Best educational toys for kids aged 1 to 5

Young girl playing with educational toys

The best educational toys for kids will combine a fun aspect which allows a child to play, whilst engaging their mind to learn key skills in the process. This could be anything from perseverance, cause and effect, investigation, hand-to-eye coordination or STEM. But how do you know which educational toys to pick?

Young children are sponges when it comes to learning new things. So, just like you’d make sure your kids have a varied, nutritional, balanced diet when it comes to what they eat, ensuring they have a balanced ‘play diet’ that incorporates different activities and games as stimulus for their minds is also important.

But don't worry - making sure a child has sufficient stimulation to enable their brains to develop fully is easier than it sounds.

Learning, the development of key skills and stimulation for children comes from a variety of sources. While playing with educational toys has an important role in that, so does providing them with different experiences, letting them play with other children and talking to them about their day or what you’re doing as they watch you do it.

Young children playing with educational toys.

How important are educational toys to a child’s development?

Joanne Moore, aPrimary School Teacher in Norfolk and Educational Product Adviser to Learning Resources (opens in new tab) told GoodtoKnow that educational toys are ‘essential’ to a child’s development.

‘As stated by Einstein “play is the highest form of research” and from a very early age children learn and develop through play,’ Joanne told us. ‘They allow children to freely explore, challenge their minds and support the development of many skills from fine motor control, early mathematics to speech and language.’

Child development expert and psychologist Dr. Amanda Gummer, who is also the founder of Dr. Gummer’s Good Play Guide (opens in new tab), adds that while toys that promote school-based learning can help children’s confidence at school and help them embed the learning: ‘there are also lots of educational toys that support learning through encouraging exploration, fostering curiosity, building relationships, exploring moral dilemmas etc which should not be ignored.’

What kind of toys can help a child’s development and how?

‘Toys that encourage a child to be actively ‘doing’ and toys that provide open-ended opportunities I feel are most important for early child development,’ says Joanne.

‘Toys that are kinaesthetic allow a child to develop their hand-eye coordination - plus their fine and gross motor skills. These skills are the essential building blocks before a child can learn to write. There are some great apps available out there for online learning. However, I feel it is important to do as much off-screen learning as possible for young children.

'Open-ended toys allow a child to explore their own imagination and creativity. They will often provide a child with challenges which build resilience, perseverance and problem solving skills. These are all characteristics of effective learning. These characteristics are essential for young children to develop in order to become an effective and motivated learner for life.'

For very young children, sensory toys (opens in new tab) -  those with bright or contrasting colours, feature different textures and noises - will also stimulate their senses, aid development and encourage learning.

Siblings playing together with an educational wooden toy

READ MORE: Best toys for one-year-olds (opens in new tab) and Best toys for two-year-olds (opens in new tab)

What is a STEM toy?READ

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM toys are designed to promote learning, curiosity, and education while they are played with.

When it comes to educational toys for kids, STEM toys in particular are great for helping your child develop innovative thinking, hand-eye coordination and spatial skills amongst other things while they play. You'll love watching STEM toys foster creativity and problem solving in your child.

What age should parents introduce educational toys to their children?

‘It’s never too early to introduce your children to toys containing letters and numbers so that children become familiar with them at an early age,’ says Dr. Amanda Gummer.

However, Dr Gummer also emphasises that it’s important not to ‘hot house children’. Basically, try not to force the educational toys on them.

'Feeling pressured to play with a particular toy is a sure way to turn a child off wanting to play with it and wanting to learn,' Dr Gummer advises.

What are the best educational toys out there at the moment?

Below we’ve rounded up the best educational toys for kids aged 1 to 5. All the toys are out this year and recommended by experts, fellow parents and those in the know! Scroll through to find the right products aimed at your child's age.

Crocodile Wooden Animal Balancing

Crocodile Balancing Game

Age suitability: 12 months and up | Batteries required: None | Price: £14.97

This colourful game is designed to build hand-eye co-ordination, as well as hone fine motor skills and stimulate shape recognition, as your child uses the colourful wooden blocks to balance the friendly crocodile.

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SMARTMAX SMX230 Construction Toy

SMARTMAX My First Totem

Age suitability: 1 year and up | Batteries required: None | Price: £19.99

My First Totem has picked up multiple awards for innovation and being a great toy for stimulating young minds. The set features 8 colourful magnetic building blocks, with different sounds, styles and textures. Little ones can combine the sensory blocks to build the coolest totem; or follow one of the 24 fun challenges.

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Tidlo Wooden Activity Walker

Tidlo Wooden Activity Walker

Age suitability: 1 year and up | Batteries required: None | Price: £49.99

As well as helping little ones take their first steps, a durable learner walker, like the Tidlo Wooden Activity Walker pictured, also features plenty of activities to keep toddlers entertained and busy. The spinning cage rattle, mini abacus, spinning mirror and matching blocks there’s plenty to stimulate young minds.

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Djeco - Topanifarm

Djeco Topanifarm

Age suitability: 18 months and up | Batteries required: None | Price: £24.03

This cute little farm-themed set may look like sweet animals in small boxes, but this block and tower set is a great way to get small children practising their construction skills and hand-eye co-ordination, whilst learning about different animals and their homes.

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Kids Piano Mat

Kids Piano Mat

Age suitability: 18 months and up | Batteries required: None | Price: £16.99

Great for encouraging children’s creativity and musical expression, this musical mat comes with eight different piano ‘keys’ which each make the sound of a different instrument. Easy to use like a retro dance mat, children will love jumping around and experimenting with sounds.

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Petit Collage PTC261 Wooden Game

Petit Collage Fishing Around Wooden Fishing Game

Age suitability: 3 years and up | Batteries required: None | Price: £21.05

This wooden game is great for developing dexterity in children and getting them to learn to focus to achieve their goal. Sure to keep children entertained for hours they can play on their own or in small groups, learning to take turns.

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LEGO 10696 Classic Medium Creative Brick Box

LEGO 10696 Classic Medium Creative Brick Box

Age suitability: 4 years and up | Batteries required: None | Price: £28.99

A classic that just doesn’t seem to age, Lego is an educational toy that has been inspiring children for generations. Dig your old box of Lego out of the attic to pass down to your kids or get them started with this epic set of coloured blocks that come in a handy storage box.

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