Have you taken a walk down the toy aisle recently? Many of the items on the shelves are loud, noisy and have many buttons, bells and whistles. It is enough to give a parent a headache! While electronic toys are fun and are a part of your child’s toy and game collection, there are limited ways for them to be used. These toys limit creativity and to be honest, children seem to get bored with them easily. And what happens when you do not have any AA batteries on hand when the toy stops working? This is never an issue with a non-electronic toy.
The best gifts for preschoolers are toys that let a child’ imagination take over. The toys are open-ended-there is no “one way” to do it. The same toy can be taken out over and over again and never played in the same manner. In my preschool classroom, my students never tire of these kinds of toys. Build, take it apart, rebuild, take it apart…it is fun to watch. The kids also learn how to work together with building toys-if there are only three of one kind of block, who gets to use it?
These preschool toys also help a young child develop fine motor skills by having them use their pincer grasp.
The best gifts for preschoolers are ones that help them build cognitive skills without them even knowing it! Learning about spatial relations while building, how to put things together to fit correctly or create balance-this is where the real learning takes place!
As a mother of three and as an educator for 30 years with two degrees in Early Childhood education, I bought these kinds of toys for my own kids to play with. I enjoyed joining them in their play, as many of them were also a part of my own childhood! Here is my list of what every preschool child should have on his or her toy shelves.
LEGO Classic Medium Creative Brick Box
For children ages 4 and up
Did you have Legos as a child? I remember having a bin full of them and making all sorts of cool houses, roads and many other things. The LEGO Classic Medium Creative Brick Box is perfect for older preschoolers, as it contains 484 generic pieces for their imaginations to run wild. Unlike sets for older kids that only make one specific thing, your children will spend hours putting these together and taking them apart. The storage bins keeps all of the pieces contained.
Another great thing about his having a storage bin is that it makes it portable. If you are visiting family or friends who do not have toys for your young children, this will keep your productive. This set contains bricks in 35 different colors, as well as assorted tires and wheel rims that can help a child make all kinds of transportation devices that actually move.
Melissa and Doug Standing Easel
Perfect for Young Artists
One of my favorite childhood memories is standing at the back of my first grade class and painting at the easel while the other kids were doing work. This was a big deal, because with a class of almost 30 kids, you had to wait a long time for your turn to paint. And since I lived in an apartment, there was no room for an easel and paints in the bedroom I shared with my brother nor was there any storage within our living space. Yes, getting a chance to paint made my day a lucky one!
Your child will not have to wait to paint with this classic wooden easel from Melissa and Doug. Built with a sturdiness that preschoolers need, your child can paint whenever the mood strikes her. Painting is a calming and soothing activity, where your child can learn all about design, combing colors to make a new one, and develop gross motor skills. Because it is two-sided, kids can paint with a sibling or a friend!
Paint Supplies for Your Little Artist
Easels are wonderful, but now you need the accessories to go with it! Assorted washable paints, different kinds of paper and brushes, as well as a smock are necessary to get your child’s creative juices flowing. These items are perfect for rainy days or to take outdoors on sunny ones. To organize them more easily, you should be in one tote in your home for easy access.
Play Doh is Fun and Tactile
I think most adults have the olfactory memory of opening up a fresh can of Play Doh. There is the unforgettable smell that fills the air when the plastic lid is lifted off the container. Remember the perfect roundness of the untouched “dough” just waiting for your little fingers to knead it and create? As a child, I have memories of sitting at the dining room table with my Play Doh factory and making different shaped snakes that oozed out of the hole when you pressed down on the lever.
Using Play Doh has many benefits for kids. It is a fantastic fine motor skill builder-little fingers need to be used to build up their muscles. Children can combine the colors to create a new one. You can even use it as a teaching tool. I teach Sunday School to first graders, and we use Play Doh to make the letters of the Hebrew alphabet or to form a Hebrew vocabulary word that I tell the class. It is so much more fun than using a worksheet!
I know far too many children whose parents refuse to let them have Play Doh in their house because it cause too much mess. Seriously? Don’t they know that dried up clay is so easy to vacuum up the next day?
The Best Building Toys for Preschool Children
Numbers 4, 5, 6 and 7 on my list
The following toys have several things in common. First, they are classics! Second, and most importantly, they are open ended. Children never have to recreate the same things twice. While some do come with directions to make certain kinds of creations, these toys are best left without them. Let your child’s imagination run wild.
These toys teach cause and effect, trial and error and other life skill sets that are the foundation of learning.
Who doesn’t remember the familiar cylinder can full of brown logs? These historical looking blocks offer a unique twist on the building block. These sets include miniature figures to make role playing, an important preschool skill, fun and engaging.
Sets come with assorted logs in different lengths that can be put together in many different ways.
This set, which brings back fond memories for Baby Boomers, contains 111 pieces. Because the pieces all come in one large tin, this set is portable and can be used in any room of the house or even taken to Grandma’s.
I have to say that one of my fondest memories of playing with my twins during their preschool years is the time we spent with Tinker Toys. We had several sets, so we could make so many different things! My son used to like to make lawn mowers, while my daughter liked to create different kinds of playgrounds.
Tinker Toys are another toy that enables children to develop their spatial relation skills and to use their imagination. Although directions are given on how to make certain items, it is way more fun to make up things of your own.
The world is an open door with this jumbo set full of assorted pieces that mix and match.
With 150 pieces, there is no limit to what your child can create. Directions are included to make different things, but these are best used when kids make whatever they want.
Having twins meant that I had multiple sets of many things. Marble Run is another toy that we played with a lot. This is another fantastic toy that has children grasping different spatial relation concepts. You could make so many different runs, and if you made it incorrectly, the marble would stop. My kids would have to figure out how to make it work. This helped them to be independent thinkers and figure out how things worked. It actually teaches them all about physics!
Because this game involves small marbles, it is not recommended for children who still put things into their mouths.
Watching children put this together and then seeing how it reacts makes this a toy for adults as well!
This set is different than the ones my children played with, since the tubes are translucent. Kids can actually watch the marbles as they move! This set contains 85 pieces and 15 marbles.
What can I say about blocks? They are the ultimate toy for unleashing your child’s imagination. How many castles and roads did you construct during your childhood?
Do you remember trying to stack as many of them as you could before they all came tumbling down? That teaches a child the concept balance.
Different shapes equate to other shapes. Two squares equals one rectangle, for example. This is pre-math, teaching children about fractions. You cannot go wrong with giving your child one or two sets of blocks and letting their creativity flow.
With 60 different blocks, this makes a terrific starter set for young children. There is no limit to what a child can create with this basic set.
Patterns are a part of our lives. Tiles on the ground, back splashes in kitchens, beads on a necklace…patterns are all around us. In math, when you find patterns in numbers, it is easier to solve a problem.
Pattern Play is a pre-math toy that lets children create patterns on one of the 40 pattern cards or on their own. It helps develop spatial relations and fie motor skills. It comes with it’s own storage bag so it is portable. It will make waiting for an older sibling at a practice or in the doctor’s office a more pleasant experience. It helps develop visual perception… Forget games that have a child swipe a finger on a tablet, put their fingers and their minds to good use with this wonderful toy.
Little Tikes Super Chef Kitchen
When I was a little girl, boys were not encouraged to play in the kitchen play area in school. That domain for girls.
Even in the 1990’s when I became a mother, I knew women who would not buy their sons a Little Tikes kitchen set because they were too feminine and it was not a “boy thing”. They bought their sons the play grill instead. During that era, kitchens were still made very feminine, as if it were only for girls to play in. As a preschool teacher, the kitchen is one of the most popular with both the boys and the girls in my class.
In the era of The Food Network and manly men like Michael Simon and Bobby Flay making cooking cool, play kitchens have now lost their feminine touch. This Little Tikes Super Chef kitchen can be bought for both boys and girls. It looks like a miniature version of a tricked out kitchen!
KidKraft Chelsea Doll Cottage with Furniture
Doll houses are a part of childhood. As a substitute preschool teacher, I have seen both boys and girls attracted to the doll house in every classroom I have been in. The miniature people give children a chance to role play…and it is always interesting what comes out of their mouths!
My older daughter and I would spend hours playing with her doll house. It was always so much fun for both of us, and I really enjoyed it because I did not have one when I was a little girl!
The world of young children is one full of imaginative play. These gifts for children who are preschool age will provide hours of educational entertainment for your little one.
Photo from Pixabay and altered by the author in Picmonkey