Top Educational Toys for Toddlers-PreK

*original post May 2013, updated*

I am a teacher by trade, and a mama by … everything else.  =)  My husband and I try to keep educational/classic toys and books in our home, avoiding twaddle, and “junk” toys.

A fellow homeschooling (and dear) friend, and a few other readers have asked me what we use for toys in our house (I think my reputation for a toy nazi must precede me?!).  So I thought I would make an easy list of educational and fun learning toys that we enjoy or wish we had to enjoy.

These have really been a blessing in our home and homeschool- I know that seems ridiculous to say about “toys,” things that are material.  But they have really helped Lexie learn so much, often times on her own, or through questioning me.  Many things were gifts or bought with gift money from family and friends.  We are very grateful for their love and support.

This is a list that excludes puzzles, books, baby dolls, and toy trucks, etc-the general toys kids have aren’t on here.  I will do another post on those recommendations.  But I don’t think you would generally find many of these items in most homes.

These are not in a particular order, except the first one.  All the others Lexie plays with equally as much or in conjunction with the Magna Tiles.  haha

1. Magna Tiles!  You probably saw my post.  They are an investment … I know; I was nervous clicking the checkout button.  BUT, they’re amazing learning fun!  Last time I talked about them on here (the light table post) I wasn’t kidding about grabbing them for $120 with free shipping and the free book promotion.  That is no longer available, two weeks later.  I scoped theses things out for weeks to get that deal; but it sells out quickly.
2. Sorting bears– she loves them.  And they are great for her to play with during independent play.  They are good for learning and imaginative play-this set comes in 3 different sizes.  We read the three bears and then I introduced them.  She plays with them several days a week (if you get them, be sure to get the set with 3 sizes like the one in the link)
3. These basic pattern blocks get used ALL the time, for all different things.  They also make the pattern block cards that go with them, to use for more instruction type learning/play.  My younger children love using the pattern block cards independently while I school with my olders.
4. Unifix Cubes, or some sort of snapping cube.  Unifix cubes are great for building, sorting, counting, and learning about number sense, etc.  They’re a great math manipulative!  I linked to the 500 count set because 100 isn’t really enough.  When you get into complicated math down the road (multiplication, division, fractions) you will need more than 100 to compare amounts, makes graphs, etc.  So I’d suggest the larger set if you are able  (Especially if you will have more than one child using them at a time)
5. This letter construction set is Ah-MAZING.  I think I paid $25 w shipping (we have amazon prime, it’s worth it just for the shipping on Christmas gifts for family, alone!)  The set is a little more now.  The set is very strong, the pieces are big and wide so they’re easy for little hands to manipulate, and it’s fun.
This wasn’t a toy Lexie just jumped into- I let her explore with them first, then when she asked, I showed her what they were really for.  Now, a few years later, all of my children enjoy this set.
6. The Thomas Wooden Railway.  She loves it and uses it all the time.  We got the wooden one, and the wooden trains to go with it (we only have a few, but she seems happy with that for now).  I thought she would get frustrated with it, because the tracks have to be put together a certain way, unless you have enough track pieces then it doesn’t matter.  But she doesn’t.  She just pretends, takes it apart, can almost get it back together correctly… but often she plays with the trains without the tracks. **All 4 children now enjoy this train set, playing with the train tracks, and the trains. One of the first sounds baby #4 learned was “choo choo”
7. this shape sorter wooden clock by Melissa and Doug.  I know- it looks simple but it has seriously been on her table in the living room for over a year, and she plays with it almost daily.  We have used it for numbers, colors, and shapes.
8. Lexie learned her letters and letter sounds with foam bath letters and numbers like these (they were a gift for her first bday, I have no clue what brand ours are.  But they are a nice thick foam made for the bath tub, though they’ve never been in the tub…)
She lines them up, sorts them by color, stands them up (that takes some time and focus!) She still plays with them regularly.  They are one of the toys I don’t really rotate out. Our set came with numbers as well.  This is also how she learned her numbers.  I would just point to the letter/number and tell her its name and the sound it made.  Sometimes the most simple things are so great for learning! She has done the same with her younger siblings, teaching them on her own.
9. A small dry erase board and dry erase markers– my mom brought one for the trip from Memphis to NE when we moved.  Bug really likes it, but it isn’t something I let her have all the time (we are learning not to bang the marker on the board….)  The board is a small 12 x 12 board, great for playing, and learning to write.  The one linked has both a lined side, and a blank side; so as children develop their writing skills they can use the lined side.  We enjoy ours so far!
10. Her doll house– it is the fisher price loving family dollhouse, I had when I was a kid.  She plays with it all the time, and we play with it together.
11. water beads– you may have seen my post.  Cheap and fun (and they come in colors, too)!  They aren’t something we do every day, or even every week.  But Lexie LOVES them!  I think we may cover them in shaving cream for some extra sensory fun in the next few days.
12. Magnets– So much fun, so much learning and exploring.

13. Lacing cards– we have a few different sets of these from friends and family.  My kids use them often, they are something fun to do together as well.  They pretend to sew, knit, and crochet like mama.  Great for fine motor, critical thinking, and hand eye coordination.

14. Melissa and Doug Buckets– we have a few different versions of these- they are all VERY well loved, and have held up so to much abuse play. Living on a farm, outside toys like buckets get used on an almost daily basis and these have no disappointed! This is one toy that we can’t really have too many of.

15. ABC Bean Bags– I cannot count the ways we use these bean bags! One way, is by throwing them into those buckets I posted above. These have been so much fun for all ages in our home (7 down to baby). We toss, stack, count, hide, and tote around these bean bags daily. We also like our shapes bean bags and I plan to get the number bean bags eventually.

So, there are my top toys for toddlers through PreK children.  Of course always supervise your young children with any toy.

*This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for supporting my site!  I was not paid or compensated in anyway for these opinions; they are my own.

Light Table Fun and Magna Tiles

Well, there was a big day in our house a few weeks ago.  It took J.Tom several nights, and a couple of weekends to complete, but he built the kids (well, just Lexie for now…) a light table!  I had seen them over at Play At Home Mom.  We used several of her tips for building your own light table, found on her site here.

For months I drooled over the light table and all the fun activities it provided.  I couldn’t wait for JTom to get some free time to make her one.  As you probably know, we try to keep the house free of toys that don’t encourage learning or using the imagination.  The light table was a definite YES item!  It is awesome.  A light table can be used to learn about shadow, light, contrast, color, size, shape, and many sensory activities can be done using it.  So, after much hard work and me splurging on a few things to use with the table, here it is


The box, with hardwire outlet for lights
J.Tom working
laying out the lights.  He lined the bottom inside of the table with foil to reflect more light

the table top, upside down.  The bottom is hinged, so the bulbs can be changed 
(for when they go out AND to black lights!  FUN!)


Building with Magnatiles- GREAT investment!

Let’s line them up!


“I will build you a house mommy!”
Her church and coins

The transparent Magna Tiles are a must have, whether you have a light table or not!  They really are so much fun, but I think they are one of those things- either a kid has the personality that loves them, or they could care less.  I would (but probably shouldn’t) say that most boys are going to love them, and some girls may not be very interested in them.  Lexie happens to really enjoy playing with them; she has a huge imagination, can focus on one thing for quite some time, and loves to build.  They are a learning tool (which is the only reason I was okay with spending so much money on them) I was going to put away and only pull out at certain times, but she enjoys them so much, we keep them out at all times!  J.Tom and I both play with them at least once a day with her.  And we all share with Max; at 7.5 months old he is learning about shapes too!  =)

Right now, Amazon has the 100 piece set for 20 free shipping!  I really wish when I’d bought her 38 piece set that they’d had this deal!  Apparently, they sell very quickly, and since they are such a hot item, the price sky rockets when you purchase from anyone other than Valtech (through Amazon) because they aren’t always available through them (yes… I did that much research on them before I purchased  haha).  I paid $50 for the 38 piece set, and would have gotten the 100 piece for $120 if it had been offered at the time; you really need more than 38 pieces to construct really fun, elaborate shapes and “buildings.”  

Valtech, the company that makes and sells Magna-Tiles , is also having a promotion through Amazon right now.  When you buy the 100 piece set above, you get the Magna Tiles Manipulative Guide free!  Just be sure to follow the instructions on how to get it.  Rather than show the Guide as “free” and $0 in your cart, it will take a few dollars off everything in your cart until it totals $10 off (which is the cost of the book).  The book is a great resource, because there are so many ways to use and create with the Magna-Tiles, you couldn’t possibly think of them all.  So the guide helps you be even more creative and intentional during learning.

When you make a purchase following the links in this post, I earn a small amount of money back on your purchase (sometimes only pennies); but this is much appreciated and helps support this blog.
I got the counters (little transparent circles) here.
She enjoys using these with the Magna Tiles.  She sorts them by color, puts them inside the boxes and buildings she makes, etc.

I plan on doing many more posts on our fun with the light table.  So stay tuned!  Also, what kind of fun would you like to see using the light table?


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