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Harlow's Faves: Great Toys for Growing Toddlers

As hard as it is to believe, Harlow is officially a toddler. Just a couple weeks shy of fourteen months, she is into ev-er-y-thing. (No, she's not walking yet.) I love just watching her, seeing what catches her attention and how she explores new objects and experiences.

It's not always easy (or cheap) to know what toys to choose for your child. Walking into a toy store or shopping online can be intimidating in terms of scope and scale; add another layer of parental pressure to choose safe yet stimulating toys that your mini me won't tire of in two seconds and the whole enterprise starts to feel like borderline rocket science.

A mix of research and real-life experience has helped me get a better grasp on what to look choose. For children aged zero to three, the best toys fall into the following categories:

- Multi-use, such as nesting cups, stacking blocks, or interlocking blocks that can grow with your child, or be used around the house, in the bath tub, or outside

- Problem-solving and exploration, like shape sorters, puzzles, nesting cups, and blocks

- "Real stuff" or toys that mimic real-life objects like miniature brooms, toy phones, tools, and instruments

- Imagination and make believe, such as dress up clothes, plastic food and kitchen utensils, trains, dolls, stuffed animals, and even household objects that can be repurposed like big boxes, cardboard tubes, etc.

We've offered a variety of toys and games across every category to Harlow to see what she gravitates towards. Some are clear faves - her nesting cups and geometric blocks, for instance - and others it really just depends on the day. I wanted to share some of her current favorites for anybody looking to add a crowd pleaser to their child's toy collection.


Boy does she love this set of mini musical instruments! The maracas are hands-down her favorites because they're easily controlled and make such a pleasing shaker sound. She loves the tambourine for the same reasons, and now is starting to show the clacker more attention as she begins to understand how to properly use it. She makes music with pretty much every piece except the tone blocks. These instruments are so much fun for her now, and as she grows older she'll begin to use them in different ways. I can't recommend this one enough!


I'll be honest, I wanted Harlow to have this for a couple reasons: one, to introduce "real" tools at an early age to begin teaching what they are and why we need them; and two, because I don't believe tools should be a "boys" toy. I'm not saying she needs GI Joes and toy soldiers in her toy chest, but I do like the idea of her becoming familiar and comfortable with tools now so that down the road she doesn't think she needs someone else's help when she needs to repair or assemble something. I may very well be overthinking this whole thing, but I'd like to instill confidence and the knowledge that she is 100% capable of doing things on her own. Asking for help is a marvelous and often important action, but it's often a safety net for a skill that wasn't learned for whatever reason. I'm speaking from personal experience here -- I wish I could use a drill or change a tire myself and one day I might just finally get there! With Mike and I's help, I'd like to foster those skills in our daughter from the get-go.

In the here and now, Harlow is particularly fond of the screw driver and wrench and has made some really adorable attempts at "screwing in" or "tightening" the nuts and bolts that came in the kit. Sadly, her hammer met its maker after I left it lying around for the dogs to find one lazy afternoon. Here's where I make my plea for toy companies to sell replacement pieces!


I like to call these my barn yard babysitters. Harlow loves to play with these while I'm in the kitchen cooking dinner or cleaning up. We talk a lot about animals while we read books, watch a show, or play with her toys. These individual animal magnets are cool to continue teaching her their names and what sounds they make, even in a second language. I do make (some) attempts to teach Harlow French, so we can say things like "What does the cow say? La vache dit 'moo!'"

Harlow is also in a phase where she's exploring spatial relationships: in and out, over and under, on and off. She loves taking the magnets off of the fridge, putting them in their box or on the floor, then putting them back on the fridge.


Friends of ours gave this play set to Harlow for her birthday and she LOVES it! I love how life-like it is. Most of the pieces are magnetic so the scoop actually picks up and releases the ice cream, and the ice cream sticks to the cones! You can get really creative and serve up a double (or triple!) scoop. The menu card doesn't get much attention these days but when Harlow is older, she'll be able to play ice cream parlor and take someone's order before serving them their tasty treat.

Melissa & Doug make lots of pretend food sets ranging from pizza, to sandwiches, to cookies and cakes. We don't have a play kitchen yet for Harlow (I think she's still a tad young) but when that day comes I would like to stock her pretend pantry with plenty of food. Given how much she loves the ice cream set, we'll probably start accumulating the food before we have a kitchen to put it in!

To prevent burn out and to encourage different types of play, we spread her toys out around the house and switch them around from time to time. For instance, her books, tool set, and musical instrument are in her bedroom. Her purse (with wallet, cell phone, and lipstick, naturally) and ice cream set stay in her toy bench in the living room. We keep toys like building blocks, her chatter phone, and the new Dance & Move BeatBelle down in her playroom so that she has plenty of room to spread out and play.

I wanted to include more of Harlow's favorites, like which books she loves to read and which songs she likes to listen to, but that became a ton of information for just one post. So! Stay tuned for that one to come soon, as well as some cute new clothes and shoes we've picked out for Valentines and spring!


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