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The sweetest family holiday memories often happen during the toddler and preschooler years, when kids are old enough to get excited for holidays, and are utterly delighted by presents.
That doesn't mean that they're easy to shop for, though. Many a parent has ruefully watched a child immediately put down an expensive present in favor of playing with the ribbons and box it came in – or realized, too late, that a new toy sparks sibling battles.
Try these toys instead for hours of development-boosting peaceful play.
Gifts for toddlers
1. A toy that grows too: Toddlers just love having their own mini versions of the stuff adults have, so this diminutive chair will win their hearts right out of the box just for being toddler-sized. But while your child sits she'll also learn: the chair says simple words like "up" and "down," and can play phrases, songs, and games. Coolest of all: the chair's "Smart Stages" switch allows you to move content up a level (up to age 3) as your child reaches a new developmental stage.
2. Get them moving: The toddler months are the time to advance from crawling to stumbling to walking to running, and any toy that eases this process along is something both you and your child will love. The sturdy Wheely Bug encourages toddlers age 18 months and up to scoot, ride, and push, developing gross motor skills along the way.
3. A bed that makes jaws drop: Moving from a crib to their own bed is a transition made easier by a really cool toddler bed – like this over-the-top plane that'll make fantasies take flight, and has hidden storage for childhood treasures.
Gifts for preschoolers
1. Encourage reading skills: True reading may be a few years off yet, but most children will begin recognizing letters and sounds in the preschool years. Help get these skills off the ground with a toy like this one, which levels up skills as your child grows. First, placing a letter on the frame will make the toy say the letter, next, it says a word or phrase that begins with the letter, then it says both. Frame and letters are magnetized so they stick tidily onto your refrigerator.
2. Their own little world: Most preschoolers are fascinated by animals, and can while away countless hours on imaginary play. Give them a toy for both impulses with this immersive zoo, which has accessories that let tiny players feed and care for their mini exotic animals like real zookeepers do.
3. A playhouse palace: Okay, not many grandparents are likely to shell out for a playhouse that costs more than six months of car payments, but if you want a playhouse that'll make everyone who sees it gasp and wish to be small enough to play in it again, this mini version of a Victorian cottage is the one.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.