If you’ve followed my blog closely then you know I’m a massive proponent of play-based learning. The reason is that play is arguably the best way for young children to learn. Not only do they learn social skills and how to problem-solve, they also use more complex vocabulary, test out early numeracy (math), demonstrate skills needed for early literacy (symbolic thought, fine motor skill practice, reading signs and symbols), and so much more.
The benefits of play-based learning vast, and so are the ways a parent can help develop facilitate it in the home. What is accessible to children plays a big role in learning through play. Important elements creating an environment of play-based learning in the home include the structure of children’s day, the amount of time they spend on a tablet or watching TV, the parents’ role, and the types of toys they have.
When trying to get the most out of your child’s play, having play-based learning toy ideas is key. But before I get into that, here are some toys and strategies to avoid.
Bad Toys and Best Strategies for Promoting Play-Based Learning
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- Anything that requires batteries or buttons to get its play-value is not a good toy. While brands such as LeapFrog and Vtech have educational content programmed into their toys, these toys aren’t great for early childhood learning.
Often these toys are marketed as “developmental” because the toy has so many different functions. Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect for the child. The more a toy does, the less your child has to do. If your child can sit and watch the toy “perform,” then it is likely more entertaining than educational… In short, the most useful toys are those that require the most action on the part of a young child. The more children have to use their minds and bodies to make something work, the more they learn. – Zero to Three
- Over-scheduling their day takes away from the richness of their childhood. When children have the ability to explore and discover at their own pace, the magic of play-based learning really comes to life. As such, they need copious amounts of free time to play. Having friends over or setting up invitations to play are great. Having too many scheduled activities and lessons is not.
- When building on their play, take their lead. It is great to invite friends over for a play-date or set up invitations to play at home. In either situation, the parent’s best course of action is to take a backseat. When joining in their play, ask the questions in the context of what they’re doing and what they learning. If they’re working on numeracy you can ask remove, say two Shopkins and ask how many are left. If they’re playing store, you can ask for a certain amount of money in exchange for an item. There are countless ways to learn through play.
- Turn off the TV and tablet any chance you get. The less screen time the better. Read more from WebMD here.
Best Play-Based Learning Toy Ideas: STEM
For those unfamiliar with the term, STEM refers to Science Technology Engineering and Math Learning. Why is STEM learning so darn cool? Well, it promotes innovation, creativity, hypothesis testing and exploration. It has also been found that, in grouping the four together, STEM bridges the gender gap in traditionally more male-oriented learning. Read more here.
Here are some incredible STEM play-based learning toy ideas.
Thames & Kosmos Amusement Park Engineer (pictured)
Magformers Walking Robot Set (pictured)
Goldie Box Invention Mansion (pictured in image at the very top of the post)
LEGO Friends Amusement Park Roller Coaster (pictured)
Best Play-Based Learning Toy Ideas: Pretend Play
Pretend play is really limitless in terms of its benefits. It is so open-ended and as a result is so rich. Some of the many benefits of pretend play include more complex language use, increased problem-solving skills, better social and emotional understanding, and a stronger imagination. The last one is crucial for early literacy because children start to understand symbolic thought as well as other important elements. To read more, click here.
Here are some gorgeous pretend play-based learning toys.
KidKraft Disney Princess Cinderella Castle (pictured)
Melissa & Doug Doctor Dress Up (pictured)
Best Play-Based Learning Toy Ideas: Fine Motor Skills
If you follow my Instagram closely, you will notice I set up activities and encourage my kids to use their fine motor skills a lot. The truth is, fine-motor skills do not come easily to most early learners – my daughter especially. Because fine motor skills are requisites for printing, colouring, cutting, and so much more, I have included toys below that help with hand-eye coordination, writing, and pincer grip.
Here are some of my favourite toys to promote fine motor skills.
Playmobil NHL Arena (pictured)
Best Play-Based Learning Toy & Book Ideas: Language Development & Literacy
In this section, you’ll find toys that promote language development and literacy. I love kids books, so I could’ve made this list a mile long. Reading to your children helps increase the vocabulary, their understanding of the world, their empathy, letter recognition and so much more. For more benefits, click here.
Here are some of my favourite toys and books to promote language development and literacy.
Mix it Up (pictured)
Press Here Game (pictured)
52 Wooden Alphabet Letters (pictured)
Melissa and Doug Alphabet Puzzle (pictured)
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus Game (pictured)
Best Play-Based Learning Toy Ideas: Gross Motor Skills
To be active, fit, and burn off energy, we need well-developed gross motor skills. On top of this, there are also innumerable benefits to promoting their development in kids. The development of gross motor skills helps to increase body awareness, sensory processing, muscular strength and endurance, as well as balance, coordination, and so much more. Read more here.
Here are some of the best toys I can recommend for improving gross motor skills.
Joovy Balance Bike (pictured)
Little Tikes Easy Hit Golf Set (pictured)
Paddle Tether Ball (pictured)