Like everything else we write about, we want our toy recommendations to be thoughtful, well-priced (whenever possible), and thoroughly investigated. That’s why our writers and editors spent months gathering insight on all the best toys today from dozens of experts (about 50) in different age groups, including child psychologists, discerning (and sometimes famous) parents, nannies, play therapists, teachers, arts educators, and toy-makers.
Dr. Roberta Golinkoff, a professor of child psychology at the University of Delaware, says the best toys allow growing kids to engage in imaginative play, practice communication, and develop fine motor skills. And depending on your child’s age, she says the right toy can also help them build on growing senses of creativity and understanding of others. With this in mind — and, of course, a sense of fun — we found highlights such as a six-foot-long crawl tunnel to help your toddler develop spatial awareness, a pair of mini-walkie-talkies for teaching kids that communication doesn’t always happen through screens, a step-by-step comic-book-making kit that demonstrates the power of storytelling, and countless more age-appropriate art and STEM picks to boost your child’s curiosity and sense of play.
Below, we’ve curated a lineup organized by age for the first 12 years of your kid’s life. And if you’d like to shop by type, visit the Strategist Toy Store here.
Many child-development experts say the best way to boost growth in babies is adult interaction through talking, singing, and sensory play. To keep an infant engaged during these activities, we found tons of simple and affordable toys, books, and (important at this age) teethers — all while nurturing their fine motor skills and promoting social-emotional exploration. Read more here.
When looking for gifts for 1-year-olds, child-development expert Sarah McLaughlin says “you have to add sensory or mobility features to the mix” to keep them interested. In searching for the most engaging toys, we spoke to educators and parents to round up selections that will stimulate and surprise your early learner’s rapidly growing brain. These explorative toys will excite all five senses while providing hours of fun. Read more here.
We surveyed professionals and parents to find 33 open-ended toys that help a 2-year-old continue to explore and use their imagination. Whether they’re assembling a puzzle or trying on dress-up clothes, our list of gifts will encourage your toddler’s emerging personality and allow them to practice their independence through problem-solving or accomplishing a simple task. Read more here.
Child psychologist Dr. George Sachs says 3 is the age at which kids start initiating conversation and producing simple sentences, so it’s important that their toys foster language development. From easy-to-learn games to joint-play activities, our roundup of the best gifts for 3-year-olds will strengthen your toddler’s communication skills while promoting their creativity, cooperation, and self-regulation. Read more here.
For 4-year-olds, Dr. Golinkoff says to think about the “six C’s”: collaboration, communication, content, creative innovation, critical thinking, and confidence. Keeping those C’s in mind, we’ve rounded up 33 toys that will suit this age group’s ever-expanding vocabulary, increasing physical development, and, oftentimes, their downright goofiness. Read more here.
Sachs says that by 5 years old, children have a better grasp on their emotions and are ready for problem-solving games that help foster skills around competition and collaboration. Here, we’ve gathered 28 gifts that fit that criteria — many of which are not only fun but will help them practice teamwork, multitasking, and emotion management. Read more here.
For the 6-year-old transitioning from kindergarten to first grade, moving from a play-based environment to a work-based one can be tough, therapist Joseph Sacks says. To help you find ways to comfort your 6-year-old after challenging days at school, we rounded up 29 gifts — from collectibles and games to building toys and more — that will serve as a fun escape while supporting essential brain functions. Read more here.
At 7, second-graders are finding a sense of independence, so the most appropriate toys for this age group should also speak to their blossoming passions. Whether they enjoy trading Pokémon cards, learning how to draw, or biking around the neighborhood with their friends, we uncovered 30 expert-approved gifts for the 7-year-old in your life. Read more here.
While 8-year-olds are in the midst of “a tremendous growth spurt in physical, emotional, and cognitive development,” Stoller says, they’d probably appreciate gifts that are stimulating but also encourage creativity. To entertain (and challenge) their maturing brains and bodies, we talked to toy experts, child psychologists, and some discerning parents about their favorite picks for 8-year-olds. Read more here.
To help 9-year-olds in their early tween years, Natalie Williams, director of education at the Miami Children’s Museum, says art activities can inspire self-expression and help regulate emotions. Along with providing a creative outlet, our gifts for the curious 9-year-old in your life also include classic board games to more of-the-moment ideas recommended by toy-trend forecasters. Read more here.
And for 10-year-olds, you’ll want to find something that celebrates this double-digit age and encourages your child’s rapidly increasing physical and emotional skills. We’ve found 33 of the best toys that will delight your tween, whether they’re showing more interest in reading or just looking for a laugh with friends. Read more here.
Around age 11, children are typically entering sixth grade (usually at a new big-kid school), which means “they’re starting to think more about their social identity and who they are as a more mature person,” says Lisa Goldstein, a librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library. And with puberty beginning for some, it can be a transformative period — which is why we curated a list of suitable ideas with input from toy editors and parents, plus some actual 11-year-olds. Read more here.
“Adolescence is all about the dialectic of freedom versus supervision,” psychotherapist Matt Lundquist says of these almost-teenage years. So when it comes to choosing gifts for 12-year-olds, it’s helpful to let their interests be your guide and search for an item that allows them to express the person they’re quickly becoming. Read more here.
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