Friday, August 31, 2012

Best Books and Toys for Babies from 0-3 Years

I thoroughly enjoy reading/hearing/watching reviews about toys, books, games, clothes, housewares, and well pretty much everything. I like to do a decent amount of research before purchasing something, so obviously my purchases are heavily weighted on good reviews as, I'm sure, many of yours are these days. So although I'm no expert I thought I'd give you a list and some brief reviews of what we thought were the best toys and books for our kids thus far. A lot of these are played with far beyond the age group listed but I tried to categorize them into age groups that seemed the most appropriate.

0-6 Months


Lifefactory Multi Sensory Silicone Teether: Best teether by far! Very soft, rubbery and pliable, has four different sensations for the gums to chew on, easy to grip and hold onto, and easy to get it into the mouth. I love that it contains no phthalates, BPA, PVC, or latex, and it's made in the USA!

Baby Teether Ball: A close second. This one is nice because they can actually get the little soft spikey things into their mouth far enough to get to those back gums when they're hurting. It squeaks when you squeeze it, it smells really good, its phthalate free, easy to clean, and it's another easy one to grasp.

Rhino Toys Oball: Great first toy as it's easy for little fingers to grab ahold of, it's squishy and colorful, it rolld, and is all around interesting to look at. They come in some other shapes as well and some have rattles on them. This one's also BPA, PVC, latex, and phthalate free. This ball is also nice for teaching older kids how to catch a ball since it's easy to grab ahold of with all of the finger holes.

Manhattan Toys Sqwish: Both kids loved this one. It's made of wood, has moveable wooden beads, it's fascinating to look at, easy to grip and "sqwish," and was popular well into 6-12 months too.

Bright Starts Snuggle and Teether Elephant: Another really nice teething toy. I like that this one "crinkles" and is easy to hold onto. Also great for soaking up all of that teething drool!

Angel Dear Blankie: I actually added a snap to each one of the kid's Angel Dear Blankie's in order to attach their pacifiers so they'd be easy to find in the dark and as they got older and would toss and turn in their cribs. These are so soft, so adorable, and super cute as little lovies too. We only have one for each of the kids because neither of them is attached to them at this point, but I appreciate that the company sells these in 3-packs in case you lose one or so you're able to wash one while the other is being cuddled.


I would say that about 95% of our kids books have come from either garage sales or the thrift store. So keep your eyes peeled for good deals because you can buy a book for $0.50 instead of $8 or more!

DK Books Baby Faces: Babies love looking at other babies!

That's Not My Dragon (lots more in this series): These are super cute, colorful, sturdy little sensory books that the kids both really enjoy!

6-12 Months


Green Sprouts Stacking Cup Set: We have a slightly different version of these then the one linked. I love that these are simple and can be used for lots of different things. We've used ours in the bath, out of the bath, outside, in the mud, at the beach, everywhere. Also, they're BPA, PVC, latex, and phthalate free.

Plastic Egg Shakers: You shake them and they make noise. Need I elaborate? We just have one of these that came from Dustin's musical stash, but it was/is well loved. Great for little ones to use when they want to be involved in family music time.
Green Toys My First Stacker: Free of BPA, PVC, and phthalates and made in the USA. I really like the few Green Toys things we own. They are very well made and popular choices for the kids to play with. These are easy to grasp, good for teething, sorting, learning colors, sizes, and they are super easy to clean, which is always a plus. We just pulled this out for Declan to play with and he loves it (knocks over the stack, grabs one, shoves them in his mouth) and as you can see from the picture, Emery still enjoys it too! We found ours at HomeGoods (our local HomeGoods always has a ton of Green Toys) for half the price. 

Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Musical Table: Although I'm not a huge fan of extremely musical, loud, obnoxious toys, I didn't mind this one too much and I know Em loved it (Declan's not quite ready to play with it). It has removable legs so it can be used before they begin standing, but it's a great toy for little ones to start pulling themselves up on. It has tons of songs, teaches letters, numbers, Spanish, etc. It can get annoying (like any noise making toy), but it was worth it to see how much fun Em had with it. My mom actually found this for us at a garage sale and it was basically brand new, just missing the phone, for $3.

Sensory Balls: Made of all-natural, non-toxic rubber then covered in a soft fuzzy fabric. These were our favorite first balls--and still the best for playing with around the house. They are really soft, great vibrant colors, really bouncy, easy to grab and of course chew on.


I like it When: A huge favorite. I think the simplicity, the relatability, and the bright primary colors really make this book a winner. You can usually tell if a book is popular by the amount of tape holding it together. :) This one's barely in one piece still and I've contemplated pitching it many times but first I need to find a new copy.

How Big? I don't know if it's the pictures of the babies, the part of the book that you can lift-the-flap, or just the fun of repeating "SO BIG!" on every page, but this book was a favorite and it shows...two of the flaps have completely torn off. It was well loved.

Happy Baby Books (Words, Animals, Colors): Anything with actual pictures of real things and real babies is always a hit.

12-18 Months


Plan Toys Shape and Sort it Out: Wooden, made with non-toxic materials, and very well made. Found this one at a yard sale. Great for learning shapes, sorting, and learning colors.

Melissa and Doug's Jumbo Puzzles: Super cute, non-toxic, great first puzzles. We've found ours at garage sales and HomeGoods too.

What's Inside? Soft Feely Box: This is great for that stage when you find your toddler sitting next to an empty kleenex box, empty cupboards, drawers that have been cleaned out, socks pulled out of their know what I'm talking about. :) I love that each of the objects in this box have various sensations, rattles, noises, textures, etc. Great toy!

Wooden Blocks: These are durable hardwood blocks with rounded edges, free of paints and dyes, and they come in a wooden storage box. I think they recommend them for ages 3+, but I think this age is a good time to pull them out. They don't present any choking hazard, they're great for beginning imaginative play, working together with others, learning counting and fractions, and they'll be played with for years to come.

Happy Baby Books (ABC, 123, etc.): Great for teaching, love the bright real photos on every page, very good quality books.

This is My Monster (many more in this series): Super cute, bright colors, sturdy book with sensory patches on each page and a button to press to hear the monster roar.

Indestructibles (many in this series): Can be nibbled on, crumpled up, stepped on, and still look great!
Animal Hide-and-Seek: This is a great book. Every page has flaps to lift, sensory touch/texture spots (more than one per page), a little duck to find, lots of animals, and the book teaches counting from 1-5. Emery's favorite thing about this book when she was little was imitating all of the animal noises. On every page we'd go through the animals, "what does the chicken say?" what does the cow say? etc... Great book, definitely a keeper.
Snuggle Puppy: After reading it a couple times, it'll just take the sight of this book to get you singing! Loved by all.

18 Months -2 Years


Fisher Price Little People: These are really nice at any age because they can't be swallowed! We've purchased most of ours at garage sales (which you can find everywhere!) or they've been gifts. We often have a town of them set up somewhere in the house. I love that these can be used in the house, at the beach, in the mud, or be drooled on and then thrown in the sink for a quick and easy clean.

Manhattan Toy Baby Stella: Cute and cuddly, soft and easily washable. Emery mostly enjoys diapering Stella and taking her clothes on and off, pushing her around in her baby stroller, putting her in all of Declan's baby apparatuses, etc. I really like that I can machine wash her with no issues.
Doll Stroller: You don't need this one here, any old doll stroller will do. My mom bought this one for Emery when she was about 20 months old and she still uses this everyday. I do like that this one is red so it's not super girly, it's very sturdy and made well, but I don't like that the stroller seat always comes unattached. Every baby and stuffed animal gets pushed around in this thing and it's often used as a shopping cart for groceries.
Musical Instruments: Drum, mini guitar, tamborine, piano, etc. We found most of our instruments at garage sales in great condition. Instruments that are just their size are great for family music time so that everyone can get involved. These are always popular with our little guests as well. 


Quiet Books: Love these for the car since they're soft and won't injure anyone in case of an accident. You can usually find these at thrift stores and throw them in your washing machine with no problem.

Goodnight Moon: I'm sure you have all read this one. Best bedtime book and of course, a classic.

Dr. Suess Board Books: (Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?, Hop on Pop, There's a Wocket in My Pocket): All of our Dr. Suess books are favorites around here. They have been read and re-read over and over and over again. I love that many of them come in shortened board book versions so they can be enjoyed during that not-so-gentle time in our children's lives.

Whistle for Willie: All of Ezra Jack Keats' books are excellent, well written, colorful and very popular with Emery. She loves "The Snowy Day," "Peter's Chair" and "The Little Drummer Boy" as well.

Bear Snores On: I love this book so much; it's so fun to read, you almost want to sing it! Em enjoys it too. ;) The pictures are cute and it's written with such lovely rhythm and rhyme, "an itty-bitty mouse, pitter-pat, tip-toe, creep-crawls in the cave from the fluff-cold snow."

We're Going on a Bear Hunt: Another classic that is fun to act out, read, and sing. Read over and over and over, but still so fun!

2-3 Years


I think in this age group and above the best toys are mini versions of real life: Anything that is a replica of something that we use as adults are excellent toys. Mini cutting boards and knives, pots and pans and mixing spoons, mixers/toasters/coffee makers, dress-up clothes, baby beds/bottles/carriers/cribs, sewing kits, tool kits, garden tools, mini camera's, microscopes, etc. 

Green Toys Tea Set: Another lovely toy from Green Toys. I love that this can hold actual tea or water, the plates can hold real food, it's made from 100% recycled non-toxic materials (BPA, phthalate, lead paint free), and it's made in the USA. Em really loves this set and it's really well made, colorful, and gets lots of use in our house. Another HomeGoods find.

Sand and Water Table: A big hit this summer! Grandma and grandpa bought this for Emery this year and it's been the most popular toy among all the little guests we've had over. There are so many uses for it. You can fill it with only sand, only water, frozen ice cubes, water beads, water balloons, bubble bath solution, paint, etc! I like that this one has an umbrella to block some of the sun and a cover to keep it free of debris.

Melissa and Doug Pizza Party and Birthday Party Cake: We acquired the pizza when we bought our little wooden kitchen on craigslist. Actually, pretty much all of the kitchen food, gadgets, and shopping cart came with our craigslist find. Great deal! This is Em's favorite thing to play with in her kitchen. It gets played with practically everyday and I constantly find little pepperoni's or peppers, and cake pieces in interesting places. Emery loves cutting the pizza/cake, adding toppings, decorating the cake, blowing our candles, singing happy birthday to everyone, and serving slices to one and all.
Any kind of wooden play food (I like Melissa and Doug sets) are great too.

A nice sturdy table and chairs: I don't have a solid opinion on a certain brand, but I think something sturdy and solid (preferably wood) is best. We didn't want to spend an arm and a leg on a nice wooden one so we found one on craigslist with 3 chairs for $30. It's seriously so solid and will last a long time; the people we bought it from had already owned it for 10 years! I like that adults can sit on the chairs too without feeling like it'll break. This is great for just about everything you can imagine using a table for...eating, doing crafts, puzzles, having a tea party, doing some school projects, you name it.

Play kitchen: Again, no opinions on brands since we bought ours off of craigslist too. I'm not sure what the brand of ours is, but we got a great deal on it. It's two pieces (a stove top piece and a fridge), it's solid wood, and it came with about 10+ Melissa and Doug food sets, stainless pots and pans, table settings, etc. This thing has been played with more than just about every toy we own, by Em and every other kid who steps foot in our house. It's well loved so I'm glad we have one that will hold up.
Plus, this is a great teaching toy.

Schleich animals: These are really great quality, hand painted, made in Germany, and look extremely real-life. We only have a few of these that we've picked up at the thrift store by our house but they are used quite a bit. Em uses them with her Little People, in her sand box outside, in the bath, all over.

Schwinn Easy Steer Tricycle: After a lot of research for a quality tricycle that didn't cost a small fortune I came across this one and so far I'm really pleased with it. Emery loves riding this, it's easy for us and her to maneuver, was pretty simple to put together, it's very sturdy, great quality, handle comes off easily, and there is a foot rest that snaps down if your child is too short to turn the pedals. I love that it has a seat belt, two little baskets for carrying things, and a little bag behind the seat.

A Craft Box: Kids at any age should really have some sort of box or basket of craft-making stuff. I've picked up our stuff at thrift stores, garage sales, and after Holiday sales at our local craft stores so it doesn't have to be expensive at all. We do a craft with our craft box at least once per week. So much fun! The link above contains a list of ideas for your craft box.


The Jesus Storybook Bible: I cannot say enough good things about this children's Bible. We own a few children's Bible's and this one is the best by far. It is so different than any children's Bible I have ever read...I actually enjoy just reading it myself. "Every story whispers His name." Excerpt from the book: "No, the Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story... You see, the best thing about this Story is -- it's true. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them."

Dr. Suess Books, especially Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and Oh the Thinks You Can Think. These are the most fun, whimsical books that we all remember and loved reading as children. They don't get old and they are Em's favorites.

Look Inside Your Body (more in this series): This and other lift-the-flap books by Usborne Books are such high quality books, great learning resources, and are so much fun to read. It takes a while just to get through one page because there are so many flaps, and flaps within flaps within more flaps! They are great for keeping your little ones entertained for a while, the images on each page are so vibrant and colorful, and I love that there are so many of these so I can use these when we start units for homeschooling.

Berenstain Bear Books: I love that there are so many wonderful lessons to be learned from these books and I remember reading these as a kid and loving them too!

Curious George Books: Emery loves Curious George and all of his silly adventures. We have all read them and they'll always be around.

Jamberry: This book is just silly, imaginative, adorable, fun to read (and read, and re-read, again and again), and it is filled with really lovely and colorful pictures on each page. A big hit with everyone!

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie: Oh we read this one all the time. This one is just a classic goofy tale of why you should never give a mouse a cookie. I'm sure you've all read it, so no need to go on.

I know this list will change over the years, I'll add to it and of course there are many other great toys that I'm sure I've never even heard of, but this is what we've found so far. If you have any other reviews or suggestions feel free to comment and let me know!

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