The Best Toys for 18-Month-Olds, According to Developmental Experts
Buying toys for 18-month-olds can be fun and exciting, but it can also be difficult to know what to look for. After all, your little one is mastering new skill sets every day and needs to be properly challenged. So what are toddlers this age working on, and what types of playthings can help support their development? Read on for expert tips on how to select the best toys for 18-month-olds.
“An 18-month-old toddler is developmentally equipped to be an active adventurer within their environment,” says Ashley Scully, MS, OTR/L, a pediatric occupational therapist and director of Northern New Jersey Therapy Services at Tiny Transformations. There are a number of things a child will do successfully at this time, from “walking independently to possibly even backwards for a few steps” Scully says. “They’re learning to walk up and down stairs, with support from their parents and railings, as needed.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by 18 months, most toddlers can also climb on and off a couch or chair without help. They’re also continuing to hone their fine motor skills: They can use a spoon and scribble with crayons. And for a little one who is advancing their visual motor and perceptual skills, they might be able to “place simple shapes into puzzles and stack two to three blocks or cubes,” Scully adds.
At this age, “they’ll also begin looking at pages in books with others and point to show their parents or brothers and sisters something interesting,” says Jana Sarno, BCBA, a board-certified behavior analyst and chief clinical officer of Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers. Eighteen-month-olds may also engage in simple, dramatic play. They might pick up a baby doll and pretend to feed them with a bottle, or perhaps turn on a play vacuum and suck up all the dust and dirt on the floor. It’s in these small but purposeful actions that toddlers start emulating the adults around them and becoming more engaged in their surroundings.
When buying toys for 18-month-olds, look for ones that:
- Help hone their balance, motor planning and visual-spatial skills. Toys that feature uneven terrain and different types of surfaces to explore—such as climbing blocks, tunnels, stepping stones, indoor slides and beams—are fantastic for building these skills, Scully says.
- Work their fine motor skills. Scully recommends sensory activities like Play-Doh and pop tubes and even pretend cooking tools that call for stirring and rolling to help boost toddlers’ dexterity and ability to use both hands together.
- Teach toddlers about shapes and sizes. Scully says shape sorters, puzzles, stacking toys and building blocks are great for promoting visual perception and visual motor skills.
- Spark their imaginations. Play kitchens, tea sets, pretend cleaning supplies, baby dolls, tool sets and cars are all wonderful ways to encourage dramatic play and enhance toddlers’ social awareness, Scully says.
- Are developmentally appropriate. Pay attention to the age-rating of a toy, to make sure you’re selecting something that’s safe for this age and offers play opportunities that match their skill levels. “If you’re always buying ahead, you may be presenting toys that a child is simply not ready for and therefore they could become frustrated and lose interest,” Scully says.
The best toys for 18-month-olds will encourage toddlers to explore their environment and the world they live in. From stepping stones and creative sorters to palm-grip crayons and pull-back cars, you’ll find just about everything to get their busy brains in gear.
This set of six brightly colored wooden steps (with anti-slip pads) are a great way to get toddlers stepping, lunging and jumping. They help boost kids’ balance and coordination, plus they’re light enough for little ones to pick up and carry, so full warning—they’ll want to bring these little disks everywhere! Better yet, they’re stackable for easy storage. Age rating: 18 months to 8 years.
As it starts getting colder outside, trips to the park aren’t as likely anymore. In the off-season, we like investing in toys for 18-month-olds that can be used both inside and out, like this slide (which reminds us of the ones we all had in our toddlerhood!). It boasts a compact design and is an excellent way to promote coordination, balance and muscle strength. Age rating: 18 months to 6 years.
If you’re on the hunt for an introductory blocks set, this is where to start. Stacking and balancing blocks will work those fine and gross motor skills—and the textured silicone will offer relief for toddlers experiencing any teething pain. Plus, numbered blocks offer a chance to do some early counting with your kiddo. Age rating: 3 months+
This Montessori-inspired low balance beam is one of the best toys for 18-month-olds, as it’s a fun way for little ones to work on their balance and coordination. The four-beam workhorse strengthens not only toddlers’ muscles and gross motor skills, but also their imagination as they pretend to walk in dreamt-up lands. Best of all, every Piccalio toy is designed to feel and look good in your space, so you don’t need to sacrifice your aesthetic to make your little one happy. Age rating: 12 months to 8 years.
This wooden elephant shape sorter is a perfect learning toy for 18-month-olds. It has six chunky shapes that can be easily manipulated by little hands, and toddlers can work on color and shape recognition and spacial understanding as they properly sort the shapes. Bonus: The elephant is also a pull toy! Age rating: 12 months to 5 years.
Games aren’t just for the older crew! With this adorable little garden setup, toddlers can stack the creatures on the tree and try to keep them from falling–an exercise in logical thinking, balance and fine motor skills, making it one of our favorite educational toys for 18-month-olds. The figures are made from solid wood and painted with sweet garden motifs, and everything can be packed into the printed drawstring bag for easy storage. Age rating: 18 months.
If your child has a thing for fun, quirky animals, they’ll have an absolute blast gathering the family together for a night of puzzles. Nine wooden puzzle cubes create six different images in this set. Turn each cube around to find the pieces that make up an image, or mix them up for some wild fun! Each chunky wooden puzzle piece is generously sized to make it easier for little hands to lift, grasp, examine and replace. Thanks to its compact dimensions, this makes for a great on-the-go toy, and the handy wooden tray can be used as both a base and a place to safely store all of the puzzle pieces. Age rating: 18 months to 6 years.
This colorful hedgehog helps your little one strengthen their fine motor skills through hands-on play, making it one of our favorite picks for the best toys for 18-month-olds. They’ll learn to grip items by picking up Spike’s colorful quills, and become familiar with coordination by sticking the quills in his back. The pegs will also help your little one master color recognition, sorting and patterning, and when playtime is over, you can load them into Spike’s back for easy storage. Age rating: 18 months to 4 years.
This amazing box set contains 10 well-researched board books to introduce a wide range of learning topics and everyday objects to little scholars. We love the vibrant pictures and variety of subjects available, including ABCs, colors, numbers, fruits and vegetables. It’s the perfect toys for 18-month-olds who enjoy pointing at pages when looking at books with family members. Age rating: 1 to 2 years old.
Your little one can clack, rattle and clang their way to musical fun with this quartet of bug-themed wood instruments. This developmental toy for 18-month-olds includes a firefly clacker, ladybug rattle, a caterpillar noisemaker and a cymbal bug with leaf-shaped mallets. Your kiddo can use the instruments to advance their cause-and-effect learning while building motor skills and sensory development. Age rating: 1 year+
These egg crayons are about to become a favorite for you and your toddler to play with when you’re feeling colorful and creative. Plus, they’re ideally shaped to support toddlers’ development at this stage. “Palm crayons easily fit in a child’s hand and don't require a more sophisticated grip, which allows the child to explore scribbling and more open-ended art and color,” Sarno says. Age rating: 12 months+
Ready for a little pretend cooking? With six removable "ingredient" play pieces, two buttons that activate fun songs and sounds and an adorable light-up face, this learning toy for 18-month-olds is deliciously fun! Little ones will get a taste for early academics with songs and phrases that introduce them to the alphabet, colors, numbers and more. Grasping and moving the play pieces in and out of the mixing bowl helps strengthen tots’ dexterity and hand-eye coordination, while pressing the buttons to activate the songs will showcase cause and effect. Age rating: 6 months to 3 years.
About the experts:
Ashley Scully, MS, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist and director of Northern New Jersey Therapy Services at Tiny Transformations. She has more than 14 years of experience in pediatrics, including impatient and outpatient services at NYU Langone Hospital, New York State early intervention and private practice.
Jana Sarno, BCBA, is a board-certified behavior analyst and the chief clinical officer of Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers. She has worked as the vice president of applied behavior analysis at North Shore Pediatric Therapy and as an infant development program administrator at Coyne & Associates Education Corp.