Parents, if you’re like me, you probably cringe when you hear the words “educational toys.” For most, that phrase conjures up images of boring toys kids have no interest in, toys no one wants for /Christmas or their birthday. And years ago, that would have been true, but not now. These days, educational toys are fun and effective, helping kids learn essential life skills, whether they are advanced, autistic, or somewhere in-between.
Which is why I’ve drawn up this A-Z Educational Toy Guide. Filled with essential tips and advice, my guide will help figure out what to look for, what your child needs and which toys are the best fit.
Why Educational Toys Matter
You may not realize it, but kids learn best through play, which is why educational toys are key to their development and make great gifts. From infancy until kindergarten, kids are taught basic skills and concepts through playful actions, such as singing, drawing and stacking.
Educational toys are specifically designed for these purposes, helping to develop different areas, such as math, literacy, science and more. They can teach a baby how to recognize shapes and track objects, help a toddler learn phonics or encourage a kid’s creativity and artistry.
Point is, they can give kids a head start in life, or help kids that are struggling to catch up. And here’s a secret: some everyday toys, like Legos and puzzles, are actually educational toys, so you don’t always and have to run out and buy something special.
The Benefits of Using Educational Toys
There are numerous benefits to using educational toys, some of which you may not be aware of. Here are some of the ways educational toys can help your child:
Tap into You Childs Learning Abilities & Hold Their Interest
Kids learn at different paces, and in different ways. Some are visual, while others absorb through touch. Educational toys can tap into these different methods, and, once you discover which one works best, you can get toys that highlight it.
This not only helps them to learn faster and understand more, it will hold their interest and make them WANT to learn. Toys they understand lower frustrations and allow them to explore and grow. This can be very helpful for kids who have sensory issues, and may prefer, or need to avoid, certain sounds and textures.
Improve Motor Skills
These toys cleverly get kids to perform certain actions that can build hand-eye coordination, grip strength and more. Toys such as puzzles, or block, engage them and as they build and put them together, they learn to use their hands in different ways and hold things in place.
This strengthens their muscles and improves dexterity.
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics
Increase Cognitive Abilities
Kids learn concepts such as cause and effect, sharing and order sequence from toys, which is why the right ones are important. Reading books, and using shape sorters, for example, teach them to reason and figure out how to manipulate objects to work differently.
Develop Their Senses
This is important, especially for babies or those who may be on the autism spectrum. Using bright blocks to develop their eyes, or a toy that plays animals sounds, helps them learn to use and develop those specific senses.
It stimulates and exposes them to new experiences, so they learn how and when to use each sense. They may have a child who has difficulty with noises better acclimate and can teach toddlers their colors, matching and more.
Improves Social and Emotional Development
Academics is just one part of raising a healthy child. They need to learn proper social and emotional behaviors, and educational toys can assist with that.
Toys that demonstrate different emotions, such as dolls with different facial expressions, can help them relate and identify. In addition, toys that require group participation (even if it’s just you playing with them) can teach concepts like sharing and taking turns.
Improve and Develop Language and Vocabulary
From infancy, sounds and voices are how kids learn language and speech. Educational toys that teach sounds, sounding out words and how to use their mouth can help fine tune this essential skill.
Through repetition, they can learn what letter goes with what sound and attempt to make those sounds as well.
A big part of a child’s development is allowing them to discover likes, dislikes and cultivate their personality. Toys that use music, or crayons can help spark their creative side and let them understand themselves better.
For children who are on the spectrum, or have delays, they can find their voice through this style of play and become more comfortable in their own skin.
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics
Types of Educational Toys
There are lots of educational toys on the market, some obvious, some not so obvious. To help you recognize and find what your child needs, let’s explore the different types. I’ve also included suggestions for which age groups each kind may work best with.
1. Cause & Effect Toys
These are toys that work on motor skills and hand-eye coordination. They also teach kids that actions cause a reaction. Toys that fall under this category include:
• Shape Sorters (6 months- 36 months): works on gross motor skills and coordination
• Play-Doh (18 months and up): works on fine motor skills and shows cause and effect, like how rolling or squeezing changes the shape.
• Pop-up Toys (6 months- 24 months): works on hand-eye coordination and cause and effect: they push down, the object pops up.
Puzzles help with several abilities, fine motor and cognitive, in particular. To start, they learn how to turn shapes, working on strategy and how pieces fit into a bigger picture. Plus, they learn to pick up, grasp and pinch- which is great for any child with motor delays.
Puzzle toys include:
• Non-connecting Puzzles (12 months and up): These are puzzles where the pieces go into a larger object do not fit into each other. Puzzles with knobs or pegs would fall under this category.
• Connecting Puzzles, or Jigsaws (12 months and up): These puzzles have pieces that fit into each other.
• Sliding Puzzles (4 years and up): These puzzles have pieces of a picture divided into squares, with an empty space so kids can slide them around to put them in order, or together.
3. Story Time
These days, there are a host of interactive books that are great for teaching kids’ basics, like the alphabet, to more advanced concepts, such as right and wrong. Interactive reading toys can develop vocabulary, improve cognitive skills and help foster healthy emotional skills. Story toys include:
• Books with Pull Tabs, or Textures (6 months- 3 years): Books that make kids have to pull a tab to reveal something, or feel a dog’s fur, stimulate multiple senses and teach sequencing. It is good for those with sensory or processing, as it encourages touch.
• Pop-Up Books (18-48 months): Pop-ups introduce kids to concepts such as cause and effect, surprises, and lets them be an active participant.
• Sequence Books (2 years and up): These types of books, which use counting, or stories with steps, teach kids order and help develop their reasoning.
• Interactive Books/ E-Readers (3years and up): These books often have a pen or buttons, so kids can read along or fond out the meaning of a word. Great for developing vocabulary and introducing them to new words and ideas.
4. Technology Driven Toys
These days, technology is everywhere, and while some of it can be overkill, there are some fun technological toys that teach. Plus, being technologically advanced is a skill in and of itself, so early exposure is good. Here are some examples:
• Pretend Laptops (15 months- 4 years): These toys often make sounds, or tell the letters of the alphabet when pressed. Great for fine motor, auditory and visual stimulation. Other toys, like pretend phones or pads, can do the same thing.
• Electronic Etch-A-Sketch (3-5 years): Toys that teach kids to draw and write are great for creativity and learning basic knowledge. Good for fine motor delays too.
• Educational Apps, like ABC Mouse & Nick Junior (36 months and up): Using familiar characters’ kids love, these apps stimulate learning, from identifying shapes to understanding why bullying is wrong. For kids with delays, or visual learners, seeing characters they feel safe with can spark interest and help them learn more.
5. Artistic Toys
Drawing tools, paints and other creative toys teach colors, shapes, how to construct and more. These toys are good for ages 12 months and up, and should be non-toxic. Artistic toys work well for those on the autism spectrum and children with delays, promoting individuality and expression.
DIY Educational Toys – How to Make Educational Toys
Shared from Kids Activities Blog
There are some toys you may not think of that fall into the educational category, toys you probably already have in your home. Here are some everyday toys and how you can use them for educational purposes:
• Dollhouses & Dolls: These toys teach kids concepts such as where things go, the family unit, and encourage creativity and imaginary play.
• Legos: Legos help with spatial and motor skills, but can also be used to teach colors and number. Have them identify colors and count as they build structures.
• Books: Every book can teach in some way. As you read, point out shapes in objects for advanced readers, count objects and teach older kids how to answer “WH” questions.
• Paper &Pen: Draw shapes, letters and number for kids to trace to improve motor skills and teach them school skills. You can even cut out shapes to make a homemade puzzle.
Choosing the Right Educational Toys
As you can see, there are a variety of educational toys to choose from, but matching what a toy can do to a child’s needs can be tricky. Here are factors to consider when buying one of these toys:
• Multiple Uses: A toy that performs more than one function, such as blocks, is great because it can grow with your child. For instance, as a child, blocks can help with muscle coordination and cause and effect, while older kids can learn spatial relationships, creativity and reasoning as they build more complex structures.
• Simplicity: While you want kids to learn different, sometimes complex concepts, the toy they use should be easy to operate, otherwise they will give up and not learn anything. For instance, a child cannot develop gross motor skills if the peg is too hard to pull out or there are too many shapes for their age.
• Age/Skill Appropriate: A toy will be ineffective if it doesn’t fit their age or skills, so read labels. Children are challenged when something is new, not when it is over their head. Expose them to new concepts gradually, and in small increment so they are confident and want to try. For older kids, they will enjoy the new brick sets of Batman Movie and LEGO Ninjago for example.
• Purpose: The toy should be fun, first and foremost, but it should also have a purpose. Whether it is to teach an infant to track objects or a toddler balance, understand what it does before you buy it.
Educational Toys by Age & Ability
When considering what toy to get, a child’s age and ability is one of the main deciding factors. Here are some tips and suggestions on what to buy for each age group and learning stage.
Infancy to 6 months
Focus on cognition with chimes, light musical instruments, rattles and other sensory toys. Also, use toys with bright, contrasting colors for eye stimulation and coordination. From 6 to 12 months consider activity centers to work on hand-eye coordination.
12 months to 2 years
Focus on mental and visual perception. Nesting cups, blocks, crayons and other like toys to encourage interaction and spatial relations.
2 to 4 years
At this stage, you want to cultivate problem solving and reasoning, as well as teach basics. Counting and number books, dollhouses, bricks and interactive toys teach relationships and encourage motor skills.
Focus on more electronic learning, such as e-readers, and encourage creativity with more advanced coloring and painting tools. Kids need to learn more words and emotions at this point and gain a better understanding of their place in the world. Lego Airplanes can good choice for them to explore too.
Sensory & Processing Issues
Kids who have any type of delay can benefit greatly from early exposure and help. Sensory toys, such as Play-Doh, building blocks, textured toys and others can greatly enhance functions and help them function at a higher level. Whether it is a mild or significant delay, these toys can have a positive impact.
Also, dolls and pretend play can help some kids learn how to interact, hug and perform other actions they might not do otherwise.
I hope my A-Z Educational Toy Guide helps you help the kids in your life. Whether you’re buying for Christmas, a birthday, or just because, these toys can make a difference.
Fun and full of learning, they can develop and improve a variety of skills for all ages and learning abilities, putting smiles on their faces- and yours.