This toddler holiday gift guide for 2020 includes parent-tested and approved items for play, reading, and wear that are all reasonably priced. This is not a sponsored post of any kind. We just love this stuff and want to share the love with you. Happy Holidays!
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What a year, right?!
The bright side of our 2020 is that we got to spend lots and lots of time with Riley. We pulled her out daycare for 3 months at the beginning of the pandemic. Then we moved at the end of the summer and Riley started preschool which is now only half-days, as opposed to the full-time daycare we were used to.
So, we’ve spent A LOT of time playing this year and with that, I’ve pulled together a really fantastic list of recommendations for my 2020 older toddler gift guide.
As always, this is a gender neutral list of non-digital, screen-free toys and books that any toddler would absolutely love, as well as some clothes that we’re loving for Riley. Some items are repeats from years past because Riley is still into these things in a big way.
The list is separated into the following categories in the order below:
Pretend Play Toys & Games
Art & Music Toys
Cognitive & Learning Toys
Gross Motor Toys
Cozy Gifts (for “Cozy Kids”)
If you’re looking for more ideas for toddlers and babies, check out my other 3 kids gift guides from previous years:
Kids LOVE cozy spots and hiding places and this tent hits all the marks for a fun play spot for Riley to spend time with her "friends" (stuffed animals). She has spent hours in this tent over the past 18 months and I can't recommend it more highly.
This campfire set will be a new addition to our playroom this Christmas and it will go perfectly alongside Riley's tent (see above). She's all about pretend cooking and play activities these days and I can see this set getting a lot of use over the next few years.
Talk about a classic toy! I remember loving any type of kalidescope I could get my hands on a as kid and I know Riley will love this stocking stuffer gift this year. She's all about using any type of tube (paper towel, wrapping paper, aluminum foil, etc.) as a telescope and I can't wait to see her eyes light up when she looks into a kalidescope for the first time!
I could have listed this backpack under the Clothing category below but Riley plays with this bag in all kinds of ways. She stuffs it full of her stuffies and random things like socks, play jewelry, play kitchen tools and food, and whatever else is lying around her playroom. It provides hours of pretend play fun for her and it can also be used as an actual toddler backpack when you're out and about.
Kids as young as 9 months old are able to start to understand how things work in a kitchen and a play kitchen is an excellent toy to help develop skills and their imaginations. Watch them cook you meals, move food from one cabinet to another, and wash dishes. Riley has been absolutely LOVING this exact kitchen over the past 2 years and I'm always happy to play kitchen with her! This is one of the pricier gifts on this list - though prices vary greatly across different brands and models - but this is a toy that will last for many years as your kids grow.
No play kitchen would be complete without some great play food! This set of wooden play food works great in any play kitchen. Older toddlers and pre-schoolers will also love this food for playing restaurant and for pretend grocery shopping too!
This set is a great addition to a play kitchen! They're sturdy, unbreakable, and dishwasher safe - perfect families with toddlers! Toddlers who love to bang things will love that these pots and pans are LOUD when they bang them (parents? not so much!) but they're so stylish that they're hard for parents to resist.
Card games are a fantastic way for kids to learn patience, turn-taking, sportsmanship, as well as the specific aims of each game. I remember playing all kinds of kids card games with my grandma and I hope these games will be as fun for Riley as they were for me as a child.
Admittedly, this is one of those toys that you almost regret buying because your kids aren't playing with them...until they can't stop playing with them many months after receiving them. Riley just started to really get into playing with these blocks and it's been so fun watching her work through the challenges of building with wooden blocks.
These crayons are magical! They can be used as regular crayons, smudged to give art a pastel effect, or turned into watercolors with just a little water. Riley absolutely loves drawing with this set and I use them as pastels for a little personal art therapy when life gets stressful. SO MUCH FUN!
This easel is a parent's dream for a creative space in a play room or play area. It's double sided with a chalkboard on one side and a magnetic dry erase board on the other. The roll of paper on top pulls down for quick art projects and there are holes for paint canisters to keep things [relatively] neat. There's also a shelf on the bottom for extra art supply storage. Let those creative juices flow with this great gift!
Music is an essential element for learning and play and instruments for kids is a great way to foster their development. Yes, these types of toys make lots of noise - believe me, I GET IT - but as a kid who benefited from a school music program and played in the band from 4th - 12th grade, I'll deal with the noise knowing what my kid is learning from these instruments. Riley loves music and singing, and now that she's starting to understand rhythm and beats in music, we're having family band parties at night before bed, with Riley as our conductor. Too cute!
2020 was the year that I decided I needed some extra organization in my life to help keep me sane. I feel like our play room is overrun with all kinds of art supplies and while not a toy, this divided Lazy Susan turntable has been a lifesaver. I first saw it on The Home Edit's Netflix series and immediately ordered it from the Container Store. There are other versions available from other retailers but I've been really happy with the quality and size of this one to hold all of Riley's crayons, markers, dot markers, colored pencils, etc. all in 1 place.
I fully realize that glitter is a parent's worst nightmare. I get it. But I feel like if there's ever been a time for some extra sparkle, 2020 has been the year. So I've turned a blind eye to the mess glitter creates so that Riley can explore art to her heart's content. She absolutely loves choosing which colors to use from this 24-pack and watching her creations come to life in a shiny way.
This portable craft box is not only another way to keep your kids' art supplies organized, but it includes a TON of craft supplies! Yes, you could assemble this separately with a tackle box or Kaboodles box but how much time would it take you to scour the craft store or websites to find all of the stuff to fill it up? What's your time worth?
Tangrams are puzzles using blocks or foam pieces of different shapes and colors to create patterns and objects. They foster fine motor skills, spatial skills, pattern recognition, concentration and attention span, and shape and color recognition. This is just one of MANY types of tangram puzzles available and we chose this one for Riley because it includes full-size template cards so she can build the puzzles directly on the cards.
Magnatiles continue to be one of Riley's favorite building toys to play with. The keep her attention for ages and it's been so fun watching her building abilities with these tiles change as she has grown over the past 2 years. A little pricey? Yes, but completely worth the price.
With Riley now in a Montessori preschool, she's being exposed to all kinds of early language arts and math activities and is learning right alongside the kindergarteners in her school. So while these math cubes seem a little advanced for a 3 1/2 year old, we'll encourage her to explore with them at her own pace while using them for play, building, sorting, color recognition, and counting. Over time, she'll start to use them for higher level (kindergarten - 2nd grade) math concepts. This set is a great way to get toddlers learning in tactile and sensorial ways using bright colors!
I can't tell you how surprised I was when I heard Riley reciting the days of the week in the back of the car a few months ago! I'm not sure how this basic bit of everyday learning slipped off my radar for her to learn about but I ran out to grab this kids magnetic calendar so we could discuss and track days of the week, months, weather, feelings, and family activities in a visual way at home. She loves checking in with this every day!
With Kyle being a construction worker, we try to find STEM toys Riley can play with that look like the tools she sees Kyle using around the house. She's got a little toolbox that she loves to "fix" things with and we thought this drill set activity would be a fun way to incorporate early engineering concepts into her play.
This pod was one of our "gold mine" finds of this past year. Riley is the epitome of a "cozy kid" who loves to be snuggled into a spaces so she has absolutely LOVED literally hanging out in this pod over the past few months with her stuffies, blanket, books, and an occasional movie. The pod comes with an inflatable pillow and very sturdy hanging materials so all you need to do is find a place to hang it. We live in a post and beam home with a cathedral ceiling and large wood beams running through half of the house so we looped the hanging strap over one of the beams in our living space. But you can also hang it from the ceiling!
I'm so glad my mom gave Riley the Pottery Barn Kids Anywhere Chair for her 1st Christmas because it's one of those gifts that a baby can grow into and use for years and years. We have a "Cozy Corner" set up for Riley in her play room with this chair, a flannel blanket, and 2 baskets of books where she can go to read or when she needs to take a few minutes to calm down. She loves to nestle in with her books in this chair and read to herself!
Every "cozy kid" needs a cozy floor pillow and this one is so great! I looked everywhere (in stores and online) for an oversized pillow at a reasonable price and I'm so happy I choose this one! It comes with the pillow insert and zippered cover to remove for cleaning and measures 30 inches in diameter. We have this in Riley's tent (see above in the Pretent Play list) and it's so much more comfortable than sitting on the floor.
Riley is a REALLY active kid and the winter months in New England are tough months when you have a kid who is constantly on the move. This indoor trampoline has been a fantastic toy to burn off some of that energy. It measures around 3ft in diameter so it doesn't up a giagantic amount of space in the house. We also moved it outside in the spring-fall months for year-round fun and it's held up perfectly through all sorts of weather.
An inconspicous game this is for building gross motor skills like balance, hopping, twirling, this has turned into one of Riley's favorite activities since she received it last Christmas. She's definitely a little monkey and she's love learning how to play this "get up and move" type of game. It also involves taking turns, which is an essential skill to help foster in toddlers.
This is definitely a warmer weather toy but Riley has had such a (ahem) ball learning to hit off a tee. Toys like this one (and the little basketball hoops you see everywhere) are meant to build hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills in addition to learning how to play a sport.
We gave this to Riley for Christmas 3 years ago and we pulled her around the house in it for a good part of the winter, even before she could sit on her own, while propped up on pillows! She loves being pulled around in this wagon for walks up and down our driveway and we've brought it with us multiple times to the beach to pull her around on the boardwalks. She's now starting to use it on her own to load it up with her toys and take them for rides. This wagon makes a really special gift, and one that can be used for many years.
Another great outdoor toy, this coaster has provided Riley will hours and hours of entertainment over the past 18 months. We even set it up for her 3rd brithday party on a slight hill in our backyard to give the kids an extra fun ride.
After shopping at LL Bean for almost 30 years, it should come as no surprise that I've chosen Bean clothes for Riley's winter wardrobe since she was an infant. The quality of Bean clothes is incomparable, which is exceptionally important when it comes to kids clothes. Now that we're living in Maine, a really good quality winter coat is essential for our northern New England winters. This is one of two Bean coats we bought for her this year (it's the warmer of the two) and I'm so pleased with how warm it keeps her. Because LL Bean coats run on the pricey side, I always size up to ensure we'll get 2 winters out of them as Riley grows. At age 3 1/2, she's currently wearing 4T and 5T clothes and I purchased this coat in a Little Kids size Medium 5/6.
To my great dismay, the fleece slippers we've loved for Riley over the past 2 years were discontinued from LL Bean this winter. However, the kid-size version of Bean's Wicked Good Mocs don't not play second fiddle to those fleece slippers at all. These slippers are ADORABLE, super warm, and are really easy to put on. And she loves having matching slippers with mom and dad!
This year was my first time shopping at H&M Kids and overall, I've been impressed. Quality is great, prices are reasonable, and the selection is huge. The only issue I found is that the clothes run a little small so size up if ordering without trying on in a store. This was one of a handful of sweaters I bought for Riley in the early fall and she loves how it makes her feel like she's getting dressed up like a "big girl."
These mittens are pure genius! If you're a parent in a cold weather climate, you know how insanely difficult it is to keep a matching pair of your kids mittens together. When I worked in a daycare many years ago during college, a couple of moms had laced a piece of yarn through their kids coat arms and attched the mittens to the ends of the yarn with safety pins. I thought this was such a great idea! Well, these mittens take care of the yarn and pinning for you (except without the pins)! I bought a different pattern of these mittens for Riley 2 years ago and I know they'll last for a few more years before she outgrows them.
*Sale Alert!* Our favorite PJs since Riley was a tiny baby have been Hanna Andersson. And while they're a bit pricey, they do go on sale often, which is when I stock up in larger sizes. They're made with organic cotton, are incredible quality, and make the perfect hand-me-down PJs for families with multiple kids. Right now, most of the PJs are on sale so get on over to the Hanna site and stock up!
Again, we went with LL Bean for snow pants! These are snow bibs and I love that they loop up over the shoulders to prevent snow from scooting down the back of Riley pants. She's at a preschool that spends a lot of time outside in the winter so it was important to us to find snow pants that were easy for her to get on and off herself, were great quality (these are reinforced in the knees and butt), and kept her warm and dry in very cold temperatures and snow. These bibs totally fit the bill! They do run big for layering and have adjustable straps so we sized down to a Little Kids size 4 and I'm pretty sure we'll get 2 winters out of them.
Lined pants are a must for kids who spend a lot of time outdoors in the winter and I'm always on the hunt for a great pair. The ones I've found at Target have been fantastic! They're well-made, priced incredibly, and keep Riley toasty on chilly days. We use them as a base layer under her snow bibs on really cold days at preschool and they are stretchy enough to add a layer of unlined leggings or thick wool knee socks underneath them when she doesn't need her snow bibs on.
Books for Older Toddlers
All of the books listed here are available for purchase on Amazon. I chose this method as an easy way to provide you with ideas and book descriptions but please try to shop small at independent bookstores if you are able to. They need much more of your support than big box stores and online retail giants do. My favorite local bookstore is Sherman's Maine Coast Book Shops which you can also order from online or by phone.
It's the most wonderful time of the year! Little Blue Truck is spreading cheer by delivering Christmas trees to his animal friends. Can you help count each green tree from one to five and back again? Don’t forget to save one for Blue! Beep! Beep!
With the gentle rhythm and signature illustration style that made Little Blue Truck a household name, Blue's new adventure is full of holiday warmth. Sturdy cardstock pages, a compact and child-friendly text, and flashing colored Christmas lights on the final page come together in a novelty gift book that’s sure to be the favorite treat of the season.
Is your Hungry Monster sneaking through? When children turn into little monsters, their parents know exactly what to do! A charming series about common causes for 'bumps' in the day, the Little Monster series shows kids how accepting a gentle nudge can help them get back to their real selves. The series includes lazy, sleepy, silly, and hungry.
Here is the wonderful new version of the classic poem every family should own. This edition of The Night Before Christmas is lavishly illustrated by renowned, New York Times #1 Bestselling artist Charles Santore, the critically-acclaimed illustrator of multiple classic tales, including The Wizard of Oz, Snow White and The Little Mermaid. This is a hardcover edition of the classic The Night Before Christmas, featuring a four-page gatefold and an embossed and foil-stamped cover.
When Nicki drops his white mitten in the snow, he goes on without realizing that it is missing. One by one, woodland animals find it and crawl in; first, a curious mole, then a rabbit, a badger and others, each one larger than the last. Finally, a big brown bear is followed in by a tiny brown mouse and what happens next makes for a wonderfully funny climax.
A secret underwater world brought to life! In this book, readers will discover the plants and animals that make up the rich, interconnected ecosystem of a mountain pond. Over the pond, the water is a mirror, reflecting the sky. But under the water is a hidden world of minnows darting, beavers diving, and tadpoles growing. These secrets and many others are waiting to be discovered over and under the pond.
Nothing frightens Madeline—not tigers, not even mice. With its endearing, courageous heroine, cheerful humor, and wonderful, whimsical drawings of Paris, the Madeline stories are true classics that continue to charm readers even after 75 years!
It's the night before Christmas and everyone is sick in bed. All except brave Madeline, who is up and about and feeling just fine. Taking care of eleven little girls and Miss Clavel is hard work, but when Madeline finds help from a magical merchant, the girls embark on a Christmas journey that will surely make them forget their sniffles and sneezes.