Melissa & Doug is known for its sturdy-built, fun and educational toys for kids of all ages. I had the chance to check out 5 items that are ideal for children around the ages of 2 and 3.
Mix ‘n Match Puzzle Bundle
Kids (and parents) love puzzles. They help children with cognitive development, motor skills, word, and image recognition. And the best kind for young kids is peg puzzles.
The Mix ‘n Match Puzzle Bundle includes three wooden peg puzzles with eight colourful pieces with fun images, like animals, birds, reptiles, and cars. The pieces are interchangeable, so kids can work to place them in the right spots, or have some fun mixing and matching, creating a bunny with a cat’s tail, or a multi-coloured moving van. Each piece has an easy-to-grasp peg fitted perfectly to tiny hands that are perfecting how to grasp items. While the set is aimed at kids two and older, it’s a good one to introduce kids even younger than that to the concept of puzzles. And there’s a problem-solving element, too. You could ask your child, for example, to sort the pieces into piles, putting together all of the brown ones, for example, or all of the birds. My 4.5-year-old son summed it up nicely: “daddy says these are easy,” he explained, “but they’re fun too!”
My son, now 4.5, loves cars, and has several mats that he can place on his playroom floor to zoom the cars along. This Road Rug is a nice option to encourage imaginative playtime. Made of durable woven material, it’s both stain-resistant (a huge plus, as any parent knows) and is washable. Unlike some of the other play mats you might come across, it also has a skid-proof backing so your kids can safely play with it on hardwood floor without you worrying they might slip, or without it moving all over the place as they play. The rug comes with four wooden toy cars to get them started, though there’s no reason your child couldn’t add his own collection of cars to the mix. Featured on the mat is a mix of roads, lanes, numbered parking spots, and buildings, intricately designed so it looks like a real miniature city. Kids can role-play, and you can help make it educational by asking your child, for instance, to park his blue car in parking spot number three. Ideal for kids aged 3 and up (though easily used by younger or older kids as
well), it helps encourage hand-eye coordination, motor skills, visualization, and sensory development. At about 40.5 x 40.5” squared, you’ll need to ensure you have room for it. But the Rug can also be easily rolled up and put away when it isn’t being used. Encourage playtime in the living room, then clean up for bedtime.
Deluxe Cardboard Block Set
They say kids always seem to want to play with the box a toy came in as much as the toy itself. The Deluxe Cardboard Block Set takes advantage of this idea. It includes 40 cardboard blocks that kids can arrange however they want. They can build a tower to knock down, or create a fort for their stuffed animals to live in. My son had so much fun building with these, I’d often hear him making beeping noises as he pretended to be a construction working loading bricks to build a house. Each block is made of 90% premium, extra-thick cardboard that’s coloured red, yellow, and blue to look like actual bricks. They come in three different sizes, and, perhaps most importantly for parents, can be easily wiped down if they get dirty. Melissa & Doug say the largest of them, the red bricks, can hold up to 150 lbs. I tried to test this myself by sitting atop one of them (I’m about 125 lbs.) and XXX. Bottom line: the blocks can withstand a bunch of 30 or 40 lb. kids building their own “chairs” to sit, or rustling about with these blocks.
But beware: the blocks are pre-folded and cut, but they come flat, which means mom and dad will have to spend some time putting them all together before the child gets to play. It’s easy to do following the included visual instructions. But it still takes time. Older kids might be able to figure out how to do this themselves with some help. But for the target age of the set, which is kids 2 and older, it’ll be all up to the parents to do the handiwork. Keep in mind, as well, that 40 large blocks take up significant space, and chances are, you won’t want to take them apart and put them together each time your child wants to play. So I’d advise only getting this set if you have a dedicated play area where your child can stack the boxes neatly away when he’s not playing. Indeed, after one day in my son’s playroom with this set, it looked like a hurricane had hit! That said, he had tons of fun with it.
ABC Block Set
When my son was younger, this ABC Block Set was one of his favourite toys. We often used them to help with letter and number recognition, as well as speech. And he loved to arrange and rearrange them inside the wagon. So I was pleasantly surprised to see the delight on his face when the set arrived for review. While it’s geared toward kids around age 2, I quickly realized that there are benefits for older kids as well. They are great for helping them spell short words, teach some math basics, or just as fun stacking toys for older kids who have the dexterity to use the small blocks. But the primary age for this is toddlers, who can sort the blocks, place them in the wagon, and pull it along with them as they play. There are 30 solid wood blocks in all, featuring letters and numbers as well as pictures to help with word association and image recognition. The rolling cart and blocks are made from 95% solid wood and 3% plywood.
For kids just getting familiar with the alphabet, the Chunky Puzzle is an ideal companion. It includes 26 wooden letter pieces that kids can slot into the recessed spots, and stand them up. The board contains photos beside
each letter depicting a word that begins with that letter: a watermelon beside the “W,” for example, and an elephant behind the “E.” The pieces are easy to grasp by little hands, and the board is a great way to also help develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills – toddlers must match and line up the letters in order to properly fit them in the slots. (Under each slot is a matching letter to make it a bit easier, though this also makes it less challenging for older kids.) It’s also good for developing pre-reading skills: older kids can put letters together to spell simple words like “CAT” and “HOP.” The set is designed for kids aged 3 and up, but can easily be used by younger toddlers as well. It is made from 50% plywood and 40% micro-density fibrewood.
Check out more great toys and puzzles from Melissa & Doug at Best Buy Online.