himself.
This seems like such a simple, essential feature for a child’s shoe. However, it’s widely ignored by manufacturers.
Most of the shoes my son has tried in stores look deceptively simple to put on, but actually require a lot of help from an adult (me).
Don’t discount the value of your child being able to put shoes on himself. The process of getting a toddler or preschooler out the door is hard enough without the part where you physically bend over and cram their feet into their shoes.
Frankly, I’d say it’s worth the extra $5/month or so that the Plae shoes cost over typically-priced counterparts.
Plus, your “big girl” or boy will be proud of their independence in the shoe department.
2.1 Wearability includes helping with which shoe goes on which foot.
Why don’t other little kids’ shoes make it easier for kids to figure this out?
I’m guessing it’s because most companies’ children’s shoes are just smaller replicas of their adult shoes — and they sell plenty by coasting on brand recognition without making them any more kid-friendly.
But companies like Plae are getting it right. The inner corners of all Plae shoes are slightly covered with hard rubber, and the stitching makes a U — or, as I told my son, a “smile” — when the shoes are on the correct feet.
He hasn’t put them on the wrong feet since I mentioned that. Just one less thing for us parents to deal with.
3. Kids’ shoes should be designed to get wet and dirty.
Small children will always love puddles and mud. It stresses everyone out when we have to worry that their shoes won’t recover from all the splashing and squishing.
Some Plae styles are actually designed to be put in the washing machine. These styles can get soaking wet and will be fine the next day as long as you take out the inserts and leave the shoes on a floor vent overnight.
Plus, because you can put them in the washing machine, you won’t get stuck with a lingering odor if they stay wet for a while or tend to be worn without socks.
And the sneakers CAN be worn without socks relatively comfortably. For me, that’s another big win, because I never seem to have clean children’s socks on hand even though they’re somehow also all over my floor.
Quality shoes are usually worth the price.
I know a lot of people who think it’s crazy to spend so much on a kid’s shoe.
However, another perk of high quality shoes is that they will survive one kid to be used by the next one.
They won’t be in perfect condition (washing them, in particular, leaves them looking a bit shabbier), and they might not have all their tread, but they’ll be around to help another kid run up a bunch of slides.
I think there are lots of gender-neutral styles, too, which makes them easier to re-use. You can even switch out the tabs to suit the next kid — Plae sells tab sets independently of the shoes.
Plae shoes probably aren’t the only brand that helps kids move, is easy for them to put on, and is designed to get wet and dirty, They’re the ones I happened to find and am happy with. If you know of another brand that fits this criteria, do me a favor and leave a comment below.
Here are a few Plae styles to check out if you’re interested. There are lots of color options for each style — click through to see them on Amazon.
If a product is intended for kids under age 3, it’s not allowed to have any parts that can fit into a cylinder 2.25 inches long by 1.25 inches wide. The cylinder is meant to be about the same size as the throat of a child under age 3. Here’s what it looks like — you can even buy one to use at home.
This rule may apply to the entire product, a piece of the product, or even a piece of the product when it’s broken. Manufacturers are supposed to run the product through a bunch of tests that replicate the “normal use and abuse” of children under age 3. If a piece breaks off during those tests, it could count as a small part.
Products intended for kids age 3-6 are allowed to have small parts, but they are required to be labeled with the choking hazard warnings we see so often.
The Gray Area
Seems simple, right? No one wants people to be allowed to sell marbles to 1-year-olds.
But because I blog solely about toys for the kids who are the most likely to be interested in toys geared for 3+ without being 3+, I’ve noticed a gray area when it comes to these warnings.
Over time, I’ve noticed toys without warnings that seemed extremely similar to toys WITH warnings. My suspicions that these products should have warnings were sometimes confirmed by product reviews that reported small parts being produced.
In another example from my own experience, this Thomas Wooden Railway Expansion pack has no “small parts” warning on Amazon or its official Fisher Price web page (although they do state that it’s intended for ages 3+). However, I noticed a warning on the packaging once it was delivered.
Toy stores may have their own policies about which toys they’ll stock, and consumers can report unsafe products and sue companies if things go wrong. Otherwise, the warnings posted are at the seller’s discretion — no government official is actively enforcing this labeling.
There’s some variation in how easily toys break.
Logic follows that some companies will be more conservative than others with their testing and warnings.
After all, some toys will break much more easily than others. In the case of the toy vacuum sweeper I mentioned above, I’m not sure how a 2-year-old could smash it in such a way to expose the tiny parts inside. It must have failed the small parts test somehow, but I felt like I would notice if my 2-year-old did enough damage to create one.
Same with these garden tools. They’ve seen a lot of abuse since my son got them for his first birthday. Three years later, the screws aren’t loose at all. That doesn’t mean they won’t ever come off, but it shows the variety in how toys are labeled.
Kids develop at different rates.
Some kids are way over “mouthing” by the time they’re 3. Others may not be. Age 3 is more of an estimate to let parents know when they can relax a little about these things, but you know best whether your kid is likely to want to put small things in their mouth. Err on the side of caution, of course.
Some toys are only dangerous when pre-assembled.
Some toys, such this toy kitchen, come disassembled and with bags of screws and knobs that are definitely choking hazards. If they’re put together correctly, those hazards may be reduced significantly if not completely. Manufacturers seem to still list the risk, though — sometimes adding a message like “adult assembly required.”
It’s frustrating that labels aren’t more specific about which part of the toy is hazardous or why it got the label.
Warnings Won’t Keep Your Kid Safe
Here’s the deal. Parents have to constantly watch their toddlers to make sure they don’t choke on anything, period.
Even without small parts from toys, we have to contend with potentially deadly coins, balloon fragments, cell batteries, and food (hot dogs, grapes, carrots, etc). My 1-year-old has to be repeatedly dragged away from a patch of very appetizing gravel whenever we’re in our backyard.
Not to mention that choking is just one of the many dangers we have to worry about — as you know, most tots would happily walk right off a cliff if we’re not vigilant.
It’s our job to keep tiny things out of our kids’ mouths, wherever they come from. Parenting — fun times, right?
I do my best to recommend the safest toys, but I can never guarantee complete safety.
I’ll leave you with this short, helpful video about how to save a choking baby. Godspeed!
Every year around Christmas I come across one of these blog posts by parents begging for an end to the toy madness.
They have all the toys, they say. Please, make it stop. If you must give the kid something, the kid has a college fund.
I feel these parents’ pain acutely.
But I’m not sure the solution is to ask for museum memberships or ballet lessons instead, as many have suggested. Here’s why:
1. It’s not about what the parents want. Sure, the parents are in charge. But the gift is for the little kid, and what THEY would rather have for a gift is a cool new THING, for better or worse. And the potential look of excitement on a kid’s face when they open a toy often beats any parental complaints about clutter and space, especially for your close family members. Good luck changing their minds. Plus, giving a 3-year-old a card that says “hey, happy birthday, I put $15 in your college fund” is kind of a buzzkill. Waaaaay less exciting than a $15 toy truck, regardless of the immense collection of toy trucks already sitting in his bedroom.
2. Cultural norms are tough to change. Unwrapping gifts in shiny paper has become a big part of American tradition. It takes a lot of energy to change the way things have been done our whole lives. Buying an inexpensive toy at the grocery store for an upcoming kids’ party is way more convenient and socially acceptable right now than any alternatives, even for those of us who agree that kids generally have way too many toys — and that glut of toys wastes money and creates a sea of plastic garbage.
We don’t have to go cold turkey on giving physical gifts to take a step in the right direction toward slowing down the endless flow of toys into our homes.
There are plenty of things that are fun to open up on a birthday or Christmas that aren’t toys. Many of these are things parents might actually want to buy for their kids anyway.
This list is full of affiliate links for Amazon’s afilliate program. that means that if you click on one of the products and buy something as a result, I could get a small commission at no cost to you.
Snow boots or rain boots. Many toddlers actually like trying on boots and using them to pretend. My son calls them his "work boots." Unlike other shoes, small children can often pull these boots on themselves, and it's exciting to get them out when it rains or snows. Toddlers like to do things that get them extremely wet and muddy, so any backup shoes should be appreciated by parents, who might not have a many extra pairs because kids' shoes are surprisingly expensive. Everyone wins with this gift.
An umbrella or rain coat. Yes, a 2-year-old is somewhat likely to poke someone's eye out if given sole control of an umbrella. But under supervision, an umbrella is a great tool that they can use through childhood. They'll feel like a big kid having their own. We received a rain coat as a birthday gift from a friend for a birthday and we really use it a lot. It's one of those things that a parent might not have gotten around to buying yet in their kid's size, but suddenly when it's raining, it comes in handy.
Mini home improvement tools. These are nice for a few reasons. 1. They don't get shoved in the mix with the rest of the toys -- they tend to stay in the garage or shed or toolbox with the grown-up tools and come out only when the grown ups are raking leaves, shoveling snow, etc. 2. They're used for a long time and can even be used by parents in a pinch. I've definitely grabbed my kid's shovel to do some gardening when it was more convenient. Again, some of these definitely require supervision for a toddler -- but I still think it's a great gift.
A helmet. This age is when I started considering getting my kid a balance bike, which technically requires a helmet. A helmet can be exciting for a kid to open, especially if you explain that it's a "racing helmet," and especially if it has cool designs -- and plenty of the helmet designs these days are pret-ty cool.
Sunglasses. These are also something that parents already have to buy. In fact, they often have to buy them multiple times because they're easy to lose. Plus, sunglasses on a little kid are adorable. The Ninja Turtle sunglasses my son got for his first birthday were one of the most useful and most photographed gifts my toddler ever got.
Swimming stuff. Bathing suits are cute, fun, and less gifted than other clothing types. They're also usually needed by parents, who could use a backup suit even if they already have one. The parents of your kid might also need to buy a puddle jumper like the one shown here (a very popular flotation device designed for little kids) or a life jacket. Check with them beforehand or just keep the gift receipt.
A fun bath towel. This is one of those things I always forget to ask for when it comes to gifts and end up buying them myself. I think people often get a cute hooded baby towel on their baby registry, but once that baby becomes a toddler they need to upsize. Even if they already have one cute bath towel, having an alternate one keeps things interesting when the first one is in the laundry. Animal-shaped towels: putting the "fun" in functional.
Bedsheets or bedding. Maybe you've heard that toddlers pee their pants at night sometimes. Well, the rumors are true. And if other parents are like me, they won't turn down an extra set of sheets, or even an extra comforter / quilt. My son got a set of Peanuts sheets from his grandparents for his third birthday and it's a nice addition to his room. The characters make something boring (a pillowcase) into something fun. Also, at some point during their toddler years, kids transition from a crib to a twin bed, at which point parents often have to buy a whole new bed, complete with a mattress cover and pillow and pillow cover. If your timing is right, you could swoop in and take care of the fun part of the equation for the kid, which is the bedding. May want to check with the kid's parents first, though, because bedding is kind of personal.
Yoga mat - Not every family is into yoga, but my kid would be thrilled to have his own mat. My husband and I each have one so there's usually an extra adult one for him to use, but I know he'd love his own. If the kid you're buying for isn't from a yoga-at-home family, consider something else parents do at home that the kid would want to to join -- perhaps a little apron for the child of a baking enthusiast or little work goggles for the child of a woodworker. There are even make dumbbells for kids who might want to work out with their parents. Cute stuff, you guys. And none of it adds to the toy pile.
A potty or a potty toy. When I had to start potty training my son, I went out and bought a potty, a potty seat for travel, a sticker chart, a few children's books on the topic, and of course a bunch of new underwear. I was pretty surprised at how much money I spent. So ... if someone were to incorporate some of these fun items into their birthday or Christmas, I would have been secretly rejoicing. This stuff is personal, but if you know that the kid you're buying for is on the verge of potty training, ask their parents. A toddler might be pretty pumped to open some big boy / big girl undies or even a big boy / big girl potty.
A water bottle. This is small gift compared to some of the other ones listed, but it's still fun and useful. As with many of the other gifts mentioned here, kids like to have their own versions of what their parents have, especially if you can get one with their favorite characters. Again, even if parents already have kids' water bottle, they would probably like to have a few more. These get a spot in the cupboard and not at the bottom of the toy box.
A new clock. As I mentioned in my post about Milestone Toys for 2-year-olds, the transition out of the crib that most families deal with at this stage often comes with discussions about when it's OK for them to get out of bed and subsequent discussions about how time works. This is a nice time to get them a clock if they don't have one. If you want to get fancy, there are clocks designed specifically for this purpose, like the one shown left.
Waterproof gloves for the snow. These things are usually on the must-buy list for parents in colder climates, as they're very necessary for any toddler who wants to play in the snow without freezing their tiny fingers off. These may not exactly be thrilling to open on the kids' part, but you can easily pair it up with a plastic disc sled for a bigger fanfare. They'll think of you each time it snows.
Socks or slippers. My own kid wouldn't keep these on no matter how freezing our floor was, but I don't think everyone is the same. Despite getting an lots of cute clothes outfits from friends and relatives over his 3 years on this earth, I've always had to buy slippers and socks on my own. Break the mold and buy buy that toddler in your life these Cookie Monster slippers instead of yet another Cookie Monster stuffed animal.
Note: I didn't bother listing them here, but of course clothes and books are the first go-to alternatives to toys as gifts. Clothes and books are nice because they take up less room and tend to get more mileage than toys. I didn't list them because most middle class American parents find themselves flush with both of these things, too, and I'm trying to give you a few outside-the-box ideas.
Finally, feel free to disregard this list. We parents are just happy that you’re involved enough in our lives that you want to buy our kids anything, whether that’s one of the things on this list, a museum membership, or yes, even a giant plastic toy.
Clutter makes you feel like your life is out of control. And toys seem to create clutter more than anything else in a home with kids.
If you’re like me, you’ve been desperate enough to start fantasizing about throwing most of your kid’s toys in the trash.
The urge to purge isn’t necessarily a bad one. But there might be — ahem — a “more thoughtful” approach to your toy deluge.
I wanted a better system for my small kids’ toys, and the one I eventually came up with has saved me a lot of sanity since. Taking even one of these steps might make a big difference in the toy clutter problem in your home.
1. Be intentional about play spaces.
Jot down a few guidelines about where and how you’d like your kids to play at home. Which types of activities do you want to encourage in each space? Don’t overthink it.
Here’s what I came up with:
The basement is best for loud and crazy play.
The living room is ideal for quiet, thoughtful play.
The kids’ bedroom is mostly for bedtime stories and sleeping.
The rest of the house is not necessarily off limits for play, but there shouldn’t be toys in these rooms regularly.
2. Limit toy storage locations.
I was inspired by the Konmari Method (affiliate link) to make sure I had a designated “home” for each of my son’s types of toys.
After a quick assessment, I realized that I had toys stored in almost EVERY room. And the toys didn’t so much have specific homes as they were thrown into the nearest bin.
I thought all those bins were making it easier for me to clean up the stray toys that ended up all over the house. In reality, they were a CAUSE of the toys being all over the house.
Keeping my play spaces in mind, I decided to limit the toy storage locations to just a few:
the living room bookshelf
an upstairs bedroom closet for hiding toys that are “on vacation” or “on probation”
Exceptions: bath toys in the bathroom and outdoor toys (bikes, soccer balls, etc.) in the garage
3. List toy types and take inventory.
Making a list of what you have is the best way to figure out how your toys should be organized — and which types might be getting out of control.
Here’s what I eventually came up with for my list:
Stuffed animals – Despite my only ever having purchased two of these, my son has about 40 (which I only realized after I put them all in one place).
Vehicle sets – My son has a few dozen Hotwheels cars with tracks, a wooden train set, a VTech Go Go Wheels set, and a “Magic Tracks” car set.
Large vehicles – We have acquired a huge school bus, fire truck, and plenty of large construction trucks and diggers.
Other vehicles – This includes vehicles that don’t belong to a set and aren’t particularly large.
Blocks – Including wooden blocks, magnet blocks, Duplos, Mega Blocks, and Wedge-Its.
Puzzles and Stacking Toys – We have several of each.
Books – These aren’t toys, but they still need a designated home.
Art Supplies – Same as books.
Games – We just have a few.
Imaginative toys – These include things like a doctor kit, a superhero cape, a police officer hats, binoculars, play food and play kitchen stuff.
Tiny toys – These include things like happy meal toys, small balls and spinning tops.
Big toys – My son has a tent, tunnel, inflatable ball pit, big exercise ball, a huge floor foam puzzle, a basketball hoop and a ride-on airplane.
Active toys – These include the ubiquitous plastic bouncy balls from the grocery store, a mini golf set, a Bilibo, and a soft baseball bat, among other things.
3.5 – Eliminate if necessary
Seeing all your toys written down — and noticing how many are extremely similar — might leave your jaw on the floor. This could be a good time to start paring down.
I always struggle with this. It’s way easier to get rid of my own things than it is to get rid of my kids’ — it doesn’t feel like my decision to make, technically. And toddlers aren’t old enough to grasp the charitable concept of giving toys away.
My solution is to put certain toys that I don’t love “on probation” up in the storage area marked with the date. If my son doesn’t ask for it for several months, I can usually move it along guilt-free.
Don’t waste too much energy trying to figure out whether to keep things at this point. As David Allen says in the book “Getting Things Done” (affiliate link), you can adopt the “when in doubt, throw it out” mantra or the “when in doubt, keep it” mantra. Either one works — the key is to move through quickly so you don’t get frustrated and abandon your organizing.
4. Match the toy types to their new “homes.”
Once your toys are grouped and possibly slimmed down, decide which storage location each toy group belongs in. Keep these characteristics in mind:
Requires adult supervision. These need to be in a location that has out-of-reach storage.
Messy or has many pieces. If it’s annoying to clean up, it needs to go somewhere kids can’t grab it without permission — and possibly where the pieces won’t get spread out too far as it’s being played with. (This step is more for families with toddlers. Bigger kids are able to follow rules about putting toys back or at least not dumping them out.)
Loud or annoying. These go as far from the grown ups as possible.
Encourage active play. If a toy encourages the child to throw, run or bounce, don’t store it in an area where playing with it could do damage.
Encourages quiet or independent play. These are more likely to be used in a space that makes it easy for kids to concentrate.
Requires a group. These might be better stored in an area where people tend to congregate.
Ugly. Save the more visible storage for the best-looking toys.
Here’s what I came up with:
Books (No more stacks downstairs)
Living Room Shelf
Puzzles and Stacking Toys
Imaginative toys (in a bin on the only shelf in the basement)
Tiny toys (in a tupperware container out of reach on the same shelf)
5. Make a few “toy rules.”
As you put the grouped toys in their new homes, you may find yourself out of room and wondering whether it’s really necessary to make all the toys available at once.
Use your feelings to make a few rules about toy availability.
Here were the ones I came up with.
Only 5 Stuffed Animals Out at Once. The rest go out of sight in up the closet and are switched out occasionally.
Only 1 “Small Parts” Activity Available at a Time, Preferably on the Train Table – Building sets, vehicle sets and miniatures are fun and have a lot of educational value, but they are also the most annoying to clean up and keep together. He only needs to have one or maybe two out at a time.
10 Vehicle Max – My son loves each of his many random cars, trucks, airplanes and other vehicles. Instead of getting rid of them, I let him keep 10 out at a time in a bin on the bookshelf. The rest go up in the closet until I need to keep him entertained.
Ongoing: Keep it Fresh
After I took these steps, I was thrilled with how many areas of my house stayed toy-free or got way easier to de-clutter.
I wasn’t finding puzzle pieces in far flung corners of the basement or stacking toy parts under my kid’s bed anymore.
The toys that I started rotating got more attention than they ever had, and I always knew where to find the toys he asked for.
Even when things got messy — like after his friends came over to play — it wasn’t as stressful because I knew exactly how to put the toys back.
And we all lived happily ever after.
Just kidding. I’ve had to keep refining my methods. Here’s what I learned:
Toy organization is not a one-time task. Kids grow, siblings are born, interests change. And most importantly, the tide of toys continues to wash in. Post-birthdays and post-holidays are good times to re-evaluate your toy situation. Save your toy organization notes so you can easily update them later.
Make sure other caregivers are on board with toy rules. It only takes a few times for grandparents, babysitters and even spouses to start putting things where they don’t belong for your system to unravel. Get them on board right away.
Keep it simple. If you find yourself or your family ignoring toy rules, your system might be too complicated. Concentrate on the toys or areas of the house that cause the most problems. Even just doing this is better than throwing up your hands and resigning yourself to live in Clutterville.
My son has hated sleeping from the day he was born, when we both cried streams of exhausted tears in the hospital room for hours.
As he entered toddlerhood, my #1 priority each morning was to exhaust him physically. Otherwise, his chances of an afternoon nap would be nil.
Then, when his defiant phase started around 2 and a half, bedtime struggles often became what could only be described as “epic.”
If you’re a fellow parent of a sleep-hating toddler, you might be sick of hearing everyone’s proven tactics.
It’s annoying to read all the sleep books and blogs and continue to #sleepfail. It’s also nearly impossible to completely arrange your life around the all-hailed sleep routine that’s supposed to solve everything.
However, hear me out: The most helpful tool in my naptime arsenal when my son was 2 and 3 ended up being a popular $15 toy that you might already have.
It’s this bright green plush dog. Or this purple dog, if you prefer. (These images contain affiliate links.)
Meet “Scout” and “Violet”
Meet “Scout” and “Violet,” the ubiquitous, modern-day American teddy bears.
Scout came into our lives as a gift from my aunt for my son’s first birthday.
I went online and programmed Scout to say my son’s name, sing his favorite songs, and insert his favorite foods and colors into various phrases. Cute.
My son had an intermittent interest in Scout for a while. He was never very into stuffed animals, but he did love when Scout played “Jingle Bells,” which I had chosen from a long list of available songs.
However, the best feature on this toy, in my opinion, is the lullaby mode.
Hacking Lullaby Mode
When you squeeze Scout’s right foot, you choose an interval of “bedtime music.” Scout also announces what’s about to happen. “Five minutes of bedtime music! Goodnight, Ferdinand.*”
Well, one afternoon at naptime I had the bright stroke of insight to incorporate Scout’s lullaby mode into my nap strategy.
I recalled the Ferber method, in which you leave the child’s room briefly, then return to check in, then leave for longer and longer intervals until the child goes to sleep on his own.
I had tried this with my son when he was younger, and it had only resulted in louder and more panicked screaming with each interval until we were both traumatized. However, now he was older — and I had a soft, music-playing buddy to partner up with — I figured I’d try a variation.
I told my son he only had to stay in bed for two minutes of Scout’s bedtime music. I’d come back in when the music stopped.
It worked. I came back in. He was awake, but he had stayed in bed quietly.
I then upped the limit to 5 minutes of bedtime music. “Five minutes of bedtime music! Snuggle up, Ferdinand.*”
Success! With Some Caveats
My son liked the process, had more interest in the toy than he ever had before, and blessedly went to sleep during one of the 10 minute intervals.
The technique has worked pretty well on and off ever since. When it was more novel it was more effective. At some points he would even ask for a 10 minute intervals and get annoyed when I came back in before the music ended.
Here’s a big caveat, though: I must have an old version of this toy (purchased circa 2013) because our lullaby mode switches between 2, 5 and 10 minutes, but it looks like the newer model offers 5, 10 and 15 minutes.
It might not seem like a big deal, but I really relied on the super-short 2-minute interval to assure my kid that I would, indeed, come back reliably. It’s tough to get a 2-year-old to wait a whole 5 minutes alone in his room right away if he’s hell-bent on staying awake.
That said, there are probably other toys or even apps that you could use to do something similar. If you know of any, please let me know.
I still often use Scout’s lullaby mode now that my son is almost 4. I’ve never gone online to update his preferences, so Scout still thinks my son loves bananas.
Wooden train sets are classic toys that last and are loved for years.
Most have a suggested age of 3 and up, either because of choking hazards, or because they’re considered too tricky for a 2-year-old to navigate alone.
2-year-olds also really like to throw, dump and destroy just for kicks — not a great fit for expensive wooden toys.
However, from all the reviews I’ve heard from friends and read online, wooden train sets and tables are a big hit with 2-year-olds.
They can even ultimately reach all-time-favorite toy status over the years.
Because of that, I couldn’t resist adding train sets as a suggestion for this age.
How to Choose a Train Set
Here are the major factors that go into choo-choosing a train set. (Sorry.)
Buy a bundle or buy individually – Some people want a train table that comes with an entire set of tracks, trains and accessories. Others ease into it with a starter set that has a few engines and a simple circle track. You can even go smaller and just buy a few individual engines, which can get pricey at up to $15 each. The all-in-one deals seem simpler and are usually more affordable overall, but if you’re looking for an heirloom quality set, you might opt to build a collection over time. If you definitely want to buy a train table, check out my full train table post.
Faces or no faces – Some kids love the characters of Thomas or Chuggington. Other kids (or their parents) prefer the look of a non-anthropomorphized train, or don’t want to commit their toddler to a certain TV character. I’ve seen it argued that the faces encourage more imaginative play and storylines, but my own 2-year-old had no problem creating personalities for any vehicle, face or not. It comes down to personal preference and budget. (The branded characters typically cost more).
Expansiveness – If you think you’ll be in the train phase for the long haul and want to build a big collection within the same brand, some companies definitely have more options. That said, most of the wooden train tracks out there are compatible with one another, and plenty of other companies provide universal tracks and connectors if you end up with multiple types. Problems with incompatibility are mostly caused by trains being too large for tunnels or not taking curves or hills as well as the same-brand trains.
Small Parts – Sure, all of these sets have small-ish parts. But only some of them have parts so narrow that they could potentially be choked on by a toddler. Click here to read more about choking hazard warnings. Even if your own kid is old enough, you might have to deal with little siblings or buddies’ little siblings later at some point.
The Best Train Sets for 2-Year-Olds
Below are the best brands of train sets appropriate for kids as early as age 2.
Many companies offer starter sets geared toward younger toddlers, and I tried to stick to those in the list below.
2-year-olds certainly won’t be constructing a masterful track landscapes of loops, bridges and intersections without their parents’ help.
However, once your tot gets to be 3 or so, the simple loops and figure 8s won’t hold their attention for long. If they’re almost 3 now or you think your 2-year-old can handle something more complicated, there are lots of other options available for each brand listed.
I’m a member of Amazon.com’s affiliate program, I may get a small commission if you buy something as a result of seeing it here.
Brio has been in the toy business since 1884. Their classic wooden trains are of the highest quality. They pride themselves as being one of the most expansive sets available, with dozens of themed options (newer sets include a sawmill, a circus train, a horse farm and a fire station) that are all compatible. Brio states clearly on their web site that all of their wooden railway sets are “sibling safe” and free of choking hazards.
My First Railway Starter Pack, $50
Brio My First Railway Beginner Pack Train Set
This set features a rainbow bridge and a colorful engine and train car. It was designed for 18 months and up but is compatible with all other Brio trains.
Brio Railway Starter Pack, $30
Brio My First Railway Starter Pack
Here's a simple starter pack with a semi-circle track, a tunnel, an engine and a caboose.
Brio Classic Figure 8 Set, $34
Brio Classic Figure 8 Set
This set includes a figure eight track, a station, a few trees, a special "crossing track" and a 3-car train. Suggested age is 2+.
Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway (Fisher Price)
These train sets are based on the decades-running show Thomas and Friends, which remains insanely popular with toddlers. The Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway set is high quality and well-reviewed, and is priced accordingly.
Thomas and Friends wooden Railway Starter Set, $30
Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway Starter Set
This set sticks to the basics, with a simple loop track and the most popular engines: Thomas and Percy. Also includes a caboose for Thomas and Percy to pull around.
Thomas the Train Wooden Railway Figure 8 Set with Coal Hopper, $30
Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway Starter Set
This set includes a figure 8 of track with a bridge, a Thomas engine and a coal car, and removeable "coal" cargo that drops from the hopper.
James Engine from Thomas Wooden Railway, $14
Thomas Wooden Railway Trains
Because these character-based trains are on the pricey end, one or two engines can make a great gift on their own. For a few dollars more, you can buy a battery powered engine like this one.
Melissa and Doug
This American company started out specializing in wooden puzzles, and now makes a wide range of toys (mostly wooden), including a wooden railroad set. The expansion options are much more limited than Brio or Thomas & Friends, but it’s a nice, affordable set.
Melissa and Doug Figure 8 Play Set, $21
Melissa and Doug Figure 8 Play Set
This starter set includes a figure 8 of track, a red engine and "coal tender" car, a bridge and a buffer.
Melissa and Doug Deluxe Train Set, $66
Melissa and Doug Deluxe Train Set
If you want to go bigger, this popular set includes 100 wooden track parts and more than 30 accessories, including a roundhouse, a turntable and a crane. Also comes with a six-piece train with cargo, a four-piece passenger train, and a three-piece flatbed truck with cargo.
Maple Landmark Name Trains
Maple Landmark makes its popular NameTrain locally in Vermont. You can customize your order, and the price is based on how many letters you need. The train is completely made of wood grown in the U.S.
Maple Landmark NameTrain, $30 for 5 letters
Maple Landmark NameTrain
These trains are especially popular for younger kids who are learning to recognize letters.
KidKraft specializes in more affordable wooden toys and furniture for kids. They offer lots of train table and train set combos that get good Amazon reviews. These sets are less durable than some of the top tier brands, but are more affordable — especially if you want a table included.
Kidkraft Figure 8 Set, $18
Kidkraft Figure 8 Set
Here's a beginner's set from KidKraft that includes a figure 8 of track that includes a bridge, and accessories that include a firehouse and fire truck, a bulldozer, and a gas station. Also includes a train with an engine, a coal car and a caboose.
Kidkraft Aero City Train Set and Table, $134
Kidkraft Full Train Table
Shown here is the city table, which features a city-style commuter train, a hospital with helipad and skyscraper. KidKraft has several other themes for its tables. Other table options are listed in the full train table post.
Chuggington Wooden Railway (Tomy)
Chuggington is a BBC produced children’s show about trains that airs on Disney Jr. here in the U.S. Their trains are more modern and colorful than the engines featured on Thomas & Friends. The show itself is also flashier and faster-paced.
Chuggington Wooden Railway
Some customers really seem to like Chuggington's "Easy Track" for smaller tots. The tracks don't come apart as easily and kids can flip and twist them around to create different track layouts. They're not compatible with the other brands listed here. This set includes a loop of track, a foundry location, the engine Brewster, and a cargo car with cargo.
Chuggington Traffic Signal, $23
Chuggington Traffic Signal
This wooden signal features lights and sounds, and also features the character "Vee" -- apparently an anthropomorphic loudspeaker (sorry, my kid doesn't watch this one much). Compatible with other track brands.
Plastic Train Sets for 2-Year-Olds
Yes, this is a post about wooden train sets. However, if you just want a simple train set toy and don’t whether it’s wooden, you might consider some plastic sets. They’re generally less expensive and have more bells and whistles.
The Thomas & Friends brand has a line called Trackmaster, built for motorized trains. (Wooden Railway also has motorized trains, but works just as well with push trains.)
Tomy also makes a plastic railway line for motorized trains called “Chuggingon StackTrack.” The one listed here was well-reviewed.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Lego brand Duplo also makes a train set that includes tracks, some motorized and some push trains. I listed them in my separate post on toys for 2-year-olds who love trains.
Other Train Sets
There are lots of other train set brands that are well-reviewed online, but I initially hesitated to list them because they had choking hazard warnings. However, as I wrote about in this post, I found out that an absence of a warning doesn’t guarantee the toy’s safety. Generally, the more affordable tracks seem more likely to come apart under stress and create small parts that can be dangerous.
As always, you buy at your own risk. Remove any small parts and be aware that some choking hazards are created when a toy is broken.
Bigjigs – Extensive collection of wooden trains and many train table combos, seem to be very popular.
When I brought my almost-two-year-old over to a friend’s house, I wasn’t sure that he and her 4-year-old would get along because of their age difference. However, it wasn’t hard to find common ground as soon as they found his Thomas the Tank Engine train set. They both played around it happily.
If your kid continues to love trains as they get older, you can try electric trains, model trains or die-cast trains — but there are also plenty of options perfect for when he or she is just 2 years old.
However, if you don’t want to go the train-set-and-table route, there are still plenty of options for train lovers. Here are some of the best, listed from the lowest price to the highest.
This site contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you end up buying something as a result of seeing it here.
Train Whistle, $6
A simple train whistle can be great as a stocking stuffer or an addition to another train gift for the little conductor in your life.
Thomas the Train Christmas Board Book, $6
If you're celebrating Christmas, it's hard to go wrong with a Christmas-themed board book starring Thomas. For a non-Christmas, non-Thomas option give this choo-choo board book. My 2-year-old LOVED it.
Wooden train puzzle with sounds, $13
This one will be tricky for a new 2-year-old to figure out on their own, but an older 2-year-old will like it with some help, and they will be able to use it for years.
Remote Controlled Thomas Toy, $15
Remote Controlled Thomas Train Engine
My 2-year-old had this remote controlled Thomas and he did enjoy it occasionally, although 2-year-olds won't be great at steering it in any particular direction for a while.
Duplo Learning Train, $15
Duplo Learning Train
This is a nice, basic Duplo train set for younger 2-year-olds. Kids love Duplos for years, so they'll keep using the blocks long after they learn to count.
Thomas the Tank Engine Mega Bloks Set, $22
Mega Bloks Thomas Playset
I was a little surprised to see that Mega Bloks also occasionally makes Duplo-sized blocks like those seen here. These aren't compatible with other Mega Bloks, but the reviews say they're compatible with Duplo (blocks, not train tracks).
Duplo Push Train, $28
Duplo Push Train
As I've mentioned before, it's hard to go wrong with the Duplo brand. Kids play with these for years. This push train is simple and fun right out of the box (no batteries required) and has more pieces than the basic $15 Duplo counting train.
Thomas the Tank Engine, $28
If the 2-year-old train lover in your life doesn't have a play tent yet, this could be a lot of fun. It folds flat for easy storage and even comes with a carrying case. We don't have it, but my son loved playing in one at a friend's house.
Mega Bloks Learning Train, $25
Mega Bloks 1-2-3- Learning Train
This is a new version of the one my son got when he turned 2. He played with it a lot that year and he still plays with it occasionally now that he's almost 4. These are the larger, more typical Mega Bloks, not like the Thomas-themed set above.
Thomas the Tank Engine Ride-On Coaster, $90
Ride-On "Coaster Train"
I never bought one of these because I didn't think it would get enough use considering the amount of space used and the price, but I definitely considered it. It gets rave reviews and also seems to be popular with kids up to age 5 or 6.
Duplo Deluxe Train Set, $110
Battery-Powered "Deluxe" Duplo Train Set
If you have the budget, here's a battery-powered train set from Duplo that kids and parents seem to love. It's one of the only sets I've seen marketed to 2-year-olds that include tracks. Cool features include a button-start and a 2-minute auto shutoff to conserve battery power. Looks really fun if you can afford it.
Any parent knows there’s a big gap between what an almost-1-year-old and an almost-4-year-old can do, but a lot of toy web sites just lump the 2-year-olds into the toddler category or the baby category.
This site is all about toys perfect for a 2-year-old’s interests and abilities.
All prices and images are from Amazon.com. Prices are rounded to the dollar and can change. Shipping costs aren’t included. If you end up buying a toy I’ve linked to on Amazon, I get a small commission at no cost to you through their affiliate program.
Now, let’s find a toy for that special 2-year-old in your life.
Toys for 2-Year-Olds By Price and Size
Large Toys Over $50 These toys require more space, but they make a big splash. Train tables, play kitchens, bikes, sandboxes and more.
Toys for Around $20 ($15-$25)
These are great picks for birthday parties and Christmas for your own kids as well as for others’ kids. Blocks, expandable tunnels, puzzles, swings and more.
Smaller Toys around $15 (Stocking Stuffers)
Small in size and generally less than $15, these can be nice add-on presents or can be grouped together for a bigger gift.
Toys for 2-Year-Olds By Toy Type
Active Toys These toys encourage kids to swing, slide, rock, ride and balance.
Artistic Toys Check out washable crayons, markers and paints that are easy for tots to use, plus easels and activity kits.
A classic block set will get years of use. Choose from wooden, stacking, interlocking and more.
These early board games and memory games get 2-year-olds used to the idea of cooperative play.
Age 2 is a big year for most of us, from possibly starting potty training to moving to big bed. These toys can help ease transitions.
Music Toys For the 2-year-old who loves to rock, choose from instruments, music players, CDs and more.
Pretend Toys (Playing House)
Is there anything cuter than watching a 2-year-old imitate the adults they love? Choose from play tools, play kitchen appliances and more.
Puzzles From colorful, wooden chunky puzzles to puzzle pairs that introduce tots to counting and matching, puzzles make a great gift.
Balance bikes, scooters, miniature cars, power wheels and more.
Here are some well-reviewed toys that are safe and fun for 2-year-olds and cost around $20. The prices listed are from Amazon (rounded to the dollar), but they don’t reflect shipping costs and can change, so click each image to double check.
The product description says it best: "no cups, no brush, no mess" and "easy to grip for little hands." They're even washable for when you're 2-year-old inevitably dots something she's not supposed to.
The quality of these blocks isn't on the level of Duplos, but these MegaBlocks get great reviews, too, will get plenty of use, and also come along with some fun vehicles. My 2-year-old is now 3 and still likes to play with this train.
Little Tikes Swing, $26
Little Tikes Swing
A swing can be lots of fun for a 2-year-old. Bonus for parents: it safely restrains the tot where there's no chance of them wreaking havoc. This swing is very popular on Amazon and can be used through age 4.
Roll and Play Game, $20
Roll and Play Game
Games like this one and the others listed in my full post on games for 2-year-olds are usually around $20. They introduce kids to the idea of playing games and taking turns. This one was a big hit with my 2-year-old.
Name Puzzle, $25 before shipping
These and other puzzles for 2-year-olds are always popular gifts. Basic "chunky" puzzles cost around $10, but these personalized puzzles look cute and introduce your 2-year-old to the idea of letters in their name.
Bristle Blocks, $26
If your 2-year-old is into building and already loves the basic wooden blocks or interlocking blocks (Duplos or MegaBlocks), try throwing some of these bristle blocks into the mix. Just like the other blocks for 2-year-olds, they tend to get used for years.
Puzzle Floor Mat, $23
Puzzle Floor Mat
This floor puzzle got a lot of use when our son was getting interested in the alphabet. It can really brighten up a playroom floor, too.
24-piece cardboard blocks, $20
Very few of my 2-year-old's toys have seen more action than these cardboard blocks. Building is only half of the fun: It's the life-sized destruction of the towers that 2-year-olds REALLY love.
Obvious fun for a toddler, with the bonus that it quickly and easily folds up into almost nothing for storage.
Here's another classic that can go indoors or outdoors. It even folds for easy storage. Your kids will use these slides for years.
Lawn Mower, $21
If your 2-year-old doesn't have a lawn mower yet and wants to help around the yard, these toy lawnmowers can make a nice gift around $20.