With two young sons (currently ages 3 and 5), I’ve become somewhat of a self-proclaimed expert when it comes to toys of certain genres (dinosaurs, for example). Topping the list of interesting toys for my kids is… anything with wheels, basically.
For fun and engaging vehicle-related play, I recommend the following (in addition to Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, which everyone already knows kids love!). These are toys that I’ve personally been impressed with from a quality, value and somewhat educational standpoint — and they’re products my boys still want to play with again and again.
Caterpillar Junior Operator Sets
Tiny construction-lovers will enjoy building their own CAT vehicles. Each set includes a handful of parts, a figure to drive the machine, and the screwdriver needed for assembly. We gave these to my youngest for his third birthday. I was impressed that the screws stay in place and just need a little tightening to connect the main components of the machine (less tiny pieces to potentially lose!). The sets are great for fine motor practice and are easy enough that a 3-year-old can assemble with only a little help.
I lucked out and snagged a 5-vehicle pack at Costco (which came with a hefty volume discount), but the mix-and-match sets also can be found at retailers like Walmart and Target, and retail for about $10 each.
For preschool- and elementary-age kids who also want to build their own vehicles, I love Modarri Cars. The company offers customizable track and race cars that kids can build and design themselves using interchangeable parts. It’s a great STEM and fine-motor activity — plus there are no batteries required and the built-in screws stay in place (again, hooray for no tiny, missing parts!).
After mixing and matching parts to create the cars, “driving” them is a blast, with Modarri’s patented finger steering and real suspension — they can make sharp turns, drive in figure eight patterns, and drive on a variety of terrains. We have yet to purchase the tracks, but my boys love taking them for a spin on the table, kitchen floor, carpets, or even a roll of craft paper on which they draw their own roads.
Ages 6+, modarri.com
Wooden Train Track Sets
There are many brands available when it comes to these kid-pleasers — Melissa & Doug, Brio, KidKraft, Imaginarium, etc. — but all will provide hours of railroad-themed fun. Whether you opt for smaller sets or a large one that includes a train table, the interconnecting tracks and magnetic trains can be reconfigured into seemingly endless options. The tracks are a standard size, so you can mix and match between brands, as well.
When my oldest son was 2, his grandparents got him an Imaginarium train table for Christmas. He still enjoys playing with it three years later (as does his little brother), creating more complex tracks as his STEM abilities grow.
Before you get turned off by the “As Seen on TV!” exclamation on the box, let me tell you: Magic Tracks is legit. The flexible track clicks together and bends to create curves, hills and bridges. The possibilities truly are endless when you combine multiple sets and battery-operated vehicles, which light up and speed around the course on their own. Turn off the lights and let the cars run in the dark for even more fun.
Ages 3+, magictracks.com
Disney Cars Mini Racers
There’s no shortage of diecast vehicles available from Disney for its Cars franchise. However, the Cars Mini Racers series has particularly captivated my kids. Reminiscent of the Micro Machines that I grew up playing with, these micro-scale cars are well-loved by my boys and their little hands.
Sets of cars (some exclusive) are available at many retailers, including Amazon, Walmart and Target, in addition to play sets like the Crank & Crash Derby Set and Mack Transporter. If your family loves Cars, I recommend these for their quality, detailed paint jobs and fun size (I know, this is contrary to what I said above about the possibility of losing small parts. We keep all the Cars Mini Racers in a bucket with a lid and haven’t lost any residents of Radiator Springs yet!)