The 10 Best Learning Toys For Preschoolers
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As your child grows into the preschool years, picking out the right educational toys can feel daunting: What’s too babyish and what’s beyond their skill set? Well, I’ve done the work for you, and rounded up some of the best learning toys for preschoolers that will engage them in age-appropriate play to exercise developmental skills. The right toys can help your preschooler learn through sensory exploration, hands-on play, problem-solving, trial and error, and more.
During the preschool years, learning through play is still an ideal way to engage children in new concepts. Fine motor and gross motor skills remain important during this stage, and some learning toys will help preschoolers practice language, cognitive, and social skills that help them reach age-appropriate developmental milestones. An never underestimate a toy that lends itself to dramatic or pretend play. "Play is what children do. It is an essential part of learning," Lee Scott, an early childhood education expert, told Romper in a previous article. "As children play, they learn to collaborate, communicate, test out ideas, build vocabulary, create, solve problems, and do much more."
Kids 3 to 5 years old are considered preschoolers, but there’s a lot of growing and development that happens between when they’re borderline toddlers or enrolling in kindergarten. So I’ve listed the recommended age range for each toy below, but you’ll notice several picks can engage this age group for years.
With all this in mind, these are the best learning toys for preschoolers, along with the developmental skills the brand promises they’ll help support.
1. This Classic Set Of Building Blocks
- Recommended Age: 18 months and up
- Developmental Skills: creative thinking, problem-solving, visual-spatial awareness, fine motor skills
A set of LEGOs is a classic kid toy for a reason, and these DUPLO bricks have staying power from your child’s toddler days through the preschool years thanks to their larger, easy-to-grab size. This set of 85 pieces opens up a world of building and creativity for younger children without frustration.
The set of colorful bricks also comes with fun add-ons, like a car, flowers, balloons, a cake, and numbered bricks. Plus, everything fits in the matching storage box. This toy is consistently a fan favorite, with a near-perfect 4.9-star rating on Amazon after more than 1,000 reviews.
A helpful review: “Our 3 year old loves duplo and has received some small sets over the years. This set completes his collection and he can mix and match them all. There is a great variety of shapes and colors, and [it] comes with a booklet if you want to do specific builds. We like to just explore our creativity and see what we can come up with!”
2. An Award-Winning Cooperative Board Game
- Recommended Age: 3 years old and up
- Developmental Skills: emotional development, shared decision making, positive self-esteem, creative problem-solving, counting, social skills, cooperative play
This cooperative board game engages two to four players in helping a mother hen gather all her baby chicks after they’ve flown the coop. Using a spinner, all players work together to move their spaces across the board until all the chicks are collected. The game is easy enough for even younger preschoolers to play, and in the end, no one is left upset about “losing” the board game. Plus, the play time is just 15 minutes.
This pick is a highly rated one with over 1,000 reviews; plus, this award-winning board game is the recipient of the 2011 Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, 2011 Creative Child Magazine Game of the Year Award, and Major Fun Award. You’ll also appreciate that this game is made with eco-friendly practices in mind, including using soy-based inks, corn-based plastic, FSC-certified (aka sustainable) wood, and FSC-certified paper.
A helpful review: “This was the first game that I found that my 4 year old daughter would play with me. She's not much into games, but the idea of helping the mommy hen get her babies back into their 'crib' won her over. It’s just a simple counting game, no multiple players that [elicit] fights and whining or cheating, 'no fair', or who won/ didn't win. All players use the one mommy chicken and count together the baby chicks they collect to their coop. I love that this is educational and supports teamwork in disguise!”
3. A Bead Jewelry Toy For Your Older Preschoolers
- Recommended Age: 4 to 10 years old
- Developmental Skills: encourages creativity, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination
Snapping these beads together into necklaces or bracelets will help improve your preschooler’s fine motor skills as they play. The jewelry set includes 275 colorful plastic beads and seven rings and bracelets that pop together and click apart so children can build an endless number of fun, wearable creations. Plus, everything fits into the jar once playtime is over.
A helpful review: “My 5 year old son plays with these in occupational therapy with his therapist. They are excellent for hand strengthening and he doesn't even realize he's ‘working’ when he plays with them! This set comes with bracelets and rings, which he loves to make for myself and his sister. There are also tons of beads of different textures and sizes that he can lock together to create anything his little mind can imagine. He will sit and play with these for 45 minutes at a time, and we can also take them with us on the go! I highly recommend them to anyone whose child needs hand strengthening activities or who just loves to be creative!”
4. An Easel For Sparking Their Artistic Side
- Recommended Age: 36 months — 7 years old
- Developmental Skills: encourages creativity and emotional expression, fine motor skills
Investing in a standing art easel will yield years of creative fun for your preschooler. This is a much-loved one with over 8,000 reviews, and there are several ways to create with it. One side features a dry-erase board and on the other is a chalkboard, while a locking paper roll holder can dispense a canvas for coloring or painting. Preschoolers can practice their letters and numbers and play with paint on this one stand.
This wooden easel also features a child-safe paper cutter, four easy-clip grips to hold the paper in place, and two large plastic trays for accessories. It’s also easy to assemble, height-adjustable, and folds flat for storage. Keep in mind the easel doesn’t come with paper or other art accessories, but here are some paper rolls and paint and brush set to get your child artist started.
A helpful review: “This is a great product. [...] My 4 year old has created one masterpiece after another. It has been great fun and wonderful practice for her writing skills. Sturdy, cleans up easily. Actually a toy you can feel good about spending money on. I recommend it!”
5. A Daily Calendar To Teach The Concept Of Time & Days Of The Week
- Recommended Age: 36 months to 7 years old
- Developmental Skills: imitating grown-ups, building responsibility and independence, the concept of time, days of the week
Your increasingly independent preschooler will be thrilled to update this daily calendar with the day of the week, date, weather, activities for the day, and special events. There’s even a spot on this wooden calendar for your kiddo to update everyone on how they’re feeling that day. This educational toy is a consistent favorite with the preschool crowd as it maintains a 4.7-star rating and over 10,000 reviews. It is made mostly from wood and fabric and is conveniently designed with a hook for hanging.
A helpful review: “I really like this daily calendar. It helps me teach my 4 year old the concept of time. She’s able to learn yesterday, today, and tomorrow by placing the appropriate days of the week on the calendar helping her understand past, present, and future tenses by incorporating activities she has planned for those days. This daily calendar has spots for those things as well as the weather and season. It’s a great teaching tool [...]”
6. This Montessori Tool Toy That Teaches Practical Skills
- Recommended Age: 3 years and up
- Developmental Skills: hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, dexterity, hands-on skills
If you have a budding engineer or builder in your home, this screw driver board toy is bound to be a hit. It provides hands-on skills with a small wrench, screwdriver, and L-shaped hexagon wrench that are used to tighten and loosen five different types of screws to a small wooden board (which is made from 100% solid wood). The quality Montessori learning toy has a 4.7-star rating and is compact enough to double as a great travel toy option.
A helpful review: “This toy doubles as a learning item, would recommend for older kids as the screw driver is sharp!”
7. An Easy-To-Steer Scooter That Engages Gross Motor Skills
- Recommended Age: 2 to 5 years old
- Developmental skills: balance, coordination, agility, gross motor skills, fine motor skills
The Micro Kickboard scooter stands out for its “lean-to-steer” design that’s pretty intuitive for young kids learning how to ride. Kids learn to use their body weight to steer either left or right. It’s a smooth-gliding and stable scooter that will last years, and it’s lightweight but strong enough to hold up to 110 pounds.
Learning how to ride on the scooter will develop skills that will benefit your preschooler as they go on to play sports or learn how to ride a bicycle. Plus, gradually going for faster and longer rides will boost your little one’s confidence, too.
This sturdy scooter’s handlebar and most steering parts are made of aluminum while the rest is made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic and rubber. The wheels and reinforced deck absorb bumps in the sidewalk well. And parents, you’ll love this: there’s no assembly required other than just inserting the handlebar into the base. This durable toy is another favorite with a 4.8-star rating and over 2,000 reviews, plus several awards, including the 2014 ASTRA Best Toy Award, Parent’s Choice Award 2010, and the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum.
A helpful review: “My 3.5 year old can ride this like a champ, as could his older sister (she has her own) at 3. She is now 6 and still uses hers all the time. I intended to pass hers down to her brother, but this is the second summer they are both using the Mini Micro. The scooter is so easy to steer, no jackknifes, and the brake works well. My daughter now at almost 7 could probably move up to the larger size, but she's still good with this one.”
8. A Camping Trip Set That’s Perfect For Pretend Play
- Recommended Age: 3 years and up
- Developmental skills: motor skills, imagination, creativity
Kids love to pretend they are doing very adult things, like embarking on an outdoor adventure — and this 45-piece camping trip set encourages pretend play and allows them to use their imagination. It comes with a tent (of course), an oil lamp, gas stove, magnifying glass, binoculars, all of the pretend food they’d need to whip up a campfire feast, and even adorable and thoughtful extras like 15 fake insects so they can really feel like they’re out in the woods. All of the pieces are made from nontoxic, BPA-free plastic and items like the oil lantern and stove glow to mimic real-life experiences (batteries are not included). The tent collapses for easy storage and a storage bag with handles is included.
A helpful review: “Way better quality than we were expecting. Some of the tools are actually usable and practical for taking camping. For example, the whistle/flashlight/compass was way above expectations. The tent is fantastic quality also. [...] Our daughter LOVES the little bugs that come with this set. [...] The magnifying glass and Velcro fruit were also quite popular. [...] Overall, our daughter absolutely adores this camping set and it gives her more toys to keep her outside during the day.... soaking in the sunshine and fresh air! Highly recommend!”
9. These Colorful Magnetic Tiles For Creating 3-D Masterpieces
- Recommended Age: 3 years and up
- Developmental skills: 2D and 3D shape recognition, teamwork and cooperation skills, fine motor skills, spatial skills, symmetry, creative problem-solving
LEGO is great, but it isn’t the only building option for preschoolers who love to create 3-D masterpieces. These colorful, translucent Magna-Tiles come with two large and 14 small squares, eight equilateral triangles, four right-angle triangles, and four isosceles triangles (they’re never too young to introduce them to a variety of geometric shapes). Each shape is made from nontoxic, BPA-free food-grade plastic and the shapes magnetically connect to one another so your little one can build the tallest skyscraper or as many other interesting creations as they can imagine. This popular pick has an impressive 4.9-star rating and more than 6,000 reviews. When you’re ready to add to your Magna-Tile collection, there are a number of expansion sets so the building fun never ends.
A helpful review: “I have a 4 year old daughter who likes to build things and I want to encourage that. [....] They were an instant hit! I never could imagine my kids would have liked a toy this simple. My daughter doesn't have the greatest fine motor skills so building toys that need tools would have been frustrating for her. With Magna Tiles, you just hold pieces next to each other and they snap together! They have great balance, too. She's made pretty skinny 3D towers out of triangles and it gets pretty high before it falls apart. When you're done, just crash down on everything with spread hands and you're ready to go again. [...] Try these, you'll love them!”
10. A Jigsaw Puzzle Map Of The World
- Recommended Age: 5 years and up
- Developmental skills: fine motor skills, attention span, creative curiosity, learn about continents, oceans and countries
Older preschoolers will have a blast putting this giant 3-by-2-foot floor world map jigsaw puzzle together and will simultaneously take a trip around the world and learn about continents, countries, and oceans, as well as specific sites and even animals that live in each country. The set comes with 54 pieces that are larger in size, so it isn’t too intimidating for young children, and the set even comes with geography quiz cards to test your child’s knowledge.
A helpful review: “The quality and simplicity of the whole product would be the main point here - the outer box is very strong and it helps the storage. The puzzle pieces are covered in a simple plastic bag, but after you open the first time, you can just leave it in the box. In addition to that, there are some quiz cards about places in the world - still not using it that much as my son is still a little under 4. The puzzle size is the key here — 54 pieces. That provides a good time to assemble together and still helps with the short attention span.[...] We assemble the puzzle almost everyday now, it became one of my kid's favorites. If you want a "world map puzzle", there is no need to search for others... highly recommended to all.”
Lee Scott, Chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at The Goddard School