The 2021 Holiday Gift Guide for Brainy 2-Year-Olds

Last Updated on November 8, 2021 by admin

I thought long and hard about how to classify the kind of toddler who enjoys sitting down and just figuring stuff out.

“Brainy” is what I came up with, even though I don’t necessarily think toddlers who like these activities are smarter than their peers. Of course, pigeonholing 2-year-olds into “types” is only helpful when it comes to things like choosing a toy category for a gift. The fact is that all tots are sometimes brainy, sometimes thrill-seeking, sometimes imaginative, and sometimes everything else.

That said, if you’re looking for a toy that encourages the 2-year-old in your life to sit and concentrate for a few minutes, you’re in the right place.

2-year-olds are generally not yet ready for full-fledged puzzles and board games, but there are plenty of toys that are developmentally appropriate for them. These toys usually help them work on fine motor skills, too.

(The images below are linked to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)

The Best Big Gifts for Brainy 2-Year-Olds ($50 or More)

If “wining” Christmas this year is your top priority and budget isn’t as much of a concern, I’d suggest investing in a big Duplo set for your brainy 2-year-old.

Although only older two-year-olds will be interested in following the instructions required to put the sets together step by step, practically all two-year-olds will like building and playing with the little figures. Duplo is a brand you can trust and that your kids will play with for years to come, as I wrote in my post about Lego Organization Strategy.

It looks like Lego is now branding some of their new sets as “educational” and including more little cards and instructions for parents who want to be more-hands on. These sets cost a bit more, and I’m curious if they’re worth it.

Alternatively, you might also choose to invest in a big Magna-Tiles set. They aren’t geared toward 2-year-olds specifically, and the magnetic “blocks” can get cracked if they’re stepped on or thrown. However, 2-year-olds can certainly use the Magna-Tiles to make patterns on the refrigerator before they’re ready to build giant towers. They can also help 2-year-olds recognize shapes and colors.

Magna-Tiles tend to be a playtime staple for many years, which is why you can’t exactly go wrong investing in them early.

Solid Gift Choices From $20-$50 for Brainy 2-Year-Olds

If you’re looking for a gift that’s a little less splashy or expensive but that will still be great for a “brainy” two-year-old, here are some solid choices in the $25 range.

A Matching Game for 2-Year-Olds

My kids loved the matching game “Seek-a-Boo.” I thought the cards were the perfect size for a toddler and held up well over time. I also liked how the game had several “categories” that kids could match within the game, with just five or so images per category. However, this game appears to be out of stock at Mindware, its manufacturer, as well as at Target.

Below is another toddler-friendly matching game with larger cards that has a lot of positive reviews on Amazon. The illustrations are cute, and you can choose from themes of vehicles, farm animals, and wild animals. Each set costs around $20. For more ideas for matching games and puzzles, check out the full post on the best games for 2-year-olds.

A Foam Floor Puzzle for 2-Year-Olds

These puzzles are popular because they double as a squishy floor mat that provides a little insurance against toddler falls, especially in playrooms with hard floors. These puzzles also help 2-year-olds start to recognize letters, shapes, and numbers. I did start to dread picking up all the random letters after a while, so this isn’t exactly my favorite toys for 2-year-olds.

That said, I wanted to include it because my kids did enjoy playing with it and it is a popular gift choice, costing in the $40 range depending on brand and size.

Jumbo Cardboard Blocks for 2-Year-Olds

My kids got a lot of use out of these jumbo blocks when they were little.

Plus, because they’re sturdy cardboard, I didn’t feel as guilty about their effect on the environment. The set shown here is around $40, but you can find a smaller set for in the $20 range.

A Board Game for 2-Year-Olds

Board games can’t be worked on independently, of course. However, they’re still great for kids who like to sit and concentrate on a hands-on project. “My First Orchard” is my top board game recommendation for brainy 2-year-olds, because my now-five-year-old STILL asks to play it occasionally. It’s about $30 on Amazon.

For more board games suggestions for 2-year-olds, check out the full post on the best games for 2-year-olds.

A “Busy Board” or “Latch Board” for 2-Year-Olds

Many of these toys are labeled for 3 and up due to small parts. However, I think age two is typically when interest peaks for most of these types of activities. (The survey listed on this latchboard from FatBrain toys backs me up.) Although I never ended up getting one of these busy boards for my own kids, I considered it many times and think they would have liked it. The “Montessori” style one shown here is about $40, but you can also get a latchboard from Melissa and Doug for less than $20.

Smaller Gifts for Brainy 2-Year-Olds ($20 or Less)

People with space constraints or who are traveling for the holidays will appreciate toys with a smaller footprint. Plus, just because something is smaller or less expensive doesn’t mean it won’t be just as fun as a larger toy. Smaller toys don’t always cost less than their larger counterparts, but most of the versions of the toys listed below cost under $20.

Nesting Dolls

I already wrote an entire post on the beauty of nesting dolls for thoughtful 2-year-olds (you can read it here). The prices for wooden nesting dolls can vary quite a bit based on their size and based on whether you’re buying from a local artisan, but in general, you can find a cute set (like the one shown here) for less than $20 on Amazon. For something a little more special, check out the options on Etsy.

Shape Sorters

Kids who don’t mind sitting down for a few minutes and concentrating will love a shape sorter. Shape sorters also look great on a shelf, are self-contained, and are relatively small and inexpensive.

It’s hard to go wrong with this cute sushi set, which is just $8.

For another fun and more eco-friendly alternative, this carrot-shaped sorter can also serve a role in pretend play and working on fine motor skills.

For more on shape sorters, including a video of my own 2-year-old playing with ours, check our our full post on shape sorters for 2-year-olds.

Play Eggs

My mom got this little toy for my kids, and they absolutely loved it as 2-year-olds. It really came in handy at restaurants while we were waiting for food or in waiting room situations, such as doctor appointments.

Each egg has a shape on the bottom, so kids do have to do a little matching to get the eggs back in place. This toy is geared toward younger toddlers, but it’s fun for 2-year-olds, too.

Cube Puzzles

I’ve already sung the praises of cube puzzles in a separate post, but they definitely deserve their own spot on this list. These puzzles are simple enough for toddlers but are extra engaging because there are six images to choose from.