Under Five Gift Guide: What Are the Best Learning Toys?

children playing with blocks

Under Five Gift Guide: What Are the Best Learning Toys?

With all the toy options out there, it can be challenging to know just what to give a young child to encourage learning – and fun! After all, the toys you choose can determine how your child plays. Is their play solitary or social? Active or passive?   

In addition, the right toys can promote cognitive, language, physical, social and emotional development, which helps to build a strong foundation for future learning.  

Below are some key factors to consider as you pick out toys for little ones. 

illustrated children playing with book and play kitchenEducational Toys:

There are plenty of toy options that can help create meaningful learning experiences for young children. 

  • Books: Books never go out of style. Choose books on your child’s favorite topics that you can read to (or with) your child—or choose some they can read on their own! 
  • Writing tools: Encourage writing by providing a kit of unique writing tools such as glitter pens, large and small crayons, colored pencils, and markers. Add variety by including themed paper based on their favorite things (e.g., animal- or truck-themed paper). 
  • Counting toys: Any item can become a counting experience, so choose themed toys based on what your child loves and make them into counting games. For example, small dinosaur figures, animals, or miniature blocks can be made into endless math stories. 
  • Real life: Children love to re-enact their real world through play. Kitchen sets, grocery store items, cash registers, and other toys resembling home, stores, or school are often popular and allow for endless solitary or social play. 

illustrated children playing with a hula hoop and doll houseToys with Add-On Components:

Some toys (sets of blocks, action figures, doll houses, etc.) sometimes lose their excitement over time. Consider gifts that help add a little novelty to existing toy sets.  

  • Block set add-ons: Look for blocks that have houses or other town features, small play rugs with a theme (e.g., city, jungle, school), ramps and cars, or small fabric swatches. 
  • Doll house add-ons: Complement the existing set with additional furniture, outdoor accessories, or vehicles. 
  • Outdoor play add-ons: Encourage more outside time with hula hoops, outdoor games, obstacle courses, or dress-up clothing for community helpers. 

illustrated children making a fort and building a block towerOpen-Ended Toys:

Let your child take the lead in designing their own play. These types of toys promote creativity and problem-solving and can be used over and over in new ways each time. 

  • Building materials like blocks: These toys can help develop spatial skills, creativity, engineering, motor skills, coordination, balance and more. 
  • Wooden or plastic ramps: Combine these with vehicles and balls of various sizes and let your child explore how each moves. 
  • Cardboard fasteners: These are unique, reusable tools that allow children to build forts, homes for their stuffed animals, or a secret hideout. 
  • Fabric: This can be a great element for endless hours of fun building forts.  

illustrated children playing with an action figure and play cash registerSocial Play Toys:

When purchasing toys, think about items that would be well-suited for play with multiple children. Many toys can easily encourage social play as long as there are enough items for all of the children involved.  

  • Store scene: A cash register with grocery items and a shopping cart make a great interactive toy set.  
  • Action figures: A simple set of action figures and dolls with a variety of open-ended materials make a great play set too. 

There are many different types of toys to choose from, but if you think about what you’d like your child to get out of their playtime, it’s much easier to find the perfect toy! Before making a purchase, be mindful of the age recommendation to ensure the toy is safe and age-appropriate. 

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