best melissa and doug toys
Jessica Resendez

My Family Put The Best Melissa & Doug Toys To The Test — & Here Are My Thoughts

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Trying to limit my toddler’s screen time has been quite the challenge as a work-from-home mom. So whenever I see toys that spark imagination or promote independent play, I’m all for it — especially on days where I need some peace and quiet to complete tasks around the house. That’s why my go-to toy brand of choice is Melissa & Doug, a research-led company that has been in business for nearly 30 years. From chunky puzzles to elaborate play sets, the best Melissa & Doug toys I’ve come across meet a range of kids’ play needs — and many can be found on Amazon.

Melissa & Doug toys run the gamut when it comes to promoting key developmental skills in young kids. The overall quality of each toy, and the extra features that make setting them up and cleaning them up a breeze are some of the top reasons why so many parents (including myself) choose them over their competitors. I especially like the little details, such as a wooden train set that folds into a carrying case or cookie bake set that comes with a dough tube for storing smaller pieces.

They also offer imaginative ways to play without the need for screens and nurture a number of developmental skills, including but not limited to problem solving, creativity, independent play, counting, sorting, fine motor skills, and even storytelling. And in my experience, the toys are high-quality and durable, with many of them incorporating wood components that add a nice aesthetic touch. Plus, the company offers a 100% money-back guarantee if anything does happen.

The writer’s daughter playing with the Melissa & Doug grocery store play set.Jessica Resendez

Besides all the perks for parents, Melissa & Doug makes toys that kids actually want to play with, at least in my personal experience. We’ve been through our fair share of toys with flashing lights, musical sounds, and other technology, but there’s something about the simple design of Melissa & Doug toys that inspires kids to explore and discover the greater world around them.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of some of my family’s all-time favorite choices from Melissa & Doug over the years, including all the best from Amazon.

1. This Train Set That Folds Into A Carrying Case

  • Best for kids: 3 to 5 years

I purchased this wooden railroad set for my daughter about a year ago, and it’s still a staple in her toy collection. The quality and craftsmanship that went into this set is really what sold us, but I also like that the 17 wooden pieces are easy to tuck away inside the case. Unfolding the case reveals an illustrated train track with a forest theme. The included figures consist of magnetic train cars, trees, bridges, and even woodland animals, letting my daughter use her imagination to set up different scenes on the board.

Plus, it builds her fine motor skills as she pushes the train pieces along the railroad and decides where to place her trees, animals, and bridges on the board. You can also choose from three other similar styles that include a farm, kingdom, and town.

2. A Cookie Play Set That’s Customizable

  • Best for kids: 3 to 5 years

This wooden cookie set has so many features that make pretend play feel realistic. The set includes: 12 cookies, 12 toppings, knife, spatula, cookie sheet, and kitchen mitt. The cool part about this set is that most of the pieces are interchangeable and “sliceable” using the hook-and-loop fasteners. The wooden cookie pieces are durable and slightly dense with a smooth finish that makes slicing and stacking a breeze for kids. You can also store the cookies and toppings inside the included “dough tube” to keep the cookie pieces in one place (something I truly appreciate). My little baker loves to slice the cookies, arrange them on the tray, and attach the toppings in whatever design she chooses. She often sorts and counts the cookies as she goes, or she uses her imagination to pretend-bake in her play kitchen.

3. A Set Of 100 Colorful Wooden Blocks

  • Best for kids: 2 to 8 years

Developing patience is a skill my family is helping my daughter work towards, and this colorful set of 100 wooden building blocks are a great tool to practice with. The pieces are lightweight and roughly range from 1 to 3 inches, with varying shapes that include triangles, cylinders, squares, and more. They’re great for small hands to grasp, and the bright hues make it fun for my daughter to practice naming colors like red, blue, yellow, and green.

Right out of the box, she was excited to start stacking. But as her towers grew higher, she eventually learned that gravity was not on her side and grew frustrated whenever they toppled over. It took a few tries (and some full-blown tantrums) before she gained back her confidence to try again. But as time went on, she felt more comfortable creating and anticipating the eventual destruction of her masterpieces — even going so far as to topple them over just for fun.

And although this toy took a little extra guidance and energy on my part to show her how to have fun with it, I’ve enjoyed the extra bonding time that allowed her to conquer those strong emotions. It became a total confidence-booster once she got the hang of it. It also comes with a nice little travel bag she can neatly store the pieces in and take with her to her grandparent’s house.

4. A Fan-Favorite Pretend Cleaning Set

  • Best for kids: 3 to 6 years

This one is a fan favorite with Amazon reviewers, racking up more than 36,000 reviews and earning a near-perfect overall rating of 4.8 stars. It’s a six-piece cleaning play set that helps kids build on their coordination and fine motor skills as they learn about household chores. This set includes a broom, mop, duster, dust pan, and brush that are made to match the smaller heights of young children. The handles of each piece are made from wood and most of the tools are functional for actual cleaning purposes — not just pretend play. I like how the bristles on the broom and brush feel thick and dense, with the ability to actually sweep up debris from the floor. My family found that the soft fibers on the duster can wipe away small amounts of dust on window shutters and tabletops. However, the yarn-like mop doesn’t seem like it could handle getting soaked in water for too long. This is the only tool I would only recommend for pretend play.

The set comes with a stand which doesn’t require any extra setup, and it also serves as a storage unit your child can hang all of their cleaning tools from their attached looped strings. My daughter enjoys the independence she feels when she works on a simple task (like sweeping the floor or light dusting), and I like that it helps with bonding time whenever I get to guide her in the process.

5. This Dinosaur Puzzle That’s Made For Small Hands

  • Best for kids: 2 to 4 years

The chunky puzzles from Melissa & Doug can be ideal for helping young kids strengthen their fine motor skills as they piece together coordinating shapes and colors. I loved watching my daughter learn how to twist and turn the seven wooden pieces of this dinosaur puzzle into different slots on the board until she found the right fit. Sometimes it was a challenge when she couldn’t figure it out on her own, but she was driven to keep trying. I would also state the name of each dinosaur she put in place.

Eventually, she worked up to completing the puzzle in record time — usually within a few short minutes — and started looking elsewhere for new challenges. That’s when I decided to research the many other puzzles from Melissa & Doug (including this Sing-Along Sound Puzzle and this Magnetic Bug-Catching Puzzle). Little by little, my family added to her collection and now she has a variety of puzzles she can filter through whenever she gets bored. The chunky puzzle styles also have five other themes to choose from, including a construction and a safari theme. This dino puzzle doesn’t come with an included storage case, but Melissa & Doug makes a metal frame puzzle holder to keep all of your puzzles organized.

6. A Plush Animal Vet Set To Build Empathy

  • Best for kids: 3 years and up

This Pet Vet Play Set is a good choice if you want to build on your child’s empathy skills. It comes with a plush kitten and puppy, plus a variety of accessories ranging from a plastic stethoscope to fabric bandages and even pretend ointments. The smaller details on some of the tools are impressive and entertaining to play with. The thermometer, for example, has a twistable knob on the bottom that turns to reveal varying temperatures. These temperatures have a painted red indicator that coordinates with the etched faces in the plastic to represent happiness, sadness, and what I can only assume is the face of misery.

I can pretend to take the stuffed animals to our daughter’s vet station and she learns how to recognize emotions attached to helping injured pets. It’s a real confidence booster for her when she “heals” them. There’s no extra setup involved and cleanup is easy using the included tote bag. My daughter likes to place all the smaller accessories inside and carry them around the house with her, playing doctor to other plush toys she encounters along the way.

7. A Play Set With Stackable Ice Cream

  • Best for kids: 3 to 6 years

Need to practice counting and hand-eye coordination with your child? This Scoop and Serve Ice Cream Counter makes learning these skills fun. It comes with 28 pieces that include a variety of ice cream flavors, toppings, scooper, and more. The ice cream pieces are made of wood and include a hole at the top where you can either insert a plastic topping or lift them up using the plastic scooper. Some of the toppings are even textured to mimic the feel of sprinkles or a layered glaze. There are also pretend dollar bills that help teach basic counting skills and a pretend menu to encourage listening skills as they learn to fulfill the “orders” they are given.

I like to encourage my daughter to count the money I give to her then count back change. She also enjoys stacking up the scoops of ice cream (good for hand-eye coordination) and decorating them with the different toppings (her favorite are the sprinkles). You can store everything inside the wooden ice cream counter, which makes tidying up and storage a breeze.

8. A Freestanding Grocery Store With A Realistic POS System

  • Best for kids: 3 years and up

If you want to work on social skills with your toddler, this freestanding wooden grocery store does the trick. I have fun pretending to be customers in my daughter’s store and asking for her help in finding certain items around her storefront. It’s the highest price point on this list, but it has everything from a pretend POS system (with lights and sounds to match) to a credit card machine with a spot to scribble in “signatures.” There’s even a pull-out cash register that holds pretend coins and dollar bills for counting practice.

Although this set doesn’t include items to “buy” out of the box, my family paired it with the Fresh Mart Grocery Store Play Food and Role Play Companion Set for extra fun, and my daughter is obsessed. She loves sorting and filling the shelves with boxed goods and canned products included in the additional accessory set. But she also finds real items in our pantry to add to her storefront. The only cons with this product are that it takes quite a bit of effort to assemble and takes up a lot of space. However, it does have a lot of storage built into it and has plenty of cubbies and shelves to house a variety of different products your child chooses to fill it with. If you have the time to build it and the space to accommodate it, it’s worth every penny.

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