‘Tis the season to keep learning and to be giving, so we’ve put together a list of some of the coolest educational toys for eager learners. The list ranges from brand new innovations to old school classics and we made sure to find something for everybody. We ho-ho-hope you find just what you’re looking for.
Budding Builders. For little hands and… improving coordination. Here are some of our favorites:
- Guidecraft Grippies™ Better Builders 30 Piece Building Toy: These are large enough for little hands and encourage tactile exploration and magnetic play, providing a fun first experience with geometry and engineering.
- Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set Building Kit: Suction construction set.
- Baby University Board Book Set: Get a jumpstart on scientific concepts, seriously. This collection of expert-authored science books is a wonderful introduction for babies … and adults.
- Loveevery: Beautifully crafted play kits that make simple toys for the most effective developmental activities. Operating as a subscription model, Loveevery is dedicated to making the perfect toys for babies everywhere.
- KiwiCo Panda Crate: This subscription crate provides developmental activities for ages 0-2. This is just one of many inspiring and educational KiwiCo crates which range from ages 0-104.
Cute Little Counters. At this age, most “counting” is more memorization than a deep understanding of quantity, but kids are never too young to play with numbers, even if they are really just increasing awareness:
- Munchkins Letter & Numbers: You have to do bath time, why not throw some letters in there? Not only does foam stick to the bathtub, it also floats. As kids get older, playing with letters and numbers can increase to identifying colors & building order. Extra bonus: While in the tub, throw some measuring cups in there so that they can play with volume and measurement.
- Geometric Animal Shape Puzzles: Speaking of bath time. How about helping your little one learn geometric shapes while in the tub?
- Learning Resources Jumbo Magnetic Numbers: Just like the foam building blocks, putting numbers on the refrigerator (and then taking them back off) is great for building fine motor skills.
Abstract Artists. You may not be able to tell what it is that they have created, but giving toddlers the space to make is important and fun. The key to picking your “first” art supplies is all about what they will be able to control and hang on to:
- My First Crayola Crayons: The shape of these crayons make them perfect for little hands to hold and they don’t take much pressure to work which makes them just the right first crayon for your little one. Here’s a star-shaped option as well.
- VTech Musical Rhymes Book: Classic nursery rhymes, piano sounds, improved motor skills, stories … the list goes on. This bright and musical interactive storybook is engineered to keep your child busy for hours.
Can’t Forget the Classics. These “oldies but goodies” are the toys we all remember and still love. These were the things we were playing with before STEM was a “thing”:
- Melissa and Doug Abacus: The calculator owes a lot to this item.
- Fat Brain Toys Shape Sorter: This classic shape shorter creates many opportunities for conversations with your little one about shapes, colors and is a great way to build hand-eye coordination
Creative Construction. This age is where you may actually start to recognize the things your toddler is creating. From tools to blocks to art supplies, they will love transforming their ideas into reality—make sure they are set up with all the supplies they need to do so (and don’t forget to head to the recycling bin for lots of free inspiration):
- PicassoTiles: Take building to the next level by starting to construct 3D shapes through these magnetic tiles.
- Educational Insights Design & Drill Activity Center: Power tool sets are great, and a blast for this age, but can sometimes be hard if they don’t actually get to build anything. This is a great option for kids to use tools to design and create.
- Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears!: Take a different spin on building with these colorful gears that promote reasoning and problem solving while putting together moving objects and shapes.
- idoot Magnetic Blocks: These magnetic blocks encourage creative thinking and help kids learn how to solve complex problems through playing. Plus their multi-color design and fun magnetism make every structure a true work of art.
Optimistic Observers. For young explorers, the world is full of surprises. These toys are designed to help them take their observation skills to the next level:
- Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. My First Microscope and My First Telescope: These first microscopes and telescopes allow kids to take a closer look at all of their favorite things.
- Learning Resources Primary Science Mix And Measure Set: This is a great age to start building a better understanding of quantity and measurement. The mix and measure set can double as a great bathtime toy as well.
Robots for Rugrats. Stu Pickles shouldn’t be the only inventor in your house. Even though robotics toys tend to be aimed at middle and high school, there are lots of great resources for the young robotics enthusiast that can help support building an innovation mindset:
- Fisher Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar: A great introduction to coding. Depending on how you put this guy together, it changes his course. Set a target and then build him to hit it.
- Kids First Robot Engineer Kit and Storybook: They call it a “build along adventure.” Start by reading the story and build as you go. This Robot Engineer teaches kids about simple machines and gear trains
- WowWee COJI The Coding Robot: This guy teaches the basics of coding through the language of emojis.
- Lego Coding Train: This introduction to coding kit allows kids to learn through play about sequencing, looping and conditional coding with customizable “smart bricks.” Check out our review!
Terrific Tablets. Sick of sticky finger smudges on your tablet? Here are a couple of options just for them (all under $100):
- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet: The fastest Amazon Fire Kids yet. It includes a two-year worry-free guarantee, a Kid-Proof Case with a built-in stand and one year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited—with access to over 20,000 apps, games, books and educational content from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney and more
- LeapFrog Epic: Parental controls that allow you to manage what, when and how long each of your children is playing (for up to three profiles) and also includes the LeapFrog Just for Me Learning technology that personalizes the experience for each kid.
- LeapFrog Scribble and Write Tablet: This super fun tablet teaches kids to write letters, numbers and everything in between. There’s also a mode that provides instant progress! With captivating tracing lights, this toy is sure to keep your child’s attention.
Can’t Forget the Classics.
- Learning Resources Pretend & Play Calculator Cash Register: A great way to learn the basics of money and math … plus the cha-ching sound is always satisfying.
Mini Makers. A quick search online will yield more maker kits than you can count. They vary in complexity and cost, but no matter what your budget there is definitely something for your mini maker:
- Marbleocity Mini Coaster: This is a great option for beginners as they follow illustrated instructions to piece together wooden parts to build the ultimate roller-coaster marble run experience.
- Osmo Genius Starter Kit: Five games that incorporate an iPad to develop skills such as visual thinking, problem-solving and creative drawing.
- littleBits STEAM Student Set: A toolbox containing LEGO-like electronic building blocks that connect via magnets to build basic functional technology. Buy a kit to make a space rover, synthesizers, a gizmo and gadgets kit and much more. For more check out our review.
- Makey Makey: A simple invention kit designed for beginners, experts and everyone in-between.
- ZOOB BuilderZ S.T.E.M. Challenge: Design and build cool, wacky creations such as a catapult, zip line, trampoline and more.
- Handy Famm: Handy Famm is a fun, bird-shaped tape measure with innovative features, such as a built in leveler and angle finder, that helps engage kids in the joy of DIY projects and infuses their interest in STEM at a young age.
Creepy Crawlers. You may not love bugs, but chances are your kids do. If that is the case, here are a couple of options that let your kids explore and observe, but keep the bugs well contained:
- BugWatch Boxed Set: This set includes a Double-Viewer cone and scope, three collecting jars with magnifying lids and two pairs of tweezers. Great for collecting and viewing insects and other small creatures.
- Celestron 3D Bug Specimen Kit: These are real bugs encased in crystal clear resin for easy viewing. You can choose from 3 different kits, each containing a different set of insects.
Dare to Design. No matter what the age, there is a series of tools that help young people design, build and create. Find one that’s perfect and unique so that they love the experience:
- Roominate: Building kits designed specifically for creative girls.
- Chalktrail: This allows kids to turn their bikes into art tools.
Captivating Coding. Our kids will need to learn to code, but it is for more reasons than you might think. As Grant Hosford puts it, “Computer science is the perfect gateway to 21st-century skills. The logical problem solving and algorithmic thinking at the core of computer science force kids to think about thinking—a process referred to as meta-cognition that has proven benefits related to self-monitoring and independent learning:”
- Move the Turtle: This app teaches the general idea of coding by completing step-by-step tasks that move the turtle around on the screen. Successful completion means that newer and more complicated tasks are introduced (think next-gen frogger).
- Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit: Electrical parts provide students with hands-on experience designing and building models of working electrical circuits.
Can’t Forget the Classics.
- Stomp Rocket: an old favorite for many of us.
- Curiosity Kits Lava Rock Volcano: What do you get when you mix vinegar and baking soda? A really good time.
Ask About AI. There is no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) will have a major impact on the lives and livelihood of our kids. Here are a couple of examples of how AI is already working its way into our kids’ toy boxes:
- The Wild Robot: This wonderful book (see our review) tells the story of “Roz,” a robot who washed up onto the beach to find remote island wilderness after the cargo ship transporting her and dozens like her sank.
- Anki Overdrive: This is the next generation of racing cars. Not only can you use a smartphone to control it, but you can choose whether you want to race against friends or AI-controlled cars.
- Cozmo: What’s better than an AI that always wants to play games? Not much. With Cozmo, your child can learn to code with Code Lab, play games, learn how to navigate a robot and much, much more.
- Let’s Start Coding Ultimate Kit 2: “Coding is the new literacy” is the slogan for Let’s Start Coding, a company focused on getting kids accustomed to coding early. In the latest revision to their Ultimate Kit, it’s gotten bigger and better—now boasting over 110 projects, no extra tools required and the ability to create custom circuits. This is a great gift for anyone 10 years of age and over.
Maker Mindsets. We are big believers that allowing students to create, construct, and value their unique passions is a great way to get them to think critically about the world around them. Makers make the world a better place and these gifts encourage the mindsets needed to do just that:
- Monthly Maker Kit Subscriptions: Make tinkering and creating a regular family event with a subscription from Creation Crate or Tinker Crate. Each month you will be mailed everything you need for the perfect at-home maker experience.
- K’NEX Education Intro to Structures Bridges Set: KNEX has a ton of great sets, but this one is particularly cool as you are set up to build 13 fully functioning replicas of real-life bridges. Builders learn about infrastructure by demonstrating key bridge types, such as truss, arch, cantilever, beam, suspension, movable/bascule and cable-stayed bridges.
- Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions Science and Building Kit: Get your kids to build moving machines that solve real problems. This kit comes with 80 pages of instructions, 33 LEGO pieces, instructions for 10 modules, 6 plastic balls, string, paper ramps and other components.
- POWERUP Paper Airplanes: Ever wanted to give a paper airplane a boost? Now you can. POWERUP 2.0 is an electric paper airplane kit that uses quick charging to boost your airplane for 30 seconds of flight time. Handmade paper bodies enable tons of options for creativity and customization.
- Brilliant, a subscription-based online puzzle platform that’s sure to test your brain no matter what age.
Smart Scientists. Science class can be really fun, especially when you actually get your hands dirty. These gifts bring the science lab home and allow you to dive into and explore deeply scientific principles:
- SmartLab Toys Ultimate Secret Formula Lab: This formula lab comes with 40 experiments that teach kids about scientific principles such as air pressure, fluid dynamics, acids and bases by exploring chemical reactions with different substances from around the house.
- Edible Chemistry Kit: Enough said.
- ThinkFun Gravity Maze: Putting the “maze” in “amazing,” this game tests your child’s reasoning skills, visual perception and so much more. With over 60 different challenges, this is a marble run game for the ages.
Can’t Forget the Classics
- Thames and Kosmos Crystal Growing: Prepare to be amazed by this crystal growing set, dazzling crystals that you won’t believe came from your own home.
- My First Lab Whodunnit? Forensic Microscope Kit: It’s like Clue, but you’re in it.
- Erector Set: One of 25 different vehicle sets, this one enables you to build a real, working crane.
Keep an eye out for a different type of gift guide in early December—the best experiential gifts to give this season. In the meantime, what’s your favorite educational gift? Share in the comments section below!
For more, see:
- Cultivating An Innovation Mindset in the Classroom
- Artificial Intelligence is Reshaping Life On Earth: 101 Examples
- 60+ Education Gifts to Add to Your List
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