Looking for non-gadget learning toys for preschoolers? You’re in luck…I’ve got a few ideas to share!
Here at the Yankee Homestead, we try to choose the types of toys and activities that foster creativity and build real skills.
Listed below are our very favorite learning toys for preschoolers…from a homeschooling mom of three boys.
First, I need to get this off my chest:
The best play is free play, and the best place for free play is in the great outdoors. It troubles me greatly to see countless children shuttled off to organized activity after organized activity; to see playroom shelves stocked with battery operated, licensed character toys and electronics; and to know that many kids rarely see the light of day in a wide open space where they can romp and frolic and hoot and holler.
Parents and lovers of children, this is a national travesty. Don’t believe me? Check out this excellent book: Last Child in the Woods.
Whew! That’s better. Let’s continue, shall we?
3 Good Times for Learning Activities
Having said all that, there is definitely a time and place for quality toys and learning activities. From my house to yours, here are three of those times…
1. Rest time
At our house, rest time is still enforced every day. For everyone. Most especially for mama!
The two year old actually naps, while the older two boys (6 and 10) listen to audio books and work on activities of their own choosing. This time is very important for all of us! Everyone needs a little downtime for the brain to recharge.
2. Lesson time
During morning homeschool lessons, it’s impossible for one mama to meet the needs of each child all at the same time. Believe me, I’ve tried. The younger ones especially need to be engaged in purposeful activities while I work with their older siblings.
3. Inclement weather
I do try to send my boys outside as much as possible. But when it’s freezing outside, or pouring down rain, they’re stuck inside.
Instead of falling into the habit of using screens to entertain them, we rely quite a bit on audio books. My guys love to listen to a good story while while working on an activity like the ones listed below.
12 Best Learning Toys for Preschoolers
Both my older boys enjoyed these toys over and over. Middle Bro worked on these activities while I schooled Older Bro. Though Middle Bro (6) is now an official student in our homeschool, he still uses many of these activities during read alouds or at whenever he needs a quiet activity to keep his hands busy.
In fact, even Older Bro (10) still enjoys a few of the activities listed below. And before too long, Baby Bro (2) will be ready to tackle these activities while I school his older brothers.
By the time all three boys are finished with these toys, we’ll have gotten our money’s worth, for sure!
In my opinion, these toys are well suited for about 3 to 6 years of age. Of course, some 2 year olds may be ready for a few of them, and some kids will continue to enjoy these activities long past the age of six.
I tried to list the activities by difficulty level: activities at the top of the list are easier for younger kids while the ones near the bottom of the are better for older preschoolers. Keep in mind that this always varies from child to child!
This list is perfect for grandparents, family members and friends who will be Christmas shopping for your littles. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for these items at thrift shops and garage sales.
If I had to choose only one toy to keep in my home, it would probably be a really good set of wooden blocks. My guys–all three of them–build so many different things with these blocks.
A few of their favorite wooden block creations:
- farms (with stalls, ponds, fences, etc.)
- zoos (with pens for all sorts of animals)
- bowling alley
- car ramp
You’ll need some sort of magnetic board for these. A cookie sheet works well. Toddlers love sticking the letters on and off the board, moving them around, loading them in a dump truck, etc. Older preschoolers can work on letter recognition and even begin to spell. Ideas abound on the interwebs for easy activities with magnetic letters, including free printables galore.
Middle Bro loves puzzles! He started with big, easy puzzles as a two year old. I made sure to keep a variety of sturdy floor puzzles available to keep him occupied during his older brother’s lesson times at home. He’s now six and still loves a good jigsaw puzzle, so we’ve advanced to sturdy 60 and 100 piece puzzles.
4. Duplo Blocks
I’m a big fan of blocks! We made it a point to build good sized collections of several types of blocks. Kids can do so much with a good set of blocks!
Duplo blocks are a great choice for the preschool years. We have a huge lidded basket filled with duplo. My boys loved to follow the building instructions as well as invent all sorts of their own creations. The possibilities are endless.
The neat freak in me still struggles a bit with play doh, but I’m loosening up in my old age. It’s such a fun and creative medium for kids. Middle Bro really enjoyed a collection of free printable play doh mats, and both older boys still like to play ice cream shop, etc.
6. Spelling Puzzles and Games
If you have girls, spelling puzzles and games might work for older toddlers and early preschoolers. At my house (with all boys), these are best for older preschoolers. We have quite a variety of spelling games such as Spelling Puzzles and See & Spell Cards.
These puzzles are a fun challenge for preschoolers. Older toddlers and younger preschoolers will need a little help. Keep your Lauri Crepe puzzles in clear poly envelopes with velcro tabs for easy storage and to avoid losing puzzle pieces.
9. Trio Blocks
Another great set of blocks! Trio blocks by Fisher Price are getting harder to find these days, but my boys have really enjoyed them. Remember our huge lidded basket of duplo blocks? Yep, we’ve got a huge lidded basket of Trio blocks, too. My boys love to build all sorts of creatures and aircraft out of Trio blocks, as well as buildings and other structures.
10. Pattern Blocks
If I could have only two toys in my home, I’d pick the aforementioned wooden blocks and a really good set of pattern blocks. These versatile blocks get a lot of use at my house. You can buy handy pattern block books, pattern block cards, or even print countless free pattern sheets from online.
One of the best ways to use pattern blocks is with a simple pattern tray. Available in at least two shapes–hexagon and triangle–pattern trays allow the child to create their own design. So many great skills going on here! Again, the possibilities are endless.
11. Stacking Robots
Stacking robots definitely require some fine motor skills. They’re also super fun. Younger preschoolers may feel frustrated and need some help from a parent or older sibling. Older preschoolers will love the challenge of replicating one of a variety of stacking formations, without toppling the stack.
Dads love stacking robots, too!
12. Picture Pegs
We picked up an older set of picture pegs from a friend and my six year old LOVES them. This wooden set looks great, too. He was four when we acquired our set, which worked out well. It’s a great activity to keep his little hands busy during rest time or lesson time. And he’s always very proud of his creations.
Kathleen Henderson is the Yankee behind the Homestead, where she keeps up with Mr. Native Texan, three busy boys, a large dog, an assortment of chickens and an organic garden on three beautiful acres in Northern Virginia. Yankee Homestead is where she organizes her tips, tricks and resources for a healthy life. Favorite topics include real food recipes, gluten-free living, essential oils and home remedies, all things natural and nontoxic, plus mommy musings and homeschooling resources. Find out more on the About page