Last Updated: Apr 26, 2023 @ 1:19 pm.

Pediatricians and parents agree—unstructured play without screens is the best for kiddos! Wooded toys are a sustainable way to spark imagination and learning. We had a dozen toddlers test different wooden toys to find the best of the best. Here are their (and our) three favorites!

Editor's Choice: Best Overall

For Ages 3 to 6 Years
This set includes everything the budding house-helper could want: broom, mop, duster, stand and more. Our kiddo testers loved it!

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Best Wooden Toy, Overall: Melissa and Doug’s Let’s Play House

We rounded up real kiddos to play with over a dozen different wooden toys—the Let’s Play House six-piece play set was the winner for best wooden toy overall. Our testers loved to use these cleaning tools for imaginary play. Here’s more on why this was a winner:

Best Melissa and Doug Toy Overall Let's Play House

What We Liked

Pretend cleaning = real cleaning, some day! One can wish, no?

• Sized great for toddlers. Each cleaning tool is perfectly sized for toddler play. Our testers loved it!

Dust pan snaps into any of the handles. That makes it easier not to lose!

What Could Be Improved

• The stand will break. Unfortunately, the stand with this toy is easily breakable—which is a bummer.

Unsanded handles can have splinters. We love Melissa and Doug toys, but sometimes their quality control could use a boost. We see a few reports from parents that this toy set came with unsanded handles . . . which can cause splinters (ow!).  Our advice for all Melissa and Doug purchases: open the box and inspect to make sure there are no defects BEFORE giving to  your child!

Best Food Play Set

For Ages 3 And Up
21 realistic food toys were a hit with our testers—this nutritious assortment of wooden food hit the mark with our testers. Fun!

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Best Play Food Set: Melissa and Doug Food Groups

If wooden play food is on your gift list, we recommend Melissa and Doug’s Food Groups wooden toy set. This 21-piece set of healthy foods teaches kiddos about nutrition and sorting. Our play testers thought it was fantastic!

How big are the food items? Here’s a comparison with an adult hand:

best play food set melissa and doug Food Groups

What We Liked

• Realistic looking. These easy-to-hold food items were great wooden approximations for the real thing—note how the paint fades from green to yellow on the banana, for example.

Great for unstructured play. Kiddos can mix and match various foods to their heart’s content: our testers agreed it was fun.

What Needs Work

• Storage crates break easily. This set ships with four wooden crates to sort the food. Unfortunately, these break or fall apart too easily. You’ll probably need separate storage bins for this toy.

Best Pretend Play Set

For Ages 3 And Up
The animal lover or future doctor will love all these toys—and it comes with two plush animals (dog and cat) for the examination. Our toddler testers loved this one for hours of unstructured play. A hit!

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Best Pretend Play Set: Melissa and Doug Examine & Treat Pet Vet

If you’ve got an animal lover at home, Melissa and Doug’s Examine and Treat Pet Vet set is our pick for best pretend play. Our toddler testers just loved this large 24-piece seat complete with a plush cat and dog for treatment. We loved the stethoscope, thermometer, syringe, ear scope, tweezers, clamp, cast, bandages, “treatments,” “ointments,” and a reusable double-sided checklist for office visits. Yes, there’s even a Cone of Shame for animals that are recovering from treatment.

best pretend play melissa and doug vet play set

What We Loved

• Interactive learning. Our testers loved going through the checklist for our animal check-ups.

• Your child can examine all his stuffed animals.

What Needs Work

• Kids learn how to open and close bottles—that could be a negative for younger toddlers! You might set these aside until older kiddos can understand this concept and the safety around it!

• The small doctor’s bag doesn’t hold all the toys. It’s also rather flimsy and can fall apart easily. You might need to repurpose another small bag to hold all the toys here.

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We do extensive research, evaluating products with an eye toward quality, ease of use and affordability.

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