5 Simple “Toys” Toddlers Must Have For Hands On Learning!

5 Simple Toys Toddlers must have for language development

*Updated March 2022*

Simple toys for toddlers are all around us!

Some are regular household items you might not even think of using as a toy, however your toddler may see something in it that you didn’t.

When it comes to toys for young children, my advice is the simpler the toy the better.

Try to limit the amount of toys that claim they will make your child smarter or state they will teach many skills including letters, numbers, colors, shapes, etc.

Unfortunately, these claims are exaggerated.

What these toys do is teach a child how to press buttons and wait for the toy to do the talking.

Let’s start with some household items that can also be used as toys and then move on to 2 toys you can purchase!

“Toys” For Toddlers That Naturally Inspire Learning!

*This article may contain affiliate links*

1. Cardboard

5 Simple Toys For Toddlers - cardboard

Cardboard is one of the best “toys” for toddlers.  It’s cheap, versatile and packed with learning opportunities.

The things children can create with cardboard are endless, especially as they get older.

For a toddler, simply putting items into a box and taking them out again is fun!

You can turn a basic cardboard box into a surprise box by covering it with construction paper and cutting a hole into the paper so your child can reach their hand inside.

Hide objects such as a small ball, keys, a brush, hat, toy phone, etc in the box.

Watch your child as they reach in and pull out various objects!

This is a great time to practice vocabulary words such as labeling each object and talking about taking things OUT of the box and putting them back IN.

Or if the cardboard box is large enough, turn it into a car or boat and push your child around!

2. Water

Most children are drawn to water.

At 18 months old my daughter always wanted to help wash the dishes.

Rather than letting her wash our dirty dishes, I got her set up at the sink with some plastic dishes including cups, plates and cutlery.

If you aren’t comfortable with your child being at the sink, fill a bin with some water and put it on the floor, on a table or outside.

Of course there will be a bit of a mess, but remember, it is just water and can be wiped up.

If you are like me, you will want to avoid as many messes as possible, but put your child’s learning first, take a deep breath and remind yourself that most messes can easily be cleaned up!

Playing with water is a wonderful learning experience filled with many opportunities to facilitate speech and language skills as well as skills such as fine and gross motor development.

3. Salad Spinner5 Simple Toys For Toddlers - salad spinner

A salad spinner can be used to make some pretty cool abstract pictures.

If you aren’t sure how to go about doing this click here.

Or, use it to “wash” clothes.

Have your toddler gather up small articles of clothing such as socks, hats, underwear, mittens, etc.

Or if you have doll clothing use that instead.

Label each piece of clothing as you put it in.

For example, “In goes the shirt”, “next let’s add the socks”, etc.

Pretend to add some laundry soap.

Let your child put the lid on and start spinning to get the clothes clean.

You can also talk about the speed of the spinner.

Is it going fast or slow?  How do you get it to stop?  Language opportunities are everywhere!

My children liked to put in the play food from their pretend kitchen and spin it to turn it into a salad!

Our salad spinner ended up permanently moving to the playroom.

The Best Toddler Toys For Learning Through Play

4. Toy Farm Playsets

Children are naturally drawn to animals and animal sounds or names often make up their first words.

A farm playset is also a great way to expose your child to new vocabulary.

For all of the language benefits of a toy farm, be sure to read Best Learning Toys For 2 Year Old’s To Encourage Language Development.

If you scroll to the bottom of the article, there is an entire section dedicated to farm playsets!

There are many wooden and plastic farms available.  It really doesn’t matter which set you go with.

The simpler the better though.

Try to avoid ones that require batteries, or if you have one of these, take the batteries out.

This way you and your child will have more opportunities to interact with one another and with the toy.
Melissa & Doug Fold and Go Wooden Barn With 7 Animal Play Figures
Learn More Button

5. Blocks

Every child should have a set of blocks and there are many different kinds to choose from.

You can also choose between wooden and plastic blocks.  It’s up to you!

Did you know there are over 10 different kinds of wooden blocks?

I don’t mean brands, I mean different designs, from magnetic to unique shapes and everything in between.  Who knew?

Click here to look at some of the opportunities for language development that arise through block play.

Blocks are great because they are generational, meaning that they can be passed from one child to the next and they are also good for a variety of ages.

The blocks a two year old is playing with can also be played with by a 7 year old.

So this is a toy that you will have around for quite some time!
Classic Wooden Building Block Set - 100 PiecesLearn More Button

Which Of These Toddler “Toys” Do You Already Have?

These household items and basic toys are probably found in most homes but are often taken for granted.

However, they are filled with learning opportunities.

So if these toys have been hidden in a closet (or recycle bin), bring them back out!

Here are some other examples of toys that are simple yet full of potential to boost your child’s speech-language skills and cognitive development:

Do you have any other suggestions for simple toys toddlers would love and be able to learn from?

Please share your ideas in the comments below!

If you are concerned with your toddler’s language development, be sure to read my article “17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay“.

toddler boy playing with water with text overlay


  1. Vera

    Hi Tanya,

    great post! My son and I are the biggest fans of cardboard, he can make literally anything from it! I also couldn’t agree more that tinkering is often a better way to boost engineering thinking than screen activities.

    As for the recommendations – my son loved his busy boards! He really learned a lot by means of inventiveness and open-ended thinking from playing with them. I made them myself and wrote a bit about it in my blog, too, so feel free to drop by! 🙂

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks Vera! Glad you liked the article. My kids are also huge cardboard fans and make lots of creations from the recycle bins. They are now 10 and 12 and haven’t grown bored of this activity! I will definitely check out your website!

  2. Dominik Vagner

    I remember playing with cardboard as a child. Every time the carnival came to town, there were cardboard mazes which I would remember getting lost in. As you say, cardboard is extremely versatile and you can do so much with it! 

    There seems to be such a push these days to get kids into tech at younger and younger ages, but you have shown how much they can learn with simple toys, and things that aren’t even toys.  I love it!

    Thank you for the tips, I will definitely share this with my wife and our friends who have young kids!

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks Dominik!

      Yes, toddlers do not need the latest and greatest tech toy in order to become “smart”.  They need the building blocks or foundation skills that will set them up for success as they get older and their brains are ready to grasp more abstract academic concepts!

  3. James

    Okay, the salad spinner idea one is a new one to me thanks for the new thought.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi James,

      My kids are obsessed with the salad spinner. It’s crazy to see what they come up with while playing with a household item!

  4. Joshua Lewis

    All three of my kids absolutely loved playing with boxes. Sometimes the box was more fun than whatever actually came in the box. We’ve turned the boxes into cars and had our own “drive-in movie” in the living room, built spaceships, and used them to play hide and seek. I told my wife that one year for Christmas we should just get our two year old a bunch of empty boxes of various sizes.

    I had never heard of creating pictures with a salad spinner, so I’m going to check that out for sure. I bet the kids will have a lot of fun with that one, so thanks for making me aware.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Joshua!

      It’s the little things that young children seem to get the most out of! I love your idea of a drive in movie. It’s so simple, but to a young child it’s the greatest thing ever. Sometimes adults forget that children really do not need much to learn and thrive. An expensive educational toy isn’t going to make your child any smarter, although many toys are marketed that way.

      Let me know what you think of the salad spinner art if you end up trying it!

  5. Wendy

    These are all great ideas for simple toys for toddlers. When my kids were little and under my feet in the kitchen, I would pull out a pot and give them a wooden spoon and they would sit there and happily play pretend cooking. It is often the simple things that encourage creativity and learning. Great post, Tanya!

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks Wendy! My kids loved playing with pots, pans and spoons as well! Simplicity should not be overlooked when it comes to learning and young children.


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