My Top Educational Toy Recommendations

I am a teacher by trade, and a mama by … everything else.  =)  I am very picky about the toys my kids have, and though I do allow a few “junk” toys in the house, for the most part we have books and educational toys.

I know I was a terrible gift giver before I had a teacher’s education and my own children.

A fellow homeschooling (and dear) friend, and a few other people have asked me what we use for toys at 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- 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 w 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.  We don’t have the cards yet, but she loves the blocks
4. Unifix Cubes, or some sort of snapping cube.  We don’t have unifix cubes, though we would love a set!  We have those that you saw in my blog post about our learning room/playroom (she was playing w them on the table).  Lexie uses them the same way (but they’re not meant for building so they don’t work quite as well).  Unifix cubes are great for building, sorting, counting, 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 forking out the extra $ for the bigger set.  (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.  Anyway- this set is SO nice.  Much nicer than I expected- it’s 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 kinda explore with them first, then when she asked, I showed her what they were really for.  For a few days she refused to make letters with them (I think because she wasn’t sure she actually could) but then one day she started using them just like I showed her- look at the card, get the pieces you need, build the letter. She also uses them for drums, and Max teethes with them.  =)
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.  I think once we have more tracks (read, when Max is bigger) she will play with the tracks a lot more.  Just beware, if you are a train set novice like me, they are not all created equal. They are not all compatible with each other.  The Thomas Wooden Railway is great, and you can buy pieces for it at most major stores.  The Melissa and Doug set is not compatible with Thomas.  There are off brands you can find on Amazon that say they are compatible with Thomas… I can’t tell you if they really are or not.  We started out with a smaller track set, but I hope to build it so we can make crazy, huge tracks around the living room!
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 so far, she knows it’s a clock but we haven’t really talked about time. She likes to share this with Max and teach him all about it.
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.  She knew all her letter at 18 months, all her letter sounds before she was 2.5, and can identify her numbers through 10 (but can count higher).  Sometimes the most simple things are so great for learning!
9. A small dry erase board and dry erase markers– my mom brought one for the trip from Memphis to York when we moved.  Lexie 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….)  But the board is just like a small 12 x 12 board.  I want a big one for the wall downstairs, so I’ve been stalking craigslist.  But the dry erase board is 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.
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.
Magnets– these are toys we don’t really have yet, but I KNOW she would love them.  I’m not sure about buying the kiddy sets online, because most all reviews on each brand say they are cheap and break easily.  We are tough on toys, so I am going to look around to find some sturdy (maybe industrial?) magnets.  (edit: My dad is sending us some super awesome industrial magnets from his shop!  I cannot wait!) There are so many things you can do with magnets!

Lacing cards– we have a few different sets of these from friends and family.  Lexie LOVES them and they are something fun to do together as well.  She pretends she is sewing with them.  great for fine motor, critical thinking, and fine motor skills.

So, there it is my tops list of toys for toddlers through much older 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.

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  1. Ginny Gafford says:

    Love this post! 🙂
    I have foam letters and numbers that I need to get out more. They’re in the tub right now. I got our the magnets and Nyla has shown a huge interest in them. If she doesn’t know the letter, she asks and then we talk about who or what starts with each letter. She thinks that is fun.
    We have some of the pattern blocks too. Ours aren’t really blocks though. We have boards, different pictures (turtle, flower, train, etc) and they’re like a puzzle. I asked for them for Christmas and totally forgot about it. I got it out yesterday and she didn’t seem interested in making the shape on the board. She just sorted the things, which is fine and I didn’t push it, but today she actually put different ones together. It takes some fine motor skills to place the tiles without knocking them around. She did 3 or 4 and was very proud of herself. I think we’ll use this a lot!
    Ny’s birthday is coming up in 2 months (eek!) and while we usually don’t ask for bday gifts I’m going to throw a couple ideas to our parents and my sister, as they always like to get her a little something. I think I’ll ask for amazon gift cards to get a few of these or just send them the link to what I want. 🙂 If we’re going to get toys, I want what I think she’ll like and actually play with!

    Awesome post, my friend.

    • Megs501 says:

      Ginny, I saw pictures of her with those patterning block puzzles- those are SO cool. I really like those! It does take a lot of skill to put those little pieces on there- way to go Ny! That’s awesome she is enjoying them so much.

      We put back Christmas gifts too, and pull them out through out all year. (Then it feels like you get something new and fun once a month or so. haha)
      I feel the same as you about asking for gifts and things. If they ask me what to get, I give suggestions like you said. And, giftcards are always awesome!

      Can you believe our girls are growing up so fast?! Wow!

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