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Parents' Guide to Children's Products for Fun & Learning


   Gift Guide:  Babies & Toddlers

It can be great fun buying gifts for babies and toddlers. The sheer quantity of toys and games available for this age group can be daunting enough to take the  fun< out of it, however! When it comes to toys and software, any parent will agree that there are wiser choices than others—toys that entertain and educate at the same time are ideal. Plenty of products are available that are exciting enough to give as gifts, yet still manage to encourage budding skills.

Often, though, some of the best gifts are toys that inspire imagination and pretend play. So, while electronic teaching aids can be fantastic, basic building blocks and wooden puzzles are priceless. We've included topnotch software,  toys, videos, and magazines that little children will love receiving, and adults will love giving. 

Top Gifts
for Babies & Toddlers



1Baby Bug and Wild Animal Baby Subscriptions

One of our favorite gifts for babies and toddlers is a subscription to either Babybug or Animal Baby. Both are fantastic boardbook-like "magazines" that come about 10 times in a year. They are exceptional! Babybug features plenty of short stories, some of which are continuing series. Stories, poems, and action rhymes that truly speak to young children fill the pages. Each issue has objects for kids to find in the pages as well. These are little books you'll treasure for years to come.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Babybug at]


My Pal Scout and My Pal Violet by LeapFrog 

Young children will adore their little "pals" that say their name, whether it's the endearing green Scout or the popular purple Violet plush dog friend. Both pals are interactive and very customizable via the Internet, so yes, you will need an internet connection in order to have the little plushie say your child's name and present learning songs, sounds, and activities that you think most appropriate and fun--although the toy comes preloaded with a handful of such tunes and activities. In order to download content from the Internet, the toy can be connected to your computer via a USB cord, which is thankfully included in the package! If your child has an uncommon name, it may not be in the database, even though it's quite extensive. If this is the case, there are a number of common nicknames to choose from. Parents can also customize the toy according to favorite colors, foods, and more. Very cute--and quite inexpensive for what you get!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: LeapFrog My Pal Scout or LeapFrog My Pal Violet at - affiliate link]

Beginner Pattern Blocks

Pattern blocks have traditionally been used for preschoolers and elementary school-aged children as a means to boost their perceptual and math skills. This set of pattern blocks for beginners feature the same colorful tiles of geometric shapes in a larger size for easier manipulation and safety reasons, with puzzle boards appropriate for younger children. This set offers an excellent educational activity for toddlers. Note that kids can play with the wooden shape tiles in free form style. This way, they'll discover on their own that placing two triangles together in a certain way will make a square, and other such rewarding discoveries. Little houses and other designs can be formed as well. Excellent!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Beginner Pattern Blocks (affiliate link) at]

3 LeapFrog Letter Factory Phonics

This is an electronic toy that is effective, attractive, and affordable. This excellent and educational toy "factory" allows children to practice the alphabet through song and play. It comes with all 26 letters of the alphabet, as well as a little electronic unit that speaks and plays music. Children place any magnetic letter onto the unit (the reader) and the letter is recognized and named, along with a fun little song that reinforces the letter's name and phonics sound! This set is simple, appealing, and rather easy on the pocketbook. As children grow, of course, parents can help children put letters together to form small words. Highly recommended.  

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: LeapFrog Letter Factory Phonics (affiliate link) at]

Discover and Play Piano by Baby Einstein

Babies learn the numbers 1 through 5 in English, Spanish, and French, listen to higher quality music, "compose", as well as explore with cause and effect with this simple yet appealing electronic toy. Colored lights dance to classical tunes on the toy's screen. Uniquely, pressing a key doesn't play an entire song. Instead, it plays only one part of a melody. Nice introduction to music.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Baby Einstein Discover and Play Piano (affiliate link) at]


Stacking Train 

This wooden activity toy is ideal for younger preschoolers. The 17-inch long wooden train not only features interlocking train cars, but stackable blocks that "fit" like a puzzle onto the train's pegs in  different ways. This is a cute and educational toy with strong appeal. It features the tactile appeal of wood, the educational value of puzzles and blocks, and the practical appeal of a moving toy.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Stacking Train at]

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Railway Set

This incredible railway and train set will be sure to provide hours of entertainment! Train sets are a classic, and continue to be extremely entertaining to this day even with a lack of flashy gadgets and electronics that often populate toys today. Our child reviewers returned to this set numerous times and always were able to find new ways to enjoy it. Melissa & Doug's version is very customizable, with a lot of available expansions and accessories that ensure to keep things interesting. The set is very sturdy, and is a great quality toy overall that will last for years upon years, which is perfect to re-use with any future children or to pass on to friends or family.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Railway Set (affiliate link) at]

5Playskool Busy Ball Popper

When little hands push this toy's plunger, colorful balls pop out of the top. Some of them roll down the spiral track, eventually to pop out of the top again. Others escape, and it's up to kids to push them back in again. It's pleasantly surprising (there's nothing quite like this kind of anticipation), includes silly sound effects, and keeps kids laughing and playing. There's nothing here that is hugely educational (except for the basic lesson in cause-and-effect), but it's truly a busy and giggle-inducing experience. Fun!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Playskool Explore and Grow Busy Ball Popper]


Taggies Big Soft Blocks & Other Taggies Toys

We love the whole Taggies line of baby toys, with their attractive design and tactile features. The Taggies Big Soft Blocks are soft and visually interesting--babies love the textures of the blocks and sounds they make.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: TAGGIES™ Big Soft Blocks or All Taggies Toys (affiliate links) at]


Mozart Magic Cube

Although it's a tad pricey, this six-sided, battery-operated toy designed for babies and toddlers has both play and educational value. Kids experiment with music in simple yet evocative ways. The cube features five musical instruments. Children can listen to the Mozart tunes with one or more instruments, depending on the buttons pressed. The ability to "take apart" a song by instrument, and put it back together again, is powerful. 

[For more information or to buy: Mozart Magic Cube]



Leap Frog Learn & Groove Musical Table

A good activity table is one of the best toys to give a baby who is just learning to "pull up". This one will surely provide encouragement! Although it's more expensive than most activity tables, it is also more interactive and attractive. The legs of the toy are detachable, so babies can grow into it. Smack in the center of the tabletop is a book with turning pages. A colorful keyboard plays music and actually sings the color names! Two modes of play are available, and parents can choose whichever mode suits their child's abilities and interests. Plenty of songs, things that light up, and busy things to do (those cause-and-effect games that so delight children of this age) make this toy a winner. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: LeapFrog Learn & Groove Musical Table (affiliate link) at]

Leapfrog Musical Counting Pal

Through music, touch, and sight, Musical Counting Pal introduces babies to counting, numbers from 1 to 5, and 5 different colors. Classic tactile activities add more sensual stimulation to this attractive toy that can be hung over baby's crib, used in the car, or elsewhere if desired. Many different music and melodies are featured in this versatile toy, such as classical music by the likes of Bach and Beethoven, among other classics. Toddlers may need help with pressing the buttons (we wish they were easier to activate), but the toy is attractive and engaging nevertheless. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: LeapFrog Musical Counting Pal (affiliate link) at]


Geometric Shapes Jumbo Knob Puzzle

It's simple, but it drives the learning home. This wooden puzzle features 8 colorful geometric shapes that fit into a puzzle board. The knobs on the puzzle pieces make them easier to hold, and illustrations are found beneath each piece. Children learn shapes more easily when they do instead of just see. This simple wooden toy is loads of fun for toddlers and young preschoolers.

[Buy Melissa & Doug Large Shapes Jumbo Puzzle (affiliate link) at]

Sorting Shapes Cupcakes

These set of cute cupcakes helps kids match basic shapes. Each cupcake top fits into its matching bottom according to its shape, and each cupcake stores nicely in the plastic play muffin tin. Children will love playing with these "two-part" cupcakes as they develop fine motor skills.

Buy Sorting Shapes Cupcakes (affiliate link) at



Baby Farm Friends Bowling 

They're oh-so-soft, jingly, and huggable...and they're bowling pins. This lovable set is just right for little ones. Baby Farm Friends Bowling features six animal-themed, numbered bowling pins that rattle, and a weighted bowling ball. No electronics, no batteries, nothing truly "fancy" here. Still, the set easily becomes baby's favorite.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy Baby Farm Friends Bowling

More Excellent Choices:

Dynamite Daisy and Fireball Frankie

These simple but appealing friction-powered sports cars by Wow Toys function very well and are easy enough for toddlers to manipulate, unlike many similar toys in the same genre which take more effort to operate. Kids simply push and the cars take off, complete with sound effects (engine sounds) and cute little matching drivers. Two versions of the sports cars appeal to both boys and girls.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Dynamite Daisy and Fireball Frankie (affiliate link) at]  

Octotunes by Lamaze

This toy is sweet and musical. Each colorful tentacle of this adorable plush octopus plays a different note when it is squeezed. You can purchase it for your baby, although you will likely be the one playing it at first. By the time they are toddlers, little ones should be able to squeeze the tentacles themselves, however. The toy is a great size for hugging and playing--it's about 18 inches tall. It's excellent for teaching kids to "compose" their own songs, and it is ideal for developing color recognition. Excellent toy for babies and toddlers!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Lamaze Octotunes at]

LeapFrog AlphaPup

Kids discover the alphabet through this interactive, adorable pup who will serenade your child as they walk it. They are introduced to the alphabet (plus letter sounds) with this electronic toy for a musical and audible response.

This dynamic product comes in two colors, green and pink (although pink is harder to come by), and features soft ears that your infant will love to caress. The cord is short enough to be safe but still functional, allowing your child to walk their new pet without safety issues. Most of our testers return to this toy again and again. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: LeapFrog AlphaPup, Green at]

Fisher Price Little People Christmas

Place this set under the tree, and kids can actually play with the nativity scene! Toddlers always love the chunky Little People figurines, and with this set, they can learn something about the meaning behind Christmas. Cute!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Fisher Price Little People Nativity Christmas Story at]

Cozy Coupe II Car

The classic plastic car, with its distinctive yellow and red design, has been improved. Now with a higher seat back and a storage compartment at the back, this favorite ride-in car is better than ever. Kids just love the Cozy Coupe, while parents enjoy the fact that it's powered by their children's feet so it doesn't move too fast if children don't yet have the leg power to race around. Still, young kids love the "baby steps" the car makes, and getting in and out of it is great fun in and of itself. Toddlers will grow into the car. Families with large playrooms often keep the Cozy Coupe inside until their child is old enough to make it work outside. This new version has been improved without changing the overall look of the car too much--which is a good thing. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Little Tikes Cozy Coupe 30th Anniversary Car or Little Tikes Princess Cozy Coupe - 30th Anniversary (affiliate link) at]

Prince Lionheart Wheely Bug

This totally unique ride-on toy is the ultimate in maneuverability for indoor active fun. Designed for toddlers, the design is simple yet very functional--in other words, it really works! The feelers wobble as kids ride their lightweight yet sturdy Wheely Bug.

Comes in two sizes and different characters. Super!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Prince Lionheart Wheely Bug at]

Elmo Live!

Elmo Live is a plush toy of Elmo, who, from his sitting
position, crosses his legs, bobbles his head from side to side, tells jokes as his mouth flaps right on cue, sings songs, and even plays games. Kids activate this extraordinarily true-to-life plushie by squeezing his hands, nose, or feet.

Elmo Live is, of course, expected to be at least as popular as its predecessors (such as Elmo TMX and Tickle Me Elmo). This one is the most advanced interactive Elmo we have seen yet.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy Fisher-Price Elmo Live at (paid link)]

coverAnimal Alley Stuffed Animals 

Kids love soft stuffed plush animals, and the Animal Alley line from Toys R Us is a favorite. The animals are adorable and decently-priced. The selection is wide--ranging from small to jumbo-sized animals, and all types of animals, from frogs to bears to unicorns. Pictured at left is a jumbo Darny Dog, a huggable 43-inch dog. coverAt right is a smaller Bichon Frise dog. Big and little colorful frogs, tall giraffes, cool alligators, panthers and tigers, and many more cuddly animals make up this wonderful line of affordable stuffed animals. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: see the full line: Animal Alley Stuffed Animals at]

Secret Sorter

Sorting shapes is a pleasurable activity for babies and toddlers. While there are many shape sorter toys on the market--both of the plastic and wooden variety--none are quite as satisfying and multi-faceted as this one. With the Secret Sorter, pleasing wooden shapes fit into a cloth bag in the matching slots. The cloth bag acts as a place to store the blocks, but it can also be used in a game of "guess the shape" in which toddlers feel a wooden shape without seeing it. The bag is reversible, allowing the shapes to be sorted by color as well. 

This fantastic toy is becoming more difficult to find. However, you might want to try the Plan Toys web site.

Musical Stack & Play by Tiny Love

This 2-in-1 battery-operated musical toy is a ring stacker and electronic ball toy. The funnel-shaped elephant is colorful and of good quality, and the sound effects are pleasant (never jarring). When kids place a ball in the elephant's head, they are rewarded with lights, music, and sound effects--and the ball comes shooting out of the door at the bottom. Very cute!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Tiny Love Musical Stack & Play at]

Fisher-Price Little Superstar Step 'n Play Piano

Toddlers get a real kick out of seeing themselves in the mirror. Here's a cute activity center that stars the cutest toddler in town--your baby! With a small mirror in its center (of course, shatterproof), and a cozy activity center surrounded by colorful piano keys, this musical experience is sure to delight. This toy is designed to get baby grooving on their feet with music, blinking lights, and a variety of drums and noisemakers.

[For more information or to buy: Fisher-Price Little Superstar Step 'n Play Piano ]

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