The best educational toys for kids will combine a fun aspect which allows a child to play, whilst engaging their mind to learn key skills in the process. This could be anything from perseverance, cause and effect, investigation, hand-to-eye coordination or STEM. But how do you know which educational toys to pick?
Young children are sponges when it comes to learning new things. So, just like you’d make sure your kids have a varied, nutritional, balanced diet when it comes to what they eat, ensuring they have a balanced ‘play diet’ that incorporates different activities and games as stimulus for their minds is also important.
But don’t worry – making sure a child has sufficient stimulation to enable their brains to develop fully is easier than it sounds.
Learning, the development of key skills and stimulation for children comes from a variety of sources. While playing with educational toys has an important role in that, so does providing them with different experiences, letting them play with other children and talking to them about their day or what you’re doing as they watch you do it.
How important are educational toys to a child’s development?
Joanne Moore, aPrimary School Teacher in Norfolk and Educational Product Adviser to Learning Resources told GoodtoKnow that educational toys are ‘essential’ to a child’s development.
‘As stated by Einstein “play is the highest form of research” and from a very early age children learn and develop through play,’ Joanne told us. ‘They allow children to freely explore, challenge their minds and support the development of many skills from fine motor control, early mathematics to speech and language.’
Child development expert and psychologist Dr. Amanda Gummer, who is also the founder of Dr. Gummer’s Good Play Guide, adds that while toys that promote school-based learning can help children’s confidence at school and help them embed the learning: ‘there are also lots of educational toys that support learning through encouraging exploration, fostering curiosity, building relationships, exploring moral dilemmas etc which should not be ignored.’
What kind of toys can help a child’s development and how?
‘Toys that encourage a child to be actively ‘doing’ and toys that provide open-ended opportunities I feel are most important for early child development,’ says Joanne.
‘Toys that are kinaesthetic allow a child to develop their hand-eye coordination – plus their fine and gross motor skills. These skills are the essential building blocks before a child can learn to write. There are some great apps available out there for online learning. However, I feel it is important to do as much off-screen learning as possible for young children.
‘Open-ended toys allow a child to explore their own imagination and creativity. They will often provide a child with challenges which build resilience, perseverance and problem solving skills. These are all characteristics of effective learning. These characteristics are essential for young children to develop in order to become an effective and motivated learner for life.’
For very young children, sensory toys – those with bright or contrasting colours, feature different textures and noises – will also stimulate their senses, aid development and encourage learning.
What is a STEM toy?READ
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM toys are designed to promote learning, curiosity, and education while they are played with.
When it comes to educational toys for kids, STEM toys in particular are great for helping your child develop innovative thinking, hand-eye coordination and spatial skills amongst other things while they play. You’ll love watching STEM toys foster creativity and problem solving in your child.
What age should parents introduce educational toys to their children?
‘It’s never too early to introduce your children to toys containing letters and numbers so that children become familiar with them at an early age,’ says Dr. Amanda Gummer.
However, Dr Gummer also emphasises that it’s important not to ‘hot house children’. Basically, try not to force the educational toys on them.
‘Feeling pressured to play with a particular toy is a sure way to turn a child off wanting to play with it and wanting to learn,’ Dr Gummer advises.
What are the best educational toys out there at the moment?
Below we’ve rounded up the best educational toys for kids aged 1 to 5. All the toys are out this year and recommended by experts, fellow parents and those in the know! Scroll through to find the right products aimed at your child’s age.
Age Suitability: 12 months +
Educational toy good for: Hand-eye co-ordination, developing fine motor skills, encouraging shape recognition, balance
This colourful game is designed to build hand-eye co-ordination, as well as hone fine motor skills and stimulate shape recognition, as your child uses the colourful wooden blocks to balance the friendly crocodile.
Age Suitability: 1 year +
Educational toy good for: STEM construction toy
My First Totem has picked up multiple awards for innovation and being a great toy for stimulating young minds. The set features 8 colourful magnetic building blocks, with different sounds, styles and textures. Little ones can combine the sensory blocks to build the coolest totem; or follow one of the 24 fun challenges.
Age Suitability: 1 year +
Educational toy good for: Building confidence with walking, developing spatial awareness, hand/eye coordination, fine motor skills, dexterity, shape and colour recognition.
As well as helping little ones take their first steps, a durable learner walker, like the Tidlo Wooden Activity Walker pictured, also features plenty of activities to keep toddlers entertained and busy. The spinning cage rattle, mini abacus, spinning mirror and matching blocks there’s plenty to stimulate young minds. Available at Amazon.
Age Suitability: 18 months +
Educational toy good for: Helps build motor skills. sequencing, storytelling and role playing skills
This cute little farm-themed set may look like sweet animals in small boxes, but this block and tower set is a great way to get small children practising their construction skills and hand-eye co-ordination, whilst learning about different animals and their homes.
Age Suitability: 18 months +
Educational toy good for: Improves the hand-foot coordination of children from an early age, develops creativity and encourages active play.
Great for encouraging children’s creativity and musical expression, this musical mat comes with eight different piano ‘keys’ which each make the sound of a different instrument. Easy to use like a retro dance mat, children will love jumping around and experimenting with sounds. The m zimoon Music Mat, pictured, is available on Amazon.
Age Suitability: 2 years +
Educational toy good for: Hand-eye co-ordination, encouraging colour and shape recognition, logical thinking and problem solving.
A bright wooden puzzle that is great for teaching kids about shapes and colours, this game will really test and help grow their logical thinking and problem solving skills. Just wait until they complete it for the first time – they will feel such a sense of achievement. Tender Leaf Toys Colour Me Happy, pictured is available at Amazon, priced £24.50.
Age Suitability: 3 years +
Educational toy good for: Practising fine motor control, encouraging storytelling and imaginative play.
Children will have hours of fun playing with a train set and the different pieces and characters provided in this box well be great for helping to build their vocabulary. Storytelling and role play also promote personal, social and emotional development.
Age Suitability: 3 years +
Educational toy good for: Developing hand-eye coordination, recognition of colour, shape and patterns.
This wooden game is great for developing dexterity in children and getting them to learn to focus to achieve their goal. Sure to keep children entertained for hours they can play on their own or in small groups, learning to take turns.
Age Suitability: 4 years +
Educational toy good for: Develops skills in constructions and engineering as well as encouraging creative and imaginative play.
A classic that just doesn’t seem to age, Lego is an educational toy that has been inspiring children for generations. Dig your old box of lego out of the attic to pass down to your kids or get them started with this epic set of coloured blocks that come in a handy storage box.
Age Suitability: 3 -5 years
Educational toy good for: Encouraging imaginative play, critical thinking, letter recognition, phonics, construction and vocabulary
A holistic approach to early learning, the Little Genius Starter pack is designed to take kids aged 3–5 on a hands-on learning adventure. The only downside for some families is that the set requires you to have an iPad or Amazon tablet to play.
Age Suitability: 4+ years
Educational toy good for: Letter recognition, phonetic word building and matching pictures to words
A best selling, first reading and spelling activity game where children take turns to find letters and spell words, this fun single player activity or multiplayer game has two levels of difficulty. Young children can learn letter recognition, phonetic word building and matching pictures to words by using this early learning literacy game.
Age Suitability: 4+
Educational toy good for: Introduces young children to early coding and STEM thinking including problem-solving and understanding cause and effect.
Young kids can learn coding concepts with cute bunny Coding Critters Bopper, Hip & Hop. Children code along with Bopper’s storybook adventure, taking part in coding challenges involving the fun pet play set.
Age Suitability: 3-7 years
Educational toy good for: Sparking curiosity and introducing children to scientific concepts such as common science vocabulary, observation, cause-and-effect and basic science lab safety.
Get hands-on with the wonders of chemistry and science using real science laboratory equipment made especially for kids.
‘For primary age children the ‘Primary Science® Lab Set’ is perfect for learning scientific investigation skills together at home! It provides lots of different experiment cards so it can be used again and again. The child-friendly lab pieces allow a child to safely and freely explore science,’ Primary School Teacher Joanne Moore says.
Age Suitability: 5+
Educational toy good for: Developing addition and subtraction skills, strategic thinking skills and encourages learning to take turns
Great for helping children to practice their numeracy skills, including addition and subtraction, this fun and appealing game can be played with up to four players and is good for both children beginning to get to grips with maths and those who are more confident with numbers.