Playing is the most powerful (and fun) way for children to learn! It is the foundation of my speech-therapy treatment! Kids have innate curiosity and creativity, so engaging them in play is a no-brainer! Those toys and games labeled “educational” are not required to encourage learning. All kinds of toys, games, and activities support cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional development. Through play, children experiment, make choices, solve problems, and learn from their experiences. Playing toys and games helps kids acquire essential life skills like teamwork, communication, and conflict resolution. These are some of my favorite toys and games that pave the path for lifelong learning!
Learning Resources Farmer's Market Color Sorting Set introduces children to the concept of colors, counting, and sorting. The fruits and vegetables are pretty real-looking. The colored baskets that come with the set give kids the opportunity to sort and group the foods. I like to hide the fruits and veggies, and the kids have a blast seeking them before categorizing them. I love this toy because it enhances cognitive, linguistic, and motor development, but mostly because it’s fun!
Critter Clinic (previously called “Animal Hospital”) has been one of my favorites for 20 years! The combination of imaginative play, such as pretending to be a veterinarian, with the educational elements of learning colors, counting, concepts like open & close, vocabulary development about animals and healthcare, the hands-on activities like using keys in the doors, and giving a “shot” to a “patient” really help encourage fine motor skills. Kids can put any type of item (foods, vehicles, people (toy ones, the real ones won’t fit!)) behind the doors, creating a toy that is different every time they play it!
Outfoxed is hands-down my favorite board game to play with children! I actually like to play it, and kids seem to love it! It seamlessly combines strategy and deductive reasoning with a fun mystery where the players are detectives, who try to find out which fox stole a pot pie. Another plus, Outfoxed is a cooperative game so players work together to solve the mystery. Teamwork is huge for enhancing communication skills, and fun is huge for kids!
Marble Runs have so many educational benefits! In my experience, most kids like to build, promoting early STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning. So, kids build colorful tracks to create a run for marbles that will give hands-on experience with concepts like gravity, momentum, spatial reasoning, and cause-and-effect. Children get to use their imaginations to generate unique creations each time they play!
Melissa & Doug Cupcakes are high quality, fun, and full of imaginative play and educational value! This is a great introduction to following directions in a recipe as well as working on sequential concepts like “first, next, last”. I actually take the children into the kitchen, where we can discuss the idea that the oven is hot, and only adults can use the oven. We put the cupcakes in the (cold) oven, set a timer for a few moments, and then they’re finished cooking! Now kids can get creative, adding the frosting and decorative touches with dry erase icing markers. This toy is another great supporter of fine-motor development.
Flip Flop Faces is a bright and colorful good time! Using bean bags to “flip” over a face is a great way to encourage gross-motor development and coordination. It promotes emotional intelligence in children, introducing them to such emotions as “angry”, “happy”, “sad” or “scared” among others. The different emotions are shown on the faces and written on the bean bags. There’s the opportunity for pre-reading and linguistic skills development. I really like to have the kids imagine what could be making the face “surprised”, encouraging storytelling and imagination.
Gear offers a hands-on exploration of fundamental concepts in engineering, mechanics, and problem-solving. These toys encourage children to experiment with gears, axles, and interlocking pieces, helping them grasp the principles of cause and effect, as well as spatial reasoning. These toys foster critical thinking, creativity, and fine motor skills while introducing STEM concepts in an engaging and enjoyable way.
Farm Animals in Barns includes ten farm animal finger puppets (very cute sheep, cow, horse, dog, duck, and more), each with a small barn for its home. I love this for encouraging imitation of sounds and the role-playing done with the animals. This is definitely a great vocabulary builder: animals, colors, numbers (each barn has a number with a coordinating number of dots), and concepts like open/close; top/bottom; in/out; off/on. The use of finger puppets is great for fine motor development, and toy animals are always a great inspiration for fun imaginative play!
Learning Resources Counters, which come in many themes, are always being used in my therapy room! Maybe because they have tiny fingers (fine motor development here), but they all seem to love these tiny animals, vehicles, foods, people, dinosaurs, and more! Add tactile learning with math, science, colors, counting, sorting, and patterns to equal amazing hands-on fun! Imaginative play abounds, promoting creativity and language development.
Roll & Play is another toy I’ve been using for years! It gets kiddos moving, which is always fun, and encourages gross motor development. Children roll a large, colorful, plush die (which I use for many other activities) and pick a card that corresponds to the color rolled. The cards require kids to actively listen to directions and following them promotes social, cognitive, and emotional development. All this in addition to color recognition and getting to act silly!
I am an Amazon affiliate. This means that when you click on certain product links featured in this post and make a purchase on Amazon, I may earn a small commission without any extra cost to you.