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Best Overall: Melissa & Doug Seaside Sand Baking Set at Amazon
"The set can be used to make sand pies and cakes; or to scoop water in the shallows."
Best Classic: Green Toys My First Tug Boat at Amazon
"A traditional toy intended for indoor and outdoor use."
Best Educational: SwimWays Pick Me Up Pelican at Amazon
"Scoop up the fish in order, thereby learning colors and numbers through active play."
Best for Bringing the Water to You: Step2 Play and Shade Pool at Amazon
"If you don’t have access to a swimming pool or beach."
Best Budget: Intex Inflatable Beach Ball at Amazon
"Simple, fun and easy on the purse strings."
Best for Safety: FireBee Swim Arm Bands and Life Jacket at Amazon
"Keep your little swimmer afloat while also giving them their independence."
Best for Learning to Swim: Floatation iQ Swim Training Kickboard at Amazon
"Ideally sized for little hands."
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Melissa & Doug Seaside Sand Baking Set
The ideal gift for aspiring mini-chefs, the Melissa & Doug Seaside Sand Baking Set keeps kids occupied for hours at the beach. Made from high-quality, durable plastic, the sea creature-inspired set can be used to make sand pies and cakes; or to scoop water in the shallows. It includes three shell-shaped measuring cups, an octopus whisk, a crab mixing spoon and a fish-adorned mixing bowl with a turtle-shaped lid that doubles as a sand sifter.
Each item is beautifully crafted and brightly colored. The animals have stylized smiling faces (guaranteed to appeal to little customers). While the manufacturer recommends the baking set for children aged three to five, a lack of small parts makes it safe for younger toddlers too.
Best Classic: Green Toys My First Tug Boat
The Green Toys My First Tug Boat is a traditional toy intended for indoor and outdoor use. Made in the USA, it stands out for its incredible attention to detail with molded features on the tug boat’s wheelhouse, including a ladder, life preserver, anchor and lights. Whether you opt for a blue, red or yellow hull, children love the boat’s bold primary colors. It floats well and has a large handle to enable small hands to steer it easily around the paddling pool.
When submerged, the boat fills with water, which can then be poured out of the spout at the prow. Recommended for toddlers aged six months and older, this environmentally friendly toy is made entirely out of recycled plastic milk jugs. It’s also dishwasher-safe and BPA and phthalate-free.
Best Educational: SwimWays Pick Me Up Pelican
Recommended for ages two and older, the SwimWays Pick Me Up Pelican combines fun with an element of education. The set includes a yellow and purple pelican with a hinged beak that opens at the squeeze of a trigger; and four different-colored, individually numbered fish. Your toddler can use the pelican to scoop up the fish in order, thereby learning colors and numbers through active play.
The toy also helps to improve hand-eye coordination - but if your child takes a while to master the art of scooping, the fish will float on the surface until they’re picked up. The entire set is made of tough plastic built to withstand enthusiastic playmates. It can be used at the beach or in the pool, or even during evening bath time.
Best for Bringing the Water to You: Step2 Play and Shade Pool
If you don’t have access to a swimming pool or beach, bring the water to you with the Step2 Play and Shade Pool. Made of sturdy plastic, the pool is ideally sized for toddlers and features two molded seats and a non-slip floor. It comes with a 40” umbrella, which slots into a built-in holder to provide ample sun protection for your child. Also included are three funnel cups and a spinning water wheel, which attach to the umbrella shaft. The pool is relatively small, measuring 37.5” x 37.5” x 50”. It’s intended for kids aged two to six and is easy to assemble, fill up and empty.
Best Budget: Intex Inflatable Beach Ball
Simple, fun and easy on the purse strings, the Intex Inflatable Beach Ball measures 24” in diameter when deflated. Despite its large size, it weighs just .2 pounds - making it light enough for little ones to practice throwing and chasing on the beach. With that in mind, it’s important to watch them closely to make sure they don’t follow the ball into the water unattended. When they’re not using it, the beach ball is also fun for older siblings and parents. Choose from three patterns: alternating rainbow panels, pink with alternating tropical-themed panels or red with alternating shark-printed panels. The ball is recommended for ages three and older.
Best for Safety: FireBee Swim Arm Bands and Life Jacket
If your toddler is anxious to get into the water unaided but still needs a little extra help, the FireBee Swim Arm Bands and Life Jacket is the perfect solution. Made from high-density foam, it combines regular armbands with a comfortable torso band, keeping your little swimmer afloat while also giving them their independence. Best of all, its streamlined design allows for natural, unrestricted movement.
The foam construction means that you don’t have to waste time inflating and deflating, and there’s no risk of the float springing a leak. Its nylon shell is quick to dry, soft to the touch and covered by a beautiful underwater design that features cartoon fish, turtles and octopuses. Use the adjustable buckle at the back to fit the jacket snugly to your child’s body. The recommended age limit is 2 to 10.
Best for Learning to Swim: Floatation iQ Swim Training Kickboard
The Floatation iQ Swim Training Kickboard makes the all-important process of learning to swim easier than ever before. At 18” x 11” x 1.5”, the kickboard is ideally sized for toddlers, with an ergonomic design that includes rounded edges for added comfort. The board’s easy-grip cutout handles — ideally sized for little hands — also provide extra security.
The board is made from lightweight non-toxic foam and resists water absorption (as well as tears and punctures) to maintain an impressive level of buoyancy. It provides physical support and emotional confidence for toddlers who are just learning to swim and can also be used by older children to work on kicking techniques and stamina. Intended for kids aged two to six, it comes in two color combinations — pink and turquoise or yellow and lime.