We used to be the family with a giant bin of toddler toys in our living room. The selection primarily represented a mixture of gifted items and hand-me-downs. When it was time to play, we would open the “toy ottoman” and let our son have at it.
It didn’t take long for me to grow tired of nightly toy organization and cleanup after my son went to bed. I knew there had to be a better way. In the same way that girls are proselytizing the “capsule wardrobe,” I felt inspired to explore the concept of a minimalist toddler toys collection. A capsule toy collection, if you will!
I turned to what quickly became my favorite parenting book for guidance: The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies.
The Montessori Toddler
The basic principles in The Montessori Toddler encourage parents to set out only 9-12 toys at one time. Each toy should encourage child development in one of the following categories:
- Hand-Eye Coordination
- Arts and Crafts
- Practical Life
I immediately got to work donating toys that didn’t support growth in any of those categories. I also donated toys that tried to fit too many of those categories (primarily large, plastic toys with sounds and lights and generally too much stimulation).
What I was left with is a small collection of minimalist toddler toys. I now set out 9-12 items at a time in our living room and hide the rest in our “toy storage ottoman” (which remains closed). Every few weeks I rotate out the toys I notice he is no longer interacting with.
Since we made this change, not only is our son playing more deeply with his minimalist toddler toys, but he is also learning valuable lessons about how to put toys away. He now knows how to clean up his mess before moving on to the next activity, which makes this tidy mom very happy.
Minimalist Toddler Toys
The following minimalist toddler toys are intended to challenge toddlers as they grow (18 months to 2.5 years). This way you don’t have to amass a giant collection of items to keep your child stimulated over the course of 12 months.
Remember, you don’t need to invest in ALL of the toys mentioned below. A few in each category is more than enough! Also, keep your eyes peeled for inexpensive, second-hand versions in thrift stores or online stores like Ebay.
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1. Hand-Eye Coordination
Hape Walk-A-Long Snail Toddler Wooden Pull Toy, $30 via Amazon
We love this toy because it slowly challenges our son as he grows. He started with just the snail “shell” shapes puzzle and the cylinder block to avoid getting too frustrated. Once he mastered that, we introduced the more challenging square and triangle shapes. Next, he will learn how to put the shell on the snail and pull it around the room by a pull string.
Additional toys that encourage hand-eye coordination:
- Peg Puzzles ($18) – Pegs make it easier for toddler hands to grab the puzzle pieces.
- Coin Box ($15) – Use with large coins to insert into the coin slot on the top of the box, then practice opening the box to retrieve the coins.
- Threading ($13) – Thread the string through the wooden beads.
- Nuts & Bolts ($18) – Toddlers can create all kinds of shapes based on how the pieces are screwed together.
- Sorting ($13) – Can use with the puzzle base or just as sorting blocks to gather like with like
- DIY: Egg Carton + Q-Tips – Simply poke holes into the bottom side of each egg compartment, then cut off one end of each q-tip. Encourage your toddler to poke the q-tips through the holes (our son loves this activity!)
13 Piece Musical Set, $30 via Amazon
This set is great because it includes all of the basic musical instruments that are appropriate for a toddler. Maracas, tambourine, xylophone, a triangle, and more.
Additional toys that encourage musical play:
- Wood Tambourine ($10)
- Wooden Maracas ($10)
- Wooden Egg Shakers ($8)
- Triangle ($6)
- Wooden Drum ($17)
- Tambourine Hand Bell ($8)
- Harmonica ($7)
- DIY: Make tin can drums using empty tin cans, rice/lentils/beans, balloons, elastics and chopsticks.
Wooden Balance Board ($100) via Amazon
This balance board can be used as a slide off the edge of a sofa, as a rounded shelf for balancing toys, a “bridge” for kids to climb over and crawl under, or as a balance board for kids to stand on.
Additional toys to get moving:
- Balls ($8) – Practice throwing and kicking outdoors.
- Pikler Climber ($160) – Toddlers learn how to climb over the top and down the other side.
- Balance Bike ($60) – A great alternative to a tricycle that encourages balance.
- Wooden Rocking Boat ($199) – This rocking boat becomes steps and a platform when turned upside down.
- Gonge Riverstones ($55) – Good for older toddlers to practice balance and coordination.
- DIY: Go for a walk outside! Explore your backyard or a nearby walking path. Collect leaves, sticks or rocks. Run in the grass, dig in a sandbox, climb on a playground. Our son is happiest when he gets to explore our backyard garden after he comes home from daycare.
4. Arts and Crafts
Beeswax Crayon Blocks, $22 via Amazon
Coloring is a really easy way to start toddlers with arts and crafts, especially when equipped with large crayons that are easy for toddler hands to grab ahold of.
Other arts and crafts products:
- Watercolor tablets ($8), paint brush ($4), and paper ($23) – I put all of the components on a water-proof tray. I set a towel or mat under the tray to hold it steady and allow my son one or two paint colors at a time.
- Safety scissors ($2) – Be sure to monitor your toddler when they’re using these just in case!
- Play dough ($8) or kinetic sand ($10) – We let our son use a dull knife to cut shapes into his play dough.
- Glue ($5) and colored paper ($7) – Let your toddler practice gluing strips of small paper to a larger canvas.
- DIY: Make your own play dough.
Replica Farm Animals, $19 via Amazon
Our son really took to the song, “Old McDonald” so we leaned in and grabbed a set of replica farm animals. We practice animal sounds with them as we sing. His favorite is the pig snort, the dog “woof,” and singing “E-I-E-I-O.” We tried to find figurines that look just like mini versions of the objects in real life vs. cute, cartoon-y alternatives.
Other language activities:
- Card matching ($35) – Match the animal figurine to the animal card image.
- Here We Are Book ($11) – I’m a sucker for any children’s book that has an eco-friendly message.
- Eating the Alphabet Book ($7) – A cute way to learn letters by their sounds.
- On the Night You Were Born Book ($5) – A loving book celebrating “the one and only ever you!”
- The Very Hungry Catarpillar Book ($6) – A classic!
- DIY: Print photos of small objects found in your home. Put the associated objects in a basket and encourage your toddler to match the objects to the image cards.
6. Practical Life
This is my favorite category because it is too much fun watching my son learn to behave like a grown up in his tiny world. This category is also great because you likely already own many of the objects needed for your child to participate in home projects.
Step Stool, $34 via Amazon
While a step stool isn’t a “toy” per se, it makes it easy for toddlers to reach countertops for activities like cooking, washing, and teeth brushing. Practical life activities feel like play to a toddler and at the same time teach them skills that will benefit them as they grow.
Other products that encourage practical life skills:
- Small table and chairs ($150) for meals and activities – our son loves having the ability to bring activities to his little table all by himself.
- Small dishes ($17), cups ($13), silverware ($22), and bowls (we use ramekins) ($12) for meals
- Rolling pin ($11) and cookie cutters ($17) for baking
- Small spray bottle ($10) and squeegee ($2) for window washing
- Mini broom and dust pan ($9) to help sweep up crumbs and food after messy meals
- DIY: Simply use what you already have in your home and make it accessible to your toddler. Dedicate a low drawer to toddler-safe baking tools like bowls, wooden spoons, and a whisk. Store toddler-safe silverware, plates, and cups on a low shelf. Make self-serve snacks available on a low shelf in your pantry, etc.
Cuddle and Kind Doll, $52 via Amazon
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