Educational toys have been around for hundreds of years keeping our children engaged & occupied. By 1870 Friedrich Froebel had created 'Froebel Gifts' which were a series of wooden pieces designed to help children engage in sensory, hands on learning. From that point, Maria Montessori had crafted her own take on Froebel's Gifts and introduced a new range that incorporated colour, weight & sounds. This was to encourage awareness & the sensory toys were designed for children to self-correct. The Wooden Peg Stack is a great example of a bright, engaging toy that is both fun & has learning properties. Below, we will look at what makes educational toys so effective & why they are so important in 2021, particularly during this challenging time of lockdowns.

What are educational toys?

Educational toys are any items that stimulate learning & give children the opportunity to learn and grow. A great example would be something as innocuous as the Leapfrog Shapes & Sharing Picnic Basket. Sure, this fun looking toy would be great to have a tea party with, but some of the items of food are specific shapes that have to be sorted into the correct hole in the basket, giving the item educational benefits.

Shape sorters and stacking cups are a great first introduction into educational toys. From there you can look at introductory puzzles which provide great opportunities to develop hand eye & fine motor skills. Most toys have some learning properties and aspects to them. Dressing up as a doctor, vet or fire fighter for example, help promote role play & develop imaginative skills. The Abacus, Fraction Puzzle & School Zone Workbooks & Flash Cards are also great additions to the home & will help to revisit what children are learning at school.

What is the difference between educational toys & Montessori toys?

While educational toys have a clear focus on stimulating learning & growth in children, Montessori toys are simple toys made of natural materials, with a focus on limiting the choices offered to children during play. Montessori play, guides children to explore their surroundings at their own will and then learn & build with the practical toys around them. The Montessori philosophy is to ignite a child's curiosity by repetitive & purposeful play.

What are the benefits of educational toys?

Educational toys are great additions to your child's toy library for several reasons. They can help to:

  1. Increase your child's IQ
  2. Can help to boost their problem-solving skills
  3. Will aid in concentration
  4. Enhance the child's sensory, imaginative & fine motor skills
  5. Acts as an enhancement to what your child is learning through the school curriculum

What are the pros and cons of Montessori toys?

Montessori toys are going to be perfect for families that are comfortable & keen for their children to engage in child-led learning. While other families will prefer a more structured learning philosophy.

Pros of Montessori learning and toys:

  1. Montessori method tends to foster independent thinking children
  2. Lessons & learning are based on the individual child's skill set which allows them to grow at their own pace
  3. School and pre-school environments & the inclusive nature of the toys are more likely to increase social awareness & foster strong peer relationships
  4. Can help to create a lifelong fascination for learning & curiosity

Cons of Montessori learning and toys:

  1. The toys can be expensive & out of reach for many families
  2. While the toys can be fun, engaging & feed curiosity, it can be to the detriment of other skill sets that may be neglected
  3. While the Montessori toys are very much child focused, they can leave the child under prepared for structured play or work as they enter teenage & adult years

What makes a toy educational?

Educational toys have to be specifically designed to inspire active play in children. The child needs to be able to move, pull or push aspects of the toy in order to achieve the desired result. For example Ravensburger Puzzles are an excellent example of an educational toy. By sourcing the correct pieces, you are enhancing one's hand eye coordination. Then placing the pieces in the correct place, you are helping to refine one's fine motor skills.

What features should I be looking for in educational toys for each age group?

Newborn

For children 0 - 16 months we would advise toys that are safe & will promote the development of hand eye skills, gross motor skills & physical development. Examples include Sensory Balls which encourage movement & gross motor skills (6 months +) & the Fisher Price Tap Bench which is great for hand eye skills (12 months +).

Toddlers

The best educational toys for toddlers should help promote physical skills, hand eye coordination, colour recognition & problem solving skills. Toys we recommend for this age group include the ever-popular Fisher Price Sand & Water Table which encourages sand & water play, hand eye coordination & creativity (18 months +).

Pre-schoolers

For pre-schoolers we would be looking for toys that continue colour, number & alphabet learning. In addition to this, chalk, paint & Play Doh are also excellent examples of toys that will help to foster creativity in children aged 4-5 years old.

Kindergarten

When children have just begun school, it would be great to continue the learning at home with fun School Zone workbooks. They cover a myriad of lessons from counting, spelling, & problem solving.

Primary School

Children aged from 8 - 12 years old can benefit from problem solving toys, art craft items that continue building on their creativity & also outdoor toys that will further develop their gross motor skills. Positivity Rocks are a great art kit that promotes emotional awareness & creativity. While the NERF Sport Areo Howler is a fantastic all-rounder that when played with friends can be a great social activity.

What are the best type of educational toys?

The best types of educational toys will be anything that firstly captures the attention & imagination of the child. Each child is drawn to something different, so use your knowledge of the child to investigate what toy will resonate with them.

We love both the classics & some new modern additions to the educational toy sector. For the young ones, we always recommend Stacking Cups, Stacking Blocks, Hammer Bench & some fun all-rounder Bath Toys like Bath Crayons. All will evoke curiosity & fun while incorporating hand eye coordination and fine motor skills.

The LEGO Mindstorm is a great example of an educational toy. LEGO is fun and fantastic for fine motor skills at any age. The modern take on this, is that you can motorise the robot & then use coding to enable it to move around & have movable functions as you choose! This product is particularly popular with schools, who use the LEGO Mindstorm in their STEM teachings.

How much money should I be spending on educational toys in 2021?

Not that much! You can truly spend as much or as little as you like. A puzzle can start from as little as $9.99 & Cotton Reels (great for fine motor skills) is just $19.99. Obviously, items will increase in price dependent on difficulty & age but there is no need to head out and spend a fortune. Also make sure you rummage around all the items you purchased to keep the kids busy during the 2020 lockdown! That was the year of puzzles so I'm sure you have a few lying around!

What educational toys are popular in 2021?

Sensory toys & fidget toys have been hugely popular this year. Pop Its, SquishmallowsSpeks, Stress Balls and everything else in between! It has been the year of keeping your hands busy while concentrating on home schooling - or let's be honest, working from home too. We have also seen a rise in the popularity of educational games like Math Dice & the old-school Cuisenaire Rods (retro schooling right there!) At a guess, we would say that this is a familiar way to learn maths for the parents of children of whom they are now schooling!