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The Best Birthday Presents for Kids Under 2

'Tis the season for birthday parties. According to the CDC, the most popular months for birthdays are July, August, September and October. And now that you're a parent, birthday celebrations look a little different than they used to. You're not going to your friends' parties; you're going to your kids' friends party.

What exactly do you get for a small person under 2? If it's a kid on the lower end of the age spectrum, are you limited to rattles and soft toy books? And what are the toys that will keep on giving, long after he or she has figured out how to cruise and eventually walk?

I'm here to help you, friends. I don't want you to ever get caught re-gifting a toy to a friend (or a friend of a friend) because you panicked and didn't know what to get. So I turned to an expert.

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Christine Johnson, the owner of Miracle Mile Toys and Games in Los Angeles, gives some pretty basic and straightforward tips:

  • Don't to be gender specific.
  • What's most important when you're looking for that perfect toy are the developmental milestones—toys that can facilitate their learning, increase their fun and improve their environment.
  • If you do end up buying toys that YOU like, you're probably on the right—and most important—track. She says, "You should buy toys that you think are fun, cute and special to you because the more you enjoy playing with (the toy), the more baby will (too)." Learning is supposed to be fun.
  • Don't be scared off by the age labels on toys, there may be a toy that could help develop skills that come in the first six months (like tracking), as long as the toy doesn't have any small parts that could be potential choking hazards.

So with that said, here are a few toys that I think (and Christine agrees) would make great birthday gifts for your little ones, and their friends:

1. Edushape Rollipop Ball (9+months)

It's gentle, slow, sturdy and also big enough that two kids can play with it, which makes it a great play date toy. According to Johnson, the key to this is that the ball moves very slowly, so it will help a child aged 0-2 develop their tracking skills. It's the gift that keeps on giving. But if the plastic turns you off, try the ...

Image (left) via Edushape

2. Janod Frappa Ball (12+ months)

Like the Rollipop, the Frappa Ball can help develop tracking skills. This wooden toy with a beautiful modern design has a bell that rings when the ball finishes its course.

3. Janod Xylo Roller (18+ months)

It's a musical instrument (which is great because you both can have fun making songs up) AND it's a pull toy, which means it can follow your kid around like a buddy and encourage pretend play.

4. Tegu Tints Magnetic Wooden Blocks (12+ months)

These are Lego Duplo bricks with a twist. They have magnets in them, which means you can make more unusual structures at a younger age, and those structures won't fall over straight away. They come in multiple sizes and styles.

Christine loves these blocks because they're creative helpers. "Kids can get frustrated when they're using the blocks, of course," she said. "It's an important skill—the fine motor skills and stacking everything—but how awesome is it to spur your creativity if you can do a little bit more without compromising the skills? You still get the pincer grasp, the fine motor skills, the balancing."

These toys are a little pricey, but they do come in a variety of sizes, so you can probably find a set that fits most budgets. It's also the kind of toy that will stay in your kids' life for a few years.

Image via Tegu

6. Haba Fabric Balls (0-12 months)

Johnson loves these because they have fabric on the outside that you can grip a little bit, so it makes holding, grabbing and "catching" a little easier for your little ones. They're also great tracking toys if mommy or daddy get their hands on them!

Image right via HabaUSA

7. Tolo Teatime Shape Sorter (12+ months)

If you get this toy while your babies are young, you can teach them about shapes by working together to put the shapes in their corresponding holes. When they're older, the toy will become new all over again, when you kids use it during pretend play.

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8. Corolle Dolls (18+months)

Johnson says the dolls are sized to fit in the crook of a toddler's arms. Nurturing comes naturally to boys and girls of that age, least of all because they see mommy taking care of them most of the time. Plus, the dolls are weighted on the bottom, so you really feel like you're carrying something. They also come in different skin colors with various features. The outfits are removable (because let's face it, kids tend to take the clothes off toys and end up carrying clothes-less dolls with them)!

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