As we are in the midst of one holiday, and approach another, parents, families, and friends are always asking for toy and game recommendations. We will often hear the phrase “learning toys” when asking for recommendations. The great news is that there are a million toys appropriate for “learning” out there! The bad news is that they are often not the ones parents/families/friends are buying.

The definition of “learn”, according to Merriam-Webster, is “to gain knowledge or understanding of, by instruction or experience”.  So, how do young children learn?  They learn through play!  They learn by exploring, manipulating, making mistakes, and trying something new with an old toy.  Sure, they can learn to memorize their ABCs and 123s at age 2 or 3, but what is the purpose of that? It’s not functional for them at that age.  So, while toy companies love to add ABCs and shapes and numbers to every toy to promote it as a “learning toy”, that’s not really what your child needs at an early age. They need toys that allow them to learn cause and effect, creativity, and imagination.  Lucky for all of us, there are plenty of those kinds of learning toys also available!

Last year on our 2017 Gift Guide, I listed 5 “Toys to Grow With”.  These are toys that can be purchased at an early age, but will be age appropriate for many years, as your child grows and matures. They also promote all kinds of age appropriate “learning”.

  1. Kitchen
  2. Train table
  3. Doll/doll house
  4. Legos/blocks
  5. Construction bench

From an early age (18-24 months) these toys will be loved and used!  During the early years, kids are going to be interested in opening/closing doors, putting things in/out, stacking, banging, connecting pieces, and imitating simple actions. Between 2-3 years, some expansion will occur.  Your child may now pass out plates and fake food or pour pretend water into cups. He may imitate familiar routines, such as feeding and putting a baby to bed or banging on the tool bench.  At ages 3-4 years, these toys will become more interactive with your child and a sibling or same-age peer.  Together they may have a tea party or build a house/library/zoo with Legos or blocks. Finally, children ages 4-6 will continue to have fun with them, as they can now attend and play for longer periods of time. They will create elaborate buildings and train set- ups, as well as different scenarios and narratives, such as having a family or running a restaurant.

All the while, they are learning!  They are gaining knowledge through the various experiences they encounter with these toys. And not one recited the ABCs.

For more great gift ideas, please read our HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE 2018