Your child sits on the floor with building blocks. For now, she’s only playing. But for her future self, it’s more than child’s play.
As she builds different structures, the neurons in her brain are also firing up. Firing up to make connections that develop her spatial intelligence skill.
Wouldn’t it be great if all toys are as beneficial as this?
Yet research studies and expert opinions point to the fact that toys are not created equal.
So what should you do as a parent?
What science kits for kids, STEM toys or educational toys are worth getting? Which of them will support your child’s healthy brain development?
This Gally Kids infographic looks at some research studies and expert quotes to answer these questions.
- Educational Toys For Kids
- Best Developmental Toys For Infants
- Learning Toys For 4 – 6 months
- Best Toys For 6- 9 months
- Learning Toys For 9 – 12 months
- Educational Toys For Toddlers 12 – 18 months
- Best Toys For 18 – 36 months (Toddlers)
- Learning Toys For 4 – 6 Years Old
- Stem Toys For 7 – 8 Years Old
- Educational Toys For 9 – 10 Years Old
- Toys for 11-12 years Old
- Related Reading: Educational Toys Guide
- The Best Educational Toys
- Are Toys Really Necessary?
1. For your newborn baby, YOU are the best toy.
A newborn loves the familiar. This world is not exactly as cozy and warm as the sac of amniotic fluid she used to inhabit.
You could buy the most expensive state of the art toys for your newborn. But none will ever be as important as you.
It is your soothing voice, your soft touch and your loving gaze that will make a significant imprint in your child’s brain.
The way you respond to her needs…
The time you spend reading her books…
The way you talk to her with a smile…
The many times you hold her close to your chest…
All of these will affect her language skills, her ability to solve problems, how well she will do in school and how she develops adult relationships. 1
Your positive and caring presence is brain food that will benefit her throughout her life.
So hold off on that 80,000-euro gold and diamond baby pacifier…
…because you know what? to your newborn, YOU are ENOUGH.
2. When looking for toys that speed up brain development, always go back to basics.
Playdough… Stacking Cups… Building blocks…wooden cars and road signs…
These traditional toys work like a charm when it comes to cognitive development.
There may be a new high-tech toy every year that’s touted to parents as the next best thing.
Some of them do look cool.
But always remember that play dough, which you can make at home in 10 minutes is just as beneficial (if not, better) to your toddler’s brain than all these 21st-century gadgets.
So if you feel guilty that your child doesn’t have the amazing new high-tech toy that the Joneses have, just remind yourself that that playdough you just made is doing more good to your child’s brain than all these new fancy gadgets.
3. Electronic toys may slow down your toddler’s speaking development. Speed up his language skills with books and traditional toys instead.
Language development experts disagree on many things.
But there’s one thing that they agree on:
The more words a child hears from his caregiver, the better it is for his language skills.
Talk to your child.
This may often feel like a one-sided conversation, but it isn’t. His brain is absorbing everything you say.
This is why some so-called educational electronic toys are a problem.
The study showed that parents talk a lot to their children when they play with traditional toys or books.
But when children play with electronic toys, the interaction between parent and child drops.
Even the number of sounds an infant produces drops, too.
This decrease in the sounds and words produced may just get in the way of a child’s speech development.
Electronic toys may be good “babysitters” sometimes.
But they’re not the best toys for the development of your toddler’s language skills.
4. Toys like building blocks and puzzles can help develop spatial intelligence regardless of gender.
Spatial intelligence, an important skill in many STEM-related professions, is traditionally believed to be an exclusively “boy skill”.
However, a study by David Tzuriel and Gila Egozi concludes that this could not be further from the truth. And even better, anyone can learn it in a short span of time.
In the study, boys and girls went through a spatial skills training program.
At the start of the study, the girls had lower spatial intelligence scores than the boys.
But after 8 weekly sessions, the initial score difference no longer existed!
Yes! You read that right. Just 8 weekly sessions! 2 months! and the difference disappeared.
Spatial skill isn’t inherent nor gender-biased.
It’s all practice, dear Watson.
So why is it that boys tend to have their spatial skills more highly developed?
Scientists believe that this is because boys tend to play more with toys like building blocks and puzzles which develop spatial intelligence.
So what do you do as a parent?
Make sure that your child, whether girl or boy, has access to toys and activities that improve and develop her spatial abilities.
Easy as pie.
5. Don’t ignore musical toys and the arts. They reach parts of the brain that other activities can’t
Music and the arts are as important to brain development as science and technology.
Christopher Bergland from Psychology Today writes that many studies have proven that musical training plays a big part in children’s brain development, cognitive function, and academic achievement.
Furthermore, a recent study by Michigan State University found that students in STEM-related degrees have up to 8 times more exposure to the arts as children than the general public.
They also found that 93% of the respondents had some musical background compared to only 34% of average adults.
It’s time to change STEM education to STEAM.
6. Playing video games can improve brain function and cognitive development.
Video games tend to get a bad rap.
For many parents, it looks like their kids are “wasting away” as they sit in front of a screen oblivious to their surroundings.
But recent research shows that when children play with video games, their brains are actively engaged and fired up.
Important neural activities take place which in turn fosters healthy brain development.
It’s important to remember though that video games are not created equal.
For example, Drs. C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz, claim that action video games are better at stimulating cognition than so-called “brain games” which are built specifically to develop brain function.
Also, according to Dr. Rey Junco, the best video games are those that meet kids where they are and use that meeting ground as a place for learning just like Minecraft.
He adds that playing Minecraft teaches kids many useful skills like visuospatial reasoning and critical thinking.
Needless to say, more research needs to be done on the effects of gaming on children’s brains.
But what we do know for now is that video games are not entirely “evil”
7. Gender marketed toys may bring more harm than good
The intent is noble.
But according to Megan Fulcher, a Psychology Professor at Washington and Lee,
“Toys with strong feminized themes… leave girls with a narrow set of experiences and exclude girls that aren’t interested in makeup or shopping.” She adds that “it sends a worrisome message to girls that they are welcome to do math, engineering, science or even superheroes as long as they do it differently than boys.”
Furthermore, Christia Spears Brown, the author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue, adds that if girls get this idea at a very young age, then you shouldn’t be surprised if they grow up thinking there are jobs they couldn’t do.
She says, “If you start at a young age telling them that they can’t play with the same toy, why would you expect them to think equality in adulthood?”
Not all toys are made equal. If you want your child to play with toys that support healthy brain development, then bear these 7 things in mind every time you get him a toy to play with.
- You are the best toy for your newborn.
- Basic toys like playdough and building blocks support brain development the best.
- Electronic toys could slow down language development.
- Building blocks and puzzles can help develop spatial intelligence skills regardless of gender
- Don’t ignore musical toys and the arts. They reach parts of the brain that other activities can’t
- Some types of video games support the healthy development of the brain
- Gender-marketed toys may do more harm than good.
Educational Toys For Kids
So armed with these research studies, what are the best educational toys for kids?
Before I make a list of the best educational toys by age, let’s get something clear.
Educational toys are important for learning and development, but spending a lot of money is not necessary.
If you are on a budget, there are a lot of tutorials online on how to provide your child with exactly the same kind of mental stimulation using things you can make at home.
And now for my recommendations.
Best Developmental Toys For Infants
Best Toys For 0 – 3 months
This time is all about your relationship with your newborn. Toys, even the educational and developmental ones, are not necessary.
Your touch. Your smell. Your voice. Your gaze.
These are all the important things during the first couple of months.
This is a time for you and your newborn to enjoy each other’s company. To learn each other’s rhythm.
It’s a time for you to understand how to respond to her needs.
And it’s a time for her to know that she has a loving and trustworthy family.
At any rate, if you must buy a toy, here are some that parents are often happy to have.
- Black and white image books
During the first few weeks, a child can’t see colors yet. He can, however, distinguish between black and white (dark & light).
- A mobile
Promotes visual stimulation and eye coordination.
- Sock rattle
A lot of parents love play mats. It’s a great place to put a baby down for a few minutes of reading time or tummy time. Initially, your child won’t be able to prop his neck up high enough (if he’s lying on his tummy), but it’s still good muscular practice.
Things You Can Make/Do:
Just be available. Sing as much as you can. Talk to him as often as possible. Give her lots of cuddles and kisses and more kisses and cuddles.
Learning Toys For 4 – 6 months
At about this time, things will change a bit.
Your baby will start to hold and grasp on to things. She now has a more developed eyesight and can make more movements with his arms and legs.
Swiping, grasping and holding on to things are good activities to develop fine motor skills. It strengthens the muscles she will need later on to properly hold a pencil or eat using cutlery.
Remember that it’s also very important to spend a lot of time talking to your infant. It might feel like a one-sided conversation, but HE IS absorbing everything you’re saying. And by doing so, you influence his language development too.
This is a time when hearing noise and sounds are good for learning. This is a good time to get something like a baby musical toy for under 6 months.
He will slowly learn about cause and effect.
He starts to think, “If I shake this, it makes a rattling sound. If I bang this, mommy jumps.”
He might not know yet that he’s causing things to happen, but he will get there soon enough. And it’s a very special day for both you and him when that realization happens.
Age Appropriate Educational Toys:
- Play gym
- Books with sparkly things, dots, stripes and swirls
- Cloth book
- Mirror (the ones that don’t break)
- Musical toys for babies under 6 months
- Rattles (maracas – drums ) – anything that makes a sound
Also remember to do these: Sing a lot. Interactive songs are great.
- Play peek a boo
- Read him stories. Lots of it.
- Talk to him. Lots.
- Sing to her. Lots.
Best Toys For 6- 9 months
Your baby will now be able to hold her head up and can sit upright with support. This is a good time for him to start exploring the world. This means providing toys and activities that allow him to use his senses. Anything that bangs, squeaks, rattles, and shakes are great. If she doesn’t have a baby musical toy yet, this is a perfect time to get one. Also get her things of different textures that she can touch. Watching things move are also great fun.
Continue working with his fine motor skills. Some great toys that help with brain development are:
- baby stacking toys
- cars/balls to roll
- messy play shape sorter
- shape sorter
- wooden blocks
- Squeaky eggs
- Pop up toys
- cloth/paper with different textures
- anything that moves
- measuring spoons
Things You Can Do/Make
- Go for a lot of walks outside. Fresh air is always good and they like seeing all that movement. From trees to cars to people walking
- Take them to the park. They like the sound of other kids.
- Read. A lot.
- Talk. A lot.
Learning Toys For 9 – 12 months
Your baby’s fine motor skills will start to develop now. It’s a good time to provide him with activities that will develop this skill even further. Some kids will also begin to have an interest in crawling or moving around using their bottom.
Some of the toys from the previous months will continue to be of interest. Here are some other learning toys.
This is great and a lot of kids and parents love it. Have a basket of stuff that he can easily grasp from squeaky toys to jar tops
- Anything from your kitchen
Some babies want nothing but the stuff from your kitchen. Egg poachers, pans, pastry brush, pots, plastic plates
- Things that he can take in and out
- Pop up toys
- Stacking toys
- Nesting eggs
- playdough (watch that she doesn’t put it in her mouth)
- wooden xylophone or other musical instruments that she can bang and make a noise with.
- Musical toys for babies that help learning, sleeping and playing
Educational Toys For Toddlers 12 – 18 months
It’s easy to buy all the many available toys geared for kids of this age. But remember that when it comes to educational toys for kids, go back to basics. Playdough is always good to have. This you can always make at home too.
This is a time of great exploration and a lot of educational toys are available for this age.
Here are some basic toys that can help with cognitive development.
More treasure box goodies. You can even have a few different boxes that you can alternate when he gets bored of one box
- Things that he can take in or out. Like a box of tissue paper.
- Shape sorters, lid matching or color matching toys
- Wooden blocks
- Big building toys like Duplo, mega blocks
- Water and sand table
- Kids love water at this age, so anything that gets her to splash around and move water from one vessel to another
- Dolls with clothes that they can put on and take off
- Pretend play stuff like food, play kitchen for boys and girls, pirate boat, floor brush and dust pan
- Pots and pans from your kitchen
- Anything related to music: CDs, harmonica
- Stacking cups, stacking rings, stacking anything
- Pegs and hammering toys
- Engineering toys for toddler
Best Toys For 18 – 36 months (Toddlers)
Toddlers’ interests vary.
This is a time for even more sensory explorations. Prepare for loads of play dough and messy play. Again, these are basic toys but they help with their development.
He will begin to imitate you and other adults around him. This is an important part of learning and knowing more about the world around him. Pretend play will also start to kick in.
Here are some educational toys that are useful. Many of the toys from before this age will continue to work.
- More dressing up costume
- Pretend play toys: Play kitchen , laundry baskets, purse, tea sets, wooden farm animals, wooden doll house
- More building toys: train sets, Duplo, brio, gears
- arts and craft jars
- More music and singing
- Threading beads
- First games: simple matching games like ‘red dog, blue dog’ and lotto, also pop up pirate and Mr potato head, dominos
- Marble run
- Kinetic sand
- Laundry basket
- Wooden farm /animals, wooden doll house
- Stem toys for toddlers
Learning Toys For 4 – 6 Years Old
This age is crucial for brain development. A study shows that parent nurture, books, and exposure to educational toys are important at age 4.
This is a time to surround your child with educational toys and learning activities. Continue to do a lot of singing and dancing. And of course, you could never give them enough cuddles.
- Engineering toys: Knex, brio builder, Meccano, Playmobil
- Lego (for 4-year-olds will need help)
- Toolbox and construction sets
- Beginner’s science kits for kindergarten: Clifford the big red dog kits are great science kits for preschoolers
- Dinosaur mania will start for many kids, so anything dinosaur or archaeology related toys are great (set of fossils for example)
- Books: pop-up books etc
- Marble run, Playmobil, knex, Magna-tiles
- Playdough, moon sand or kinetic sand
- More pretend play: fairy house and small habitats, doctor’s kit, superhero dress up, costumes — loads of costumes for pretend play
- Cd player or karaoke machine
- Human body/skeleton model and other real life learning models
- games: pop up pirates, snakes and ladders, tangrams
Stem Toys For 7 – 8 Years Old
There are already lots of STEM toys that you can buy for this age. Your child will be able to build Legos and other building toys without help from you.
- Science kits for 8-year-olds: If you’ve started doing science projects at an early age, some of the science kits might be too basic. Still, kits like a butterfly kit is good fun.
- Games: monopoly, draughts, chess, scrabble, backgammon, trumps, 4connect, mancala
- Inventor Kits
- Telescope and microscope kits
- Building and engineering toys: Imaginext, knex
- Bop it
- Electronics sets: snap circuits
- Beginner robot kits
- Hama beads
- Klutz stuff
- Rock tumbler
- any rocket: stomp rocket, water rocket to learn more about physics
- More 8 year old than 7•easy Raspberry Pi kit like the Piper Computer kit
- metal detector
- toolbox with real “grown up stuff”
Educational Toys For 9 – 10 Years Old
This is the strange stage for many kids. This is when where they’re too old for the usual ‘traditional’ kid toys but also too young for teen toys.
They will still like to play with Legos, especially if it’s related to a Lego TV show. Minecraft is also big at this age.
- Games like Yahtzee, Hive Pocket or Catan
- Electronics kits
- Robot kits
- Parts for making a computer: The Piper computer kit is a good choice especially for Minecraft-crazy kids. But if you have a child who’s into building stuff from scratch, you could get the pieces needed to build his own computer (more 10 years old than 9)
- Nano blocks
- Coding toys and books
- Raspberry pie
- Advanced chemistry sets
- Subscriptions like the National Geographic for kids
- sudoku puzzles
- science kits for 10-year-olds
- Click here for some cool gift ideas for tween boys
Toys for 11-12 years Old
At this stage, many kids will have an idea of what their interests are. So if you’re looking to buy educational toys for kids, find something that relates to their interest at the moment.
Here are some ideas:
- Advanced science sets (nanotechnology, organic chem models)
- Animation camera
- Robot kits
- electricity kits
- outdoor survival kits
- advanced Lego sets
- Board games like the Risk Game
- Musical instruments like a guitar or ukulele
- USB microscope
- Craft kits like origami, string art or woodcarving
Related Reading: Educational Toys Guide
Play kitchen sets for pretend play: A short and quick guide on play kitchen set ideas. You don’t have to buy one. Get some inspiration and tools from your own kitchen and your little one will be more than happy to play with it.
Best toys for pretend play: When your toddler starts to play pretend, it’s a very heartwarming (and often funny) experience. If you want some ideas on how to explore and encourage this developmental process, here are some toys you can provide him with.
Why is pretend play so important in child development?: It may just look like one of those “silly” and endearing things that toddlers and preschoolers do. But pretend play is actually very important in the social, cognitive, and psychological development of your child.
The Best Educational Toys
Award Winning Science kits for kids: Look at this list to find science toys that experts value. These toys have won toy awards and are also very highly rated by parents too. Whether you’re looking for volcano experiment kits for a preschooler or robotic kits for your 10-year old, you’ll find some good ideas here.
Best play kitchen for boys (and girls!): Play kitchens happen to be one of the best pretend to play toys for kids. However, boys don’t always get to have them as toys as they’re “traditionally” thought of as girl toys. But if you’ve read the infographic above, separating toys as for boys or for girls really does more harm than good. If you’re thinking about getting your little boy a pretend kitchen, then have a look at this list.
Best science kits for 8-year-olds to 10-year-olds: This is one difficult stage when it comes to toys. At this age, they’re usually already too old to play “kids toys” but too young to play teenager gadgets. So we made this list of science toys that are not too difficult nor too easy that they lose interest.
Science kits for kindergarten kids: They pop, they sizzle, they erupt! And what’s even better is that they feature a lot of characters young kids are familiar with like Clifford the Big Red Dog. These science activity kits are fun and easy to do to preschoolers to the magical world of science.
Christmas Gift Ideas : Not all educational toys, but lots of cool ideas!
Are Toys Really Necessary?
And here’s our slideshare video on this topic although presented in a different way. Feel free to share this (or the infographic above) to other parents. Please don’t forget to add credits to this page. Thanks a lot! ❤️️