At 18 months old, your child will be making sense of the world around them: learning practical life skills, strengthening both fine and gross motor skills, developing speech, and flexing their imaginative play muscles. For STEM-enthusiasts, you might want to foster inquiry-based learning early on, mimicking the scientific process as your child develops. There is also a significant amount of research supporting inquiry-based learning for children of all ages.
Many of the best toddler toys are uncomplicated, but with thousands of toys and more books and articles than any parent could ever read, it is difficult to know where to begin. We’ve compiled what we think are the best educational toys for 18 month olds and picked the WOOD CITY Toddler fine Motor Skill Bee Hive as best overall since it teaches hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and color recognition.
Note: please observe the manufacturer recommendations on age-appropriateness for toys.
Related post: Top 5 Best LEGO Duplo Sets for 1-Year-Olds and Toddlers
- Best Educational Toys for 18 Month Old
- Best Overall – WOOD CITY Toddler Fine Motor Skill Bee Hive
- Best Puzzle – Star Right Self-Correcting Head & Tails Puzzle
- Best for Fine Motor Skills – Skoolzy Jumbo Nuts and Bolts
- Best Budget Option – WOOD CITY Wooden Sorting & Stacking Toy
- Best for Gross Motor Development – Homi Baby Pikler Climbing Triangle
- Best for Pretend Play – Hape Gourmet Kitchen
- Best Building Set – LEGO Duplo My First Bricks
- Best for Outdoor Play – Strider Balance Bike
- Best Toy Subscription Box – Lovevery
- What to Consider When Buying Educational Toys for a Toddler
- Frequently Asked Questions
Best Educational Toys for 18 Month Old
Best Overall – WOOD CITY Toddler Fine Motor Skill Bee Hive
The WOOD CITY Toddler Fine Motor Skill Bee Hive can be used to teach color recognition and matching, sorting, focus, fine motor skills, and coordination. It can also be used for early counting. Tong activities are great for young toddlers as they require hand strength and dexterity to utilize. This is our top pick because it touches on many skills and poses different challenges as a child develops.
I had a hard time picking a favorite educational toy for 18-month toddlers. One more favorite is the Hape Toddler Beat Box Set. This set also touches on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination but also encourages rhythm, creativity, and coordination with playmates and/or caregivers. Plus, music is fun for everyone involved, even if it is composed by a toddler.
Best Puzzle – Star Right Self-Correcting Head & Tails Puzzle
The Star Right Self-Correcting Head & Tails Puzzle is a great 2-piece matching set because each 2-piece puzzle has only one match that fits, and they are self-correcting allowing your child to have more independence. As your child is ready for a greater challenge, try this 3-piece version from The Learning Journey. These 2- and 3-piece puzzles also offer an opportunity for language and vocabulary development.
Puzzles for this age vary widely in challenge-level. A simple 3-piece puzzle like the Melissa & Doug Pets Jumbo Knob Wooden Puzzle poses less of a challenge and is a great first puzzle option. With thick wooden knobs, they are easier for little hands to grasp. More difficult puzzles, like 2- and 3-piece matching sets require not only the dexterity, motor skills, and hand-eye coordination to put the pieces together, but also the ability to identify the correct pieces to make up an image.
These options have imagery of animals, but there are others available that include other objects and sight words.
Best for Fine Motor Skills – Skoolzy Jumbo Nuts and Bolts
Skoolzy has a number of great products for fine motor development in toddlers. The Skoolzy Jumbo Nuts and Bolts is one of the best toys for younger toddlers as it is relatively simple and introduces turning, screwing, and rotation that is not found in many other fine motor development toys. It also is great for hand-eye coordination as the child has to identify the matching bolt (each screw will only screw into its corresponding bolt as they have varying diameters). Because they are plastic, they are also a great bath toy to distract your 18-month old while washing their hair. The pieces are large enough to not pose a choking hazard for young toddlers.
Posing a bit more of a challenge is the Melissa & Doug Latches Board. This wooden board engages your toddler with various latches that require different hand motions, fostering problem-solving. Furthermore, it allows for vocabulary development as the child recognizes the animal behind each door, color identification, and early counting (1-6).
Another great option for developing fine motor skills are these Knobbed Cylinder Ladder Blocks. The set comes with four different options with various configurations. Some have different depths while others have various circumferences, posing different challenges as your toddler identifies the pattern and navigates placing each piece in its correct spot. While this toy is great at fine motor development, it is also very useful for developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Admittedly, my 2-year old daughter is obsessed with these puzzles. I will note that for younger children, one of the four blocks does have a relatively small puzzle piece – it’s the smallest component that I might not give to an 18-month old that is likely still mouthing toys.
Best Budget Option – WOOD CITY Wooden Sorting & Stacking Toy
The WOOD CITY Wooden Sorting & Stacking Toy for Toddlers is a great budget-friendly option for developing fine motor skills while also introducing shapes and color recognition. Importantly, it is self-correcting so toddlers will not depend on a caregiver to correct their work as they figure out the correct pegs and orientation to complete the puzzle. In this way, it fosters critical thinking and problem solving and can also be used to introduce early counting as each shape has a different number of holes. It is also a beautiful, wood toy that will hold up to your child’s play. This is one of my daughter’s favorite activities.
Another great budget option is the Learning Resources Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Toy Set. It can be used in sensory bins, water tables, or sandpits to pick up rice or small toys, scoop water or sand, or suck up water and transfer between containers. This is a great set that can be used in a variety of settings.
Best for Gross Motor Development – Homi Baby Pikler Climbing Triangle
Pikler climbing triangles like this one by Homi Baby have been around for a long time and they are a powerhouse for gross motor development. Homi Baby’s Pikler Climbing Triangle is great at teaching your child to climb and navigate ever-changing surfaces. Additional slides, ladders, and climbing walls can be added to diversify their gross motor development. Another great feature is that these can be folded up so they don’t occupy a ton of space in your home and it can be taken outside for an outdoor adventure. Since this particular product for toddlers is self-guided, your child will only climb to the best of their ability.
I know it may seem terrifying to let your child climb without your assistance (believe me I was the parent who purchased a gymnastics mat to go underneath). But with supervision, your toddler will learn to challenge themselves while learning how to climb. Bonus: you can also cover it with a blanket for an instant, effortless fort!
Another great gross motor toy is the Wooden Push Pull Walking Toy Duck – your toddler can practice balance and mobility while maneuvering this ‘duck’. These National Geographic Balance Stepping Stones are great for developing coordination and balance and easy enough to take and set up anywhere. Balance boards like the Milliard Wooden Waldorf Balance Board allow your toddler to work on their balance and get out some of that never-ending energy. There are plastic versions of these balance boards, but the durability of the beechwood balance board makes it favorable for extended use. It can hold up to 220 pounds, so it might be able to accommodate the adult in your home as well. It can also be flipped upside down and be used as a bridge for all manner of wheeled vehicles.
Best for Pretend Play – Hape Gourmet Kitchen
Imaginative play is imperative for early childhood development. It may seem difficult to provide your child with materials that don’t necessarily target any specific STEM concept or educational topic. However, it is in these moments (especially in the toddler years) that children develop their understanding of the world, explore their curiosities, and communicate what they see.
Pretend play items like tea sets and play kitchen, are pretty classic toys, and for good reason. They allow children to digest what they see and integrate it into their world view. Remember, kids are always watching! I’m a big fan of Hape toys like this Hape Gourmet Kitchen. All Hape toys are thoughtfully designed to work for toddlers, not to mention they are beautiful, wooden, high-quality toys. The Hape Gourmet Kitchen includes a spice shelf, stove, oven, sink, and cabinet. You can adorn the kitchen with cooking utensils, pots and pans, and food.
A great tea set is the Green Toys Tea Set. It is great for developing fine motor skills and is BPA-free. This set would make a great addition to the Hape Kitchen.
Dolls or puppets like the Melissa & Doug Zoo Friends Hand Puppets allow your child to assign characteristics to their characters, mirroring the world around them. Puppets are especially great because they teach hand-eye coordination, communication, and motor skills as well.
The Melissa & Doug School Bus is another great option for imaginative play. In addition to imaginative play, it is great for counting, matching, sorting, and fine motor skills.
Best Building Set – LEGO Duplo My First Bricks
No toy list would ever be complete without a LEGO product. These classic toys are great for all ages. The Duplo line is specifically designed to accommodate the grip of toddlers as young as 18-months. The LEGO Duplo My First Bricks set comes with 80 colorful pieces and is perfect for younger toddlers. These blocks are primarily all-purpose, leaving the play more open-ended than other more restrictive modeling kits. As with all LEGO products, it is compatible with other sets, even non-Duplo sets, so you can expand the LEGO collection as your child grows.
Another great building option is PicassoTiles. These 3D magnetic tiles are perfect open-ended play that simultaneously fosters hand-eye coordination. Because they are magnetic, they can be used on all sorts of surfaces: garage doors, appliances, and more. My daughter loves to decorate our garage door with her creations!
Best for Outdoor Play – Strider Balance Bike
Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike is a wonderful way to challenge your toddler to develop coordination, balance, and gross motor skills. With an adjustable seat, it can accommodate your growing child until they are ready to transition to a pedaled bike, skipping those training wheels altogether. Don’t forget to grab a helmet like this Joovy Noodle Helmet for your kid’s safety.
The Cute Stone Color Changing Kitchen is a great outdoor toy. The sink is operational – running on 2 AA batteries. We could take this toy sink outside (fitted into a Flisat table from Ikea, but you could set it on any surface) so that my daughter can clean her hands, toys, and “wash” the dishes. It’s amazing what some running water and a scrub brush will do for a child’s imagination.
During the spring and summer months, the Step2 Rain Showers Water Table is great for developing all sorts of tactile, fine and gross motor skills while staying cool. Your child will also explore gravity, ramps, spinners, and other tools that introduce early STEM concepts.
The Little Tikes adjustable Basketball Hoop is another great outdoor educational toddler toy for practicing motor skills and coordination. Playing with others will also help foster cooperative play and communication.
Best Toy Subscription Box – Lovevery
Lovevery prides itself on introducing STEM concepts in an accessible way to babies and toddlers, building the foundations for future math and engineering success. They also collaborated with medical practitioners and researchers to thoughtfully put together the kits based on available scientific research on how children learn. When my daughter was younger, we purchased this subscription for a year. The toys are high quality, primarily wooden toys and we have since repurposed some of the materials from when she was younger for more advanced activities today.
Another great toy subscription box for a toddler is MontiKids. MontiKids is based on the Montessori Method, a philosophy of teaching children that has been around for over 100 years, that has recently gained popularity and is utilized in childcare facilities and schools worldwide. This method is based on creating a curated environment of toys and/or materials to foster inquiry-based, self-directed learning. Because of its popularity and that it aligns with many of the inquiry-based teaching methods that are supported by scientific research, it’s a helpful term to look for when perusing toddlers’ toys.
What to Consider When Buying Educational Toys for a Toddler
This is probably the most important factor. Ensure that the toys are challenging for your child, but not so challenging that they frustrate and discourage them. Chances are, frequently you’ll be wrong in this estimation (I know I am!). If it’s too challenging or my daughter just isn’t interested, I simply place the toy back in the closet for later.
Variety & Versatility
You’ll want to engage your child with multiple challenges. Sometimes you may cluster a specific skill together, providing only toys and activities that target that skill. Other times, you may provide a diverse set of toy options that touch on various aspects of their development. I prefer toys that can be repurposed once they have outgrown the challenge or that are open-ended and provide many opportunities for use. Building blocks, puppets and dolls, and pretend play items like toy kitchens provide ample opportunity for independence and curiosity.
Plastic toys tend to be less expensive than wood toys, though the latter tends to hold up to rough toddler play far better. I opt for wood whenever possible, partly because I have toys all over my home and I think it looks more appealing, but also because of concerns over endocrine-disrupting chemicals in plastic toys. Children’s toys are often made of BPA-free plastics now, so this is less of a concern than it used to be.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should an 18-month old be learning?
At 18-months, your child will be learning simply by exploring their environment and engaging with simple toys. Fine and gross motor development, language development, hand-eye coordination, pattern recognition are some of the many skills they will be developing at this time.
What is inquiry-based learning?
Inquiry-based learning puts the control (or at least some of it) in the hands of the learner. The idea is that the motivation for learning a topic or skill comes from the learner, rather than being dictated by an instructor, parent, or curriculum. Inquiry-based learning is a self-directed method of learning that relies on the curiosity of the learner. For STEM-enthusiasts, the scientific process hinges on inquiry, but more importantly, research on teaching methods (also known as pedagogy) has demonstrated that inquiry-based learning is highly effective for children of all ages. It also encourages communication (with caregivers, playmates, or siblings) and fosters confidence. So what does this look like for an 18-month old? It might look like curating the toys to target a desired skill, ensuring they are within the appropriate challenge level, making the toys as accessible for a young toddler as possible, and giving them the space to choose their activity and problem solve. Releasing control might prove very difficult, but it is important for young toddlers to develop a sense of confidence and competency.
How much screen time should an 18 month old have?
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen time prior to 18-months of age. From 18-months to 5 years, they recommend no more than an hour per day of screen time. With this in mind, the educational toys we recommended in this article are all screen-free. Screens are an important part of our lives, especially during the global SARS-CoV2 pandemic. We need screens to stay connected and informed; they facilitate education, work, and entertainment. But it is good to be mindful of how we use them to entertain and educate our children.
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