The Most Fun and Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas for Two-Year Olds

by - Sunday, November 25, 2018


The Most Fun and Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas for a Two-Year Old

Getting ready to shop for a two-year-old you love? Who consistently makes you laugh? Marvel at just how much they can suddenly say and do? Two is a magic age, and so fun to shop for!

That said, the best gift you can give the two-year-old is a future. One that isn't dominated by climate crisis and disaster. We want the best for our children, and never has it been more clear in history that to protect their future, we need to change what we are doing now.

This means changing our approach, getting involved and standing up to the environment, and using every purchase we make as a vote for the world we want. Shopping for them is no different. So if you are worried about too much fossil fuels, stop funding companies that ship their toys all over the world. If you are worried about clean water, stop buying plastic toys or synthetic clothes! If you are worried about equality, don't give a penny to companies who use unethical labor practices!

It can feel like a lot, but we will break it down and point you to the best stuff. No one person can do everything, but everyone can make a difference and SMALL CHOICES ADD UP. So here is a handful of excellent choices, each a gift for the present and the greater gift of a healthy future.

Just stick to these guidelines.

- Buy Less. It feels good to get kids lots of gifts, but the truth is they can't even process that much stuff. Our recommendation for parents? 1 gift for birthdays and 3 gifts for Christmas (1 toy, 1 book set, 1 experience). That's it. If you are another loved one, keep it simple and great (experiences are the best!). The best gift you can give the parents is to not overload their home and kid with stuff.

The most giant gift (or giant pile) doesn't mean that the two-year-old will love it more. That is for you. Instead, give one great gift instead of something with pointless bulk.

- Avoid Fresh Plastic- Brand new plastic items only create waste, introduce potentially toxic chemicals into the home, and pose more problems for them in the future (I don't want my kids to be the adults from Wall-E, for goodness sakes). Don't cry for my kiddos- they still have a slide in the backyard and ramps for their car toys. They are just used! If you have your heart set on something plastic, go check out Goodwill or a kids consignment shop.

-Buy Used. There are so many kids toys out there already, some of which are barely used. Check out kids consignment stores or even Ebay. This keeps another toy out of landfills and does a world of good.

-Melissa and Doug- These con people market themselves as more wholesome and well-made than anything else in the toy section, but it is a TOTAL lie. Once upon a time, they made their toys stateside, but now they manufacture solely in China. If you want to support American businesses or buy wood toys that aren't coated in nastiness, check out this post for some of the best options.

- Too Many Characters- They are getting to that age where they love the cars from Cars or Anna and Elsa. But  months from now, they may love something totally different. Giving a character gift just puts a shelf life on whatever you are giving. Not to mention, your gift might totally blend into the pile. If they really love Thomas, check to see if the train is coming anywhere near you (yes, he is always on tour from what I can tell). Or Disney on ice tickets! Or, go another route and buy them a pack of stickers with the characters on it with a gift that has more longevity. I know I have made this mistake more than once, so I get the appeal, but if the child really loves Nemo that much, I bet he/she already has a nemo stuffed animal. Next idea!

-Stuffed Animals. Trust me, the toddler you know probably already has plenty. So much room. If you are going that route, check out Bears for Humanity (they donate a bear for every bear you buy, are organi, use recycled polyfill, AND employ Americans for their manufacturing) or one of the super cute stuffed things from Taraluna.

You may notice, this is a short list, but it cuts out most of the toy sections in Walmart and Target. It makes me look like quite a party pooper.

 Don't sweat it, there are actually TONS of other options that are both more memorable AND more fun. You can do this! Here are my best ideas, based on my reading about child development for two year olds and my experience as a mom.

Let's do this!


monteray bay aquarium tide room

1. Tickets, Memberships, and a Playdate with You

You know what a two year old really loves? Your attention. It's that simple. If you really want to give a great gift, set them up for a fun activity and some focused time with you. It can be a playdate in the park or a super special trip to the zoo. This will make them happier than anything else on this list. Just spend time with them.

Tickets for activities may not get the big box-opening moment, but how many of those do you actually remember from when you are a kid? Instead, tickets to something special, like a train ride, the zoo, or even their first show tickets could make a great memory, especially if you are around to do the activity with them. Toddlers can really love new experiences, even more so than toys (which they have too many of already), so think about something they love and how you can bring that to life, rather than buy them one more toy that will fade into the pile.

fun fingerpainting with toddler

2. Paint or Crayons


By two, kids have FINALLY reached the point where their first instinct with art supplies isn't to eat them. This is a big deal. Mark-making and creativity are hugely important in a toddler's life and development. It gives them agency, helps them explore colors and representation, and sets them up to learn letters in coming years. Markers, crayons, and paints are gifts they can come back to again and again (because they are also super fun).

As far as brands go, no one does better for markers and crayons than Crayola- both are made Stateside, and you can even mail the markers back to them when they die, and they will be recycled.  Many of their kids washable paints are as well. If you want something more original, you could look up "recycled crayons" on Etsy or even make your own out of the crayon nubbins in your house!

Looking for something bigger? Kids easels are one of the most common finds at Goodwill or even on Buy Nothing (that's where we got ours), so it might be easy to revamp. I couldn't find any Made in the USA, so plan ahead and jump at a good one if you see it. You could also throw in Beautiful Oops or Harold and the Purple Crayon to go with the theme.


toddler wearing a backpack gift

3. A Backpack

We cleaned out and revamped a little backpack my brother and I kept crayons in when we were kids, and my son loves filling it with stuff, putting it on, and wearing it around. It's bright but simple, and he used it a lot for play. Now our younger bub loves to do the same thing with his older cousin's old backpack. Kids this age love having their own bags, so you could revamp one of your old bags , find a toddler's backpack at Goodwill or get something new and American-made from stores like  Omac Packs (from Erie, PA!), Stitch Crafty 4 U,  Benny and the Bear, or Weepereas (love these! So cute).

Remember, a character might seem like a great idea now, but I wouldn't go that route. The characters they love change fast sometimes.


vintage piano toy

4. Mix CD's (Music, Music, Music)

I know this sounds hipster or retro, but trust me, you can be a birthday hero if you save those parents from Raffi. Our kids loves to dance and sing, and we are always trying to find new songs that he will love and we will only hate a little. If you want to step it up, you could have the first letter of each song spell out the toddler's name or find a song with their name in it. It doesn't have to cost you money to be a great gift. My Grammy and cousin have made us mix cds we absolutely love. That's a great gift.

Another option? A music class! There are lots of toddler music classes out there, and they can be a blast for a little one.

Want to step it up? Add in a book or two about music or get some bells or musical instruments. We bought our son a vintage toddler piano for his 2nd birthday (from Ebay), and its been a huge hit with him and every kid who has walked through the door since. Secondhand, cheap, and keeps things out of the landfill!

toddler bath toys

5. Bath Toys


People will think of regular toys, but especially if you don't have little ones, you can forget about the awesome power of the bath toy. Our favorites are these rubber duckies, the boats and cups from Green Toys, and the plastic cups we have gotten at restaurants. Cups will work, as kids this age love to pour.

I know this sounds crazy, but you could do soap as well. Some soaps can be used as bathtub crayons, like these ones from Krazy Kool, and you can also get soaps with toys inside like these from SouthernSkyeBeauty.


toddler and his dad building a bench

6. Play Kitchens and Other "Grown Up" Toys and Tools 

2-year-olds really want to do what the grown ups are doing, so you can have a big hit by gifting objects you would NEVER want as a gift yourself (or the tiny toddler version). You can split this into two categories- participation play and pretend play.

Some of their early pretending is often in kitchens because they see that modeled all the time, so play food, play kitchens, play toolsplay gardening sets can all really resonate based mostly on what they watch the grown ups in their lives do. For Play Kitchens, I highly recommend looking at secondhand options first. Check your Buy Nothing group or the buy/sell groups on Facebook. Someone is always about to give one away. Ebay currently has over a thousand up for sale right now.

 Even cooler, check pinterest for ideas on how to make any old janky piece of furniture into an adorable play kitchen. If you have the time, you could give such an amazing gift that costs you nearly no money.

You can also find amazing sets on Etsy as well as all the play food you will ever need.

All of this is fine and good, but participation play is easily as popular in our house. You know what would be a beloved gift for my son? A broom. He loves to sweep with us, but the poor child is usually stuck with the swiffer (we have reusable covers for it, so it actually is helpful). He currently treasures a soft measuring tape used for sewing. He LOVES it. He even loves brushing his teeth when we do, because he wants to keep in the action. He likes playing with shopping bags, packing things into spare suitcases, and carrying my weed bucket (a former bakery bucket I got off Buy Nothing) around our yard and collecting leaves. He just wants to help.

Things that would be the worst gift in the world to an adult might be the absolute coolest to a little kid. How does the kid you love like to help? Sure, this kind of gift might give you a funny look, but it could easily be the most favorite to a tiny person you love.

re-play forks and spoons
Re-Play from Amazon

7. Eating Tools


We never seem to have enough plates, bowls, or silverware (partially because they get used as toys). I will absolutely swear by Re-Play stuff for kids. They sell sippy cupsbowlsplatessilverware, snack stacks, and regular cups (perfect for the bath or play kitchen). It's made of recycled food safe plastic in the US, it comes in gorgeous bright colors, and it isn't all that different in price from something made of fresh plastic. They sell Re-Play at Walmart and Target now too, so this is a perfect last minute purchase if you don't have time to poke around but you still want to be eco-friendly.

As I said, I am not bringing new plastic into this house- when I see what plastic is doing to our oceans (and I think of the problems my children will face because of it), I just can't do it. If you can't stand the thought of recycled plastic being near kids' food (and for good reason, as we see it is causing problems potentially with their hormones and endocrine systems), I would recommend secondhand Corelle, Ball Jars as cups (we easily find these at secondhand stores since we don't need lids), or bamboo sets.


8. Books


When you just aren't sure, you can't go wrong with books.

Kids love them, they build language skills, and the ones that don't go well can easily be donated to help other kids. Some families keep things small by primarily borrowing from the library, but I think a few books at home are still a great choice. We buy all of our books secondhand.

Here are 10 we love for our 2 year old.

1. Be Boy Buzz- bell hooks
2. Duck and Goose Books (our favorites are the Emotions one and the Hug one)
3. What a Wonderful World and Baby Beluga (but you have to sing!)
4. Little Critter Books
5. Pout Pout Fish
6. Dragons Love Tacos
7. Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs
8. Read Aloud Bible Stories
9. The Paper Bag Princess
10. Cars and Trucks and Things that Go

Lots of these are ubiquitous enough that you can find them used. If you can't find them used in a store, you can find them used on Amazon. It's basically time to be done buying most books new, when used ones are so easily available.


toddler clothes to get muddy

9. Clothes to Get Muddy


A year before, the toddler was growing out of their clothes every few months. Now, they grow out of things... every few months. Slightly bigger basics (jeans, t-shirts, socks, simple things) may not be a hit with the bub, but they are still too little to hold it against you, and their parents will love you for it. My favorite Made in America companies for basics are City Threads and Nooches- their clothes are cute and stylish without being too expensive. Buy them basics with one fun accessory they can use now (a tutu, a dinosaur hoodie, a superhero cape), and you can please everybody.

Want bonus points? Choose clothes that are meant to get Muddy.

The key is to buy clothes used. If you want to spend 25 dollars on said child, you can either buy one outfit from Carter's, or you can find something equally cute in consignment and then buy 3 other things. Toddlers ruin things, with paint, dirt, unspeakable fluids, all kinds of nonsense. I would rather get things from consignment than a precious outfit I can never trust him to wear. Kids consignment stores are EVERYWHERE, and if you can't find one nearby, online thrift shop Thred Up has great stuff.

Especially great are things that encourage outdoor play like boots (we like secondhand or Kamik, which makes many of their boots in Canada). Another fun option might be Tuffo Muddy Buddies which are both practical and hilarious. There are a few on Ebay, but really you might want to check with Buy Nothing and other local giving groups. Bubs grow out of them long before they run out of use.

10. Anything on Wheels 


Kids this size just love to move things, and wheels are almost always a favorite, regardless of gender. If you want to get all heteronormative (or they do, because even if you don't encourage these things, they creep up), you could do a car for a boy and a stroller for a girl. Or this badass pink dump truckGreen Toys again nails this category- made in the US out of recycled plastic, and they have every kind of motorized vehicle to play with. Also, animals who have been monstrously amputated to have wheels for feet.

If I had any advice, I would say go small on wheeled things; the big ones seem cool, but things that fit well in their hand get more use (bigger will be better in a year or two). And if you have to do Hot Wheels, get them used. You can find used Hot Wheel cars anywhere they sell used toys, usually for 25 cents or so. No need to buy a new one. Basically ever. There have to be enough hot wheels in the world for any kid who wants one, as long as parents donate them- don't throw them out!

 I also really love Maple Landmark's cars and train sets, so that might be a good place to start. We bought their trolley for our older son when our younger was born, and it has been a big hit.



Need more ideas? I would probably point you to other building toys, picking up speed in our house is puzzles and his lego duplos (SUPER easy to find used). They get as much or more return use than the cars at this point, so they are well worth considering.

The Most Fun and Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas for a Two-Year Old Green Toddler Gifts


Want more gift ideas? We have thousands! Check out the Green and Easy Gifts Page for sustainable gift ideas for everyone on your list. If you want more holiday ideas, check out the Green Family page.



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4 comments

  1. My youngest just turned 3. We have all of the above and she would agree!

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  2. So many great ideas on this list! And I totally agree with you on avoiding fresh plastic toys. To be honest, both my kids at this age were happy to use old yogurt tubs in the bath, and turn cardboard boxes into works of art. Your undivided time is the best gift you can give a child at this age...or any age really!

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  3. Love the idea of giving more 'useful' gifts, like art supplies and clothes to get dirty in!

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  4. Our list is full of puzzles art supplies and experiences! I’m begging our whole family to not buy any character toys! I do have to say you just threw me for a loop with the Melissa and Doug toys 😭 I thought they were perfect😭

    ReplyDelete