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Best Books for Preschoolers

How do I choose the books on the list?

I write my “best books” lists based on the books that appeal to all children, both boys and girls and regardless of their specific interest du jour.  My four children run the complete gamut of personality types, and these are books they have all loved.

What’s NOT on the list

Let me just say it again: these books were chosen based on how much children enjoy reading them.  I have gone out and bought books based on “best children’s literature” lists and it was clear that they were chosen by adult rating scales.  My preschool-age children are much more active and have shorter attention spans than adults, and they thought some of those books were a total snooze-fest (I’m looking at you, Make Way for Ducklings!)

I also do not include books that 3-4 year olds may find scary (sorry, I know Where the Wild Things Are is an amazing book, but my kids are wussies), or sad (why, The Giving Tree, WHY?????)

Some may be new and others pre-date my own childhood, but these are they books my kids beg me to read again and again and again…

 


Don’t Push the Button!

An irresistible book that will appeal to your child’s silly side.  Of course when the monster tells kids not to push the big red button, that’s exactly what they’ll want to do.  Then hilarity ensues and the kids need to interact with the book to get things back to normal.

 


Feast for 10

This counting book is also a joyful portrayal of a family going grocery shopping, preparing a meal together, and sitting down to eat as a family.  It follows a simple rhyme scheme and is enjoyable to listen to.  I love how my children see people who look like them in this book but that isn’t at all what the book is about.  The family is so wholesome and sweet it makes you want to sit down and eat with them.

 


Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type

Farmer Brown’s cows find an old typewriter and take the opportunity to make some demands from their keeper.  A silly tale of give and take follows.  The kids will appreciate the hilarity of seeing farm animals do “people things” without realizing they are learning the basics of collective bargaining!

 


Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me

I think it’s one of those things every kid fantasizes about to have their Dad get them a humongous ladder to climb up and grab the moon.  Children are delighted when the pages fold out to show just how huge the ladder is. NOTE: Choose the paperback version if you’re buying on Amazon as reviews indicate the board book version frustrates toddlers with the folding pages.

 


Mix It Up!

My kids absolutely love this highly-interactive book that teaches them about mixing colors.  The pictures are so realistic, it actually feels more like finger painting than reading.  The first few times I read this book to my kids they actually thought it was “magic”!  If you love this one, don’t miss Herve Tullet’s other playful hit Press Here.

 


Just Go to Bed (Little Critter)

My kids are super into all the Little Critter books, but this is one of their favorites.  Little Critter tries all the tricks to avoid having to go to bed.  Why is it so fun for kids to watch other kids being naughty?

 


Olivia

Wonderful illustrations and a captivating pig protagonist make this book a favorite of 2-6 year olds.  Sassy, spunky Olivia appeals to children and adults alike with her creative and precocious ideas.  The original is the best but my kids love the other Olivia books too, especially Olivia Forms a Band.

 


King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub

This is a cute story about a king who refuses to get out of the bath.  Every time a member of his court tries to entice him to come out, he instead invites them to do the activity in the tub.  While the story is fun, it’s the illustrations that make this book a top pick.  Amazingly detailed, kids will spot something new each time you read it to them.

 


Shades of People

My go-to gift for preschoolers, especially those who live in areas that are not racially diverse.  Describes the many different shades that people come in (almond, copper, tan, etc) and how even in the same family there can be many shades.  Features beautiful photographs of kids and families with all skin tones. My kids love looking through the pages on their own and pointing out people that look like them and people they know.

 


Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Mo Willems is pretty much an A-list celebrity in this house.  My kids can’t make it through any of his Pigeon books without erupting into fits of laughter.  In this book, the bus driver steps away from his bus and leaves the reader (your child) in charge of making sure the pigeon doesn’t drive the bus.  As soon as he leaves, the pigeon starts asking, bargaining, and pleading for permission to drive the bus.  See how your child reacts to his own persuasive techniques when he is the one in charge!

 


It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny

PJ Funnybunny decides he doesn’t like being a bunny.  He is tired of eating carrots, his ears are too big, and he has way too many brothers and sisters.  After trying to go live with various other types of animals, PJ decides being a bunny isn’t so bad afterall.  An entertaining story that teaches kid to appreciate what they have.

 


Corduroy

A classic and timeless book that my children love just as much as I did as a kid.  Adorable and relatable, stuffed teddy bear Corduroy is ignored by the kids coming into the department store until one special girl looks past his flaws and gives him a home.  (Also answers the question “what would it be like to wander in a department store at night?”)

 


Pinkalicious

If you think this book is only for girls, I dare you to show me a preschool boy who doesn’t love it after reading it!  After eating too many pink cupcakes, Pinkalicious starts turning pink and is diagnosed with Pinkatitis.  At first the fun, relatable protagonist is delighted, but then she discovers it’s better to just be herself.  The magical antidote?  Eating lots of healthy green vegetables!

 


The Snowy Day

This book about a boy’s day exploring and playing in the snow is written so simply but so vividly, your child will feel like he’s out there playing with him.

 


Harry the Dirty Dog

Another classic that I remember loving as a child, and now my kids love it just as much.  Harry hates baths so he hides his scrub brush and runs away.  On his adventures, he gets so dirty he changes from a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots (that line always makes Elle giggle!) and his family no longer recognizes him.

 

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

When I first encountered Pete the Cat, I’ll be honest, I thought he was a little creepy looking.  Since then, we’ve become very familiar and I now see why my kids love him.  The Pete the Cat books are written to be like songs (in fact some even come with a recording of the song) or you can read it more like a poem or rap.  In this one, Pete is out walking in his white shoes and keeps stepping in messes that turn them different colors.  But Pete doesn’t get upset, because “it’s all good”.

 

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Unlock your child’s imagination as you follow Harold through a world of wonder made all with his own purple crayon.  An unforgettable classic.

 

Duck on a Bike

Zari (age 7) is taking over the blog to summarize this book for you.  He says, “Duck decides he wants to ride a bike.  All the other farm animals have lots of opinions.  It is funny to hear what they’re thinking!  At the end there’s a big surprise too!”  Thanks buddy.

 


The Watermelon Seed

Crocodile loves watermelon and eats it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  One day he swallows a seed and begins to panic in the funniest way as he is sure a watermelon is growing inside him.  My kids never get sick of this sweet story.

 


If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

Circular logic reigns in this silly story.  Kids learn cause and effect as one thing leads to another with this demanding mouse.  At the end, it comes full circle with the mouse asking for a cookie again.  At this point my children groan in unison: “here we go again!”

One Messy Mama
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Best Toys for 2 Year Olds

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click one of the product links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  I have personally  chosen each product here and am not sponsored by any brands.

2 year olds are BUSY, so any toy that captures their attention for more than a few minutes is a total win.  This is a year of learning explosion and there are tons of great toys to help them master colors, shapes, sorting, number and letter recognition.  This year they will also dabble in creative and imaginative play, which will continue much more in year 3.



Melissa & Doug Toy Shopping Cart

This toddler-size metal grocery cart is a perfect mini replica of a real grocery cart. Kids especially love filling it with pretend groceries and putting a baby doll in the seat as they pretend to be Mom or Dad on a shopping trip. After seeing every toddler friend, cousin and neighbor play with this at our house, it has become my go-to gift for 2 year olds!


Melissa & Doug Food Groups - 21 Wooden Pieces and 4 Crates

If you give your toddler has a realistic grocery cart, he's going to want some realistic food to put in it. This cute set is a great way to get kids familiar with healthy food and the food groups. There is a crate for grains, dairy, fruits/veggies, and meat. Melissa and Doug also have some really fun cutting food sets that complement this set where the child can "slice" the food on a small cutting board.


LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set

Looking for a toy that holds your toddler's attention while also teaching them letter recognition? This fits the bill! When your child puts a letter in the space and presses once, it says the letter name and sound (S! S says "sssss"!). Press again and it says a word that starts with that letter. It also sings the ABC song and Wheels on the Bus when you press the musical note. Fun and educational, we give this one an A+


Melissa & Doug Latches Wooden Activity Board

Keep little hands busy with this ingenius activity board. Open and close, lock and unlock 6 different types of latches. A fun way to develop fine motor skills. (Note- the picture shows two puzzles but it does only come with one!)


Tonka Retro Classic Steel Mighty Dump Truck

All kids should own this classic, kid-tough steel dump truck. We actually have two- one that stays inside for loading up toys and pushing around the house, and one that stays outside for hauling around sand and dirt.
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LEGO DUPLO Creative Play My First Box of Fun

This is a great starter set for a child's duplo collection. It has 95 pieces including two figures, several animals, house elements and a car. The box has extra room to store more sets you collect along the way.


Holy Stone Magnetic Drawing Board

Think the MagnaDoodle that you played with as a kid, but bigger and with color! Easy to scribble on, easy to erase, and comes with 3 shape stampers (a star, car, and circle) to add to your creations. Mess-free art for toddlers, CHECK!


ALEX Toys Little Hands Button Art

My son was exposed to this toy during occupational therapy sessions to strengthen his fine motor skills. He liked it so much, we got one to have at home. It comes with 10 different picture sheets for the child to match the colored buttons with. When he pushes them in correctly it makes a soft "click" sound that makes it a little extra gratifying.


Fisher-Price Little People Surprise & Sounds Home

A staple in our Little People collection, this house makes lots of fun sounds (refridgerator, oven, alarm clock). And don't think this is just for girls- my first son was completely fixated on this toy for months as a toddler, especially opening and closing the toilet lid and hearing it flush! Comes with a mom, dad, and child figure and closes up with a handle for carrying around.


Fisher-Price Little People Loops 'n Swoops Amusement Park

Another hugely popular addition to our Little People collection, this gets played with by every little kiddo that enters our house! All it's missing is some extra cars, like these Fisher-Price Little People Wheelies All About Trucks.


Magnetic Wooden Fishing Puzzle Game

Use the little magnetic fishing pole to go "fishing" for the sea creature puzzle pieces. Kids will sit quietly for an abnormally long time to accomplish this! Very entertaining for ages 2-4.


Little Tikes Count 'n Play Cash Register

My kids love this toy cash register. The three types of coins are different sizes and thickness so they only fit into the correct opening, so kids learn to sort in a very basic way. Swipe the credit card to drop all the coins down into the drawer. Pull the red handle and the drawer opens with a traditional cash register sound. Simple but clever toy.

Best Toys for 6 Month Olds

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click one of the product links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  I have personally  chosen each product here and am not sponsored by any brands.

6 month old babies have basically one goal in life, and that is to find ALL THE THINGS and put them in their mouths!  Chew toys reign supreme with this age bracket (or regular toys, that baby will also chew on).  Little ones are also developing hand-eye coordination so they will be delighted by toys that they are able to manipulate, like a shaking musical toy, which rewards their movement with a pleasant sound.



Ike & Leo Teething Toys, Set of 4 with Pacifier Clip

These BPA-free, freezer-safe teethers really do stand out from the rest. They have a soft silicone feel to them without being filled with that questionable liquid goo. Each one of the four has a slightly different texture which gives baby some variety (and you will probably notice he'll choose a favorite). The best part is the clip it comes with so you don't end up having to pick them up off the floor over and over. A must-have!


Hohner 4 Piece Baby Band

Hohner is known for making great musical toys and this set nails it for babies. It includes a baby maraca (rattle), mini rainmaker, tambourine, and cage bell. All designed for babies to be able to grip them easily. When baby shakes, they discover the unique sound each one makes. Lots of fun!


Sassy Look Photo Book

Ask any Mom of a 6 month old what their baby's favorite toy is, and they'll answer "ME!" With this cute, drool-proof photo book, babies can stare at pictures of Mom (and other family members) to their heart's content.


Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo

Around 5-6 months old, babies have the head control and upper body strength to sit upright in a jumperoo. This opens up a whole new world to baby whose perspective on the world just went from horizontal to vertical! There are so many great products out there, but this Fisher Price jumperoo gets seriously rave reviews. A baby happily jumping and playing in this contraption = precious minutes of freedom for Mom!


Manhattan Toy Classic Baby Beads Wood Rattle, Teether, and Clutching Toy

This clutching toy moves and glides like a fidget toy. The brightly colored balls twist and turn to promote tactile development. It is remarkably calming to play with. I had some concerns originally about the paint flaking off when babies bite it, but we have had this for years and it still looks brand new.


Bright Starts Safari Beats Musical Toy

This little drum is super easy to hit and will thrill little one when it lights up and plays music in response to their touch. The sounds are addicting and just plain fun. No lie, I have caught myself playing some beats on it when the baby's not even around.


Lamaze Fifi The Firefly

There is something about this toy that just seems to make it baby's favorite. It could be the many colors, different textures and panels, crinkling sound, jingle noise, or the many parts for baby to chew on. Just an excellent sensory toy that holds baby's interest.


Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Rock-a-Stack and Baby's First Blocks Bundle

These two classics are staples that every baby needs. My infant son plays with them literally every day. He can not crawl by without at least knocking over the stack of rings and dumping the shapes out of the sorter! As he approaches 1 year he's now starting to put the rings on and fill the bucket of shapes. These brain-boosting toys are deserving of the name "brilliant basics".


LeapFrog Learn and Groove Musical Table Activity Center

This table is like a magnet for babies and toddlers, it attracts them instantly and sustains their attention! Little ones learn cause and effect by doing various things to elicit a sound (push a button, open and close, spin, slide, turn the page of the book in the center). It even can switch to Spanish mode if you want to expose baby to some basics like colors and ABCs. A major favorite for 6-18 months.


Manhattan Toy Winkel Rattle and Teether Toy

The interlocking soft tube design of this toy make is super easy for babies to hold and explore with their hands and mouths. Babies can't get enough of chewing on this, especially when teething. The middle cube makes a gentle rattle sound when shaken.


Edushape See-Me Sensory Balls

These nubby balls have a spiky texture, providing little one with a new and different sensory input. They come a bit under-inflated, just perfect for baby to squeeze and chew on. As they get older they will enjoy rolling and throwing them as well.


Taggies Crinkle Me Toy, Elephant

As babies, all 4 of my kids loved toys that crinkle, and TAGS! This toy has both, plus a squeaker in the middle and a handy ring that you can attach to the car seat or diaper bag. Easy to bring with you on the go, and easy to throw in the washing machine too.


Sassy Ring O' Links 2 Pack

Keep the links on the ring to use as a standalone rattle, or make a chain out of them to link toys to the car seat or high chair. Versatile toy that has gotten tons of use from my babies.


Oball Rainstick Rattle

This 6 inch Oball has large holes that are super easy to grib and the structure is flexible while still holding its shape. The real highlight of this toy though is rainstick inside. When the ball is rolling or shaken, the beads cascade down and make a soothing rain-like sound. Even older children will take an interest in this ball.

 

 

One Messy Mama

Blended Life Happy Wife

 

Best Toys for 1 Year Olds

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click one of the product links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  I have personally  chosen each product here and am not sponsored by any brands.

Push and pull toys are where it’s at for this age bracket, as new walkers eagerly test out their new skills.  This is also the age of the “dump and fill” stage of play, so little ones will love toys where you can put things in and empty them out (over and over again).  Young toddlers also love toys that make music and have bright, attractive colors, so you will find lots of those on this list.



Little Tikes Cozy Coupe

There is a reason this toy has been around for 30 years. It has UNIVERSAL KID APPEAL. Go ahead and give it to a one year old. Even if they can’t yet get in and out of it themselves, they will be interested. This is a toy they can grow with for a few years. The only problem with this one is the fights kids will get into over it during playdates.


Melissa & Doug Large Shapes Jumbo Knob Wooden Puzzle

This puzzle, with its big chunky pieces and easy-to-grab knobs, is a great intro to puzzles for toddlers. Sure, they will be doing a lot more dumping out and banging the pieces together than they will putting them back in, but it's all in the name of learning.


Playskool Busy Ball Popper

Ok I'll give it to you straight on this one. Yes, it is loud. Yes, you have to keep it loaded with D batteries. Yes, the songs can get annoying and there will be plastic balls rolling all over. But- it WILL be played with. Kids just get so excited about this one! If you want a toy that is guaranteed hours of play and not just taking up space, this is it.


Hape Kid's Toy Push and Pull Toy

New walkers never tire of pushing this adorable wooden toy around the house! Reminiscent of the classic plastic ball popper toy, but with a very pleasant "clack" sound that won't drive parents crazy.


Tomy Hide & Squeak Eggs

These cute little eggs have a lot going on. They come in a carton that opens and closes and fits each egg into its own spot based on the shape on the bottom. The eggs have different facial expressions that matches the one on its shell. Baby’s favorite part will be the irresistable cheep they make when you push down on them. A big hit in this house from age 1-4!


IKEA Mula Stack and Nest Cups

A modern take on the classic stacking cup, these have fun and eye-catching patterns and detailed textures. Nest, separate, build, knock down. These cups cover several of a one year old's favorite activities. They are also great for water play or in a sensory table with sand or rice.


Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon

Whether your little one is walking independently or still needing a little assistance, push toys are where it’s at with this age bracket. And this adorable push toy version of the Radio Flyer Wagon is sure to delight! Toddlers love loading it up with their toys and feel empowered pushing it around the house. It is well-built and sturdy to withstand the inevitable beating a new walker will inflict on it. This well-loved toy will surely be passed down to future family members.


Kidoozie Funtime Tractor

This tractor sings, moves on its own, and makes animal noises when baby pushes down on one of the animals. The farmer and animals also come in and out, and lock into place when baby gets them into the correct spot. Lots of fun and entertainment, and also a good way to introduce farm animals and their sounds to your little one.


Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Piggy Bank

Your 1 year old will want to put all the coins in, then dump them all out over and over again. They will also love pressing piggy's nose to hear it oink and sing.


Fisher-Price Little People School Bus

Little People sets are a classic that young toddlers up to preschool age love playing with, and this bus is no exception. It comes with a driver and two other little people that the child can take in and out of the seats on the bus. When you push on the driver's seat, he talks and the stop lights flash. It also sings a song, "stop and go", that is mildly annoying but the little ones will enjoy! Great way to start any child's Little People collection.

5 Ways to Get Your Kids to PLAY More

Do you feel like your house is overrun by heaps of toys, yet you find yourself practically begging your children to go play with them?  Here are 5 easy (and FREE) ways you can get your kids to play more.

1. Less is more.

My kids never play with the toys they have, so I should go out and buy them some new toys, right?  Think again.  Sometimes the sheer mass of toys in a cluttered playroom is such a turnoff it actually makes kids not want to play with anything.  Cut it down (way down) and you’ll find they have more interest in the toys that are there, as well as more physical space to engage with those toys.  An empty playroom with some toys along one wall is an inviting space for kids to move around and use their imagination.  You’ll also find that with fewer toys, kids are great at coming up with new and creative ways to play with the same things.

2. Don’t make screens an option.

If kids have access to TV, tablets, and video games, they are not going to be inclined to go build or create.  Screens are too tempting, not to mention addicting for kids to resist on their own.  It may be a tough habit to break if your kids are used to coming home from school and going straight to the couch to watch those favorite shows, but a change in the routine and the house rules will be worth it if you put the effort in.  Set some new screen ground rules and build play time into their routine.  Here our after school routine is: outdoor time (if weather allows this is a MUST so they can burn off some energy that’s been pent up all day at school),  snack, homework, play time, dinner.  If they have accomplished all of that before 7pm, they may have some screen time before bath and bed.  Typically they either don’t have the extra time for it, or they end up choosing to continue whatever they were playing before dinner instead.

3. Keep toys in sight.

Out of sight, out of mind.  If the kids don’t see the toys they aren’t going to play with the toys.  That is why inside of the big toy box (aka toy dumping ground) doesn’t see the light of day for weeks at a time.  As much as we all want to reclaim our living spaces as adult space with no trace of kids living there, it won’t help your cause of getting kids to play more.  Would you rather have clean adult spaces and whiny, bored children or several designated play spaces strategically placed throughout the house to encourage kids to entertain themselves?  It can be as simple as a hanging dress up clothes on some kid-height hooks in your mudroom, keeping paper, markers, scissors, and glue sticks out near your kitchen table, and rotating some puzzles and board games on the coffee table.

4. Get organized.

No one wants to play with one single matchbox car or a teapot with no teacups.  Take the time to get organized and keep toys together as sets.  We use clear plastic bins that are clearly labeled to show what’s inside.  This works for sets of toys like blocks and legos, toy animals, puppets, play food, musical instruments, and more.  We even organize our art cabinet this way so that everything is visible and easy to find.

5. Rotate toys.

This one takes a little dedication but it is so worth it.  After you’ve gone through the toys and organized them into bins and thrown away extraneous junk, you need to take this important next step.  Take 2/3 of it and put it away where the kids can’t get it.  We put ours in the basement boiler room which is blocked off from the finished area of the basement.  Now, wait a few months.  You will see the kids play with the remaining 1/3 of the toys more than the did before and they will get creative and come up with new ways to play with them.  When this slows down (or if there is a long rainy day or any other reason that you think it’s time), put those away and bring out a new 1/3 of the toys.  Since the kids haven’t seen them in months, these will yield excitement as if you had gotten your kids all new toys!  And the best part is, you still have the last 1/3 that you can break out a few months later and repeat the process again.

Parents, weigh in! What strategies do you use to keep your kids interested and engaged with their toys?