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Lock and key toys are a great addition to any playroom because they inspire learning and motor function skills in a new way. The concept is quite simple at first. The idea is that kids discover cause and effect between the object in their hand and the action of opening the door on their toy.
The more they play, the more they understand that relationship. They can also learn the dexterity needed to handle different keys and appreciate the rewards for doing so.
The simplicity of the concept means that toy manufacturers – including some big names like VTech and Melissa and Doug – embrace this idea with some interesting interactive toys. In this guide, I will showcase some of those toys so you can see the different ways that kids can use these skills to learn and have fun.
I have included a range of styles for both older and younger toddlers for an idea of what is available. There are also different materials and objectives. First, let’s look at some of the most important considerations for buying these lock and key toys.
What to look out for when choosing the best lock and key toys for toddlers.
1) Do they contain small parts?
This is a crucial starting point with these toys. The concept of a lock and a key immediately means that there are individual parts to put together. A traditional padlock and key are quite small, so there could be a risk for small children if unsupervised. The best toys tend to use oversized keys, a set of keys on a ring, or keys on strings, to make things safer.
This is also where it helps to consider the recommended age on products. Some toys are clearly more advanced for older toddlers. Look at the recommendation but also use your best judgment based on your child’s needs and abilities. If in doubt, walk away.
2) Is this an educational tool?
Some of these lock and key toys for toddlers offer more of a lesson than others. Ideally, you want something that is about more than just the motor skills of putting the key in the lock and opening the door. The best toys tend to have color-matching to some degree. This could be as simple as putting the right color key in the matching door. Others will take this further with different shaped keyholes or block sorting games. Then there are the more advanced toys with other concepts.
3) What else does your child get out of the toy?
Is this a purely educational tool about how locks work, with some new motor skills for them to develop? Or do the keys literally unlock greater potential for creative play, or something else? With some of these toys, there might be a little surprise behind a door or a flap. Others may unlock toys and games to play with. For example, this guide contains a couple of garage toys with toy cars.
These extra layers to playtime make the toys a lot more engaging for kids. They can unlock their toys, enjoy playtime, and lock them all back up again. You may also find that some of these toys are more interactive with sensory features like lights and noises for opening the door.
4) What is the toy made from?
The products here are a mixture of materials because I wanted to offer a broad range of options. Some of the engaging, colorful ones for very young kids are plastic. Ultimately, it is up to you whether you are happy to bring plastic toys into your home. Then there are the wooden toys. These could be wooden boxes and blocks with metal locks and latches. Or, you might choose a wooden board with flaps. Whatever the material, make sure that it is safe for your child and comfortable to use.
9 of the best lock and key toys for toddlers
This first option is one of the most simplistic for kids one-year-old and up. There are two elements to this toy. The first is a pretty straight forward block-sorting game. One blue cube, one yellow pyramid, one red sphere. The difference here is that this one has a lock and key on the side of the box. If kids want to retrieve the shapes again, they need to use their motor skills to figure out how to get inside.
It is a simple repetitive process that won’t get too boring at this young age. I like the combination of skills, as it also makes it very easy to catch and store all the shapes afterward too. There is also the benefit of the string on the large key, so it shouldn’t get lost. But, I know that some parents would prefer to have something that wasn’t completely made from cheap plastic.
This next toy has a similar concept in as much as kids put shapes in a box and use a key to get them back out. But, this one is more complex and designed for older kids. You could use this as an upgrade from the option above. This time, there are 12 shapes and 6 distinct colors. 6 of the shapes fit through the chimneys on top of the houses and the others through the door. Kids then need to find the color-coordinated key to open the door and retrieve the shapes.
There are some really nice details that I like about this product. The decision to put the keys on a ring is smart as this lets kids copy their parents. There is also an interesting choice of shapes and carry handle on top. Just be aware that there are reports of the keys not matching the doors due to manufacturer errors.
Sticking with the same brand for a moment, this toy is similar in style. You get a lot of doors and keys with color-coordination. But, this one is also much more complex in terms of its themes and features. The toy centers around a vet theme. Kids can unlock the different shaped doors with matched keys on a keyring. This offers access to different toys and tools like an x-ray machine, scales, stethoscope, and syringe.
I also like that there are three characters, two of which are soft plush toys. There is a lot going on here and this one encourages creative play better than others. The hope is that the lock and key system will also encourage kids to put everything back in the clinic when they are finished.
This Montessori toy takes things in a different direction in terms of the style of play and materials used. The focus here is on the locks and fastenings of the box, rather than any other sort of gameplay. There are lots of colored doors and flaps with different types of locks and latches. Parents are advised to check this out to understand exactly what is going on before “helping” children.
Kids will love playing with the different mechanisms to open the box. Of course, with this being a lockbox, they can also keep treasured items in here. I like the alternative concept here and the design of the box. The use of wood and metal makes this more appealing to touch and gives a sense of craftsmanship. Just be aware that the padlock and keys are pretty small, so this is better for older toddlers.
Let’s stick with these Montessori wooden toys for a moment and look at this next option. Personally, I don’t think that this will be as fun for children because there isn’t the same sort of reward for learning. But, there is something very appealing visually. The concept here is very simple. You get a wooden tray and a set of padlocks and keys in different colors. Kids can match the keys to the padlock and learn how to open it. There is also a chance to learn a little more about colors by arranging the padlocks in order.
This is a great little educational tool for older toddlers when supervised. The small piece and need for different manual arrangements are limitations here. But, this really is more of a lesson than a toy. Other options in this guide may be more fun and better suited for unsupervised play. This isn’t really something you can leave in a playroom as a toy.
This toy is similar to the Montessori lockbox with the different types of lock, as there are latches, bolts, padlocks, and more on here. This means a lot of new motor skills and clever problem-solving. Otherwise, it is very different. This busy board is a plastic house with different locks and devices on the door, window, and kennel. All kids have to do is open the door with the right motion to reveal the people inside.
What I like about this one is that there so much going on to engage young children. There is a strong emphasis on colors and numbers on each of the doors, which increases the capacity for learning. This is also more of a sensory toy with music and sounds as rewards for correct actions. Of course, this does mean that there is also the downside of having a battery-operated toy. This makes it more costly in the long run.
Sticking with the idea of different latches and lock, we have a board with a similar concept as the VTech board, but also a different approach. Melissa and Doug is a company beloved for their adorable wooden toys. So, think of this as the gentle, quiet version of the VTech toy above. There is the same general idea with the different colored doors with numbers and individual locks.
The difference here is that you have a natural board with flaps to reveal the characters within. It is a bit more old-fashioned and less of an interactive toy than a VTech product. In turn, this might mean less interest from some kids. But, there is no denying that there a nice quality here with the sanded, painted word. The designs on these toys are always timeless and engaging for all generations, so it will be fun for parents to play this with their kids.
The final two toys are both garage themed, for kids that also love to play with vehicle toys. For the first, we stick with Melissa and Doug. As with the board toy, there is great attention to detail in the design around the wooden building. It looks more realistic than some blocky plastic toys. The wood is smooth and non-toxic, and this is also true for the three cute little vehicles that kids get to unlock.
What I love about this garage lock and the key toy is that there is an emergency services theme. Each vehicle relates to different services and players can lock them in their color-coordinated garages. Just the matching key to open the shutter and send the vehicle off to the emergency. You get the red fire engine with the red key, blue police car with the blue key, and white ambulance with the white key. This opens up more room for creative play as well as vital lessons about 911 services.
For the second of the two garages and the last toy in this guide on lock and key toys for toddlers, we go back to Battat. They really are a company that gets how to combine these lock and key toys with fun concepts. This toy offers a very similar idea to the wooden garage, as there are three cars in their color-coordinated garage with a matching key. The transparent roof is nice for color matching too.
At first, this one doesn’t feel quite as exciting as the Melissa and Doug garage because they are normal cars. However, O do like the unlocking mechanism at the top. Kids push the key into the button to send the car out the door “by itself”. This has to be exciting for kids and one of the best forms of instant gratification for getting things right. Then they just lock up the shutter at the end.
Finding the best lock and key toys for toddlers.
As you can see, there is actually a fun range of toys out there that take this concept of a motor skill lesson and turn it into a fun toy. There are basic options out there for very young kids or for specific lessons, mid-level toys that add some extra elements and lessons to enhance playtime or advanced options with complex themes. You can either focus on the locks themselves or use those motions to unlock more interesting gameplay with vehicles in garages, vet clinics, and interactive houses. The choice is yours. The perfect toy is out there.