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Educational Play Toys They’ll Love for $20 or Less

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Have a young child or children on your gift list this holiday season? Here’s some fun you can feel good about.

It’s Edward Street’s list of educational play gifts and books for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. 

Gifts for infants, 0-12 months old

Babies need stimulation and lots of it. 

Simple, safe objects that stimulate the senses aid in physical and intellectual development. Toy blocks, for example, encourage stacking skills, letter recognition, counting skills, motor skills, problem solving skills, sorting skills, intellectual curiosity, tactile skills, patterning, cognitive flexibility, and hand-eye coordination.

Locally, you can find Discovery Soft Blocks at Learning Express in Westborough and wooden blocks at the Sensory Station toy store in Worcester.

Other gifts that encourage sensory learning include Dimpl Clutch, available at Learning Express, and a variety of sensory bins at the Sensory Station.

Stack-up cups—such as Stack N Count—rattles, and baby-safe maracas also satisfy babies’ growing curiosity and development. Interactive stuffed animals like Fisher-Price’s Plush Baby Toy introduce young ones to words, songs, phrases, and sounds. 

How about a children’s book? That’s Mine! from Barefoot Books shows young ones the joy of sharing. Very First Things to Spot, which helps with word, number, and matching skills, can be found at Learning Express. The Everywhere Babies Board Book, a fun celebration of everything babies do, is available from Worcester’s TidePool BookShop .

In a way, babies are easy to please. They might even be more interested in the box and wrapping paper than the gifts themselves! It’s the manner in which adults play with them that makes all the difference. By making eye contact, passing or rolling toys to infants, and talking to them, you’re supporting language development and social-emotional skills. 

Gifts for toddlers, 1-3 years old

Now that your favorite little ones are growing up, toddlers can be challenged with toys that require greater hand-eye coordination, critical thinking, cause and effect awareness, and matching skills. Toys and games can also increase specific knowledge of colors, letters, numbers, and words. 

Melissa & Doug’s Wooden Farm Animals Sound Puzzle enhances matching and listening skills. You can find it at Learning Express. Play-Doh, for ages 2 and up, helps young ones develop eye-hand coordination. It also increases hand and finger strength and dexterity, which will aid in writing and drawing.

Speaking of writing, the gift of a children’s book will encourage literacy and communication skills. Never Touch a Spider, available at Worcester’s TidePool BookShop, is filled with funny rhymes and insects doing silly things. It even offers a touch and feel sensory experience. 

Just as importantly, toys and books for toddlers support social-emotional growth. Check out the interactive Feelings & Emotions Dough Mats (ages 2 and up) from Lakeshore Learning and the book Misty the Cloud by meteorologist Dylan Dreyer. Barefoot Books Yoga Tots series, including Calm Bunny, Strong Puppy, Brave Bear, and Happy Tiger, empowers positive emotions through simple yoga routines.

For more great books for 1-3-year-olds, check out Star Bright Books. Big Box for Ben inspires children to use their imagination while Cat Up, Cat Down introduces spatial relationships and vocabulary that describes space and distance.

Gifts for preschool children, 3-5 years old

They’re attention span is growing along with their physical capabilities; their curiosity motivates them to experiment with objects and movements. They’re also likely beginning to talk and ask questions.

Your list of possible gifts is rapidly expanding!

Is it time for a more challenging puzzle? The Enchanted Woodland Petit Collage Floor Puzzle is visually appealing and teaches young ones about nature. Melissa & Doug’s Wooden Building Blocks set will take their block-building skills to the next level. Even better, Keva Planks Brain Builder Junior strengthens STEM skills by challenging players to recreate 2-D patterns in 3-D. As children learn and grow, so can the level of difficulty.  

If the child on your list likes getting crafty, consider this Farm Craft Kit from jackinthebox. You’ll be helping them think creatively and increase their problem solving abilities.

How about their first board game? The Ladybug Game from Zobmondo!! supports reading and counting and was invented by a first-grader! The Parents’ Choice Foundation calls it “a colorful and lively little board game for beginner game players.”

Social-emotional learning is particularly important for preschool children since many are spending more and more time in group settings. Kimochi’s Mixed Feelings Pouch gives young ones an opportunity to learn about their emotions and their friends’ personalities. Should I Share My Ice Cream, available locally at TidePool BookShop, is a fun way to talk about doing the right thing.

In fact, books are one of the best tools available for healthy development. They get children looking at, listening to, talking about, and learning from stories. A Stick Until from Star Bright Books taps into children’s innate curiosity and encourages problem-solving skills. Barefoot Books Green Kids series, with choices like Rooftop Garden and Scrap Metal Swan, invites young ones to care about each other and the environment.

If you have a young child on your holiday list, the Worcester area has everything you need. Whichever gifts you choose, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season—with plenty of time to play with young ones!

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