*Updated April 2022*
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of educational toys for 2 year old’s?
Do you think of flashy “learning” toys that can teach the alphabet, numbers, letters, colors, shapes, etc?
Toys that require batteries like a leap pad?
Unfortunately, these are not the best toys and the hype surrounding them is thanks to some good marketing.
When it comes to “educational” toys, “educational” is a very subjective term.
Since parents want the best for their children, they open their wallets and fork out a lot of money for these toys and all of the promises they bring.
However, I am hear to tell you that a 2 year old should not learn these skills from a toy and if they do it is often simply rote memorization.
At the age of 2, children should be interacting with their parents, caregivers and peers.
We are humans and not robots or cyborgs (at least for now), we learn from interacting with one another.
Of course, eventually a toy (or an app or TV show) can “teach” a child the alphabet, numbers and even how to “read” some words.
But if your child isn’t learning other skills needed for future success, it really doesn’t matter if your 2 year old can recite the alphabet.
Children need a large vocabulary base in order to be successful during their elementary school years. This will make learning to read easier as well as to carry on conversations.
Children must also develop problem solving skills, the ability to predict, fine and gross motor skills, the ability to ask and answer questions, and the list goes on.
In fact, there are studies that link social emotional development to a child’s future success. These are the skills that are learned through free play with peers!
When I first started writing this article I was planning on listing my top educational toys for 2 year old’s.
But that would be somewhat redundant as I have already written a great guide with the top learning toys for 2 year old’s!
If you want to find out about those toys, make sure to read that article. I also share many language development and learning tips along with each toy that is recommended.
So, instead of just another list of toys, here is a list of some things you should look for in a toy and if the toy meets some (preferably all) of these criteria then you have found a great educational toy for your toddler!
Features Found in True Educational Toys For 2 Year Old’s
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This means that the toy can be played with in a variety of different ways.
Let’s take blocks as an example.
Blocks can be used to build a tower, a house, a plane, or as your children get older they may even pretend each block is a different kind of food and use them to make some interesting dishes in in their kids play kitchen!
Introduces New Vocabulary
A two year old still has many words to learn, so most toys for this age group will probably facilitate language development.
Examples of toys that could introduce new vocabulary to a 2 year old include: a farm playset, Mr/Mrs Potato head, puzzles, etc.
Encourages Parent-Child Interaction
Toys that do not require batteries provide for the most parent and child interactions.
This is because the toy is not doing the talking.
You as a parent will interact more and use more words with your child if the toy is silent.
In fact, studies have been done to demonstrate this.
Allows For Independent Play
This seems to contradict my last point, but it is important for children to learn to play independently.
As your child gets older, the ability to play independently can lead to more creative pretend play because they aren’t always waiting for an adult to guide them.
Toys that don’t require a child to follow a specific set of rules are wonderful for fostering a love of pretend play.
A pop up tent is a great example of this. The tent can be used as a tent, or it can become a restaurant, rocket ship, boat, etc.
Ride on vehicles are another example of toys that can help with the development of pretend play.
And of course, my NUMBER ONE recommended toy for learning and development is also perfect for open ended pretend play – a kids toy kitchen set!
Does Not Require Batteries For Optimal Functioning
As I mentioned in the parent-child interaction section, toys that require batteries often take away from meaningful parent and child interactions as the toy is often loud and “talks” so that the parent and child do not need to communicate as much.
Parents tend to use less novel vocabulary words and the number of utterances spoken by the parent often decrease.
It’s unfortunate that so many toys these days require batteries.
This is because the toys are trying to explicitly teach a child a skill such as counting, letters or colors.
Keep in mind, the toy will always say the same thing.
In order for a young child to learn they do need to hear words 100’s of times, however, variation is also good.
And remember, children are always learning. Even if it doesn’t look like it on the surface. This is why free play is so important!
Inspires Creativity and Imagination
At this age a cardboard box can inspire more creativity than the toy that probably came inside of it will.
Two year old’s are learning new skills every single day.
They are testing out all of their senses as well.
Because of this, the more low tech and passive the toy (that is, minimal bells and whistles) the better.
Have you ever watched a two year old’s face light up as they play with a cardboard box?
First they might sit in the box, then they might turn it over and try to stand on it.
Next they might put their favorite dolls or stuffed animals inside and push them around pretending the box is a car, boat, plane or train.
First of all, I want you to know that I am a real parent and parenting is tough.
So yes, when my children were 2 years old, they did have some of the toys I say not to buy.
Most were given as gifts, but I did buy my son a little toy laptop to keep him occupied in the car.
I figured this was still better than letting him veg out to videos on a DVD player for long car rides.
At least there was some interaction going on between him and the toy.
I don’t expect you to never have these types of toys in your house.
But know that learning toys for toddlers with all the bells and whistles that claim to turn your child into a genius should be taken with a grain of salt.
The message that I want you to take away from this article is that educational toys for 2 year old’s do not need to be complex.
If the toy comes with an instruction manual, think again about buying it.
For this age group toys should be simple.
In fact, the way you set up their play area can also make a huge difference!
Your 2 year old has many years ahead to figure out the latest technology (as it is always changing), but they only have a small window of time to learn the foundation skills that will lead to success later on!
Thanks for this review. The best way for toddlers to learn faster is through day to day interaction with their parents. I agree with you that for children to have a successful life, they need to learn some basics from parents. Smartphones and computers cannot bring the best out of them at that age. I am in support of toys that command or require a response from children, through that they learn and improve and their learning abilities super develop. I wish every parents get to read this insightful post.
Thank you! I agree, I hope other parents see this article and realize that selecting toys for toddlers to learn doesn’t need to be difficult if you keep in mind a few key ideas and avoid clever marketing.
Great list! We love blocks, puzzles and toy kitchen, and they are most favorite play in childhood. Learning while playing is the best teaching technique that’s used for child. I love the toy selection tips you have listed here instead of just a list of toys. I also like the fact that you really encourage parents to go for toys that will allow both the child and parent to talk and work together.
Thank you for sharing this educational toys and how to choose the best for our kids.
Thanks Mary! It’s easy for parents to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of toys available. And then through in some good marketing and parents end up spending a lot of unnecessary money. I want parents to see that “educational toys” do not need to cost a fortune, nor do they need to state that they are educational. In fact, it’s probably best to avoid flashy toys labeled as educational.
I am glad you focused on the idea that toys do not need to be complex. I think the simpler the toy is the more creative opportunities are opened for a child to use their imagination. Paper and crayons are ideal in this regard. A 2-year-old should have learned the hand skills to hold them and mark on paper. Plus it is a great way to interact with a child in creating something. Our great granddaughter just turned 15 months old.
I agree Glen. Unfortunately, not all 2 year old’s enjoy “drawing”. My son is a great example of this. He didn’t want anything to do with crayons and paper until he was 5. But he had many other ways of being creative. He loved playing with torn up paper and empty cardboard boxes.
However, if you have a young child that loves creating with some crayons and paper why not go for it. There are many ways a child can use their imagination!
Thanks a lot for the helpful and insightful post.
My wife and myself had our first baby recently and I am already browsing and learning about educational toys & fun learning devices. I personally believe in this digital world we need to introduce our children with helpful learning methods with the help of technology. And your post made me to think more on this subject and gave me a new perspective. I got great insights from your post.
I also read the post you referred “The Best Learning Toys For 2 Year Old’s May Not Be What You Think!” which is an eye-opener. I book marked your post for future reference.
Toys without batteries is the way to go and foundation skills is the one I need to focus on. Sharing from your own experience adds more value to this post.
Thanks a lot the great advice and saving people time via your post.
I’m happy to hear that I was able to provide a different perspective on how to choose the best “educational” toys for toddlers. Children do not learn the skills they need to become successful adults through “tech toys”.
Even if a child did not see a screen, tech toy, etc. until the age of 6, that child could easily still go on to be a computer programmer. Technology is changing so fast, but the skills needed for someone to become successful in any field remain the same (e.g. problem solving, large vocabulary, logical thinking, reasoning, visual-spatial skills, social-emotional skills, self regulation, etc.).
The earliest forms of these skills can all (and should) be developed through play. Simple child led and some adult guided play!
My youngest son is four now and I remember encountering numerous educational toys for him at the age of two, little of which he took any real interest in (he only has a love for small die cast cars…and still does now!).
It’s interesting that you point out that a lot of these ‘popular’ toys have gone through some sort of marketing route, and are therefore pretty much a flash in the pan.
Blocks are certainly worth mentioning, as he did take an interest in them around that age…but only to build a bridge or something similar for his beloved cars!
What age do you feel is the perfect age to start turning towards the more educational toys? When do they move on from the memorization period?
Can you explain what you mean by “more educational toys”. The toys I have listed are most definitely educational. I guess it all depends on ones definition of “educational”. None of the toys I would recommend would encourage memorization. In fact, some of the flashy tech toys simply teach memorization.
Young children do not need to learn numbers, letters, colours, etc. through memorization because they heard a toy say it. Once the foundation skills are in place (which children can learn by playing with the types of toys I recommend in this article), then it becomes a more appropriate time to start introducing some academic tasks (around the age of 6).
Thanks for putting this great piece together; informative and educative article. No doubt we need to take the issue of our kids very seriously. The future we desire for them starts with every decision we make. I think that giving them access to technological gadgets will greatly help their perception of life generally. However this should not take away from our parental interactions. Nothing can be compare to our parents interacting with children by speaking to them and play with them; they love it more than we can imagine!
Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure I fully understand what you mean when you say giving children tech gadgets will greatly help with their perception of life. Young children do not need “tech gadgets” in order to become successful in life. I do agree with you that children do need to interact with their parents, and peers as well. But this can be done with simple “old school” toys.
In fact, these types of toys help build some foundational skills that will help them become successful as they grow.
These days parents are pushed to buy tons of electronic toys for their kids. Even toddlers as young as two years old! From phones, to toy computers, to tablets, to gaming systems. This results in young kids spending phenomenal amounts of time in front of a screen instead of getting the human interaction they really need. I love how you recommended parents go for toys that allow your child to do the talking or the parent and child to work together. This is by far the best for any kid
Thanks for your comment Jessica! We know that young kids (and older ones) need movement, exercise and face to face interactions to thrive. But all of the latest and greatest toys take all of that away. It’s very sad. And well meaning parents fall for the marketing claims that by purchasing a particular “electronic” toy, their child will be the smartest.