Playmobil Adventure Treehouse playset
While Lego might be the king of construction toys, many feel that Playmobil rules the roost for encouraging narrative play, and the typically European simplicity and attention to detail are very appealing to children. Playmobil comes in a whole range of different themes - from pirates to knights and hospitals to cowboys.
Animal-loving children will have plenty to choose from with farm, zoo, wild animal and stable sets all available. One set that animal-lovers are bound to love is the Adventure Treehouse, part of the Wild Life series. This beautifully made Treehouse playset includes a grizzly bear and cub, American bald eagle, fox and cubs, and more.
Grandparents on a budget can buy animals with minimal accessories in the City Life Zoo sets, designed as add-ons for the more expensive zoo set. These pouches include animal families, such as mother and baby sets or flocks of birds, and are ideal for children who already have buildings or who don't have room to store them. Prices for the animal sets are from around £5 and up.
Playmobil Treehouse Playset recommended for ages 4+, RRP £49.99
Wooden farm animals
With so much plastic in the world it's no wonder that more sustainable wooden toys are making a big comeback. There are lots of brands on the market, including Tidlo, Bigjigs, Le Toy Van and GoKi. The good news is that the sizes are often compatible with each other so you can mix and match toys.
Recommended ages variable, but usually 3+.
Schleich animal figures
Schleich is a good quality German brand of realistic animal figures. If you’re sick of seeing many of today’s toys fall to pieces then you’ll love the longevity of these solidly built toys which can usually easily withstand tumbling out of small hands and falling to the floor (fiddly accessories may be more fragile though). The variety available is huge and you're bound to find your grandchild’s favourite animal, but look out for the family sets of adult and baby animals in particular for a winning gift.
As well as figures there's a wide variety of accessories, vehicles and buildings, including a riding school, animal rescue truck and farm buildings.
Figures are available from all good toy shops, with a wider variety available on the Schleich website and Amazon.
Recommended for ages 3+
Prices vary, with a lone baby or small animal costing a few pounds and larger animals and sets around £10, with buildings and vehicles at the higher end. Browse Amazon for the full range.
Melissa and Doug Show Horse Stable
This simple but well-constructed playset is ideal for boys or girls with a love of horses and ponies. It comes with eight toy horses in different colours, each with their own stable compartment. The stable itself is wooden and features a handle, making it perfect for children to carry around with them when they are visiting friends or family. The set also comes with breed guides to learn about the horses included and stickers so that children can name the horses and label their stalls.
Other toys in the horsey range include a horse trailer and a set of 12 different coloured horses.
Recommended for ages 3+
Buy Melissa & Doug Show Horse Stable from Amazon.
Little Live Pets
Little Live Pets are small animal figures that come in a range of bright colours, from hot fuchsia to cool blues, that interact with the world around them. Hold a butterfly in your hands and it will flutter its wings, stroke a bird and it will sing. Animals in the range include budgies, mice, butterflies, dogs, cats and turtles and start at around £10 for a single figure and up to £60.00 for larger sets. See them in action in this YouTube video.
Recommended for ages 5+, batteries required.
Little Live Pets Turtle Tank, RRP £19.99. Full range available on Amazon.
This fun educational game is perfect for children wanting to test their knowledge on the animal kingdom, and it's also very portable making it ideal to take on car trips, holidays or when staying with family. Each box comes with 54 cards with facts about a huge range of different animal species. Players get 10 seconds to study the facts on the card before being tested about what they just read. It's quick, fun and can help improve memory and animal knowledge. Sets for Predators and Nature are also available, as well as sets for other topics such as sport and history. See the range available on Amazon.
Recommended for ages 8+
These timeless flocked animals are as popular as ever, and what's more houses, items of furniture and animals can still be easily found at boot sales and second hand shops and are still compatible with the newest sets. Prices vary considerably depending on the complexity of the toys, but budget sets include baby animals with a crib for about £5 or a pair of animals for around £10. Families of four cost around £18, while buildings can cost around £40 but do check what is included in the box - often it will be a case of 'figures sold separately' being written discreetly on the packaging. See the range available on Amazon. Also available from Sainsbury's, Debenhams and other high street stores.
Recommended for ages 3/4 + depending on set.
Manhattan Nursing Pets
Children who love 'mothering' their toys will be drawn to these soft toys of nursing mothers with three adorable babies. Choose from cute and cuddly cat with kittens, dog with puppies or rabbit with baby bunnies, all designed to encourage nurturing play patterns. Small magnets inside the animals let the babies attach to their mothers.
Recommended for ages 3+
Keel Toys puppy
Keel Toys create a range of well-made soft and floppy animal cuddly toys at an affordable price. Breeds include huskies, labradors, pugs, bulldogs and more - plus a wide range of wild animals such as pandas, chimpanzees and lions. They come in a range of sizes, with dinky 25cm toys costing around £10, with larger toys up to around £30, but check around for offers as discounts are available online.
Recommended for ages 3+
See the full range at Amazon
Books for animal-loving children
Animal Architects: Amazing Animals Who Build Their Homes
A charmingly illustrated look at some of the wonderful creations seen in nature, including the African weaverbird’s magnificent nest, termite mounds, nesting frogs and much more, this book is full of fascinating information about the animal architects and their amazing creations.
Laurence King, RRP £10.95 hardback, reading age 7-11 years old.
Stubby: A True Story of Friendship
For children who might have enjoyed the animated film Sgt Stubby: An American Hero this beautifully illustrated book by Michael Foreman retells the moving true story of Stubby, the brave four-legged hero and unofficial mascot of 102nd Infantry Regiment in World War I.
Anderson Press, RRP £6.99, reading age 5-8 years old.
The World of Peter Rabbit- The Complete Collection
Chances are you enjoyed some Beatrix Potter classics as a child. The popularity of these delightful animal stories has not waned since they were first published over a hundred years ago (Peter Rabbit was first published in 1902) and the recent big-budget film releases have brought in a new young audience ready to find out what made these books so appealing for their parents and their parents' parents. A complete collection of the 23 original stories is sure to go down a treat with children.
Warne, RRP: £69.99, reading age 5+
Life Cycles: Everything from Start to Finish
This gorgeous DK book looks at the cycles that keep life on earth ticking along and is an excellent way to introduce children to large, important concepts such as our delicate climate and the intricate connections between animals and their environment. A sister book called Water Cycles is also available.
DK, RRP £16.99, reading age 7-9 years old.