Back to the Basics: 12 Toddler Essentials

Expecting parents typically put a good deal of effort into stocking up their homes in preparation for their little bundles of joy. They scour the Internet for the latest must-have items, meticulously checking safety guidelines and the most recent recommendations for all kinds of baby gear. Then, checklist in hand, they register for products ranging from high chairs to wireless monitors to diaper rash ointment and beyond.

Suddenly that tiny newborn with the well-stocked nursery has become an 18-month-old whose needs have changed. And while there’s a wealth of information available to expecting moms and dads, toddler parents don’t always know where to turn to find out what’s needed for children in the 1 to 4 age range.

I’ve complied a list of 12 toddler essentials. They’ll help keep your little one busy, safe, and developing right on track through those fabulous toddler years.

What are your toddler must-haves? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

  • Activity Table 1 of 12
    Whether it's a sand table, a sensory table, or a water table like the one shown, toddlers need toys that spark their creativity and enhance fine motor skills. They can scoop and dump water or sand, engage in imaginary play with cars and boats, and strengthen motor skills by manipulating small objects.
    Find this water table at Toys 'R' Us, $49.99
  • Splat Mat 2 of 12
    No doubt about it: toddlers are messy eaters, especially when they're starting to master spoon skills. Splat mats are great for protecting your floors and keeping the kitchen clean ... or as clean as you can expect with a toddler around!
    Find this splash mat at One Step Ahead, $19.95
  • Toddler-sized Tableware 3 of 12
    Make mealtime fun with tableware your little one will love. Plus, dishware made just for kids will be more likely to withstand being thrown from a highchair!
    Find this dish set at Amazon, $19.99
  • Wipeable Bib 4 of 12
    Another mealtime must-have is a waterproof bib. After the meal, wipe it with an antibacterial wipe and you'll be good to go for the next snack!
    Find this waterproof bib at Amazon, $5.99
  • Bed Rail 5 of 12
    Transitioning from crib to toddler bed is a rite of passage in the toddler years. Reduce worries and keep your kiddo safe from falls with a bed rail like the one pictured.
    Find this bed rail at One Step Ahead, $39.95
  • Quiet Book 6 of 12
    Quiet books are wonderful for keeping young, pre-literate children occupied during car trips, church services, or even waiting for an appointment. If only their attention spans were a little longer!
    Find this quiet book at One Step Ahead, $39.95
  • Potty 7 of 12
    While potty training, give your toddler a special place to go potty. We love that this one has a built-in toilet paper holder, too.
    Find this toddler potty at Babies 'R' Us, $24.99
  • Potty Training Books 8 of 12
    Books are such a great tool for toddlers as they learn new skills ... and potty training is no exception. They reinforce concepts, and model desired behavior. When your toddler sees his favorite characters going potty, he'll want to too!
    Find Potty by Leslie Patricelli at Barnes & Noble, $6.99
  • Target Practice 9 of 12
    "Toilet targets" not only help toddlers with their potty aim, but they make the experience fun for them as well.
    Find Piddlers at Toys R Us, $5.99
  • Laundry Basket 10 of 12
    Sometimes the best toddler toys are the most basic. A plain old laundry basket can provide hours of entertainment for you and your little one. It can be a pirate ship, a baby bed, or even turned upside down to be used as a house for favorite stuffed animals.
    Find this laundry basket at Walmart, prices vary
  • Safety Locks 11 of 12
    Toddlers are infamous escape artists. Keep them safely indoors by installing locks that fit your doors and handles.
    Find these safety locks at One Step Ahead, $15.95
  • Building Blocks 12 of 12
    Whether you prefer plastic blocks or the classic wooden kind, building blocks are a toddler essential. They love creating towers and using their imaginations to build whatever they are able to dream up.
    Find this block cart at Amazon, $12.13

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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