Some people don’t care about the invisible dividing line that always seems to run down the middle of toy stores, the one that divides the boy toys from the girl toys. Last night a friend said, “Toys aren’t for boys or girls; they’re for kids.” And by dang if she wasn’t right. However, being a mom to two little girls means I’m well aware of the pinkwashing that is going on — why is it that a toolset on one side of the invisible gender line is normal tool colors, while on the other side it’s pink with sparkles and bows? Some kids legitimately prefer a specific color over another, and that’s cool, I get it. What I don’t get is why there aren’t more gender-neutral toddler toy options — toys that come in red, yellow or green. What if a little boy wants a high chair for a favorite stuffed animal? Do you have any idea how small the selection is for truly neutral toy high chairs? Gender rant aside, sometimes you have to get a gift for a toddler, and you have no idea what to purchase! Well, this guide should help give you a few ideas because if you don’t live with toddlers, then you may not be hip to what they’re into. (You may also end up getting some terrible toy with batteries that goes off in the middle of the night terrorizing innocent parents.)
Keep in mind, of course, that these are only suggestions. Most of the following toys can be found at different price points, handmade, and in several different colors (yes, pink is usually one of them.) This is more to serve as suggestions for toys that will outlast many years of play from boys, girls and the grownups who love them.
Fun toys for all, and to all a good night.
Dollhouse 1 of 20
Dollhouses are not just for girls, if you think about it, anything that goes on in the right dollhouse happens in every little kid's life. Baths, bedtime, mealtime and playtime. This little house is cute, there's nothing too fancy or frilly about it, and there's no crazy, bright plastic pieces or glittery furniture. This is the type of toy a grandparent could keep at their house, and every grandchild, boy or girl, would enjoy playing with it.
Buy My First Dollhouse from Magic Cabin, $79.98
Animals 2 of 20
Hey, it's an alpaca! Schleich has the absolute best toy animals. They will stand up to as much wear and tear as your kids can dish out, and they'll always look like what they're meant to be. No more wondering "Is that a bear? Maybe a badger? No, I think it's a cat?" Schleich makes an animal for any possible obsession, including dinosaurs to very detailed sea creatures. The best part is they can be bought individually, so if your kid wants a hedgehog and a unicorn? You're in luck. These make great stocking stuffers.
Buy Schleich animals from Toys R Us, $2.99-$19.99
Doctor Kit 3 of 20
Addie received a doctor kit for her second birthday, and it is probably one of the toys that has lasted the longest, not only with her but with her little sister as well. It has been used on us, grandparents, friends, dolls, stuffed animals and even our cats.
Buy this 19 Piece Doctor Kit from Educational Toys Planet, $38
Building Toys 4 of 20
It doesn't really matter what building toy you choose — it could be simply blocks or it could be one of the fancier ones inspired by physics and science. Our favorite is Lincoln logs! Vivi loves fitting the pieces together and setting in the little windows and doors. Addie likes to help her because there are enough pieces to share while other kids who come over and play just like tossing them around and making up their own games. Plus? Nostalgia.
Buy Lincoln Logs from K'nex, $25.99-$100
Appliances 5 of 20
Now, say what you want about toddlers playing with coffee makers, but given they like to pretend just like the grown-ups in their lives — it's fitting. There's nothing girly or boyish about these appliances. They're stylish enough to leave out and engaging enough that I'd have a hard time keeping my 8 year-old away from them.
Buy these wooden appliances and accessories from Pottery Barn Kids, $34/each
Bilibo 6 of 20
Vivi got one of these for her second birthday, and we're still not sure what it is exactly. What we do know is that she loves to twirl in it, crawl under it, and use it as a turtle shell. The neighbor boy uses it as a ninja mask and a stool. It's one of those toys that could be anything to any kid with the right imagination. Even my 8-year-old gets into it.
Buy the Bilibo from Fat Brain Toys, $26.95
Doll 7 of 20
Technically, these dolls are divided by boy and girl, but their outfits are interchangeable, and I just so happened to get one for my nephew last year, and my sister can attest that this little baby has been loved within an inch of his life. It's a good, simple, soft doll that toddlers can dress, care for and yes — toss around.
Buy the Baby Stella Doll from Manhattan Toy, $35
Balance Bike 8 of 20
Balance bikes are all the rage, and while Vivi hasn't quite figured hers out, it's a hit with all the little kids who come to our house. They're easy enough for little legs to still reach the ground when sitting, but they have room to grow with balance and speed.
Read all about balance bikes and find out which one is best for your child here.
Photo Credit: Cory Baudman via Flickr
Bath Toys 9 of 20
Boy or girl, every kid is going to need to take a bath, and Green Toys bath toys are our favorite. This ferry comes with two little cars and a ramp that slides in and out to help load and unload the cars. Vivi would also like you to know that she enjoys drowning it, or perhaps she's just turning it into a submarine. Regardless, bath toys are popular with any kid.
Buy the Green Toys Ferry Boat from YoYo, $24
Tools 10 of 20
How cool is this toolbox? You get a toolbelt, some sweet tools and a simple wooden box to keep all of it in. This is another popular toy at our house, and Addie always knew where her tools were when her dad brought out his. She loved helping him, while I loved that there was no arguing over the big (and more dangerous) tools because she had her own set.
Buy this toolset from Magic Cabin, $39.98
Bowling 11 of 20
Monsters are for anyone, and there's more than just bowling to be had with this cute set. Kids can line them up, knock them down, knock them into each other, and do any number of other crazy activities with these six plush monsters and stuffed bowling ball.
Find this cute Monster Bowling set at Fat Brain Toys, $25
Shopping Cart 12 of 20
A local grocery store here has little shopping carts available for kids, and they are the hot ticket in town. Kids of all ages love pushing the little carts behind their parents (and yes, occasionally running into our heels). At home Vivi shops for various items all over the house. If you can't find something, check Vivi's shopping cart — she is probably trying to put in on layaway.
Find a realistic metal shopping cart at Melissa & Doug, $69.99
Play Food 13 of 20
One of the most popular toys at three of the children's museums I've been to is play food. It can be fancy, handmade food out of felt or interpretive plastic food like this. Either way, kids love it. They love cooking it, serving it, eating it and sometimes doing ridiculous things with it. It's Vivi's current obsession, playing food, and it's one any kid could get into.
Buy this 102 piece play food set from YoYo, $24.99
High Chair 14 of 20
Most every kid is going to sit in a high chair at some point in their life, so why is it that we think high chairs as toys are only for girls and insist on making a majority of them pink? This classic wooden high chair is cute enough to keep out, and it's simple enough that toddlers can use their own imaginations to take care of their animals, dolls or whatever they may love.
Buy this wooden high char from Amazon, $24.99
Kitchen 15 of 20
Play kitchens are one of the best long-term investments you can make when it comes to toys. Buy the right one, and it will last you generations and through multiple playdates, children and holidays. You can add new dishes and add different foods, and they're big enough that two toddlers can *gasp* share it. Find one like this and no one will be claiming it's only a girl toy.
Buy this cute KidKraft Retro Kitchen from Amazon, $128
Music Toys 16 of 20
Really the only person alive who isn't going to like playing with these is the person who has to listen to an entire toddler band playing them. (And that's probably you, sorry about that, but look how much fun they're having!)
Find this Musical Toy Set at FAO, $24.99
Play Silks 17 of 20
I have wanted to get these for my kids for YEARS. Not only do kids love the texture of silk, the possibilities that can be achieved with these brightly colored fabrics are countless. From dressing up to building a fort to hiding treasures to playing doctor, these silks just beg for a creative family to get their hands on them.
Buy Them From Magic Cabin, $12.98/each, $39.98/4, $149/16
Stroller 18 of 20
My nephew got a stroller from me to go with his baby, my sister doubted me, but it has proven its worth. Ask any family and chances are a toy stroller is one of the toys that is used the most by not only their own kids but visitors as well. This red one makes it feel even more grown up that many of the other toy strollers available.
Buy this simple umbrella doll stroller from Amazon, $16
Train Table 19 of 20
A train table is kind of the dream, I've never met a kid who would turn down the opportunity to play with one. I'm in my 30s and still dream of owning a train table, one with lots of hills and maybe one of those silos that dumps rocks in the back. For some kids, trains become an obsession; for others, it's just a fun way to play.
Buy this Imaginarium Train Table from Toys R Us, $99
Carrier 20 of 20
If you're into baby-wearing, or have a toddler and baby (or maybe a baby on the way) their own little carrier for a doll or stuffy is a great way for them to role play and a great way to keep their lovey (bunny in this case) safe from being left behind or stuck in your bag. Lots of different styles can be found, like the Ergo above to ring slings and wraps for kids.
Buy the Ergo Doll Carrier from Amazon, $25
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy or her Babble Voices site Shutterlovely. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.