2-Year-Old Birthday Gift Ideas
Parents usually dread the day their sweet baby morphs into a screaming toddler. But here's the good news: It's relatively easy to shop for 2-year-old birthday gifts. At this age, a child’s natural curiosity makes her an avid fan of virtually any kind of toy—she's not too caught up in specific interests or gender conventions. Plus, she’s still trying to master basic skills: walking and running, holding a crayon and scribbling on paper, increasing her vocabulary, putting sentences together, etc.
Sheri Gurock, owner of Magic Beans children's toy store in the Boston area, says the best 2-year-old birthday gifts improve your child’s development while providing a fun experience. Read on for our top picks for girls and boys.
Choosing the Best Gifts
Choosing the best 2-year-old birthday gift comes down to a couple of factors. First, remember that toddlers still don't have high expectations for gifts; they're grateful for any new item. Second, remember that long-lasting toys are probably the best investment. Look for ones that are made of high-quality materials (wood and high-grade plastic) and will appeal to children with a wide range of ages. Third, think about what your child will truly enjoy. "Expose 2-year-olds to new things," says Lisa J. Lewis, OTD, a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Kids Therapy Made Simple in Los Angeles, CA. "There's always the opportunity for growth and change at that age, and you want to provide them with new challenges."
Try to avoid toys with excessive packaging; toddlers don't have much patience for delayed gratification. If you suspect that a gift will take a while to extract from a box, consider unpacking and wrapping it again so it'll be ready to be played with as soon as the paper comes off.
Buttoning, Buckling and Coordination Toys
During the coming year, your toddler will develop the hand strength and coordination to get dressed every day. Consider toys that provide opportunities to practice fine motor skills such as buttoning, buckling, zipping, lacing, and tying.
- RELATED: The Best Kids’ Birthday Party Places
What’s more, as tots make progress feeding themselves, they'll learn to use a fork and to drink from a cup without a lid. Let them practice these skills with fun toddler-size cutlery sets that have broad, easy-to-grip handles, sectioned plates, and colorful place mats.
Building and Constructing Toys
Simple square wooden blocks are the hallmark of a toddler's basic construction work: stacking, building, knocking down, rebuilding. Towers will start out small (two or three blocks at most), but as fine motor skills improve, they'll get higher and higher. Choose alphabet blocks because they serve a dual purpose: They're the right shape and size for stacking and they help familiarize children with the ABCs.
Toddlers are also fascinated with anything rolling or magnetic, so look for wooden railway sets to combine both interests. Your 2-year-old probably isn't concerned with the tracks—he just likes assembling and pushing the trains around—but within the next year or two, he'll acquire the coordination to put tracks together into elementary paths.
Toys for Walking and Running
Two-year-olds love to chase things, which increases gross and fine motor skills, muscle tone, endurance, coordination, balance, and core strength. "When children are age 2, you want to see them navigate their environment with stability," says Dr. Lewis. "Running helps toddlers get in touch with their bodies." Games of catch allow a child to practice taking turns—a key skill for social development. Balls also make a terrific gift, especially if you can get a collection of different sizes and materials, as each one will offer a fun challenge.
Pedaling and Pushing Toys
Two-year-olds aren’t ready to pedal a tricycle, so look for high-quality options with a push bar. "Pushing toddlers on a tricycle helps them learn to move their feet and hold themselves upright, forming a foundation for eventually riding the trike alone," Dr. Lewis says.
Balance bikes are another option that teaches 2-year-olds with how to ride without pedals. If a child can learn how to balance with her feet up, she can transition easily to a two-wheeled bicycle. You can find balance bikes in a variety of sizes and materials, including wood, metal, and plastic.
Reading and Talking Gifts
Expand your family library by giving engaging picture books as 2-year-old birthday gifts. "Reading aloud contributes so much to language development—by building vocabulary, teaching children that stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and showing them that words move from left to right and from top to bottom," says Amy Flynn, M.S. M.Ed, an early childhood education specialist with New York's Head Start program.
- RELATED: The 50 Best Children's Books
Stick with board books, since they’re sturdy enough for small hands. Get a mix of classic stories and interactive ones with touch-and-feel pages or flaps to lift and lower. Also consider adding longer storybooks to the shelf, as 2-year-olds are starting to pay attention for longer periods of time. "It's important for parents to offer a variety of reading materials to children, from storybooks to poetry to nursery rhymes," Flynn says.
Gifts for Creating and Expressing
Some of the best 2-year-old birthday gift ideas encourage creativity and artistic expression: crayons, washable markers, finger-paints, brushes, and more. For your 2-year-old, art is not about the product—it's about the process. Children get a nice boost of self-esteem from seeing their creations displayed proudly. Use a simple clothesline and clothespins to hang artwork to dry and be displayed at the same time.
- RELATED: Why Art and Creativity Are Important
Museum trips also make a special birthday present. "Exposing a child to art is really important for creating and developing visual imagery in the brain," says Diane Quiroga, a board certified and registered art therapist and mental health consultant in Livingston, New Jersey. But if you can't get to a museum, there are easy alternatives. "I like to buy postcards from museums and laminate them," Quiroga adds.
Gifts for Pretending and Imagining
Two-year-olds love “pretend play” that exercises the imagination.Invest in some fun props to inspire your growing toddlers to participate in make-believe. Options include a set of plastic food, accessories for tea time, toy trucks, and more.
Gifts for Floating and Splashing
Bath time can be an opportunity for exploration, so consider gifting bath toys like rubber ducks, squirting animals, and floatable boats. Other unique bathtub gifts include a foam alphabet set, stacking cups, and water-soluble bathtub crayons (a sponge easily removes what toddlers draw all over the tub and the walls, but be careful of staining the grout between tiles.)
- RELATED: Best Baby Bath Toys and Gear