Last week, we shared a blog post explaining why we don't want our daughter to receive boatloads of toys for Christmas and why we intentionally keep a minimal amount of toys for her in the house. If you didn't read the full post, it may have sounded a little like we are toy-hating Grinches. I can assure you that is not the case. The truth is we really love toys. We are just selective about the childhood objects that come into our home and only keep the toys that help to foster Dessa's development while helping her discover more about the world around her. Simple is best in our opinion and Dessa plays long and hard with the very simplest of toddler toys.
So which toys do we love and what is on our daughter's Christmas list? We created a list of toddler toys Dessa owns that we all really love and thought we'd share what's at the top of our Christmas wishlist for her this year.
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Toddler Toys we Own and Love
Here are few of Dessa's absolute favorite tried-and-true toys. We can't recommend them enough to any family searching for perfect toddler toys that encourage movement, motor development, imaginary play, and creativity.
1. Skip Hop Activity Center – it became apparent last fall that Dessa loved spending time in a walker at her grandparents' house. She wasn't coordinated enough to go anywhere and her little legs were so short that her feet barely touched the ground, but she loved every moment that she could stand and stare at the toys in the bright green, wheeled walker. We went to the store in search of some type of baby toy that we could place in our tiny little rental house and stumbled upon the Skip Hop Activity Center.
The simple gray and white style captured my neutral loving-heart and we especially loved that it had the smallest footprint of any other walker/standing toy at the store. Even better yet, the toys on the top of the saucer were removable (which meant that we could avoid overstimulating our daughter by removing a few of the toys and giving Dessa 1-2 toys to fiddle with at a time). Dessa adored her Activity Center and spent more time standing in it than sitting, rolling, or crawling anywhere in the house. It was also a lifesaver when I needed to keep her happy and contained so I could shower, blog or get some housework done.
Now that Dessa is older, the thing I especially love about the Skip Hop Activity Center is that it is designed to grow with your child into toddlerhood. Dessa loved pulling herself up to play with the tabletop once she became an active crawler who was no longer happy to be contained. The seat popped right out of the center and the standing platform clicks into the seat opening to transform the Activity Center from a bouncer into a functional table. Our converted table is tucked into a corner of our playroom and I'm certain that it will quickly become Dessa's favorite place to sit if Santa delivers the coordinating chairs on Christmas morning (more on those in a minute).
2. B. Toys Parum Pum Pum percussion instrument set – Speaking of gifts, the story of how Dessa received her set of musical instruments always makes me smile. One of my good friends was unable to attend Dessa's first birthday party and when we met up a few weeks later, she sheepishly handed me a bulky wrapped gift (which was clearly a toy) and said that she purchased Dessa's gift before she received my invitation and the note tucked inside that kindly requested non-toy gifts. My friend had tucked the gift receipt into Dessa's birthday card and figured that this toy was destined to be returned …until Dessa opened her gift. It was a large percussion drum with four additional percussion instruments inside – and not a single one required a battery to operate. I loved the thoughtfulness of the gift and knew right away that the set was a keeper because it encouraged music and creativity for my little learner. Like I said, not all toys are bad. Not even noisy ones.
3. Baby Doll – Dessa's undeniably favorite toy right now is a plush baby doll that I picked up at the grocery store. She goes back to the baby and her cradle (an antique wooden toy that belonged to my mom, and was handed down to me when I was a little girl) about a hundred times a day and it is unbelievably sweet to watch Dessa snuggle and rock her baby. I've only ever seen Dessa's doll at grocery stores, but the plush Baby Stella doll looks perfect! She's soft, simple and toddler's can even learn to dress and diaper Baby Stella. They also make a “boy” version and a doll with darker skin.
4. Decorative Suitcases – When a family friend gave Dessa a few small unused toy suitcases from Crate and Kids, I happily accepted them thinking they would be a cute way to store a few of Dessa's toys. I had no idea how much our daughter would love them! Dessa quickly learned how to work the latch on her suitcase and often grabs a suitcase, empties the toys, tucks them back inside, then puts the suitcase away all by herself.
5. Teether Ring Link Toys – often the simplest toys are the best, most practical option. Our nanny bought a pack of teething ring link toys as a gift for Dessa last Christmas and they have been such a hit in our house ever since. Those links have been attached to anything and everything within easy reach for Dessa and they've grown and evolved with our daughter. Dessa's favorite ways to use the links are to wear a string of attached rings across her shoulders like a scarf and to sort the individual rings into different colored piles (with my help, of course).
6. Squeezable Blocks – Dessa received a pack of 8 squeezable PVC blocks for Easter last year and they have been the perfect blocks for a baby or toddler. These blocks are bigger than the average wooden blocks, which makes them easy for little hands to grab, manipulate and stack. The squeezable blocks were perfect for Dessa to chew when she was teething and were soft enough not to hurt Dessa if she landed on them while she was unsteadily learning to sit up, crawl, and walk. They've also been a perfect, chunky size for Dessa to practice stacking. She can now successfully stack 6 blocks into a tower without any help from me.
7. Convertible Cedar Sandbox – This cedar sandbox is another outdoor “investment” toy, but Dessa absolutely loves it. We bought our sandbox when we saw how much Dessa loved digging in the wood chips and dead patches of lawn around our house. I searched high and low for a sandbox that would blend nicely with our backyard landscaping since we will have to look at it every single day for the next several years and this cedar model was perfect. Even better yet, the benches fold neatly over the top to cover the sand and keep any critters out when it's not in use. We have plenty of cats, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons in our area and the foldable cover effectively kept all of those critters out. We knew immediately that this sandbox was worth every penny when we saw how much joy it brought to Dessa this summer and we can't wait to use it again next year.
8. Leapfrog My Pal Violet – Dessa currently has one battery operated toy in use at our home. She received a Leapfrog My Pal Violet stuffed dog as a gift last Christmas and I'll admit that I wasn't a huge fan at first. Violet's saving grace was that she has multiple volume settings and her voice and songs were more sweet than obnoxious. Over time, Dessa's affection toward Violet warmed me up to the battery operated toy – probably because the music and sounds are just something that Violet happens to do, rather than the reason our daughter loves her. Violet lights up Dessa's imagination and it's adorable to see her snuggle, kiss and roll around with the stuffed toy as if she's an old friend.
9. Step 2 Push Around Buggy – This isn't the kind of toy that gets stored in the house, but every time we played outside this summer, Dessa's pink Push Around Buggy from Step2 was always part of the fun. Ours was a hand-me-down from a friend (who picked it up from a garage sale for her daughter who is now eight years old). The car has clearly been loved by multiple children over the years, but it still has plenty of miles left! Dessa loves pushing the car every bit as much as she enjoyed riding in it, but the fact that she could store treasures in the hood was her greatest source of enjoyment. My little nature lover collected rocks, sticks, leaves, grass, sand and anything else she could get her hands on. The Push Around Buggy also comes in red and a variety of other car models.
Our Toddler's Christmas Wish List
Dessa isn't old enough to create her own Christmas wish list, so here are a few items that Rob and I carefully selected for her this year. Any of these gifts would be great items to find under the tree on Christmas morning.
1. Indestructible Baby Books – Dessa already owns two Indestructibles books and they are on her rotating list of favorites. We keep one book in the car and she is always excited to read “My Neighborhood” while I drive around town. I made arrangements with St. Nicholas and asked him to deliver a copy of “Jingle Baby” into Dessa's shoes on December 6.
2. Stack Up Cups – Dessa loves to stay anything and everything. Blocks, bowls, pillows. You name it, she stacks in. I'm pretty sure Dessa will love the challenge of seeing how many cups she can successfully stack.
3. Mr. Potato Head – This one is a childhood classic and I honestly never would have thought of it as a gift for Dessa – until she played with the one that the secretary at Rob's law office keeps tucked inside of her desk. Dessa was so intrigued and it makes total sense. Right now she's learning all about body parts and is getting really good at identifying hair, eyes, ears, nose (and tummy, of course!) Mr. Potato Head helps to develop that knowledge with a silly twist and the fact that there's a compartment on his backside to hold all of those parts just adds to the fun.
4. Activity Center Chairs – Remember Dessa's Skip Hop activity center that we have loved since she was a baby? I found out that Skip Hop actually makes matching chairs that can be used with the center after it is converted to a table. Since Dessa LOVES sitting on stools and any type of chair that's just her size, I'm pretty sure she would be overjoyed to receive a pair of these chairs on Christmas, and she can share one with a friend when we have play dates at the house.
5. Shape Sorter – Shape sorters are pretty much a childhood classic and I've seen how much playing with the ones at her grandparents' houses. Dessa's motor skills continue to improve and I know she will love the challenge of placing each shape into the corresponding hole. (Even better, it won't be long until she can use the toy independently!)
6. Mini Magnetic Drawing Board – This was another toy that I hadn't considered as a gift for Dessa until after I saw her play with one. There's a magnetic drawing board in the toy bin at our Moms and Tots group and Dessa really enjoys drawing with the pen. I love that the mini magnetic board gives her a chance to experiment with drawing and writing independently without me having to worry about our walls, floors or furniture.
7. Toddler Chair – This is one item that I can't decide if I'm ready to give in or if it really isn't necessary. Dessa loves sitting on steps, benches, stools … pretty much anything that feels like it is a “just the right size” chair for her. Lately, I've been taking the bottom cushion off our cushy armchair in the living room so Dessa can climb in and out of the chair by herself. A toddler chair would certainly make Dessa happy and give her a throne of her own. The very last thing I want in my house is a bright pink piece of furniture (or worse yet … one with a cartoon character on it) so I found a simple gray toddler chair with white piping at Pottery Barn Kids that I'm considering as an addition to Dessa's Christmas wishlist. If we do get it, I am going to skip the personalization so I can sell the chair once Dessa outgrows it, but I am definitely considering it – especially since this chair would match the decor in our living room and Dessa's playroom.
8. Play Keys and Phone – I have a bit of a confession about these realistic keys. They were on Dessa's Christmas wishlist because she adores keys, but I've endured so many emotional outbursts from Dessa over the past few weeks when I wouldn't let her have my car keys, that I went ahead and bought them for her. One of the nice things about gifting meaningfully is that we don't only give presents at Christmas. Instead, we spread our gifts for Dessa out throughout the year. When she is developmentally ready for something new to play with, we purchase it for her. I specifically chose these keys because they look so realistic and have fun buttons to push, but the sounds are very loud and obnoxious. I removed the battery before I gave the keys to Dessa and I enjoy so much peaceful tranquility while she happily pushes the now-silent buttons. (Just because something is battery-operated, doesn't mean that it needs batteries to be fully enjoyed.) Her keys came in a set that also included a toy telephone, which is also battery operated. We haven't tested it out yet, but I suspect that the sounds it makes are also offensive to the ear so I plan to remove the batteries before Dessa receives the phone on Christmas morning. She will still have a great time pushing all of those buttons even if the phone doesn't make a single sound.
One last item that isn't exactly a toy that I really want to purchase for Dessa this year is an updated photo board book. Last Christmas I created a very simple book for her last year on Pinhole Press that featured all of the people in our immediate family who love Dessa (you can read all about the book in this blog post.) This year, I want to create a new book all about Dessa that helps to teach the parts of her body. Dessa is getting so good at identifying hair, eyes, ears, and tummy – I just know she would love seeing those features of herself in a book that we read together.
The funny thing about Dessa's Christmas wish list is that it seemed like so many toys when we were creating the list for her. Now that I look back at the list, I see that it isn't very long compared to the amount of toys most children receive at Christmas. But that's just the thing – It doesn't matter how many (or how few) toys are under the tree this Christmas because I know Dessa will be overjoyed to play with the paper, dance to Christmas music, and eat a special treat on Christmas day. My sweet little 16-month-old can turn any household object into a toy, but it will be fun to watch her discover new ways to play with a few of the toddler toys on our Christmas wish list.