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Christmas is the time of year when kids expect toys. Parents of course want to come through for their kids, but don’t want to waste money on junk toys that won’t last. There’s nothing quite like spending $50 on that “gotta-have-it” toy, only to see your child bored with it after three days, never to pick it up again. Been there? Me too. Fortunately, there are more options every year for parents to buy things their kids will enjoy, and that are also educational and well-made. Here is a rundown of some great options for your kiddo to enjoy.
Please note, these are a few popular items on Amazon by age group. Use your own judgement when deciding if a toy is appropriate for you own child. I included recommendations through about the pre-teen years. No one knows how to shop for teenagers, anyway. Ha-ha!
Great Picks for Babies and Toddlers
· One Two Squeeze Baby Blocks:* These are awesome for little ones. There are no small pieces for babies to choke on and no rough edges to cut little hands (or mouths). They come in a bag for easy storage. They are bright, with engaging colors and plenty of cute designs to catch a little one’s eye. You could play games with your baby, like teaching him or her to stack the blocks which is great for baby’s motor skill development. We had a set of these with some of our little ones, and they were well loved.
· Wooden Activity Cube:* This activity cube was built strong to last a long time. With entertainment on all sides, it is sure to keep little ones engaged. It also encourages exploration as your baby crawls around it to check out what each side has to offer. This great toy was built with safety in mind, and the rounded corners will protect your baby from accidental bumps. Santa brought this for my daughter’s first Christmas when she was just 8 months old, and she loved it. She (and her older sister, who was 2 at the time) played with it daily until they both outgrew it several years later. It was passed down to their cousins and is still in great shape.
· Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Smart Stages Tablet:* For those looking for a more tech-savvy product, this tablet introduces little ones to technology without an overwhelming screen. Since it is developed in “stages” it grows with your child and lasts longer. It teaches sounds and letters, plays songs and encourages imagination by prompting your child to imitate animal sounds and other fun activities. This is a durable tablet for little ones, so it could be a better option than an expensive tablet with baby and toddler apps on it, at least until your bundle of joy is less likely to teethe on it or throw it somewhere you’ll never find it.
Good Options for Preschoolers Through the Early Elementary Years
· V-Tech Write and Learn Creative Center:* This is a simple tech toy that won’t overwhelm kids but will teach them some tech basics. It isn’t loaded down with so many features that children have too much to figure out but has just enough that they discover how to use technology to learn. It has a teaching mode for the earliest learners and other features, such as the ability to help teach your child to write his or her name. The toy runs on AA batteries for portability (great for those holiday travel plans). It plays music and is interactive to keep kids engaged.
· Lego Duplo My First Number Train:* Lego Duplo products are made by the trusted Lego brand, but are specifically made with younger children in mind. They are larger than traditional Lego bricks. This makes them easier for little hands to manipulate and most importantly, it makes them safer, as the larger pieces are not choking hazards. Building with blocks encourages imagination and strengthens motor skills. Numbers on the blocks help children learn to count. You can turn this into quality time by playing games with your child. You could encourage them to count items that correspond to the number on the train car. For example- “How many kitties do we have? Let’s count them.” Once you have counted the cats, guide your little one to find the appropriate number on the toy. One of my favorite things about Lego sets, including Duplo, is the ability to add to the set later by buying more Duplo sets. We bought several of these over the years when our kids were younger, and they loved them. They could build sets individually or mix-and-match them for imaginative play.
· BOHS Letter Dice and Cards:* This toy would be great for older kids, but you will want to closely supervise children with the dice to ensure they’re not a choking hazard. This set teaches early readers to spell and read basic words by combining pictures with the words. The simple but bright pictures keep kids’ attention. Other ways to play: encourage your child to tell you about the pictures after spelling the word- example: “See the fish? Do we have a fish? Where is our fish?” This enhances learning and provides great bonding time for you and your child.
Educational Options for Middle-Elementary Through Pre-Teens
· Kidz Explore Outdoor Explorer Set:* This entertaining set gets kids outside and away from screens, making it a great option for parents wanting to decrease screen time. It teaches kids how to read maps (a dying skill in today’s world of GPS), as well as teaches them about birds, butterflies and nature. They will learn about the importance of the world around them. The set comes in a handy pouch so your child can keep all their outdoor gear together. That way when they’re ready to go on an adventure, everything is ready for them to grab and go. This is a great way to involve the whole family. You could look for specific bugs or birds around your yard, or even head out to a local park or wildlife reserve for a fun family outing. Include a picnic lunch and you’re geared up for an educational day of fun and memory-making!
· AmScope Beginner Microscope Set:* This is a great STEM toy to get or keep kids interested in science. It is a quality set at an affordable price. The set includes many accessories for kids to view pre-made slides or have fun making their own. The entire set is stored in a great sturdy carrying case to keep things together and safe when not in use. This includes a really cool brine shrimp experiment (two of our children have had this exact kit and the whole family enjoyed the shrimp experiment.)
· Fire HD 8 Kids’ Edition Tablet:* The Fire HD is a great tablet that includes parental controls and an option to switch between kid-safe mode and adult mode. Purchases can be password-protected so a child cannot rack up charges on your account. Each Fire HD purchase includes a year of FreeTime Unlimited (Amazon’s kid browser/app store) for free, and this listing also includes a durable case in your choice of several colors. The tablet offers access to many books, kids’ TV shows and educational content. The SD card slot allows you to increase the device’s memory (I highly recommend this as a previous owner -they fill up fast!) These tablets lasted the entire time our children were using them, which totaled between 3 and 5 years.
While it can seem overwhelming at the holidays to find gifts for your child that are not going to be broken or tossed aside after a few days, with a little research you can find educational toys that your child will still enjoy. They are likely to last longer and be a better product for your money. You have the added benefit that your child will learn something from them too.
What educational toys would you like to see added to this list? Please let us know in the comments!