I don’t know about you, but my kids have reached the Holy Crap We Have Too Many Toys and I Have No Idea Where We Can Cram Any More stage. The struggle is real and it’s something I keep in mind when I buy things for other people’s kids. Before I shell out cash, I try to ask myself: does it stand out on its own or will it just get lost in a sea of stuff? Lately, I’ve turned to teaching toys because, more often than not, they do stand out on their own.
A really good teaching toy is one that is stealthy. Kids are learning without even realizing that they’re learning (otherwise cries of booooriiiiiiiing! will ruin things), but they still get that confidence-boosting rush when they realize they’ve figured something out on their own. That feeling is kind of addictive and will make kids continue to seek out things that give them that feeling—more learning.
To help you out when hunting for the perfect gift, I put together a list of nine of my favorite learning toys. These toys are for a variety of ages and price ranges and I’m pretty sure there’s something here for everyone!
9 fun, kid-approved teaching toys
Osmo Coding Awbie Game + Genius Kit for iPad (ages 5-12)
Feeling a little guilty about all of the screentime your kids are getting lately? This gift will turn it into a learning experience that’s so fun, they won’t even realize they’re learning.
The Genius Kit includes five award-winning games: Numbers (which is math), Words (spelling), Tangram (encourages visual thinking), Newton (problem-solving), and Masterpiece (creative drawing skills). This kit comes with the Osmo Base for the iPad (which includes both a stand and a reflector) and playing pieces. There are other kits that work with iPhones if you’d rather use one of those. The Osmo Coding Awbie Game teaches kids coding fundamentals, if statements, loops, logic, and problem-solving skills. My eleven-year raves about our Osmo and says that’s it’s a really easy and fun way to learn to code. She loves it.
Goobi Juniors 40 Piece Construction Set (ages 1+)
Designed for younger children, this open-ended, award-winning construction set is made up of oversized pieces (24 BPA free plastic bars with magnets and 16 hollow iron balls) that allow young kids to learn about the attractive and repulsive qualities of magnets and let older kids create more complex 3D structures. Lightweight but with strong magnetic attractions, this is the perfect way to get little ones working on hand-eye coordination and eventually learning the basics of geometry, physics, and architecture—all while having fun!
The reviews I found were pretty much all glowing with parents saying things like “This is without a doubt one of the best building toy sets for the kids even at an early age, better than other construction sets we’ve gotten. The Goobi construction set sticks together with magnets (no batteries required) and it’s so simple and open-ended to build various structures. The quality of the toy is superb, it is well made, and educational. We definitely recommend this toy.”
BeginAgain Animal Parade A-Z Puzzle (ages 4-10)
At first glance, this cute, award-winning, 26-piece puzzle might look like it’s just for toddlers but its versatility will surprise you. Two-sided, these sustainable rubberwood pieces (with non-toxic, child-safe stains) have the animal’s first lowercase letter on one side and uppercase letter on the other. Kids can start out learning the names of all of the animals and the alphabet (as well as some fine motor and problem-solving skills!), but the pieces can also be played with separately for storytelling and imaginative play. As your kids get older, they may even try stacking the pieces up and building towers instead of doing flat puzzles. The durable beechwood tray the puzzle comes in makes storage (and travel!) with the puzzle nice and easy—and it even makes it a pretty display piece for playrooms and nurseries.
GoldieBlox – Ruby’s Sky High Cable Car (ages 6+)
Part of the GoldieBlox universe, this set includes Goldie’s BFF, Ruby Rails. Kids help Ruby build a gondola with plastic construction pieces and chipboard, creating two towers that are connected with a pulley that Ruby (and any of the other mini-figures from different GoldieBlox sets) can ride across. Designed to spark creativity, build spatial skills, and confidence in problem-solving, this particular set introduces the STEM concept of tension. We’ve had other sets (like GoldieBlox and the Parade Float) and loved it. I’m really looking forward to checking out the sets that come with figures of the girls—I know my six-year-old daughter will love that!
There’s also a new GoldieBlox chapter book series that I’ve been dying to check out. The books are by Stacy McAnulty, author of books like Beautiful (which I adore), Brave, and Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years (both of which I need to read!).
Magna-Tiles clear colors 32-piece set (ages 3+)
Another incredible set that allows kids to create flat patterns and 3D shapes (think cubes, pyramids and pretty much anything else their creative little minds come up with), Magna-Tiles connect with magnets along the edge of each tile. Each shape has a base measurement of three inches and this particular set is like stained glass—gorgeously colorful and translucent, which adds a whole new element to play. Kids can build these in the window or on light tables and can use flashlights to make reflections and look through their structures.
Though a little expensive in comparison to other similar tiles, Magna-Tiles always get pretty stellar reviews. Whenever we’ve played with them I’ve been impressed with their quality.
Zing StikBot Studio Pro (ages 4+)
My girls got a little taste of stop motion animation at a Jacob Burns Film Center kids event and they were obsessed. This set looks like a really fun way to encourage them to experiment with it a little. It comes with a phone tripod, a 2-in-1-stage with both blue and green screens, and 2 StikBots. Your kids can pose the StikBots and create a story, then download the free mobile app (available for both IOS and Android). They can then cut and edit their footage and add in backgrounds for their scene. Once they’re done, they have the ability to share on social media (or not).
I mean, I want to play with this!
The set is cardboard and some reviewers were not thrilled with its durability. You can buy the figures separately if you want to create your own stage (with green screen), although some people thought the stage made things easier. There are also StikBot accessories and StikBot pet figures, which look like a lot of fun.
Kano Computer Kit (ages 6-14)
Another award-winner, this kit is used by over 700 schools and code clubs and includes everything you need to build your own computer (Raspberry Pi 3, case, speaker, wireless keyboard, memory, and power and HDMI cables that will connect their computer to any HDMI screen). Great for beginners, the first step is for kids to open up the box and follow the step-by-step instructions to build their very own computer. Once the computer is built, the kids have access to coding challenges and 0ver 100 different apps. They can browse the internet, play games, and watch YouTube. They can learn how to code art, music, games—they can even hack Minecraft!
This sounds like an amazing gift for tech-loving kids that can really jumpstart a whole new world of (fun!) learning.
This one also falls under engineering teaching toys, but it centers around electricity experiments. Aimed at girls, it’s one of the toys from the popular Netflix series Project Mc2. Kids can build their own circuit board and conduct 11 different experiments including making a battery tester, sending morse code, and testing the conductivity of different materials. The set even comes with a clip-on photo frame that kids can add lights too to create a fun room light with (and to keep their training to become a field agent a secret!). Great for fans of the show, spies in training, and kids who like to learn how things work, this one is super affordable and definitely on my gift-giving list.
Scientific Explorer Spa’mazing Kit (ages 12+)
My kids (who are both under 12) had an earlier version of this kit and absolutely loved it. It required some help from mom (possibly because of their ages), but that didn’t take away from the fun. We’ve used it during sleepovers too. The kit is basically a bunch of different chemistry experiments that use natural ingredients to create safe and luxurious products like colorful scented bath gels, bath fizzies, lotion, oatmeal soap, face masks, shampoo, and fragrances. Kids can even use household ingredients to create their own products with signature scents. My daughters love a luxurious spa-like experience (which is why they each have foot baths and bath salts and a variety of aromatherapy oils to make their bath experience more divalike), so this kit is like heaven for them. And, since most of the ingredients are common enough, we were able to keep creating the products even after we used up what came in the kit.