Understanding Manufacturer Age Suggestions on Toys for 2-Year-Olds: 18+ Months vs. 3+ Years

Last Updated on December 5, 2022 by admin

Shown: My son at about 17 months old, halfway between a baby and toddler

If you’re trying to figure out what kind of toy to get a two-year-old, knowing their numerical age is only half the battle.

Age 2 happens to fall between some pretty different developmental stages, which is why most toddler toys are labeled either for ages 18 months (1.5 years) and up or 3 years and up. But young toddlers grow so quickly and change so much from month to month that a toddler’s interests can look very different from those of a toddler who is just 6 months older or younger.

During most humans’ third year on this earth, they transition from

  • exploring things like cause and effect (putting things in and out of bowls, pushing and pulling toys around the room) to imaginary play (pretending to “make coffee,” making their play dinos roar)
  • learning to use their bodies to independently get from point A to point B (walking, running) to learning more sophisticated motor skills (balancing, spinning, climbing, hanging upside down)
  • learning about the world by putting new things in their mouths to being satisfied to explore with their other senses

A 2-year-old could be in the before or after stage in any one of these areas, and the toys designed for each of these stages will be different.

Another complicating factor in choosing a toy for a 2-year-old is that any toy that has small parts — or that could potentially produce small parts at any stage of assembly — will automatically say 3-and-up no matter how fun and relatively safe it might actually be for some 2-year-olds. (I wrote a separate post about understanding small parts warnings here.)

So, should you play it safe and get an 18-months-plus toy for the 2-year-old on your list, should you opt for a 3-years-and-up toy that looks a lot more fun?

The Case for Buying a 3-and-Up Toy for a 2-Year-Old

The nice thing about getting toys that are labeled specifically for ages 2- or 3-and-up ( a few toys actually do say 2-and-up instead of 1.5-and-up or 3-and-up) is that kids can always grow into the toys later if they aren’t ready yet. Another benefit is that 3-and-up toys are generally played with for much longer than the “baby” toys. Many toys that almost always fall into the 3-and-up category (wooden play trains, play kitchens) are generally played with until kids are 6 or older, whereas the 18-month-plus toys generally get ignored once your kid is 3 or so.

The Risks of Buying a 3-and-up Toy for a 2-Year-Old

The risks of buying 3-and-up toys for a 2-year-old is that some of the more advanced toys might actually frustrate them, and in some cases they might be dangerous (most commonly because the toys present a danger if choked on or eaten).

“Unicorn” Toys for 2-Year-Olds: Safe for Toddlers AND Fun For Kids

I’ve come across a few toys that are designed to be safe and fun for toddlers, but also capture the imagination of kids throughout early childhood. Here they are.


Duplo is Lego’s line of interlocking blocks designed just for toddlers. Duplo blocks are impossible to swallow and easy for little fingers to manipulate, but they have the same high quality of their smaller Lego counterparts. When my friends bring their kids over to play, a big bag of Duplo can entertain all the kids under age 7 or so — even when toddlers are in the mix with the older kids. Duplo sets also come in a wide variety of themes, so whether the two-year-old on your list loves dinosaurs, construction trucks, garbage trucks, farm animals, race cars, or princesses, there’s a set out there that will be extra fun for them to open.

LEGO DUPLO Disney Frozen Set
LEGO DUPLO Jurassic World T. rex and Triceratops Dinosaur Breakout, $30

2. Green Toys Vehicles

My kids have continued to be interested in playing with these vehicles throughout the years. Even my almost-10-year-old occasionally plays with a few of these. They are easy to clean and therefore can make great bath toys and outdoor toys, so they’re very versatile in that way in addition to being versatile from an age perspective. Plus, they’re made from recycled plastic, so you can feel even better about the purchase.

Green Toys Fire Truck, $16
Green Toys tractor, $20
Green toys truck, $20

3. Play-Doh

A lot of play dough and play sand can’t be 100% safe for toddlers because a few of them will probably try to eat it. I’m not sure how, but the Play-Doh brand has been able to legally market itself toward ages 2 and up, so I’m guessing it has passed the legally mandated tests for choking hazards and toxicity. Most parents have a love-hate relationship with Play-Doh because it dries out easily and can make a mess, but it’s tough to overlook the appeal of fresh squishy colorful dough for kids of all ages. (I’ve seen plenty of scented play dough being marketed toward adults who want to play and relax, as well, which kind of proves that it’s fun for everyone.) Working with dough also helps young kids develop hand strength and fine motor skills, and toddlers especially seem to crave that kind of tactile experience.

Play-Doh 10-Pack, $8

4. Brio Trains

This one is a little tough because these trains are technically recommended for ages 3 and up . It’s not for safety reasons, though — it’s just a little more complicated to create a long train and push it along a track than some young 2-year-olds can handle. But considering that wooden train sets are one of the most popular toys for early childhood and that Brio trains are certified safe for toddlers, I still think this is a good choice for this stage. For more information on wooden train sets, check out The Best Wooden Train Sets for 2-Year-Olds.

Brio Classic Set, $49.50
Brio Harbor Freight Set, $71.99