In case you still have some shopping to do, here is a list of my favorite toys for babies and toddlers. All of these toys are currently in our playroom. That is the highest praise I can give a toy. Given my aversion to clutter, there is no toy in our playroom that I don't think is excellent.
* Cranium Super Fort is probably my favorite toy of all time! Construct your own fort out of magnetic connectors and foam links. Colorful fabric sheets attach to make walls and ceilings. The possibilities are endless! Included instructions show plans for a fort, castle, race car, space ship. It really fosters imaginations much more than a pre-fab fort. While it appears that the basic super fort is out of stock, the jungle, aquarium, and sports station forts are available and made from the same connector system. You would probably want to buy two of those sets to have enough parts to make larger forts. Here is a link to all of Amazon's Cranium Fort Products. Officially, ages 4-10, but HB has been playing with this since she was 2 (we would build it, she would play in it). Now, at 2 1/2 she can make new structures by herself. It breaks down and packs compactly into a tote-bag for storage. Great for those without a dedicated playroom.
* Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube plays several Mozart songs. Each side of the cube represents a different instrument that can be added or subtracted from the current song. Allows kids to explore the contribution of different instruments to an orchestra. Babies love it because they can push a button and get a response. Older kids will enjoy experimenting with the different instrument sounds. Rubberized corners make this toy surprisingly rugged.
*Neurosmith Music Blocks plays different segments of a whole song. Get the blocks in the right color order to play the whole song. Blocks have shapes on each side that correspond to an instrument. So, getting the blocks in the right color order *and* with the same shape pointing up will play the song the whole way through with the same instrument. I love toys like this with layers and layers of learning. Teaches colors, shapes, and music! Get some extra song cartridges so that you don't go insane listening to the same song over and over again. Great for babies up through toddlers.
* WEDGiTS are awesome stacking blocks. Because they don't have horizontal and vertical sides (their cross-section is a diamond), they take more 3-D reasoning skills to stack. You can also make some more interesting structures as a result. For babies, get the squishier WEE Wedgits. Great substitute for the traditional ring stacker toy that everyone else has.
* Stack & Roll Cups are another stacking toy that has multiple uses. Teaches concepts such as bigger-than, colors, and numbers. Besides traditional stacking, you can snap pairs of cups together to make balls. Hide things inside the balls to entertain babies. This is a great travel toy. All the bowls nest inside each other, so they pack in a remarkably small space.
* Wooden ABC Blocks - every kid should have a set of basic ABC blocks!
* LifeStyle Dining Room Pots & Pans - your basic kitchen play set - a great value!
* Melissa and Doug Pretend Food Sets are great for dramatic play in the kitchen! My favorite is the pretend sushi set. Goes great with the First Book of Sushi ... "Miso in my sippy cup; tofu in my bowl. Crab and avocado fill my California roll..." Just adorable!
* Priddy Cloth Books are great for babies. They have lots of textures to feel (and eat!). My favorite is Fluffy Chick and Friends.
* Klutz Pocket Paper Dolls (Fairy) - beautiful multiculti paper dolls in their own little carrying case. A great stocking stuffer! We keep this in our diaper bag at all times. It's a great travel toy.
* Shutterfly adventure books are wonderful gifts! Upload a picture and get a custom story staring your little one on every page. HB got the Alphabet Adventures book last year and it was her favorite gift! She loves to look through and see herself flying in a hot air baloon, driving a racecar, or sitting on an elephant. A bit pricey, but totally worth it!
* One Laptop per Child XO Laptop (Give a Laptop, Get a Laptop) - these are awesome laptops for kids because they are specifically designed for kids. When you buy one laptop, another laptop is donated to a child in a developing country. A very dear friend of mine was on the development team, so I know first hand that these laptops are really fun for kids to use!
What are your favorite baby and toddler toys? Please share in the comments!