Here are a few of the gifts he loved:
LEGO DUPLO Cars and Trucks Building Blocks
I've seen and fiddled with a number of build-a-car sets. This one knocks them out of the water. First of all, because all of the blocks fit between the wheel bump, toddlers don't have to find the "right" pieces in the right order to build a vehicle. This is truly a mix and match set. Most build-a-car sets I've seen are like puzzles--if you lose one piece, you might as well throw out the whole set.
What takes it to eleven is the parts that pivot: a ladder that articulates *click-click-click* as it is positioned higher or lower, a tow hook that can move back and forth, and a dump truck that really dumps.
I was concerned the blocks might be a little too hard for a two year old to take apart and put together, but after a few days he stopped asking for help.
With hours of play following a price tag of less than $16 (current Amazon price) this gift has had the most bang-for-the-buck of the birthday gifts this year.
Below is one of the many vehicles my two-year old has made without any help at all.
Brio Classic Figure 8 Set
There are cheaper train sets on the market, but if you want (and can afford) quality, Brio comes highly recommended, and the Figure 8 Set is a beautiful starter set. Q loves to sit either inside one of the loops or next to them and pull the train along the track. The magnets that connect the train pieces are strong enough to keep the train together with a little rough handling, but not too strong for a toddler to separate pieces when desired. Little Q has figured out how to connect track pieces, but it never ends up as a finished loop when he does it, so he frequently asks for help: "Hep. Hep."
Before Q got this train set, my husband pointed out one of the table train sets. No, thank you. This beautiful toy can be put in a shoebox in the closet when we want to play with something else. The table train sets would take up precious floor space all the time. It's a personal choice, but I definitely prefer the flexibility this allows.
The company recommends this toy for ages 2 and up. Brio is a Swedish company. Like other European toddler toys, small parts are consider okay at a younger age than they are by US standards. If your little one still chews and sucks on their toys, I would certainly recommend waiting for them to grow out of that phase before getting a toy with small parts.
The jury is still out on this set of wheels, and may be until spring when it has more opportunity to be used. It's nearly impossible to find a toddler-size peddle bike, but a number of companies do make balance bikes. There are no pedals or training wheels. It's like a cross between a scooter and a bicycle that has gained a loyal following. Other parents have claimed that, while this ride on toy takes longer for the kids to get used to, it makes that transition to a two-wheeled bicycle a breeze, with kids as young as four learning to peddle without training wheels in one afternoon.
Based off of consumer reviews, we went with a Strider Balance Bike (one of the most expensive brands). We chose to buy this expensive bike used, and I'm glad we did. A few scuffs in the paint is completely worth it to save $50 on a toddler toy. If you just search for "balance bike" you can find other brands that have a cheaper price for their new bikes. Just be sure to read the reviews and compare.
Our fabulous UPS delivery man came to our door empty handed because the box it shipped in had a picture of a bicycle on its side, and he wanted to let us know before he left it on the porch where the kids might find it first.