Having passed one year since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, parents and caregivers more than ever value top-quality toys and products that promote learning and independent play. And with the summer fast approaching, new toy trends for the season include educational toys to prevent the summer slide after a year of remote learning.
When looking for toys that foster a child’s development, there are three things to remember—education, engagement and entertainment. “Educational toys benefit kids’ motor, sensory and problem-solving abilities,” says Charlene DeLoach, contributing editor at Toy Insider. “Toys that are engaging enable them to practice social skills as they play.”
Also, try to skip battery-powered toys. “When thinking about the types of toys that will enhance a child’s development, ask yourself if the toy is battery-powered or baby-powered,” says Stacy Keane, head of learning at Monti Kids, a Montessori toy subscription service. “When a child engages with a battery-powered toy, they will press a button as they wait to be entertained. Baby-powered toys offer opportunities for growth, problem solving, challenge, achieving goals.” She says this creates an attitude of: “I did this. I made an impact and a change with my own hard work.”
Here both experts share top toys that align with Montessori-inspired education, or simply encourage imaginative play. Some even instill the quality of resilience during a time when children need it most.
These gender-neutral toys suit a wide range of price points and ages.
Big Feelings Pineapple
With parents looking for ways to foster social-emotional learning after a year of limited social engagement, the Big Feelings Pineapple teaches kids about how to identify emotions in themselves and in others. Says DeLoach: “Parents will love that all the pieces store inside the pineapple, too.”
Creativity for Kids Sensory Bins
Sensory bins are a staple in toddler development as they let kids engage their senses through tactile play, according to Toy Insider. Now parents can enjoy this ready-made sensory bin kit that also keeps messes within!
Smart Felt Toys My Little House
These soft, stickable felt pieces and felt house promote receptive and expressive language as kids tell stories about their own pretend home. It is a great way to teach “who, what and where” questions, too.
Kids can gain exposure to advanced coding subjects while being creative with these Coding Charms. While they make 15 adorable key chain charms, they learn about algorithms, sequencing, variables, binary coding and much more.
“What I love about this Smarty Pad product is that it is a screen-free tablet that features bilingual motion sensor games that encourage sensory play, small motor skill development and critical thinking skills,” says DeLoach.
Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game
Celebrating its tenth birthday, this special-edition version of the classic game enhances color recognition, matching skills, strategic thinking, turn-taking, hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, says DeLoach.
Junior Mud Outdoor Kitchen Playset
“I love this wooden play kitchen because it encourages outdoor active play and creativity,” says DeLoach. “Kids can mix mud and twigs to make the perfect pretend treat. This kitchen comes with everything they need to make classic mud pies and pretend dirt desserts.”
Froggy’s Lair Biosphere
This unique at-home real frog biosphere is a great opportunity for kids and the whole family to learn about responsibility and compassion for wildlife.
My First Engineering Ferris Wheel
DeLoach’s final pick lets kids use a play electric screwdriver to build a Ferris wheel and power a playground while working on creativity, architecture and engineering skills. “They can watch their creation come to life and play with the included characters once built. Then they can take it apart and build it again for long-lasting play.”
5-in-1 Epic Developmental Learning Gym
Tummy time is essential for a baby’s physical development. And a good, or epic, play mat can also serve baby’s mental development. This Infantino 5-in-1 Learning Gym has several activity stations for babies as they grow from tummy time to sitting, crawling and on-the-go. It features musical lights, piano, multisensory toys and more for open-ended play.
These classic toys let your little one expresses their creativity through building with LEGO DUPLOS, they’ll also be working on their hand strength and fine motor skills with all that open-ended play. They will also be working on a growth mindset and executive functioning as they learn the steps it takes to build their creation.
Super Soft 1st Building Blocks
We all love Lego blocks. But when it comes to younger babies and toddlers, you want a safer alternative. These soft and colorful blocks keep babies entertained for hours on end. The vibrant and easy-to-grip 25-piece set is the perfect introduction to sensory toys and will bring babies into a new world of imagination. The blocks are easy to grip and stack and won’t hurt anyone if they’re thrown around or accidentally stepped on.
For babies and toddlers, every daily activity contributes to physical and mental development, including feeding time. From the creators of the bökee comes the next in their product lineup, the bowl. Stylized and suctionable to minimize spills, the bowl is raised on one side for easier scooping and toddler motor-skill development.
If you really want to make mealtime a clean and engaging time, Baby’s Brew recently launched its 2-in-1 Snack Bowl + Cup. This BPA-free, silicone, spill-proof, collapsible, reusable, portable 2-in-1 Bowl + Cup works with both food or drink. Handles make it easy for little hands to carry around and foster motor skills. The suction cup bottom helps prevent spills to encourage more independent feeding. The silicone flaps make it so little hands can have easy access to their favorite snacks and is portable.
Ullabelle Grooming Kit
Just as daily feedings can be a time for learning and development, so, too, can bath and grooming time. In addition to its charming feeding sets, Ullabelle creates the loveliest grooming kits for little ones. The brush is made from natural beech and the bristles from soft goat hair which naturally detangles while preventing cradle cap. They’ll enjoy combing and brushing their own hair by their toddler years, and these items will look lovely on baby’s vanity.
Companies like Esembly (cloth diapers) and Bubbsi (bath essentials) focus on helping eco-conscious parents reduce their carbon footprint. Bubbsi combines bathing, hygiene, sustainability and play into one adorable little bottle. The natural baby skincare line boasts a clean coconut formula that is EU-approved and pediatrician-tested. The company just launched its new creamy coconut conditioner, a scent that both parents and children will enjoy.
Once you have feeding, bathing, and grooming down pat, you want to make sure you have the right medicine and wellness products for your child. There has been a rise in homeopathic and clean medicine companies serving all ages, including pediatrician-approved Genexa. “We founded this company when our kids were born because we believe they deserved clean medicine when, and if, they need it,” says David Johnson, cofounder. From kids’ allergies to pain relievers, Genexa formulas use active ingredients that your kid needs (like acetaminophen), while leaving out artificial ones (like food coloring and high fructose corn syrup). You’ll never be so mindful about building a natural yet effective medicine cabinet until your little one comes down with something.
Busy Baby Mat
This is a handy place mat to keep your baby’s toys in place wherever they may be—their first flight, a restaurant or in their high chair at home. This Busy Baby Mat is a food-grade silicone place mat that sticks to any smooth, clean surface and allows parents to attach baby’s toys to the mat thanks to innovative tethers. In addition to keeping their toys germ-free, you’ll appreciate not having to pick things up from the floor every five seconds.
A newborn’s visual development begins at birth. “The Montessori mobiles are a research-backed series created to support this development at just the right moments,” says Keane of Monti Kids. Since newborns are first drawn to high-contrast images, the black-and-white Munari Mobile comes first in the series of Montessori mobiles. Next is The Octahedron, which features primary colors just as a baby is able to perceive them, followed by The Goobi, which helps a baby discriminate between shades of the same color, and finally, The Dancers, which allows a baby to refine these newly acquired skills by putting them together to work on new visual tracking challenges. Monti Kids Level 1 takes the guesswork out of the process for parents by sending an activity gym with the Montessori mobiles, grasping toys, and helpful reminders about how and when to introduce them to your baby.
You don’t have to be a Manhattan mom to enjoy the benefits of Union Square Play. The play space and community hub just launched Parenting+, an online platform where new and expecting parents can connect, gain support and expertise, and most importantly, restore confidence through an open and inclusive forum of like-minded parents. Best of all, there is a Playroom where families can access a library of live activities and classes. Expect concerts featuring Ramblin’ Dans’ Free Wheelin’ Band and Puppetsburg.
Books from Birth!
Reading with your little one should start at the very beginning. Instilling an appreciation for books comes from these first experiences of feeling cozy together, hearing your voice and appreciating the colors and images of the illustrations. As your little one grows they will seek out these opportunities of connection and love—all of which will grow into a relationship with books that is joyful and enticing. As your little one grows, they will use this joy not only to learn to read, but also to eventually read to learn.
One celebrated release from Simon & Schuster is Ducks on the Road by Anita Lobel, a Caldecott Honor recipient artist. The touching and classic children’s book is a vividly illustrated story of a family of ducks out for a walk and the surprises they meet along the way.
Another anticipated release this year is In My Life by musical legends John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It starts by following a young girl on a path, but the journey weaves in three generations of one family. This special book is beautifully illustrated by Genevieve Santos; the drawings perfectly match the lyrical words of Lennon and McCartney’s beloved song “In My Life.”
eeBoo Flash Cards
In a world with iPads and tablets, you’ll be surprised how much children enjoy learning with flash cards. eeBoo makes the absolute best, with topics ranging from basic Alphabet & Phonics to mathematics and languages like French and Spanish. The company also creates conversation cards that focus on topics like Good Citizenship and Respect the Earth, with sets of cards for both parents. This is perfect for screen-free, quality time as a family. Mia Galison founded the company 25 years ago, and her husband, Saxton Freymann, is the illustrator of many of the eeBoo flash card sets.
Music appreciation can start at birth, says Keane. First through listening, then through participating. “Providing opportunities to do so when your little one is small is a great start. Furthermore, toddlers often go through a phase where they love to make noise in any way possible; this can include banging their toys together.” You can meet this developmental need by redirecting your child to a basket of child-size musical instruments like Ehome’s.
A Tracker is a quintessential Montessori material, and also a crowd pleaser that can entertain a child well into the toddler years. Monti Kids Level 4 Tracker should be introduced to a child when they are standing independently. The tracker encourages a little one to work on their balance and core strength as they pick up a ball, put it in the top of the tracker, watch it make its way to the bottom, crouch down to pick it up and repeat the process. Tracking the ball from left to right also indirectly prepares little ones for future success when it comes time to learn to read.
The Radio Flyer Walking Wagon is the ideal companion for a little one who is just learning to cruise and take their first steps. Says Keane, “We love this particular wagon because it not only provides a sturdy source of balance for a little one pulling up on it, but it can also be weighed down with books or water bottles to move at an even slower pace as a child takes those wobbly first steps and gains confidence on their feet.”
You’ll often find a Pikler Triangle in Montessori toddler play spaces. That’s because it provides the perfect outlet for gross motor work as a child works on their balance and coordination. Your baby will test their own limits within a safe space. Practicing risky play is important to their social emotional development. We love Lily and River’s Little Climber because it’s collapsible for easy storage.
Appealing to your toddler’s innate sense of order, Magnatiles are perfectly proportioned to create endless creations. As a toddler builds various structures they will be testing out hypotheses and trial and error as they learn lessons in cause and effect along the way. This early intro to STEM will help prepare them for math and science later in life. Magnatiles also provide endless opportunities for open-ended play—with no defined beginning or end—encouraging creativity, engagement and independence.
You can combine your child’s love for Magnatiles and reading with the newly launched CreateOn’s “The Monster at the End of This Story” building and board book set. The 12-piece set features Sesame Street’s Grover who encourages your toddler to read, build and enjoy colors with this interactive bundle.
There is an endless array of inflatable slides and activity-filled slip and slide pools that can transform your backyard into a full-blown waterpark. But sometimes all a young child needs is a classic kiddie pool to splash around in. For less than $50, Funboy Kiddie Pools are a personal pick for utilizing safe, non-toxic, soft touch vinyl that is free from harmful chemicals. With stylish original prints like Tropical Palm and Ibiza Boheme, you might want to cool off in it, too.
If you make it to a larger body of water this summer, the company just launched Funbaby, a line of interactive floats for kids. From a private jet float to a pink convertible, the floating devices have steering wheels and a horn to encourage motor skills. There’s also a removable cover for shade.
You can’t make it to the beach everyday this summer. Kinetic Sand is the perfect, mess-free alternative to a sandbox. Keane recommends this sensory activity because it allows a child to mold the sand as they work on hand strength, which will set them up for future success when it comes time to learn how to hold a pencil and write.
From peek-a-boo to fort-building, Sarah’s Silks are fun and interactive all-natural silks that grow with your little one from babyhood to toddlerhood as they begin to experiment with imaginative play. They are lightweight for little hands and easy to work with, encouraging independence and joy in their play.
At the end of the day, nature offers the best tools and environment for learning and development. Minimize screen time as much as you can. Instead, encourage a love for nature in your little one from birth by going on plenty of walks and discussing what you observe.
Let’s Go Binoculars can be a fun addition to hikes for a toddler as they search for signs of wildlife on your adventures, and come with a strap so your little one can proudly keep track of their gear. As you walk together, your little one can practice all the wonderful vocabulary they learn along the way, too.