ParentDish's 20 Top Educational Toys for Toddlers
1. The Farmer Says (Fisher-Price, $12.99, at Amazon.com): Here's an oldie but goodie. Pull the string, watch the arrow move, and when it lands on an animal, you hear the sound along with a helpful explanation. You know you remember it -- "The Cow Says ..." C'mon, you know the answer.
2. Chatter Telephone (Fisher-Price, $10.99, at Amazon.com): This classic from Fisher-Price was introduced in 1962. Although most of our phones don't have dials anymore (Remember dials? Or are we too old?), children will still enjoy playing with this charming little pull toy, and might even learn their numbers while they do so.
3. Mr. Potato Head Silly Suitcase (Playskool, $19.94, at Amazon.com): Ah, Mr. Potato Head. Originally this toy was a collection of plastic body parts -- eyes, nose and so on -- that were meant to be inserted into an actual potato. Eventually, a plastic potato body was added -- which is good, since real potatoes are messy and start to stink after awhile.
4. Zoolino Maxi Building Blocks (HABA, $35.99, at Amazon.com): We're choosing these blocks, but any blocks will do. Zoolinos are colorful and different from what most kids have. The thing to remember is that kids love blocks, and all that stacking and making of structures helps develop fine motor skills and creativity. Plus, it's fun.
5. Infantino Jumbo Shape Sorter (Infantino, $13.23, at Amazon.com): Again, it doesn't have to be this shape sorter. We picked this one because it's shaped like an elephant and is cute. Amazon.com has dozens to choose from; so take a look and see which sorter of shapes catches your eye.
6. Play-Doh 24 Pack of Colors (Play-Doh, $13.97, at Amazon.com): Sometimes kids just need to play with something squishy. Play-Doh can fill that need. This pack will get them started, costs just under 10 bucks and should be enough to last at least a couple of weeks.
7. Hi Ho Cherry-O (Hasbro, $9.01, at Amazon.com): This simple board game from Hasbro helps kids get an early start on counting before they learn to read. If that isn't enough to persuade you, it's a refreshing change from Candy Land.
8. Learning Resources -- Smart Snacks Piece-A-Pizza Fractions (Learning Resources, $14.08, at Amazon.com): All kids love pizza. And they also love fractions! OK, one out of two ain't bad. But seriously folks, this slice-and-dice toy is perfect for budding chefs and mathematicians alike.
9. Gearation Refrigerator Magnets (Tomy, $11.99, at Amazon.com): These may look more "toy" than they do "educational," but put them on the fridge and watch your toddler work on putting them together. Then watch her get excited because the gears actually MOVE. As a bonus, they don't play music.
10. Classic Embossed Alphabet Blocks ABC (Lindenwood, $29.95, at Amazon.com): Again, we need to be clear that we mean ABC blocks, not necessarily these specific ABC blocks, though this set is nice. The main thing, from an educational standpoint, is that kids benefit from seeing letters. They also like to stack things and watch them fall over. Why not have them learn their letters while they're at it?
11. LeapFrog Fridge Farm Magnetic Animal Set (LeapFrog, $15.99, at Amazon.com): More fun stuff to stick on the fridge! Warning: This one does make noise and may start to drive you a little bit nuts. But it will all be worth it when your toddler starts preschool and already knows her animals. At least that's what we tell ourselves.
12. Fisher-Price Rock-A-Stack (Fisher-Price, $8.01, at Amazon.com): It's possible that this stacking toy is in more homes than cable TV. And why not? Kids like to stack stuff, it's good for their hand-eye coordination and the pieces are too big to swallow. Just wipe the rings down with Purell before passing it on to a younger sibling.
13. LeapFrog Learn & Groove™ Musical Table (LeapFrog, $35.54, at Amazon.com): This toy has lots of enriching music-related activities to keep your toddler entertained for hours. Earplugs (for parents) not included.
14. Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Say Please Tea Set (Fisher-Price, $16.54, at Amazon.com): Tea sets are a great way to inspire hours of pretend-play. This one adds some technological tricks, including songs, sounds (like pouring) and -- this is the best part -- the teaching of manners, like "please" and "thank you." Woo-hoo!
15. Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway (Learning Curve, $41.99, at Amazon.com): Train sets are always a hit, as is Thomas the Tank Engine. Since most toddlers aren't quite ready for real model trains, this is a great alternative. The cars stick together with magnets, which means that even the youngest train fans can have some fun.
16. Pretend and Play Calculator Cash Register (Learning Resources, $31.84, at Amazon.com): Money makes the world go 'round, right? Even if you live on a commune and have eschewed most of the world's material trappings, it's still a good idea for your child to learn to make change. The register has big buttons with big numbers on them -- perfect for little hands.
17. LEGO Duplo My First Set (LEGO, $15.88, at Amazon.com): Duplo is where LEGO fun begins. This set comes in a big tub that stores all of those colorful plastic bricks. Because you have to -- c'mon, sing it with us, you know the words -- "clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere ..."
18. Melissa & Doug Cutting Food Box (Melissa & Doug, $14.16, at Amazon.com): Wooden apples! Wooden watermelon! Wooden bread! And it all fits together with Velcro. "Cut" the food into pieces with the wooden "knife," then put it back together and start all over again.
19. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Basic Skills Board (Melissa & Doug, $12.74, at Amazon.com): "Zip, buckle, lace, snap and more" -- skills that all kids need to learn. The board is so much fun, they won't realize that they're learning something useful until they notice that they've just tied their own shoes.
20. Alphabet Train Floor Puzzle (Melissa & Doug, $10.41, at Amazon.com): Again with the letters? Well, yes, letters are important. And this 10-foot-long puzzle -- yes, it really is that big -- is a great way to learn them.
(Note: Prices are accurate at the time of publication; Internet retailers change their prices frequently.)
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