Early childhood gift guide

The best gifts for young children can put a smile on their face as well as nurture their imagination, motor skills, literacy and overall development. But don’t be overwhelmed by the enormous toy section at the store or pages of products online! We’ve put together a guide for gifts appropriate for young children at each stage of development.

Babies (0-1)

When it comes to gifts, babies can be just as excited by the shiny, crinkly wrapping paper as they are by the gift inside. But the right gift is not only safe to chew on — it can support their early development! Babies are just starting to use their senses to interact with and understand the world around them, so look for gifts that stimulate their senses like bright-colored mobiles, rattlers or teethers.

Babies are also starting to develop their gross motor skills, so consider simple toys that let them practice moving. Look for stacking blocks and musical toys/instruments with colorful buttons and fun noises.

And while babies aren’t quite ready to read, reading with them still builds the foundation for language and literacy skills. Reading together with funny voices, faces and serve and return interactions nurtures their development in a host of ways and helps them get accustomed to books early on. A board book can withstand rougher handling and biting, so it’s a perfect gift to bring literacy into a baby’s world early on. Look for books that have brightly colored pages and lots of illustrations of familiar objects.

Toddlers (1-3)

Toddlers love to explore – pulling things apart, putting them back together, sorting them and trying to stack them all the way to the ceiling. Look for gifts that allow them to use their growing imagination and problem-solving skills, like puzzles, art supplies, stacking toys and shape-sorting toys. As toddlers develop their fine motor skills, toy cars and toy balls will help them practice using their muscles and build confidence in their abilities.

As they continue to gain language and communication skills, toddlers also start to develop social skills. Games and toys that allow for interaction with others will help them practice their communication, cooperation and sharing. Look for board games made for young children and props/costumes for playing “pretend,” like pretend kitchen or pretend hospital (practice on stuffed animals for starters).

Board books are still great gifts for toddlers 12-24 months old, as they might handle books pretty roughly. Look for books about familiar things, like sleeping, eating, playing and saying goodbye and hello. Around 24-26 months, you can start to incorporate books with paper pages. Toddlers’ vocabularies are rapidly expanding, so look for children’s books with more words. Rhymes and repetitious text will help them remember and practice using new words. Check out two of our favorite children’s books from Arizona authors: “This Little Farmer Went to Market” and “Up Up Up.”

Preschoolers (3-5)

As many parents know, young children are FULL of questions. For preschool-aged children, consider gifts that allow them to exercise their curiosity and practice problem-solving. Look for kid-friendly art sets, building toys, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) projects, kids’ gardening set or crafting sets. Preschoolers start to develop more specific interests, so these gifts can also let them explore their hobbies.

Children at this age often love pretend play. Help them practice their creativity by gifting them costumes and items that they can use for pretending to be cashiers, doctors or their favorite fictional characters.

Preschoolers are still developing the foundation for lifelong literacy skills, so they benefit from more advanced books. Give them books that tell stories they can relate to, help them practice the alphabet and counting and books that show them the diversity of people and the world around them.


Gifts don’t have to be toys — experiences are gifts too! Take your little one to the zoo to experience the sights, sounds and, well, smells of the animal kingdom. Purchase a botanical garden membership for a new parent so they can show their toddler the world of color and diversity that can be found in nature. There’s plenty to do – click here to see some family-friendly activities here in Phoenix.

And remember: the best present of all is your presence and interaction. Playing together, reading together, talking (or babbling) back and forth, going on adventures and sharing positive experiences together are the best gifts you can give a young child. Your time and undivided attention nurture their development and build a connection that can’t be found in any store.