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Naturally, you want to steer your children away from screens…but unless you provide them with something fun to play with, your kids are basically moths to the iPad light. So how can you ensure that fun and learning collide? From toddler ABCs to fourth-grade multiplication, here’s our guide to the very best educational toys for kids of every age.
RELATED: The 75 Best Gifts for Kids of Every Age, From 0 to 15
1. Green Toys Shape Sorter Truck (Ages 1 to 5)
There’s more than meets the eye to this brightly colored toy truck. Tiny tots who are just starting to perfect their grasp will enjoy dumping the pieces (a square, star, triangle and circle) into this truck’s back bin, while older kids can work on fine motor skills and shape recognition by sorting the pieces into their corresponding slots. And once your kid is past the toddler stage, you can use this toy as a lesson in sustainability—it’s made from recycled plastic milk jugs to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Lightweight shapes that are ideal for small hands
Made from 100 percent recycled materials
Easy-to-clean and dishwasher-safe
$27 at Amazon
2. Geomag Polar Animals Toys (Ages 18 months+)
Young children love stacking things but small fingers mean that they don’t always get it right…cue the toddler tantrum. This set of magnetic cubes takes away some of that frustration, while still allowing little builders to work on fine motor skills and STEM learning. (And come on, how adorable are those polar animals?)
Eight building blocks help develop engineering skills
Task cards provide building ideas
Magnetic blocks prevent “why won’t this stay put” outbursts
$22 at Amazon
3. Little Partners Learning Tower and Developmental Activity Board (Ages 18 months+)
It’s an exciting day when your babe moves on from bashing her toys and starts pretend play… except now you can’t do anything in the kitchen without her wanting to join you and play sous-chef. Annoying? Yes. But learning by imitation is an important stage of development, so you’d be wise to nurture this curiosity. Enter this learning tower—designed by a Montessori school educator, it elevates your kid to kitchen counter height so she can get in on the action (and you can still get dinner on the table). You can also buy educational boards—like this one, which helps kids improve their color perception and coordination—that attach to the sides of the tower. This board in particular helps kids work on color perception and coordination. (Psst: The lightweight boards also make great travel toys).
Learning tower fosters independence and interactive learning
Interactive learning board with 20 sequence cards attaches to the learning tower and promotes color and shape recognition, plus hand-eye coordination
Made from wood with non-toxic finish
$200 at Amazon$45 at Amazon
4. Learning Resources Alphabet Acorns Activity Set (Ages 2 to 5)
These alphabet acorns promote early literacy skills through hands-on tactile and visual learning. Best of all, they’re the educational equivalent of an Easter egg. Each acorn is filled with a surprise—pop off the top to discover a tiny figure that corresponds to each letter of the alphabet, from apple to zebra. Twenty-six tiny gifts will surely please the toddler or preschooler in your life (and boost her vocabulary too).
Full set of alphabet acorns teaches young children about letters, sounds and words
Acorns feature a removable cap and hidden figure, reinforcing early language learning with tactile and visual play
Ideal for independent and parent-child play
$25 at Amazon
5. The Learning Journey Match It! Self-Correcting Spelling Puzzles (Ages 2 to 5)
When it comes to learning how to read, confidence is half the battle, and these self-correcting puzzles create a lot of positive vibes while promoting concentration and problem-solving skills. Even if your tyke is too little to pay attention to the letters, he will still benefit from the fine motor skill exercise of fitting together these sturdy cardboard pieces. With repetition and visual learning cues, you might be surprised by how quickly he learns his letters.
Large cardboard pieces are easy to handle and help develop fine motor skills
Three- and four-piece word puzzles fit together for self-correcting spelling lesson
Bold, simple images for visual learning that boosts early literacy
$11 at Amazon
6. Carson BugView Quick-Release Bug Catching Tool (Ages 2 to 10)
Slide it, trap it…and what the hell is that thing? Everybody’s about to find out, thanks to this cool (and humane) bug catching contraption. Kids of all ages can learn so much from nature, whether they’re digging in the dirt of your backyard or enjoying a romp down a local hiking trail. The clear acrylic magnifying lens on this puppy gives a pretty sweet view of any specimen so your kiddo can learn the basics of biology.
Shatter-proof acrylic lens captures details with 5x magnification power
Thumb-operated sliding function is simple for children to operate, making the catch-and-release approach to exploration easy
Encourages curiosity, inquiry and compassion in natural studies
$10 at Amazon
7. Orsen Gifts LCD Writing Tablet and Doodle Board (Ages 2 to 10)
This LCD drawing tablet is so easy to use that your toddler will love it as much as your second grader. Use it to make spelling lessons more fun or just encourage your kiddo to doodle and make new art from the comfort of the couch instead of a desk. The pressure-sensitive technology produces lines of varying thickness without breaking any crayons, and the rainbow-colored writing your kid produces with ease will keep them entertained.
Large (ten-inch) color screen for easy viewing
Ideal for doodling, advanced writing and learning
LCD pressure-sensitive technology creates bold, mess-free lines of varying thickness
$16 at Amazon
8. Merkmak Telescope for Kids (Ages 2 to 10)
Whether you set this equipment up by your living room window or in your backyard, the budding scientist in your brood will be fascinated by what they see in the sky. This bad boy boasts removable eyepieces with varying degrees of magnification (including one devoted specifically to moon gazing). A mini astronomy lesson before bedtime? We’re in.
High-resolution lens allows for clear viewing, even in low-light settings
Promotes scientific exploration of both sky and land
Tripod and telescope are lightweight and appropriately sized to suit a child’s stature
$34 at Amazon
9. Educational Insights Now You See It Now You Don’t Compost Container (Ages 2 to 10)
Can that slimy banana peel really help a beet grow? Your budding scientist wants to know, and she’ll learn a lot more about compost by witnessing the process. This science lesson is both exciting and engaging, because kids get to record real-time progress. Watch the action unfold with this clear-sided composting container that has three aerated compartments (each featuring magnified spots and a thermometer) so kids can compare and track the decomposition rates and traits of different materials.
Three compost compartments are conducive to comparative studies
Kids can watch decomposition in real time and track the progress
Magnified spots enhance the transparent container for close-up study
$30 at Amazon
10. Living Squad High-Resolution Binoculars for Kids (Ages 2 to 10)
These binoculars are the bee’s knees (and they’re effective enough that you might actually be able to look at the knees of a bee). Whether your young one is bee-watching, bird-watching or just playing a spy game (sociology) that’s making passersby feel weird, these binoculars are the real deal. They’re also easy to handle, thanks to a comfortable grip for small hands, and hard to lose, because of a bonus carabiner and neck strap. Bonus points for durability, too.
8×21 magnification and high-quality optics provide a clear view for studying nature up close
Cleaning cloth, carabiner, neck strap, hand strap and an e-calendar about birds are all included
$26 at Amazon
11. WORRY EATERS (AGES 3+)
Toys that work on your kid’s IQ are great and all, but we’d argue that EQ (aka the ability to identify and manage your emotions and the emotions of others) is even more important. We love these adorable plushies that have zippered mouths that “eat” kids’ worries and fears. Just ask your child to write or draw what they’re feeling and then put it in the creature’s mouth. “There’s power in naming fears out loud and being intentional in releasing them,” says Dr. Han Ren, a psychologist based in Austin, Texas. Hint: Play with this toy with your kid and she’ll learn that even grown-ups get scared sometimes (and that’s nothing to be ashamed of).
A super-soft plush toy available in different designs, each one with a sweet name (like “Betti” or “Ping”)
Designed to help kids identify their fears, thereby helping them cope with anxiety and emotions
Multi award-winning, including best soft toy at the Independent Toy Awards
$18 AT AMAZON
12. MAGNA-TILES (AGES 3+)
When we polled parents on Instagram earlier this year about the top toys their kids have loved during quarantine, these magnetic tiles were among the most popular (and Amazon reviewers agree—this 32-piece set boasts over 2,800 five-star reviews). The translucent, durable tiles are magnetized so that they stick together, making it easy for kids to build anything from animal mosaics to 3-D castles, working on key skills like mathematics, science and creativity.
STEM toy that encourages creativity and imagination
Multiple ways for kids to play, both with others or on their own
Popular with kids from ages 3 to 99
$49 AT AMAZON
13. My Little Farm SmartFelt Toy (Ages 3+)
Created by a speech pathologist, this reversible 3D felt play structure is designed to teach kids about numbers, colors, shapes and sizes. With 32 matching felt pieces (each one carefully chosen to address key early language concepts) that stick to outlines in the farm’s eight rooms, kids will enjoy finding the right match while learning how to associate images with words. This interactive toy also includes a pamphlet that covers language lessons and suggests activities to work on those skills.
Designed to help speech and vocabulary development
A sensory and interactive toy with multiple textures, colors and visual aids to help child’s brain development
Endorsed by the Center for Autism Related Disorders and Autism Live
$50 at Amazon
14. Melissa & Doug 48-Piece Solar System Floor Puzzle (Ages 3 to 6)
They’re not only an effective stress reliever. Jigsaw puzzles exercise both hemispheres of the brain at once, improving short-term memory and developing visual reasoning and overall cognitive function. This 48-piece floor puzzle has pieces that are big enough to encourage younger ones, with a scale large enough to interest older kids, too. Hot tip: Once complete, use this puzzle to talk about all the planets so you can incorporate a little astronomy lesson into your day.
Sturdy cardboard pieces
Useful visual for astronomy lessons
$10 at Amazon
15. IQ Builder Creative Construction STEM Engineering Toy (Ages 3 to 10)
There’s no doubt about it: STEM toys will make your kid smarter, and this building toy is great for budding engineers and problem-solvers of all ages. This building kit combines creativity and critical thinking with an early introduction to more sophisticated concepts like geometry and physics, and the flexible, easy-to-clean connecting parts are great for polishing fine motor skills. Best of all, it also includes three e-books with suggested activities and designs for builders of different skill levels.
STEM toy that trains kids in concepts of creativity, problem-solving and fine motor skills
Bendy bits and pieces are easy enough for young ones to connect
E-books full of engineering inspiration will keep kids of all ages occupied
$25 at Amazon
16. Educational Insights Kanoodle Jr. Brain Boosting Puzzle Game (Ages 4 to 7)
Kanoodle Jr. is brain food your child can actually get down with (rather than simply hurl at the wall). This compact puzzle comes with a handy manual of 60 different mind-bending activities that will force your kiddo to flex his spatial-reasoning and critical-thinking muscles…and all the challenges are age-appropriate, so the brainteaser won’t turn into a tearjerker.
Pieces are chunky and easy to manipulate; great for sharpening fine motor skills
Kit includes 60 challenges to develop spatial-reasoning skills
$13 at Amazon
17. Big & Fun Microscope (Ages 4 to 7)
Introduce your mini scientist to the fascinating world of biology with this child-friendly microscope. A feather, mushroom spores and plain old table salt look totally different (and so cool) magnified—these specimens and 21 more are waiting to be examine under the microscope. Each printed slide can be observed under three magnification levels and the included manual will help your kid interpret what it is that they’re looking at.
Extra-wide eyepiece designed for kids
24 printed slide films with three magnification levels
32-page experiment manual to guide kids through biological observations
$33 at Amazon
18. ThinkFun Zingo Sight Words Early Reading Game (Ages 4 to 8)
Sounding out words is a big part of learning how to read, but at times it can be painfully S-L-O-W, especially for a squirmy kindergartener. The good news is that there’s a more exciting way to encourage literacy. Created by educators, Zingo is a rousing round of sight-word Bingo that keeps kids on their toes as they compete to find a familiar word and find it fast. (Let’s be honest, speed drills are more fun than phonics.) The game includes a Zinger (think Bingo ball machine) that dispenses sight-word playing chips in pairs. If your child can quickly find the word on his playing card, he can take the token and get one step closer to calling out, “Zingo!”
Fast-paced, exciting game of sight-word Bingo
Includes 24 different words, selected for frequency of use in books and speech
Kids can play solo, with a dealer (parent) or with a group of up to six players
$22 at Amazon
19. Winning Moves No Stress Chess (Ages 4 to 10)
Nothing provides a brain workout quite like the classic game of chess. But this chessboard comes with a couple kid-friendly features that might make all the difference when introducing or honing the skill, strategy and critical thinking required to topple a king (or stalemate your sister). Use the clue cards to guide young learners through the game with move suggestions and helpful reminders of how the pieces hop around the board. When your chess-master-in-training is ready, flip the board over for a more grown-up, cheat-free game.
Chess has long been regarded as one of the best mental exercises around, because success relies on concentration, critical thinking and anticipation of future events
The double-sided board can be used to handicap more advanced players and promote frustration-free learning for newbies
The deck of cards, included for use with the beginner board, functions as a stand-in instructor and step-by-step guide to the game
$13 at Amazon
20. Learning Resources Super Magnet Lab Kit (Ages 4 to 10)
Magnets are the closest thing we have to actual magic and, chances are, your kid is obsessed. This hands-on science kit encourages exploration while teaching the basics of opposite attraction. The Super Magnet Lab includes an activity guide for independent household experiments.
Encourages independent exploration in the home with open-ended activities
Teaches cause-and-effect science lessons through hands-on play
124-piece kit includes wands, horseshoes and more so children can discover the wonder of magnetism
Buy it ($29)
RELATED: 6 Things You Should Say to Your Kids Regularly (and 4 to Avoid), According to Child Experts
21. Educational Insights Robot Face Race Game (Ages 4 to 10)
This matching game gets the seal of approval from Mensa, but the kid appeal is probably because it moves at lightning speed. This robot challenge is thoughtfully designed to require a high degree of visual discrimination, which encourages reading skills. The Robot Face Race requires at least two players, but one of them can be you. Place your token on one of the many artistically designed robot faces on the game board, according to the attributes chosen by the Robot Randomizer. Just try to do it at super speed or someone will beat you to it.
Distinctions in color and physical attributes hone visual discrimination
Competitive race component teaches concentration under pressure, an invaluable life skill
Can be played with two or more players (and one player can be a parent)
$15 at Amazon
22. Lego Classic Large Creative Brick Box Building Kit (Ages 4 to 10)
Legos are the original STEM toy. This starter set is full of small pieces, so it’s not suitable for kids who are still at risk of sampling non-food items. But once you’re past that point, the learning possibilities are endless. Tiny building blocks make for big strides in fine motor control, and they’re a fantastic material for creative engineering experiments. Your child can craft almost anything: a castle, spaceship, scooter or cityscape, to name a few. The tinkering process teaches frustration tolerance, problem-solving and concentration skills, and that’s probably why this toy has stood the test of time.
Small Lego pieces help children develop fine motor skills
Creativity blooms with open-ended building possibilities (bounded by logic, for extra learning)
The bricks are small, but the storage box is built to last
$44 at Amazon
23. Basic Fun Lite-Brite (Ages 4 to 15)
Tie-dye isn’t the only blast from the past that making a comeback this year—kids are loving this retro toy and it’s easy to see why (seriously, just check out the more than 8,400 five-star reviews on Amazon). Follow the included templates (like a rainbow unicorn or sailboat cruise) or let your imagination run wild by creating your own masterpiece using the included pegs. When completed, turn on the LED display for a colorful light show of your artwork with four different light modes.
Includes 6 templates, 200+ pegs and a bigger, brighter screen
Inspires creativity and helps develop fine motor skills & hand-eye coordination
Suitable for a wide age range
$13 at Amazon
24. Crayola Light-Up Tracing Pad (Ages 5 to 10)
Pencil grip and hand control are skills that start to develop more seriously in the preschool years and continue to be refined for several years afterward. Tracing activities can help hone handwriting while making the practice feel less like homework and more like art. If you have had little success setting your child down with a sheet of handwriting paper at home, you can opt for this jazzier option: a fun LED tracing pad that builds upon all the same skills required for your child to one day sit through and succeed in a cursive lesson.
LED tablet illuminates the included blank and tracing sheets for ease of use and confidence
Tracing paper helps children at different skill levels work on their precision and handwriting technique
$25 at Amazon
25. Melissa & Doug Multi-Craft Weaving Loom (Ages 5 to 10)
Don’t be fooled, this soothing activity is also a ton of fun. Best of all, the fruits of your child’s labor might be a cozy scarf he’s excited to wear next winter (because he made it himself, of course).
A calming activity that encourages concentration
Weaving helps hone fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination
Great for confidence—kids create something useful and feel proud
$22 at Amazon
26. Skillmatics Guess in 10 (Ages 6+)
There may be an “I” in education but parents know that learning is a team effort, and this guessing game lets the whole family get in on the fun. Here’s how it works: Players ask up to 10 questions to guess the animal on the game card (“Is it a carnivore? Does it have four legs?”) with the option to use special clue cards for a helpful hint. While trying to become the first player to win seven game cards, children will learn about animal species and the world around us.
Helps kids build general knowledge as well as communication skills
A fun game for family night
Multiple themes available, including cities around the world, states of America and deadly dinosaurs
$14 at Amazon
27. SmartGames IQ 3-Pack (Ages 6 to 10)
Lauded by enthusiastic reviewers as an excellent alternative to screen time, this brain-teasing puzzle pack keeps little minds busy. Whether your child is twisting, fitting or linking these 3-D puzzles into place, their logic and visual reasoning skills will surely get a workout. The puzzles come with 360 recommended activities of varying difficulty, so your kiddo can pick the best (age-appropriate) challenge. Bonus: These compact and portable puzzles take up hardly any space, so they’re great for travel.
Compact puzzle boards promote problem-solving and spatial insight skills with 3-D pieces
Puzzle trio includes 360 challenges so children can play at different degrees of difficulty
Solo activity that helps kids stay sharp
$30 at Amazon
28. Melissa & Doug Suspend Family Game (Ages 6 to 10)
Every day is a balancing act, but this family-friendly game-night favorite makes it a lot more fun for everyone. This award-winning activity has all the suspense of Jenga but requires a more delicate touch, as players dangle rubber-tipped strands of wire in an attempt to build an (un)steady sculpture on a wooden base. Suspend challenges the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills of children and adults. It’s also visually stimulating, because both the well-planned and botched balancing acts look a lot like beautiful art along the way.
Crash course in fine motor control and hand-eye coordination; requires a soft touch
Wire and rubber pieces incorporate visual and sensory appeal for a more artistic balancing challenge
$13 at Amazon
29. 24 Challenge Card Game (Ages 7 to 10)
Much like the sight-word speed drills of Zingo, the 24 Challenge card game takes a typical math lesson and makes it fun, fast and exciting. This deck of cards is coded for difficulty level (one dot is easy, two is intermediate and three is advanced), but all cards feature a very simple interface: four numbers. The goal is for your child to think her way to the sum of 24, using only the digits on the card and the basic mathematical functions of multiplication, subtraction, addition and division. This game can be played solo, like a flash-card exercise, but the real fun comes with a healthy dose of competition. Amass a point-based fortune by being the first player to tap any card with a correct formula.
Multiple players: Mathematical speed drill encourages quick thinking through competition
Single player: Problem-solving and basic math skills get a boost
Simple cards help develop creative thinking; there’s more than one way to get to 24
$12 at Amazon
30. National Geographic Mega Fossil Dig Kit (Ages 8+)
Calling all Jurassic Park fans—this paleontologist kit lets kids excavate real fossils using a chisel, brush and magnifying glass. That’s right, hidden inside this brick are 15 ancient fossils including mosasaur tooth, crow shark and coral. It makes for a fun lesson in fossils, how organisms interact with each other and their environments and provides a peak into a fascinating career in science.
15 real-deal fossils and a 16-page guide to help young scientists identify each specimen as it’s discovered
Multiple hours’ worth of playtime
After all the fossils have been excavated, kids can display their hard work
$20 at Amazon
RELATED: The 12 Best STEM Activities for Kids (Using Things You Already Have at Home)
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