The toys and games listed below are great for toddlers and pre-schoolers alike, HOWEVER, they are definitely not limited to that age range. Some of these items will last you for years, such as the toy kitchen and food, the block sets and the cash register. Be sure to check out the school-aged toys listed separately under "fyi" to see what might be of interest as well.
Lauri Shape & Color Sorter
This toy can be used in so many different ways. You can sort by shape or color. Or just work on stacking "on" and taking "off". You can also talk about how the shapes are "bumpy" on one side and "smooth" on the other.
Young Chef Cookware Play Set
Get your young chef cooking. Work on early verb forms, such as "pouring", "mixing" and "cooking". You can also include attributes, such at "hot", "sweet" and "too salty".
Melissa & Doug Pound and Roll Tower
Use just for fun, while prompting your little one to "bang bang bang" the "red" ball. Then watch it "roll down" the ramp. Then put the ball back "up". Can start labeling colors just for exposure, but colors are a later concept to emerge.
Hape Gourmet Play Kitchen
A play kitchen is a MUST for any child. I like this one. It is one piece, compact and easy to move around. Kitchen play sets are wonderful toys to create language-rich play.
Learning Resources Pretend & Play Doctor's Kit
A simple doctor kit that every child should have. Use it to mirror real boo-boos or to lessen fear of getting a shot. You can also use it to label body parts and take turns being doctor and patient.
Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads
Lacing beads are great for developing fine motor skills. Kids under two will most likely need some help. Target vocabulary words "on", "off", "pull" and "down". Consider labeling the beads' textures as "bumpy" and "smooth". Even if your toddler isn't that advanced vocabulary-wise, it is always good to model new words.
Fisher Price Little People Farm Set
Little ones can play for hours with this Little People Farm. Let their imagination lead the way. You can also work on simple vocabulary words with "in", "out", "open" and "close" to name just a few.
Guidecraft Tabletop 87 Piece Block Set
A great starter set to encourage block play at a young age. Don't expect your toddler to do more than just line the blocks up linearly. You'll watch your child's block skills evolve over time, by stacking them, building actual structures and maybe even adding vehicles or people. This block set will last for years.
Learning Resources Pretend & Play Cash Register
Kids love setting up shop with this basic and sturdy cash register. Comes with money and some credit cards, so if your child tends to put things in his/her mouth, beware of the coins. You can always remove them and add them back when mouthing becomes less of an issue.
Melissa and Doug Farm Sound Blocks
Love these farm sound blocks that make animal sounds when you match them up properly. A fun way of teaching animal sounds and names.
Melissa and Doug Vehicle Sound Blocks
A fun basic vehicle puzzle with sound effects for those kiddos who love anything that GOES!
Fisher Price Little People School Bus
Kids love playing with this school bus, putting people in and out. Driving it to pretend places and singing along to the songs.
Durable Kids Tool Set
A nice basic tool box. Child can have fun "fixing" things around the house or just turning the nuts and bolts included.
Mr. Potato Head Silly Suitcase
A great starter set. Everyone should have Mr. Potato Head. Can work on teaching body parts, "pushing" in and "pulling" out and even pronoun "him". Can also buy Mrs. Potato Head to work on "her" too.
Wooden 1-inch Block Cubes
Another type of block set. Use these to sort by color or build garages for little cars or pens for animals.