Do you want to give the little person in your life something that gets played with long after Christmas Day? Are you searching for a gift that’s even more popular than the box it came in?
Do you want to give the little person in your life something that gets played with long after Christmas Day? Are you searching for a gift that’s even more popular than the box it came in? Would you like to give something that helps their development and stimulates their mind, too?
Be inspired by the 100 Toys Christmas Top 10. This carefully selected list of gifts for the under-fives, is full of enduring, well-made toys that children will come back to again and again. And, because we’ve chosen toys that promote physical skills and challenge their developing minds, they’re sure to be played with long after the batteries have run out on other gifts.
With a little creativity, even just a handful of blocks is enough to create almost any scene.
As a gift on Christmas Day, they’re almost certain to be upstaged by whizzier, more attention-grabbing toys. But what’s almost as sure is that children will come back to their set of wooden blocks over and over, for many years. Why? Because they are the definition of open-ended play.
Blocks can be so many things at different stages of development. In very young children, they provide important practice with coordination and strength in small fingers and hands. As they get older, blocks are used in group play situations as bricks for building towers or roads. Block play helps develop vocabulary as they learn to describe sizes, shapes, and positions. Maths skills are developed through grouping, adding and taking away. Gravity, balance, and geometry are all introduced via blocks. The simple shapes can also become almost anything in a child’s mind, from a racing car to a lump of cheese, meaning blocks are great for exercising young imaginations, too.
Our Grimm’s wooden blocks are available in multi-colours but our natural blocks with bark have a very special quality, too. Whichever you choose, the warm sound of them being tipped onto the floor will become music to your ears, as you’ll know there are many hours of happy play ahead.
Instead of buying more figures, look for inspiration in new settings or unusual combinations.
Instead of a character doll from the latest Christmas blockbuster, consider giving more generic play figures instead. Simple, pared-back figures offer so many more opportunities for play than a specific doll, who can only ever be the character they are packaged as. With more simple play people, children have the chance to bring their own imagination and inventiveness into their play. They can be humans or aliens, footballers or carol singers, doctors or nurses. It is up to them.
Play people are great for exploring emotions and characteristics. For example, pre-schoolers are particularly interested in the boundaries between good and evil - one reason why superhero play is so popular at this age. Animal play figures bring another dimension, allowing children to act out the feelings, characteristics and power dynamics that are frowned upon in the human kingdom. They also open windows to geography, ecology, classifying and understanding natural habitats. To maximise play value, choose animals with distinct characters such as foxes (sly), mice (quiet) or pigs (greedy) - they make great add-ons to regular reading, especially traditional tales.
Try Grimm’s Rainbow Friends and for something really special, try the beautiful hand-crafted range of animals from Ostheimer.
Simple puzzles with frames around around them, like this one from eeBoo, encourage children to start with the corner and side pieces, which makes starting a 'big' 9-piece puzzle less daunting.
For an all-round workout of your pre-schooler’s developing skills, you can’t beat a traditional puzzle. Puzzles work on so many levels, from problem solving and fine motor skills, to hand-eye co-ordination and concentration.
Completing a puzzle - one that is appropriate for their age - also gives children a vital sense of achievement. Feeling confident in their abilities and knowing they can successfully complete things is important, because it gives them courage to try new activities they might otherwise avoid for fear of failure.
Jigsaws with illustrations, characters and words, can also help inform and build knowledge around particular topics. Puzzle games such as eeBoo’s Opposites, or more sophisticated three-dimensional puzzles like these from Grimm’s can help you cover everything from vocabulary to numbers and shapes. The most important thing to remember is that it should be age and skill-appropriate. For preschoolers, floor puzzles and jigsaws with large pieces work best.
Vehicles are loved by children of all ages but hold a special place in a two year-old's heart. Cars and trains are driven along every available surface, back and forth, in seemingly endless repetition. Young children love exploring the trajectory schema, an innate desire to understand how objects move, and many toddlers won't leave the house without a vehicle in each hand.
Trucks and cars are often touted as boys’ toys, but the fact is given the opportunity, girls like to play with things that move too.
Vehicle-play is about so much more than the obvious making of engine noises, races and crashes - all of which are great for exploring concepts of danger and destruction in the safety of the front room.
Manipulating the trajectory of a vehicle, be it a boat in a lake, a car on the kitchen floor or an aeroplane gliding through the sky, is a great way to develop pincer and tripod grips, along with hand-eye co-ordination. Vehicles also also help introduce a bunch of important concepts: go and stop; fast and slow; up and down; left and right.
Toy shop shelves heave with all sorts of mega-trucks and super-yachts, but we say the more simple, pared-back the design, the more the child can imagine for themselves, and the more creative they can be with their small world settings. Grimm’s sailing boats are delightfully dinky and their little cars with wheels go hell-for-leather on a wooden floor.
Almost a subset of the Vehicles category above, wooden railways deserve their own entry because of the special power they hold over toddlers. It's hard to imagine another toy that feeds as many of a two year-old's obsessions as a simple train set. Back and forth, under and over, fast and slow, up and down, through. To learn more about schemas, the driving force behind preschoolers' play, start here, with information on trajectory.
Not just for boys! Traditional wooden railways, and all the bits that come with them, fascinate all children if they are given the time and space to get involved. Why? Because the railway and its world works on many levels, firing up the imagination with its myriad storytelling scenarios. It also provides lots of physical and mental problem-solving challenges.
Piecing together the track is a brilliant way to build fine motor skills and develop strategic thinking (as well as a great way to pass a few hours on Boxing Day.) Acting out journeys, stopping at stations, crashing into other trains and transporting important cargo, are all opportunities for children to explore and work-through real-life and dangerous situations, from the safety of their minds. They are also a good way to encourage positive group play, sharing and turn-taking, as children - and grown-ups - huddle around the track together and get lost in the shared fun for hours.
Not just about passing 'Go' and collecting £200, board games encourage a range of essential life skills such as listening and turn-taking.
Board games are a brilliant way to spend time together at Christmas. There are many different types, but for our money the games that require players to take turns (rather than, say, race to complete the task or involve gadgetry) are the ones really worth playing. The skills they foster have wide-reaching impact across so much of children’s play.
Grasping the idea of taking turns forms the basis of being able to get along with others and to empathise with their needs and feelings - skills that lay the foundations of meaningful friendship bonds and a harmonious experience at school. It can also help with conversational skills, as children learn not to interrupt when someone else is talking and to listen to what others are saying. Patience and delaying gratification, waiting and responding when it’s time are all learnt and reinforced with games that work on turn-taking.
Haba’s My First Orchard is a brilliant and much-loved classic turn-taking game for younger children, while a simple game of Snap is always fun for the whole family to enjoy.
Card games can be competitive and require the kind of concentration that doesn't always come easily to the under 5s.
We know that playing cards, like many of the gifts on this list, are likely to be ignored on Christmas Day in favour of bolder, brasher toys. And that’s OK. Think of playing cards as a dish from the slow-cooker: not a show-stopper, but a reliable crowd-pleaser, packed full of goodness.
The fun of playing cards is in the games you play with them. If you can find the time to sit down and focus on them with your children, you’ll find they beg you to play them again and again. This is because they switch on so many aspects of learning, and for young minds, the real enjoyment comes from being challenged. Card games are particularly strong on mathematical concepts. Splitting a deck of cards is an early form of division and remainders. Dealing cards is counting. Cards help with following complicated rules, paying attention, taking turns and patience. And of course they also provide great poker-face practice - vital for all mischief-making.
Cards with specific themes are great for topics and language learning. Try eeBoo’s Snap and Old Maid for entry-level card game fun.
Threading is an activity that can be enjoyed simply for the beauty of the objects created, but the benefits are more wide-ranging. Fine-motor development, counting practice and pattern-making are all happy by-products.
Different to the friendship bracelet-making kits that older girls tend to enjoy, this is threading for the under-fives. It’s an activity that often seems to exist only within the parameters of pre-schools and nurseries. We say why not do threading at home! Threading is a highly absorbing activity that keeps children focussed and determined to finish their task.
What they won’t realise is that it also helps them understand all sorts of concepts, from colour and size to shape and materials. It's also a workout for fine motor dexterity, counting and pattern-making. It's not just about making necklaces and jewellery for girls, either. You can make garlands or ropes, snakes or worms - anything you want to. When you're threading it's good to talk about what you're doing, the size and colour of the beads you're using, the number of beads on your thread, what pattern you're making and so on.
Grimm’s threading beads come in a range of sizes and colours. You can introduce sorting (and encourage tidiness) to your threading activity with the Grimm’s bead sorter.
Fabric is not just for dressing up. Babies love revealing toys hidden under a silk and larger pieces make wonderful dens for older children.
This is an unusual one. It’s not immediately clear to most of us what joy children might glean from a piece of fabric. But like many of our toys, the play value of fabric starts low, and keeps going up over time.
One of the most instantly accessible and best-loved uses for fabric is den-making. A washing line or dining-room table, draped with sheets and blankets, gives children a magical hideaway of their own, that they love to fill with favourite toys and books. Children who show a strong enveloping schema, who like to ‘disappear’ things, are often especially keen on den-making.
Fabric is also great for role-play and dressing up. There are some fantastic dressing up outfits available, but an off-the-peg princess dress will only ever be a princess dress. A generously sized piece of fabric on the other hand, can be a Greek toga one day, a bride’s veil or an emperor’s gown the next. Fabrics are also excellent for scene-setting in small world play - blue for a river, green for grass and so on. Any fabrics can be used, but since most children are likely to feel disappointed if you give them one of your old blankets for Christmas, our Sarah’s Silks range offers beautiful silks and cottons in a range of sizes.