July 11, 2013 at 3:57 PM ET
Melissa & Doug
What it is: Six pieces of wooden fruit are pre-cut into slices, which give a satisfying crunch when your pint-size chef starts slicing and dicing.
Why we love it: "This toy is as useful for practicing fine motor skills as it is for playing sous chef. Kids love to imitate what their parents do in the kitchen and they can do it safely with this fun set." —Carrie McBride, blogger, Apartment Therapy
To buy: Melissa & Doug Cutting Fruit Crate, $16.99 at yoyo.com
What it is: This playful coloring book encourages kids to cut loose, think outside the box and draw outside the lines. Sample question: "If you were in charge, what would your country's flag look like?"
Why we love it: "It's hard to imagine that a coloring book could be all that special, but the ones from Lazoo really are. They encourage kids to think in a different way." —Liz Zack, editorial director, iVillage
To buy: Let's Color! by Lazoo, $13.00 at lazoo.com
What it is: Six little wooden kitties do double duty: Kids can use them to play make-believe as well as fitting them all together as a puzzle.
Why we love it: "Wood puzzles are always practical for little hands. The charm of this set is that each piece stands alone, so that in addition to the puzzle, kids can also play pretend. And toy kittens are so much easier than the real thing!" —Lela Davidson, blogger, After the Bubbly
To buy: Begin Again Toys Cat Family Puzzle, $12.95 at beginagain.com
What it is: Is it a fruit stand? A train ticket booth? A treehouse? That's for them to know—and you to find out.
Why we love it: "My kids love to play 'store.' Sometimes, it's an ice cream parlor. Other times, they're selling lemonade. And when they're not 'selling,' they're acting. This stand doubles as a perfect puppet show theater. Best of all, it's made out of cardboard, so it's super easy to put away after they've moved on to the next thing." —Lesley Kennedy, blogger, Online Shopping Report
To buy: Ikea 'Skylta' Children's Market Stand, $14.99 at ikea.com
What it is: This planet-friendly ferry boat (and the two cars it comes with) are made in the US from recycled milk jugs and are BPA- and phthalate-free. Everything is water-safe, which means it packs a lot of safe and fun playtime.
Why we love it: "There are so many things that are cool about this toy: It combines cars and boats; it can be played with on both land and sea (er, bathtub) and it's completely green. I may have to start ordering this in bulk for birthdays!" —Erika Janes, senior editor, iVillage
To buy: Green Toys Ferry Boat with Mini Cars, $24.99 at greentoys.com
The Orb Factor
What it is: These kits, which are a sticker version of color-by-number, come in a wide range of themes (pirates, sports, butterflies, you name it) that keep kids occupied for hours.
Why we love it: "It's amazing to watch how long kids will sit and focus on Sticky Mosaics—and they're ideal for traveling." —Sasha Emmons, iVillage reader
To buy: The Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics in Pirates, $15.29 at yoyo.com
What it is: This game is part creative play, part puzzle—and all fun. Construct an adorable robot from an assortment of numbered pieces. The first to finish wins!
Why we love it: "Don't be fooled by these too-cute robots: Underneath their crazy tube socks and silly springs lies a game that teaches my son turn taking, following simple rules, puzzle building and number recognition. Genius!" —Bonnie Vengrow, contributing writer, iVillage
To buy: Eebo Build-a-Robot Game, $13.35 at amightygirl.com
Melissa & Doug
What it is: This crafty-cool, horse-themed set comes with 10 stamps, five colored pencils and a pad with two washable inks.
Why we love it: "I'm always surprised at how much fun my kids have with stamps — they're especially satisfying for kids just learning to draw. I love these sets because they come with everything you need." —Lisa Moran, parenting channel editor, iVillage
To buy: Melissa & Doug Horse Stamp Set, $10.95 at growingtreetoys.com
What it is: We were skeptical about the gender-specific Lego Friends until we saw how much our girls loved them (and learned how important block play is for developing math skills). This convertible ride shuttles Lego Friend Stephanie and her pup around town—in style.
Why we love it: "Who says Legos and cars are for boys? Not any of the girls I watched play with this." —Lindsay Tigar, associate editor, iVillage
To buy: Lego Friends Stephanie's Cool Convertible, $14.99 at yoyo.com
What it is: This twist on the classic wooden car lets kids customize their ride by swapping out wheels, windows and other parts.
Why we love it: "These wooden cars truly grow with your child. Little kids love racing them and bigger kids love mixing and matching the parts." —Lisa Moran, parenting channel editor, iVillage
To buy: Automoblox Mini X9-X SUV, $12.80 at amazon.com
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.