best melissa and doug toys
Jessica Resendez

Romper Editors Put The Best Melissa & Doug Toys To The Test — & Here Are Our Thoughts

There’s a reason this brand is a household name.

by Jessica Resendez and BDG Commerce
Originally Published: 
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Trying to limit my toddler’s screen time has been quite the challenge as a work-from-home mom. So whenever I see toys that spark imagination or promote independent play, I’m all for it. That’s why my go-to toy brand of choice is Melissa & Doug, a research-led company founded by a couple (you guessed it, named Melissa and Doug) who are the parents of six children (yes, six!). From elaborate play sets to chunky puzzles, the best Melissa & Doug toys I’ve come across meet a range of kids’ play needs and feature thoughtful details that have earned the brand legions of fans — Romper shopping editors included. Ahead you’ll find my family’s personal experience with several Melissa & Doug toys, plus more editor favorites. Collectively, the toys here have been tested by five Romper families, with kids of different ages and interests.

Why Are Melissa & Doug Toys So Good?

Melissa & Doug toys run the gamut when it comes to promoting key developmental skills in young kids. The overall quality of each toy, and the extra features that make setting them up and cleaning them up a breeze are some of the top reasons why so many parents choose them over their competitors. I especially like the little details, such as a wooden train set that folds into a carrying case or cookie bake set that comes with a dough tube for storing smaller pieces.

They also offer imaginative ways to play without the need for screens and nurture a number of developmental skills, including but not limited to problem solving, creativity, independent play, counting, sorting, fine motor skills, and even storytelling. And in my experience, the toys are high-quality and durable, with many of them incorporating wood components that add a nice aesthetic touch.

The writer’s daughter playing with the Melissa & Doug grocery store play set.Jessica Resendez

Besides all the perks for parents, Melissa & Doug makes toys that kids actually want to play with. At my house, we’ve been through our fair share of toys with flashing lights, musical sounds, and other technology, but there’s something about the simple design of Melissa & Doug toys that inspires kids to explore with pretend play and discover the greater world around them.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of some of my family’s all-time favorite choices from Melissa & Doug over the years, plus Romper shopping editors’ top picks as well. All of these cute, creative, durable toys are on Amazon — perfect for getting that last-minute birthday or holiday gift ASAP.

1. This Train Set That Folds Into A Carrying Case

  • Best for kids: 3 to 5 years

I purchased this wooden railroad set for my daughter about a year ago, and it’s still a staple in her toy collection. The quality and craftsmanship that went into this set is really what sold us, but I also like that the 17 wooden pieces are easy to tuck away inside the case. Unfolding the case reveals an illustrated train track with a forest theme. The included figures consist of magnetic train cars, trees, bridges, and even woodland animals, letting my daughter use her imagination to set up different scenes on the board.

Plus, it builds her fine motor skills as she pushes the train pieces along the railroad and decides where to place her trees, animals, and bridges on the board. You can also choose from three other similar styles that include a farm, kingdom, and town. Well-loved on Amazon, this wooden set has amassed more than 6,000 reviews with an impressive 4.8-star rating overall. One Amazon shopper even shared a great parenting hack: “I bought this for my nephew, and I WON Christmas. He absolutely loves this toy. So does his mom, since it is very portable. She brings it to restaurants and whenever they travel to keep him occupied.”

2. A Cookie Baking Set For Hours Of Imaginative Kitchen Play

  • Best for kids: 3 to 5 years

This wooden cookie set has so many features that make pretend play feel realistic. The set includes: 12 cookies, 12 toppings, knife, spatula, cookie sheet, and kitchen mitt. The cool part about this set is that most of the pieces are interchangeable and “sliceable” using the hook-and-loop fasteners. My little baker loves to slice the cookies, arrange them on the tray, and attach the toppings in whatever design she chooses. She often sorts and counts the cookies as she goes, or she uses her imagination to pretend-bake in her play kitchen. The wooden cookie pieces are durable and slightly dense with a smooth finish that makes slicing and stacking a breeze for kids. You can also store the cookies and toppings inside the included “dough tube” to keep the cookie pieces in one place (something I truly appreciate).

3. This Color-Coded Toddler Piano That Will Kickstart A Love Of Music

  • Best for kids: 3 to 5 years

Romper associate editor Lisa Fogarty can’t stop singing the praises of Melissa & Doug’s Learn-To-Play Piano. “I consider the Melissa & Doug piano a classic for toddlers. My daughter spent many days creating little medleys on it and it was such a solidly made toy that we were able to pass it down to my son, as well.” The 25 color-coded keys and corresponding song book make it easy for little ones to learn their favorite tunes. Toddler-sized and colorful, it’s the perfect starter piano to instill a love of music at an early age. Plus, its wood construction means it passes the durability test with flying colors.

4. A Set Of 100 Colorful Wooden Blocks

  • Best for kids: 2 to 8 years

Developing patience is a skill my family is helping my daughter work towards, and this colorful set of 100 wooden building blocks are a great tool to practice with. The pieces are lightweight and roughly range from 1 to 3 inches (smaller than some traditional blocks), with nine different shapes that include triangles, cylinders, squares, and more. They’re great for small hands to grasp, and the bright hues make it fun for my daughter to practice naming colors like red, blue, yellow, and green.

Right out of the box, she was excited to start stacking. But as her towers grew higher, she eventually learned that gravity was not on her side and grew frustrated whenever they toppled over. It took a few tries (and some full-blown tantrums) before she gained back her confidence to try again. But as time went on, she felt more comfortable creating and anticipating the eventual destruction of her masterpieces — even going so far as to topple them over just for fun.

And although this toy took a little extra guidance and energy on my part to show her how to have fun with it, I’ve enjoyed the extra bonding time that allowed her to conquer those strong emotions. It became a total confidence-booster once she got the hang of it. It also comes with a nice little travel bag she can neatly store the pieces in and take with her to her grandparent’s house.

5. The Pretend Cleaning Set That Kids & Parents *Love*

  • Best for kids: 3 to 6 years

Not only is this toy a favorite of mine, it’s also a Romper editor favorite that’s wildly popular on Amazon, racking up more than 44,000 reviews and earning a near-perfect overall rating of 4.8 stars. It’s a six-piece cleaning play set that helps kids build on their coordination and fine motor skills as they learn about household chores. This set includes a broom, mop, duster, dust pan, and brush that are made to match the smaller heights of young children — and all hang up nicely on the included wooden stand. The handles of each cleaning piece are made from wood and most of the tools are functional for actual cleaning purposes — not just pretend play. I like how the bristles on the broom and brush feel thick and dense, with the ability to actually sweep up debris from the floor. My daughter enjoys the independence she feels when she works on a simple task (like sweeping the floor or light dusting), and I like that it helps with bonding time whenever I get to guide her in the process.

Romper associate editor Ileana Morales Valentine reports, “This unexpected toy absolutely lives up to the hype — kids love to imitate the most mundane tasks — and it's the most-used Melissa & Doug toy in my house by far. Both of my sons love to pretend to clean, and each of the pieces is really well-made and has held up for years.”

Romper senior editor Kate Miller also raves of the set, “This is the perfect set to get your “little helper” in on the cleaning action. My kiddos love sweeping or “mopping” right alongside me, and I love that they’re entertained while I’m actually getting household tasks done. Win, win.”

6. This Sweet Birthday Cake Set That Makes The Cutest Gift

  • Best for kids: 3 to 6 years

Whether you’re shopping for your own kiddo’s birthday or for a gift to give their friend, this sweet wooden cake set is sure to be the biggest hit at the party. It comes with six slices of cake that are fun to serve with the various included play candles and “toppings,” and the individual slices also stick together with adhesive tabs so the whole cake can presented (while singing Happy Birthday, of course) on the included blue plate.

As Romper associate editor Lisa Fogarty notes, “My daughter spent hours a day playing with the Melissa & Doug Birthday Cake. She would pretend she was the baker, serve it up to her guests (a rotating cast of stuffed animals like Elmo and Dora), and then celebrate with them. This toy is so adorable and well made — its adhesive candles never lost their stickiness, and that’s saying something considering how often this was used.”

7. This Dinosaur Puzzle That’s Made For Small Hands

  • Best for kids: 2 to 4 years

The chunky puzzles from Melissa & Doug can be ideal for helping young kids strengthen their fine motor skills as they piece together coordinating shapes and colors. I loved watching my daughter learn how to twist and turn the seven wooden pieces of this dinosaur puzzle into different slots on the board until she found the right fit. Sometimes it was a challenge when she couldn’t figure it out on her own, but she was driven to keep trying. I would also state the name of each dinosaur she put in place.

Eventually, she worked up to completing the puzzle in record time — usually within a few short minutes — and started looking elsewhere for new challenges. That’s when I decided to research the many other puzzles from Melissa & Doug (including this Sing-Along Sound Puzzle and this Magnetic Bug-Catching Puzzle). Little by little, my family added to her collection and now she has a variety of puzzles she can filter through whenever she gets bored. The chunky puzzle styles also have five other themes to choose from, including a construction and a safari theme. This dino puzzle doesn’t come with an included storage case, but Melissa & Doug makes a metal frame puzzle holder to keep all of your puzzles organized.

8. A Plush Vet Set For The Animal Lover

  • Best for kids: 3 years and up

This Pet Vet Play Set is a good choice if you want to build on your child’s empathy skills. It comes with a plush kitten and puppy, plus a variety of accessories ranging from a plastic stethoscope to fabric bandages and even pretend ointments. The smaller details on some of the tools are impressive and entertaining to play with. The thermometer, for example, has a twistable knob on the bottom that turns to reveal varying temperatures.

I can pretend to take the stuffed animals to our daughter’s vet station and she helps the injured pets. It’s a real confidence booster for her when she “heals” them. There’s no extra setup involved and cleanup of the tools is easy using the included tote bag. My daughter likes to place all the smaller accessories inside and carry them around the house with her, playing doctor to other plush toys she encounters along the way.

This play set is also a favorite at Romper editor Kate Miller’s house. She notes, “This was originally purchased as a gift for my then 2- and 4-year-olds, who immediately loved playing with all the different vet tools. Now, more than 4 years and an additional sibling later, the stethoscope, shot, and ointment tube are still fixtures in our house for “doctor time.”

9. An Adorable Ice Cream Parlor Play Set With Stackable Toppings

  • Best for kids: 3 to 6 years

Need to practice counting and hand-eye coordination with your child? This Scoop and Serve Ice Cream Counter makes learning these skills fun. It comes with 28 pieces that include a variety of ice cream flavors, toppings, scooper, and more. The ice cream pieces are made of wood and include a hole at the top where you can either insert a plastic topping or lift them up using the plastic scooper. Some of the toppings are even textured to mimic the feel of sprinkles or a layered glaze. There are also pretend dollar bills that help teach basic counting skills and a pretend menu to encourage listening skills as they learn to fulfill the “orders” they are given.

I like to encourage my daughter to count the money I give to her then count back change. She also enjoys stacking up the scoops of ice cream (good for hand-eye coordination) and decorating them with the different toppings (her favorite are the sprinkles). You can store everything inside the wooden ice cream counter, which makes tidying up and storage a breeze.

Romper senior editor Kate Miller also adds, “I kid you not — barely a day has gone by since my daughter received this gift more than 5 years ago that this play set hasn’t been interacted with in some way at our house. I now have three kids and every one of them is drawn to this set like a moth to a flame. Whether they are playing store, asking me what ice cream topping I want, or using the sturdy included wooden box or ice cream cup to showcase various collections, this is the toy. I can’t sing its praises enough.”

10. A Baby Doll Feeding Set With “Disappearing Liquid” Bottles

  • Best for kids: 3 to 6 years

For little one who love to care for their own “baby,” this food and bottle set is a must-buy. It comes with eight very realistic pieces, including a bib, plate, a fork and spoon utensil set, two play food jars, and a pair of bottles with orange juice and milk that ‘disappear’ with each feeding. Romper editor Karen Belz shares, “I bought these for my daughter when she was only a toddler, and they're still in rotation four years later. These are great for imaginative play, and they're well-made. The disappearing bottles were the biggest hit — being able to 'feed' her baby doll made this set even more special."

The best part is that this affordable play set doesn’t take up much space, requires no batteries, and integrates easily into other doll play accessories. Several Amazon shoppers noted that they paired this with the Melissa & Doug Diaper Changing Set.

11. A Splurge-Worthy Grocery Store With A Realistic POS System

  • Best for kids: 3 years and up

If you want to work on social skills with your toddler, this freestanding wooden grocery store does the trick. I have fun pretending to be customers in my daughter’s store and asking for her help in finding certain items around her storefront. It’s the highest price point on this list, but it has everything from a pretend POS system (with lights and sounds to match) to a credit card machine with a spot to scribble in “signatures.” There’s even a pull-out cash register that holds pretend coins and dollar bills for counting practice.

Although this set doesn’t include items to “buy” out of the box, my family paired it with Melissa & Doug’s Fresh Mart Grocery Store Play Food and Role Play Companion Set for extra fun, and my daughter is obsessed. She loves sorting and filling the shelves with boxed goods and canned products included in the additional accessory set. But she also finds real items in our pantry to add to her storefront. The only cons with this product are that it takes quite a bit of effort to assemble and takes up a lot of space. However, it does have a lot of storage built into it and has plenty of cubbies and shelves to house a variety of different products your child chooses to fill it with. If you have the time to build it and the space to accommodate it, it’s worth every penny.

Romper senior editor Kate Miller adds the Melissa & Doug shopping cart is another fun way to bring the grocery shopping experience into your home — your kid will love filling the cart with all their favorite treasures.

12. The Coffee-Making Play Set For Little Baristas

  • Best for kids: 3 to 6 years

Little kids love imitating the daily activities of their parents and caregivers, which is why this cute wooden coffee-making play set is the perfect addition to any caffeine-fueled household. It includes a menu, two coffee mugs, three coffee pods, a creamer carton, a spoon and sugar pack, and an ice cube (for those iced coffee lovers).

Romper senior editor Kate Miller shares, “If there’s one thing my kids know about me, it’s that I need my coffee. This cute, affordable set gives them the chance to make their own coffee creations. They love showing me the little menu card, taking my order, and then proudly bringing me the little cup. It’s fun to be their #1 customer. Highly recommend.”

13. A Wildly Popular Activity Book That Comes With A Pair Of Scissors

  • Best for kids: 4 to 7 years

Whether it’s a rainy day or you’re trying to get some work done, having an activity book on hand that will hold your kid’s attention and keep boredom at bay is an absolute must. This Melissa & Doug Scissor Skills activity pad comes with its own pair of scissors and 20 printed activity pages that are sure to keep your preschooler or early grade schooler entertained. It’s a well-loved option on Amazon, too — it comes backed by more than 15,000 positive ratings.

Romper associate editor Karen Belz reports, “Introducing scissors to younger children can be quite a terrifying experience. Luckily, I trusted Melissa and Doug to help guide us through it. The bladeless scissors work surprisingly well, and the workbook is excellent for practice. All in all, it made my daughter feel more independent."

Other Popular Melissa & Doug Toys On Amazon:

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