It’s often referred to as the terrible twos, but reaching this milestone is an incredibly exciting time in a child’s life. Many learn to count, to speak in sentences, and to experience a new range of sensory experiences through play, nursery, and just by going about their day-to-day lives. 

Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Anna Symonds says: ‘One of the key developmental stages that children are going through at two is that they want to be independent but they can’t constantly manage it. They also can’t always express themselves through words and, for this reason, toys which allow creative play is great, as are things that they can do relatively easily on their own to avoid further frustration.’

Indeed, toy expert, or toyologist Peter Jenkinson, says: ‘As well as all the worthy things like developing motor skills, hand/eye coordination, in which toys have a key role to play, I think they are the perfect way to get [children] to interact with each other – and their parents. The best toys are the ones that invite them to use their imagination, toys that engage them to do their own thing and not follow any rules.’

With this in mind, we’ve selected a range of stimulating toys alongside items that two-year-olds will find useful or simply enjoy owning. 

In addition to the big-name brands, we’ve sought-out some smaller, independent companies too, with items ranging from around £10 to £80. All gifts have been either played with, used or worn over the course of at least a week to gain a greater insight into their popularity, practicality and durability. 

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent. 

Personalised Toddler Book Subscription: from £29.99, The Willoughby Book Club

This book subscription is tailor-made to your child’s favourite things – such as princesses, dinosaurs or trains. You can also select how many months you would like to subscribe for. 

Each month the subscriber receives a new book picked to match their interests and ability.

The first one includes a gift message from the buyer, and every book is beautifully wrapped. 

For every subscription sold, The Willoughby Book Club donates a book to the charity Book Aid International to support its developmental and educational work in sub-saharan Africa. Prices start at £29.99 for a three-month subscription, and up to £94.99 for a year. 

Receiving a parcel in the post provided great excitement for our two-year-old tester, and made him feel incredibly grown-up and independent. The book instantly became a favourite and was chosen to be read every night before bed.

Not wanting to sound like a cliché, this gift really does keep on giving and the titles delivered were unusual (yet wonderful) ensuring your two-year-old probably won’t already have them. 

Buy now

SmartMax Build XXL: £77.63, Amazon

This comes in a durable plastic box for easy storage and provided hours or entertainment for our testers, aged two and older.

The 70 pieces were perfectly-sized for little fingers to grip and doubled up as everything from building structures to imaginary lightsabers and microphones.

The fact that the pieces magnetically connect together so easily makes it ideal for creating 3-D constructions from an early age, without the frustration caused by smaller, trickier toys. 

This makes it a good toy for two-year-olds to play with unaided, and ideal for helping them to distinguish between colours, as well as learning about the way magnets repel and attract as they get older.

This toy was the go-to for our tester every day for over a week. They played unaided with it for up to half an hour at a time, and never seemed to get bored with it. 

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Trains Cutlery Set: £12, Amazon

Nicely packaged in an illustrated gift box, this set immediately appealed to our two-year-old tester. The bold mix of primary colours caught their eye, and helped make mealtimes fun, while also encouraging the correct use of cutlery.

Made from stainless steel and BPA-free, they seem well-made enough to last for years and are an ideal gift for children who are saturated with toys, especially at this time of year. 

Unlike some cheaper alternatives, the pictures didn’t start to rub off after a week of washing by hand and in the dishwasher. At mealtimes, our two-year-old insisted on using this new cutlery set and had fun choo-choo-ing the food into their mouth on the train fork!

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Djeco Lassanimo Lacing: £11.99, Bright Minds

These wooden animal shapes were much harder-wearing than some of the cardboard alternatives on the market, and you can wipe them clean after being used by grubby hands, too.

The laces have long sturdy aglets which make them easier for children to thread.

The different animals provided a range of difficulty levels, which meant there was one easy enough for a young two-year-old and another that would be suited to a more dexterous child. 

It kept our two-year-old testers engaged for a decent period of time, and despite needing a bit of assistance at first they soon managed it on their own without frustration. 

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Lego Duplo Number Train: £9.75, Amazon​

With its bright colours and chunky pieces, Duplo is perfect for two-year-old hands.

This train is ideal for encouraging creative play as well as introducing numbers and counting, and the fact it contains both a female and male character, as well as a cat, makes it equally appealing to girls and boys alike.

With its durability and the fact that as well as a train it can be transformed into anything the imagination desires our two-year-old tester returned to play with this day after day, and insisted on taking the little figures everywhere, even to bed.

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London Skittles: £38, The White Company

This toy appears to be a simple enough concept, but it includes musical balls that make a lovely chiming sound when rolled across the floor.

Some two-year-olds may get a bit frustrated trying to stand the skittles up on their own, but aiming the ball and then throwing it is a great way to teach them hand-eye coordination and ball skills from an early age – with a ball that won’t do any damage.

Made of rich navy and red colours, this toy makes a stylish addition to a bedroom or playroom, too.

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Children’s Moccasins (in midnight): £25, The Small Home

What two-year-old doesn’t want slippers to match those of their parents?

These moccasins are so soft our tester wanted to wear them to bed and cuddle them constantly. The shearling is so thick that they stay on the feet well, unlike many toddler slippers. They keep tiny toes extremely toastie and didn’t lose their shape after being worn every day for over a week.

Available in five vibrant colours and in sizes infant 5/EU22, up to junior size 2/EU32, each pair of slippers are handmade in the Tatra Mountains, using the softest shearling sheepskin and traditional craftmanship.

They look stylish and adorable, something you will want to have out on display and keep in the memory box for years to come. 

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TOMY Super Rainbow Deluxe Aquadoodle: £19.99, Amazon 

For anyone who doesn’t know of Aquadoodle, it’s drawing with water instead of pens. The water makes the mat change colour and then dries out within a couple of hours, or less if it’s warm, and can be reused again.

It’s an ingenious idea for avoiding mess, pen marks and stains on furniture and floors, and perfect for taking to people’s houses and on holiday for the same reason.

This set comes with a refillable pen, three stampers, and a paintbrush-like tool for bigger strokes.

It’s designed for children aged 18 months and over, but, during testing, it was played with day after day by the two-year-old and their older siblings.

The pen, paintbrush and stampers are perfectly sized for little fingers, and the mat is a decent size for two children to play with at once which was great for avoiding arguments.

It folds away neatly for easy storage, which meant it was ideal for taking to the grandparent’s house without fear of causing a mess. 

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Vtech Toddler Playtime Bus With Phonics: £15.96, Amazon

This bus has much more to offer than meets the eye.

Not only does it say the letters of the alphabet phonetically and ask the child to press the correct corresponding letter (a bit similar to a Speak and Spell from years gone by).

It also helps teach phonic sounds, numbers and even safety.

It features songs that toddlers find irresistible to sing along to (and have a knack of getting stuck in parents’ heads).

In an age where everyone seems to have electronic tablets to entertain their children, this is a much more cost-effective and three-dimensional experience.

For children who aren’t quite ready for phonics and numbers, the bus sound-effects mean it’s great fun to just push along the floor, helping their coordination and motor skills.

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Interstar Rings: £9.99, Amazon

This set of 18 interconnecting rings might not sound particularly exciting, but to a two-year-old it provides hours of entertainment as they worked out how to connect them together and create three-dimensional structures from animals to toys to guns.

The packaging is minimal, and it doesn’t take up too much space or weight, making it great for taking on holiday or on car journeys.

Bright and different, and the perfect size for toddler hands – this was a hit with children from 2 to 42.

It was a bit fiddly for our tester to work out how to slot them together at first, but they soon got the hang of it.

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Edushape Curiosity Cubes: £12.99, John Lewis & Partners

This set of four curiosity cubes comes in a range of colours. Each can be twisted and turned so that the different coloured and sized balls inside drop through the inner holes.

The bright colour and sound of the balls rolling around is entertainment enough for younger two-year-olds, while more able ones will have fun trying to work out how to get the balls from one side to another.

Perfect for popping into your handbag on a trip out, and great for encouraging the hand, eye and ear coordination of inquisitive minds.

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Slate & Stone Striped Number 2 T Shirt: £18.95, Bob & Blossom

In our social media age, it has never has it been more popular to document your child’s every milestone with a photograph. So what better way to mark their second birthday than with this gorgeous unisex striped long-sleeved top, emblazoned with their age?

Stylish, classic, and made from soft cotton, this top is guaranteed to be a hit with parents and children alike.

This slate and stone colourway is a mixture of blue and a muted pinkish stripe, thus making it perfect for any gender.

Our two-year-old loved showing off the big number on their tummy, too.

It came up like new and didn’t lose its shape after going through the washing machine.

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Race Track Design Adventure Playmat: £56, by Little Ella James at Notonthehighstreet​

Made from 100 per cent cotton, this hand-printed adventure roadway playmat is perfectly designed for pretend play, and our two-year-old testers loved letting their imagination run wild as they transported their cars, trains, animals, and teddies along the road.

Unlike some garish playmats on the market this is stylish, too. Measuring 70cm by 180cm it makes a great addition to any bedroom or playroom, and can be easily rolled or folded away for storage.

The label says spot clean only, so it might be a bit tricky to keep it looking like new, however, over a longer period of time.

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Btoys Okideoke: £17.99, Bright Minds

This microphone toy is billed as being suitable for children from 18 months to 5 years and it really is, plus another 30 years on top of that. Loved by toddlers, schoolchildren and adults alike, it provided hours of fun for all the family.

Unlike some complicating recording devices, it was as simple as pushing one button to record, and another to play it back. The ability to speed up or slow down the tempo provided added laughs, and the musical melodies prompted much dancing.

Our two-year-old tester loved recording himself singing Baby Shark and playing it back again and again.

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Munchkin Bath Dunkers: £10.75, Dunelm​

With plastic suckers on the back, this toy sticks onto the bathroom wall and ensures they’ll never be a battle to get your two-year-old into the bath again.

Bright, lightweight, and with balls that squirt water, it offers everything you need in a bath toy and also worked just as well stuck to the fridge door or a window.

It’s brilliant for improving hand-eye coordination from babies to big kids.

Our two-year-old also loved counting how many balls he got through the hoop. 

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Dancing Mice Three-Piece Melamine Set Suitcase: £23, Emma Bridgewater

Containing a child’s mug, plate and bowl, and packed in a stylish little suitcase, this practical gift looks lovely, too.

Our tester enjoyed carrying the case around and packing and unpacking the contents and using them for teddy tea-parties, as much as using it for real mealtimes.

It proved to be a classic yet colourful alternative to a toy, combining functionality with fairytale.

It was so sturdy that it should survive as a keepsake for the memory box once they’ve grown out of using it. Both children and adults loved it.

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Leapfrog Dino’s Delightful Day: £25, Next

Don’t be put off by the spinning cylinder filled with beads which make this toy seem like it’s aimed at a younger audience. This slightly garish toy was a magnet to our two-year-old testers.

It made reading a book fully interactive by asking the child to find certain objects that appear in the story, as well as helping to teach them the numbers one to ten.

It’s great for making learning the alphabet and numbers fun, and has buttons and carry handle that are ideal for toddler fingers. 

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Dino Origami Large Lamp: £20, Neon sheep

Quirky and colourful, this lamp will brighten up any two-year-old’s bedroom.

In our tester’s case, it provided a fantastic incentive to go to bed at night, and the subtle blue light it omitted proved to be perfect for helping them drift off to sleep without being too bright.

This is an electronic device, of course, and not a toy, but as long as it’s out of the reach of young children, it looks great in a bedroom or playroom, seems very sturdy, and is stylish as well as useful. 

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Fox Wellies: £19, Jojo Maman Bébé​

Don’t be put off by the overpowering rubbery smell when you first open the packet as this soon fades.

These wellies are the cutest, most adorable wellies around.

Not only do they have the fox’s face on the front, they also include little three-dimensional ears that stick up – much to the delight of our two-year-old tester who was bending down to touch them constantly.

These wellies have really deep grips that were effective on even the slipperiest surfaces, and they fitted well and didn’t let the foot slip out at all when kicking a ball or running.

Boys, girls, Mums and Dads – everyone will fall in love with them. In UK sizes 3-11.

Buy now 

Kids Unicorn Plush Wall Head Décor: £46.95, Cuckooland​

With gorgeously soft white fur and big blue eyes, it’s hard not to fall in love with this magical white unicorn head.

Our two-year-old tester insisted on having it positioned low enough on the bedroom wall to be able to give it a cuddle before bed every night, and was particularly fascinated by the fact he could put his fingers in the unicorn’s nostrils and mouth.

Measuring 37cm long, 35cm high, and 18cm wide, this makes a great focal point on a bedroom wall.

Our tester made less fuss about going to bed once this was in the bedroom, and seemed to gain comfort from the unicorn watching over him. In that sense, it was both useful and aesthetically pleasing.

It’s easy hang with a simple hook on the back and faired remarkably well in terms of getting grubby – possibly because it was mainly petted post-bathtime.

Buy now

The Verdict: Best gifts for 2-year-olds

Taking into account the price, longevity, and educational aspect of the gift, The Personalised Toddler Book Subscription from The Willoughby Book Club scooped our best buy for gifts for two-year-olds. If books are our window to other worlds, then this gift has limitless appeal and the ability to challenge, stimulate and excite growing minds. 

If you are, however, looking for a gift that encourages independent play, then the Smartmax Build XXL from Kidly is ideal. Durable and simple enough not to frustrate two-year-olds, they will have hours of fun playing with it on their own.

For lower budgets, the Trains Cutlery Set from Tyrrell Katz is perfect because it is both functional and gorgeous, and will encourage children to use cutlery independently.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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