Why he'll love it: Toddlers are natural mimics, so let him cook dinner while you do too.
Why experts love it: "A kitchen enables kids to learn more about the world around them through acting out roles, encouraging them to be creative," says Joyce Nuner, PhD, assistant professor of child development and family studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
Our pick: This small wooden version is a gorgeous alternative to big honkin' plastic one. It comes with pots and pans, utensils, and adorable carved "food."
Why he'll love it: Paints are an organic way to teach colors -- and to learn how they mix to make even more shades.
Why experts love it: "Art materials help children explore cause and effect as well as creativity and aesthetic appreciation," says Nuner.
Our pick: Not only does this set of watercolors come with 21 brilliant colors, but you can let him go to town, since these paints won't stain clothes, furniture, or skin.
Why she'll love it: Giving your kiddo a spot dedicated to getting creative lets her cultivate her inner artiste (and means she won't be using the couch).
Why experts love it: "Writing on an easel supports good wrist and hand positions -- skills that are a prerequisite to healthy handwriting," says Weiss.
Our pick: This double-sided maple easel has roomy storage trays and roll-down paper for endless doodling. One big plus: It has a unique kid-safe hinge that reduces the chances of pinching when you fold this up.
Why she'll love it: Now's a perfect time for your child to start working on her balance and coordination.
Why experts love it: "This is good for kids who are fearful of movement, since little feet are firmly planted on the floor while they move," says Weiss.
Our pick: She can practice for hours with this non-tippy, bent birch-wood scooter. Thanks to this scooter's abstract shape (kids sit between the humps), sky's the limit when it comes to imagining what she's riding -- a pony, a dump truck, a dragon?
Why he'll love it: Two is a good age to introduce puzzles and the concept that smaller parts fit together to make a whole.
Why experts love it: "Kids this age are starting to focus but can be easily distracted, so 2- to 5-piece puzzles allow for success," says Adair.
Our pick: He'll have a ball matching the mother animal pieces to their babies -- make the sound for the animal together each time he makes a match.
Why she'll love it: That lovey she adored to shreds might be ready for retirement, but toddlers may need something that will help them transition to a big kid bed (and help them stay there all night).
Why experts love it: "A comfort object is soothing for kids who are fearful of the dark," says Weiss.
Our pick: This nightlight/stuffed animal projects stars onto the ceiling and displays five illuminated endangered sea animals -- and gives you a chance to start the conversation about wildlife conservation.
Why she'll love it: Dress-up is just one amazing manifestation of your child's incredible imagination.
Why experts love it: "Dress-up gives kids an opportunity to act out roles in a safe environment," says Nuner.
Our pick: With this gorgeous but subtle homemade wool crown, sweetly adorned with a flower, your daughter can play princess. (And hey, we don't judge if you want to try it on too.) Gender-neutral crowns mean boys can join in.
Why he'll love it: Books are always a great way to promote literacy and language development. But take it one step further and make reading time an awesome full-circle parenting moment by choosing a book you used to love as a kid. Explain that you used to read this too -- and then watch him try to process the fact that Mommy actually has a mommy too.
Why experts love it: "At 2, books with just a few words on each page and books about familiar things -- like animals, families, things that go, things you wear, food, shapes, colors -- work best," says Nuner.
Our pick: We love the timeless appeal of Goodnight Moon's bedtime poem -- and its magical sleep-inducing powers, which used to work on you too.
Why she'll love it: Two is the age when many parents gently introduce the concept of toilet training. A mini potty can help with the process.
Why experts love it: "Many toddlers are hesitant to sit on the big potty," says Weiss. "A potty just for them creates a more friendly and welcoming potty environment."
Our pick: She'll get an immediate response in the form of sound effects and music when she plays with, sits on, or uh, deposits in this little potty-seat. The seat ring pops off to be used on the big toilet too.
Why he'll love it: Toddlers relish playing Mommy or Daddy (read: being in charge), and developing their nurturing side.
Why experts love it: "Dolls encourage kids to think abstractly through pretend play, helping them become successful learners," says Nuner. Plus, learning how to be gentle with a doll might help prep them for a sibling.
Our pick: This lifelike, 14-inch doll has movable arms and legs, a wardrobe, plus a binky and bottle. She can also sit up by herself, thanks to a weighted bottom.
Copyright © 2009 Meredith Corporation.