Educational toys help to foster a love of learning in kids of all ages! Here are some of our top picks that your family will love.
What Are the Best Educational Toys?
Although “educational toys” is a catchy label to advertise, you’ll actually find that most toys have some element of learning. Kids are navigating the world as they practice fine motor skills, problem-solving skills, imaginative play, reading, and logical thinking. Everything they encounter and interact with is building connections in their prefrontal cortex. Some provide a bit more direct learning experiences though. Read on to learn about our favorite toys that provide direct educational benefits for kids.
Educational Toys for Preschoolers (1-3)
Most parents quickly learn that you can make a preschool toy from just about any household object, but here are some classics for younger kids.
A big set of classic unit blocks (blocks that are fractions of one another) may seem like a no-brainer, but they’re a classroom staple for a reason. A study by Florida State University that followed preschoolers into adulthood suggests that those who demonstrated high-quality play with wood blocks performed slightly better on standardized tests.
But let’s reel it back in. The most tangible, overarching benefits of playing with blocks are that kids can practice their motor skills, hand-eye coordination, creativity, and outside-the-box thinking. You don’t have to wait for a standardized test to see those kinds of benefits.
Wooden Parking Garage and Ramp
Even though the kids won’t have to deal with the utter exhilaration of navigating a crowded parking deck for a while, this toy is still surprisingly educational. Kids can naturally explore colors, sorting, and counting as they park cars. They can investigate science concepts as they roll cars down the ramps and use the manual pulley elevator, too. While you can find lots of different sellers with similar products, one of the most cost-effective methods is making your own parking deck out of cardboard! Check out this tutorial if you’re up for the challenge of a fun project!
These colorful, geometric tiles with magnetic connectors are fun for kids of almost any age (adults, too!) Magna Tiles will improve your child’s critical thinking skills, problem-solving, open-ended play, and creativity. They’re also helpful for children struggling with sensory issues, attention and focus, motor planning, and spatial awareness.
Wooden Threading Toys
These may seem elementary (excuse the pun), but they’re excellent learning tools for kids exploring their world. In its most basic form, you can make a version of this toy with materials you have around the house. Design and craft your threading toy out of cardboard or paper plates, clothespins, and yarn! If you’d like something a little bit more durable, a wooden threading toy is a great solution. They come in all different sizes and shapes on Amazon, but my personal favorite is the “worm” (threader) eating his way through all different kinds of food.
Montessori Busy Boards
While you can buy one of these, you can also make one at home! The concept is filling a board with sensory and fine motor activities that can help a child explore their world. Include zippers, buttons, latches, doors, locks, bells, noises, and anything that’s safe for a child to touch and explore, that has a cause and effect. If you make the busy board yourself, be sure it’s free of sharp edges, nails, and potentially hazardous materials. If you’re not up for making your own, plenty of high-quality, busy boards are out there. You can even find some great options sold by independent sellers on Etsy!
Toys that introduce kids to music are often under-utilized for their educational properties. Music can expose kids to challenges and multi-sensory experiences, which enhance learning abilities and encourage cognitive development. In particular, music can also engage cognitive functions, such as planning, working memory, inhibition, and flexibility. A piano mat can also engage their gross motor skills as they tap with their feet! Rock on, little one!
Educational Toys for Elementary Schoolers
These toys will help challenge older kids and adults alike. From simple tangrams to more complex coding toys, they’re great ways to activate your brain.
Wooden Geometric Pattern Blocks (Tangrams)
These basic pattern blocks introduce the fundamental concepts of geometry. Yes, your child may simply use the blocks to build a “house” or a “monster,” and that’s okay, too. These blocks, paired with a pattern book, are one of the best educational toys on the market. Your child will learn and practice concepts of symmetry, measuring, and spatial reasoning. And, of course, they’ll use them to make a tower or throw at their siblings.
How could something as intricate as coding concepts be interesting for children? Simply put, coding is how we communicate with computers. It’s what we use to build and run websites, apps, games, and more. Since kids have brains that are particularly designed and primed for language learning, coding is an excellent way to build a useful skill through STEM learning. But the great thing about Coding Critters is that your child won’t be overloaded with screen time! Coding Critters along with their books and activities are a fun way to build screen-free coding skills, from counting to sequential thought to computational thinking!
I have a pretty vivid memory of using geoboards in elementary school. And of course, I have a memory of using the geoboard as a makeshift autoharp (that still counts as educational, right?). Geoboards are a great learning tool for plane geometry as kids can use straight lines to make shapes, letters, and designs and practice their fine motor skills. While free play is fun, you can also introduce pattern cards. You can buy a geoboard, but they’re super simple to make.
All you need is a square piece of plywood, small nails, and rubber bands. Make sure the nails (or screws) are short enough so when you secure them in the board, they won’t poke through the back. Place dots on the plywood board in a perfect square formation, so each dot is equidistant from one another. Add the nails or screws (without securing them all the way into the board). Now, your child can use colorful rubber bands to start making patterns, letters, shapes, pictures, or anything they’d like!
Leapfrog toys are one of the most directly educational toys for kids. Leapfrog has dozens of products that are particularly focused on early childhood literacy. Did I mention that I spent hours playing with one of these myself when I was a kid? That’s right, the original LeapPad. Fortunately, LeapFrog has made some excellent upgrades and new products for kids of all ages. They’ve even expanded their learning toys and resources for various skills, including science, social studies, mathematics, personal and social skills, and logical thinking. You can also shop by age on their website!
In my opinion, one of the best innovations in home education is subscription kits. They’re well-researched, well-organized, convenient, and fun. And you can find a subscription kit for just about any kids’ interest! KiwiCo is a particularly great subscription box company that makes STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) learning activity boxes for all ages, even adults! Pick a plan, and you’ll get a monthly box with fun, educational activities delivered right to your door!
Snap Circuits “Arcade”
Does your child have a knack for taking things apart just to see how they work? This might be the perfect solution. With over 200 exciting projects to choose from, your kid can learn the basics of electricity, engineering, and circuitry with full color, curriculum-rich, easy-to-follow instructions. While we love the “Arcade” version, Snap Circuits makes all different kinds of activities, including versions that focus on motion, green energy, light, and “bric” structures.
This company has just about every educational toy you could imagine, and even some that you couldn’t. I used to spend hours at Christmas pouring over the pages, circling the things that I hoped Santa would bring. You’ll find physics toys like Geomag Mechanics Gravity Race Track, biology toys like an Ant Jungle, or my personal favorite, the “Crankity Brain Teaser.” FatBrain also makes it easy to shop online by organizing its products by age, popularity, release date, category, or gender.
Getting the Most out of Educational Toys
Remember, by nature, toys are meant to engage kids with their world and develop a deeper understanding of how the world works. In that respect, most toys are educational. One of the best ways to increase their value is to play alongside your kids. Ask them questions about the items you’re using. Notice any patterns or interests you see forming in their play. Engaging in their learning journey is the best possible way to help them form connections and make sense of the greater world around them. If you’re looking for some DIY educational toys for babies, click here!