Feeling unsure how to help kids learn through play while school’s closed for Covid-19? We’ve got you covered!

We’ve added two new sections to help in this time of social distancing:

Bath Toys – because nothing says good clean (and educational) fun like playing in the tub!

Nature Activities – because nature walks are the perfect way to practice social distancing!

We’ve assembled a definitive guide of screen-free, battery-free toys, books, and games – that happen to be great for cars, trains, planes, restaurants, your living room… anywhere your kid wants to play! These toys are compact and great for long car rides or flights (because eventually the pandemic will end and we’ll get to travel again), but don’t count them out in the more everyday travel moments: waiting for food at a restaurant, or relaxing in the hotel room at night. They’re also good choices for everyday play at home. 

Plus, this guide serves as a perfect list when family and friends ask what to get your child for the holidays or a birthday. Almost all of these toys are under $20, and many are under $10; they’re also sorted by age group and category, making it easy for anyone to select a developmentally-appropriate toy. 

Play is a child’s work – it’s their primary method of learning and growing. These toys were carefully selected to foster creativity, motor skills, problem solving, and many other core developmental areas matched to the age of your child. A note on the age groups listed in this guide: the ages listed are the bare minimum age at which the toy is safe to use and developmentally appropriate. These ages are in line with the manufacturer’s minimums for safety hazards, to ensure that younger kids don’t choke on small parts or strangle themselves with long strings. That does not mean, though, that a toy marked 2+ wouldn’t be perfect for a four year old – feel free to consider toys at or below your child’s age range, just not above their age range.

Finally, let’s discuss the science behind these toy selections. In addition to being The Car Seat Lady, I’m also a pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatrics categorizes toys into five categories. This travel toy guide includes options from four of those categories (the fifth, gross motor and/or physical, are too bulky to be feasible for travel):

Symbolic and/or pretend: toys like dolls, action figures, cars, pretend kitchens, etc. encourage kids to craft their own imaginary reality and encourage creativity.

Fine motor, adaptive, and or manipulative: blocks, shapes, and puzzles develop fine motor skills via grabbing and placing, and promote cognitive development.

Art: creating mini-masterpieces with clay, crayons, etc. also builds fine motor skills and encourages creative expression.

Language and/or concepts: board games, cards, or workbooks promote practical skills like language arts and math, and are great for increasing school readiness. 

Selecting a variety of toys across these four categories will maximize the fun and educational opportunities for your child, even during those boring moments of transportation or waiting. Read on to dive in to our 2020 guide of best toys, books, and games (that also happen to be great for travel… when we get to travel again)!

Tips to keep in mind:

  • Magnetic Toys: Any magnetic toys where the pieces stick to each other can be a hazard to children if two pieces are swallowed (because they can stick to each other in the intestines and cause a hole in the intestine). Therefore, make sure these are NOT used with children who stand any chance of considering putting the toy near or in their mouths.
  • Not all of these toys are appropriate for the car, as some are heavy enough to serve as a dangerous projectile in a crash. Use the “ouch test” to evaluate whether a toy is fit for car play. Hit yourself in the head with the toy – if you have to say “ouch,” the toy probably isn’t safe for your child to play with while the car is moving.
  • The toys in this guide keep loose pieces to a minimum, but you still might need to get creative on keeping the parts together for other toys you bring on the road. For magnetic toys, consider using a magnetic whiteboard as both a play surface and a way to store pieces. Use fabric zippered bags (cosmetic bags are perfect) for simple storage. For smaller children who like to drop their toys, use a toy tether (silicone or a strap) to keep everything in play. 

Age: 0+

Age: 6m+

Age: 1+

What about kids 12m-24m, you ask? There are tons of toys for them in this guide… they’re just labeled as 0+ or 6m+. But I’ve done the hard work and selected the ones that will most captivate your toddler – and be sure to check out the hand puppet / board book pairings as well! Click below.

These are perfect. Whereas the 6m child might have mostly just teethed on them, the 12m+ child is going to be able to start collapsing and opening them back up. They’ll also love if you hide something underneath for them to find (like cheerios or other finger foods). Kupz are stackable and suction-able. The 6m baby isn’t going to be able to do either skill by themselves – but will enjoy watching an adult pull the suction on/off and hearing the pop. The 12m child is going to be able to practice stacking the Kupz (great for fine motor used in tower building) and will be able to stick and remove the suction themselves. All of these are fabulous bath and beach toys as well.

Silicone Teethers & Toys:

The Mobi Zippee will be a hit with a 12-24m child (I’m 39 years old and enjoy it as a fidget toy!). Whereas the 6m baby would mostly just teethe on Zippee and turn it around to look at it, the 12m can now use their motor skills to pull the bumpy silicone strings, which is endlessly entertaining.

The 12m+ can likely now spin the Whirly Squigz themselves whereas the babies likely relied on an adult to spin them as they just watched.

The pipSquigz will now be more than a rattle – the child is now going to be able to use the suction feature themselves.

The Poppies becomes more than a teether as the toddler can now manipulate the suction feature themselves. My 6 year old nephew still loves playing with Poppies in the bath (have a contest to see who can throw it and get it to stick to a certain “target” area of the tile wall). All of these silicone toys are great in the bath as well!

The stuffed buckle toy that I have listed for 2+ can be used for 12-24 months (most of the toys in that category are too hard for a 12 month old, so I chose to group them starting at age 2).

Soft Sensory Toys: The pull apart caterpillar and the lift-the-flap fish will definitely engage a 12-24 month child.

This stuffed buckle toy can be used for 12-24 months (most of the toys in the 2+ category are too hard for a 12 month old, so I chose to group them starting at age 2).

Cloth Books: Cloth books with peekaboo flaps and crinkle will absolutely  engage a 12-24 month old child – particularly the ones with flaps that let the child practice their fine motor skills. 

These books that allow you to put in your own pictures are great for prompting children to talk about family members that may not live close by.

Due to choking hazards, most sticker books are not certified for kids in this age group.

Puppets & Board Books: Toddlers love when an animal puppet reads a story to them (especially if the puppet matches the animal type in the story). For example: have the Giraffe puppet read and act out Gerald’s parts in Giraffes Can’t Dance.

Here are some more animal/board book pairings your toddler will surely love!

I’m not sure who will have more fun pushing the dots… you or your toddler! They are sturdy, make a satisfying popping sensation & sound, and are irresistible. The best part is that as soon as you flip the page, the dot is ready to be pushed again. Some in the Poke A Dot series are for older kids, these are great for singing along with your toddler:

– Poke A Dot: Old MacDonald’s Farm

– Poke A Dot: 10 Little Monkeys (Jumping on the Bed)

– Poke A Dot: Goodnight, Animals


Age: 2+

Age: 3+

Age: 5+

Age: 6+

Age: 7+

Miscellaneous Ages

Want to change it up? Make it a dark bath! turn out the bathroom lights and throw in a colored Luci light and have fun changing the color of the room. 

Does your kid love to collect sticks? Stick-lets are the perfect way to build with sticks. Because Stick-lets float, you can build a raft to float down a stream (hint: tie some fishing wire to your raft, so you can reel it back in before it floats too far downstream).

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FTC disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this page. No monetary compensation was provided, however, a few of the reviewed products were supplied by the manufacturer or distributor to help facilitate the review. All opinions are those of The Car Seat Lady, LLC