We Asked 8 Cool Parents: What Are the Best Baby Toys Out There?
Our recs are suitable for the early years and beyond.
Published Sep 28, 2021 12:01 AM
Baby toys: They’re both a blessing and a curse. Bringing a trove of plastic foods and singing squares into your carefully considered home is not ideal, but it’s necessary for supporting the physical and mental development of your pride and joy. Basically, living with baby toys is a major milestone for new parents to navigate.
While some parents have tried to control the narrative (i.e., only introducing their little ones to Scandi-minimalist blocks and rattles), more often than not, it’s the toys with flashing lights and bizarre beeping that hold a child’s attention the longest. Here, we’ve rounded up the baby toys that bring together the best of both worlds—and are suitable for the early years and beyond.
- Best overall: Lovevery Play Kits
- Best for those on the go: Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes
- Best for fostering independence: Melissa & Doug Wooden Cutting Food Set
- Best for the athletic: Lily & River Little Climber with Reversible Rock Wall/Slide
- Best for the musically inclined: Melissa & Doug Wooden Deluxe Band Set
- Best for broadening the mind: Lego Duplo Classic Brick Box
- Best toy with a mission: Cuddle + Kind Stuffed Dolls
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Materials: Aside from all the hype around using organic and eco-certified materials in toys, it is important to keep an eye out for potentially harmful materials in plastic toys specifically. While light and durable, these toys can contain chemicals like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and bisphenol A (BPA), which have been linked to physical and developmental disorders in young children, according to a group of scientists and health professionals from Project TENDR. Instead look for 100 percent PVC-free and BPA-free labels—or even an American Standards of Testing and Materials (ASTM) label—to ensure your plastic toy is nontoxic.
Sustainability: Sustainably minded toys not only take your child’s health and safety into account thanks to more natural materials, but are cognizant of their impact on the planet. The use of Global Organic Textile Standards–certified cotton, Forest Stewardship Council–certified wood, Fair Trade–certified standards, and artisanal handicraft skills from smaller artisans help to support local communities and the environment.
Age group: The age range marked on toys is typically a guide to whether something is age appropriate in terms of a child’s development. It should also serve as an alert for whether the toy contains removable pieces or small parts that could be mistakenly swallowed by babies and younger children. For example, soft fabric books are better for babies, whereas intricate kitchen tools are better for older kids with more advanced motor skills.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Lovevery Play Kits
“We were early subscribers to Lovevery. It is such a cool concept, with many of the aspects designed by Pentagram,” says Robert Highsmith, founder of design firm Workstead and father to twin girls, who are about to turn 3 years old.
This subscription-based service offers kits that are geared toward certain age groups—0 to 12 months, 1 year, 2 years, and 3 years—with cadences adjusted to the ages. Simply enter your child’s birthday and you’ll get a curated box for their current stage, making less work for you. For example, a 3-month-old may receive a wood rattle to teach them to track sound sources, whereas a 2-year-old is more suited for a play sink to encourage helpfulness. Parents even get in on the fun, thanks to play guides filled with entertainment ideas, as well as tidbits that help prep a kid for things that may feel uncomfortable, like getting hurt or going to the doctor.
“We really are big fans,” adds Workstead partner and cofounder Stefanie Brechbreuler. “In fact, we gift the first few months’ kits to close friends when their babies arrive. Our kids have great fine motor skills, and they also seem to have a knack for the arts. Though I think Robert and I would like to take some credit, I also attribute a lot of this development to these toy boxes.”
Best for Those on the Go: Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes
“This is one of Rowan’s favorite toys. We first bought it for her when she was 3 months old, but she’s now 18 months and still loves to return to it,” says Linda Bui, vice president of operations at clean makeup brand Ami Cole. “It’s easy to grab and the button is large, so she was able to play the tunes when she was younger. Now that she can walk, she loves to carry it around and dance to the different songs.”
Best for Fostering Independence: Melissa & Doug Wooden Cutting Food Set
“We have two boys, ages 4 and 18 months, and we have found they’ve liked a lot of the same things, which has really worked out well for us,” says Cerise Alabi, cofounder and creative director of London-based fashion label Cold Laundry. “We have all really loved this food-cutting set, which makes the boys feel so independent. We love everything Melissa & Doug because, to be honest, it’s great quality and value for the money.”
Best for the Athletic: Lily & River Little Climber with Reversible Rock Wall
Not only is this climbing play set good for getting little tikes’ energy out—and off the furniture—but it looks aesthetically pleasing in any minimalist playroom. Available in two finishes, it features a climbing wall that can reverse into a slide for endless hours of fun. Even better, you can fold it up for easy storage when not in use, and it’s good for kids from 6 months to up to 4 years.
Best for the Musically Inclined: Melissa & Doug Wooden Deluxe Band Set
“I really love that both my 15-month-old and 4-year-old love this musical instrument set,” says Stephanie Cleary, cofounder of Los Angeles–based home accessories brand Morrow Soft Goods. “Our 15-month-old, Francis, learns something new each time he picks it up. Sometimes he tries to make loud noises or just explores the different textures of each instrument. It can be a bit chaotic at times, but he’s able to express himself without needing to use his words.”
Best for Molding Creative and Analytical Minds: Lego Duplo Classic Brick Box
“Our Duplo building blocks have seen hours of concentrated attention,” says Osama Aduib, creator of the modern harissa and North African food company Weshma. “Our son, Noah, who’s now 2, cannot get enough, and starting very young, he was able to put blocks together. It’s also a lot of fun as a parent to join in and help create animals and shapes and whole worlds based on imagination.”
Best Toy With a Mission: Cuddle + Kind Stuffed Dolls
For Marta Cros, founder of sustainable skin-care brand Apto, an unassuming stuffed doll from Cuddle + Kind spoke volumes with her child. “My daughter received one of these when she was born, and she still carries it around,” she says. The minimalist, Scandinavian-inspired dolls would look adorable in any play space, and the company gives away 10 meals for every hand-knitted doll sold. You can opt for baby elephants or lions, which would work well for teeny-tiny babies, or larger-scale animals that toddlers won’t be seen without.
Q: What are some of Domino’s favorite places to buy toys online?
There are plenty of places to shop for toys, but these are our go-tos. Oompa Toys brings a wide array of organic and sustainable wood toys for all ages together under one roof. For the design-minded, Maisonette’s toy section is filled with unexpected, eye-catching treasures. Infants will love the beautifully curated collection of teethers, rattles, gloves, bibs, and other baby essentials at Colored Organics.
Q: Do baby toys have phthalates?
If a plastic toy is flexible and bendable, like your typical teether, rattle, or chew toy, chances are it contains phthalates, one of the most common chemical compounds in the world. Scientists and health- and child-advocacy groups, like Project TENDR, continue to call for the ban of these chemicals in order to reduce neurotoxic exposure in young children. Instead look for these items made in food-grade silicone as an alternative.
Q: What is the best (and safest) way to clean toys?
Most plush, stuffed toys can withstand a thorough cycle in the washer and dryer. Make sure they are completely dry before handing them to your child to safeguard against mold or bacteria. Hard plastic and bath toys can be cleaned in the dishwasher or by hand with soap and water. For toys that are shared or end up in mouths, it’s a good idea to use a disinfecting wipe or a solution using chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide for at least 10 seconds. This is a safe way to clean and sanitize toys, but if you’d like to be extra diligent, rinse off any residue with warm water.
How We Vetted These Products
Every product in a Domino guide meets these criteria:
- They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use.
- They’re expert approved. In addition to our team of editors, we tap a range of designers, makers, renovators, and all-around knowledgeable people to share their intel.
- They’re endorsed by people who actually own them. We pay close attention to real reviews to know that they pass the test IRL.
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