What is an educational toy? You could argue that any toy is educational (even a rock or a stick) but the difference with toys labelled ‘educational’ is that they have been designed specifically to develop a particular social, emotional, intellectual or physical skill suited to a targeted age group. So, doubtless you’ll be including them into your teaching arsenal.
To help you navigate the magnitude of things on the market for children, here are some must-haves to suit all budgets, age groups and types of play.
6 months +: Stacking Sets
Stacking sets are useful for children as young as six months as old: bright colours and shapes stimulate the senses and begin introducing very young children to colour. As little ones grow old enough to start lifting and dropping colourful ring sets, they’ll learn about the world by exploring shapes and textures with their hands and mouth, boost their hand to eye coordination and strengthen their fingers too.
1 to 2 years: Balls
Toddlers can follow a colourful ball across a room as it rolls along the floor. This teaches them to follow direction and anticipate location, and also helps them to coordinate their eye and body movements. Just as importantly, following a ball with their eyes teaches toddlers the principle that even though something is out of sight right now, it’s not necessarily gone forever. As children grow older, balls are great for refining motor skills as they practice throwing, catching and rolling. Older children will have great fun rolling them down slides and surfaces to learn some basic physics: weightier balls roll faster, inclines affect speed and direction, and even surface texture can be manipulated to speed up or slow down movement.
2 to 3 years: Building Blocks
Okay – two year olds probably aren’t going to replicate the London Bridge with their block building, but they will be able to pile, haul and drop blocks. On the way, they’ll get to learn about balance and weight, as well as stability. But best of all, young children will be gently introduced to scientific concepts at this tender age, learning (generally) about gravity: after all, what comes up must come down! This is often the most fun activity with this educational toy for children of this age: the chaos and noise created by knocking down a pile of building blocks is exciting and rewarding. They’ll also learn that unstable things fall down, whereas stable structures take more effort to topple.
3 to 4 years: Messy Play Kits
Messy play is particularly important for early years and primary education. Why not have a sandpit or water area ready and waiting in your classroom? As well as being fun and informal, it teaches children basic motor skills as they use spades, scoops and buckets to play with the sand and water, and also teaches them vital social skills as they interact with each other and with you. If you fancy doing something a little different, messy play is perfectly possible with paints and soil too, as well as play dough, slime, rainbow foam, rubbery plastic, chalk and salt dough – check out our blog post detailing messy play recipes.