What are the best preschool toys?

The first thing to keep in mind when purchasing toys for preschool children is that expensive toys do not necessarily mean educational toys.

In my opinion, the most important considerations are:

  • Quality
  • Purpose
  • Ongoing value

Toy considerations

The best approach is to invest in toys that are appropriate and adaptable for different stages of development.

Independent Play

We want to provide children with toys that can be used  independently.  For example, stacking rings: these rings are designed to be stacked in order of size but can be stacked in any order. One child may be arranging them by size while another child maybe developing fine motor and eye hand coordination skills by simply stacking them.

Toys that provide a visual guide will allow the child to work independently and self-pace. For example, a puzzle that has a picture for reference. This picture may be on the board where the puzzle is being assembled or on the lid of the box.

If you would like to read more about puzzles specifically, please read my dedicated article on the topic.

Toys in the preschool environment

Parents should note that a toy that is appropriate for home may not be suitable for a preschool. A toy in the preschool setting needs to be durable as it will be explored by lots of little hands.

When purchasing toys for preschool we need to consider the safety aspects of the toy and the age group, interests and needs of the children. Are the children going to put the toy in their mouths? What materials and allergies do we need to be aware of?

Some important considerations include:

  • Sensibilities of parents (e.g. religious toys)
  • Superhero toys (unsuitable role playing)
  • Guns (especially in today’s world. However, may be appropriate in a farming or rural community.)
  • Gender specific toys
  • Toys that are suitable for a variety of play experiences. For example individual play, quiet times and small groups for shared and cooperative play.

If you are looking for a comprehensive book on games for preschool children, I invite you to download my free ebook on the topic.

Respect for Toys

An important part of early childhood learning is that we are instilling respect for people, our surroundings and belongings. Part of this is for the child to be responsible for taking care of the toys.  For example, I included a delicate China tea set in the home corner for the children to use. The children had respect for the tea set and understood “If you drop it, it will break”. There were many special parties where food was served on the tea set. It is still being used with all pieces intact to this day.

10 of my favorite toys

Below I’ve outlined 10 of my favorite toys for preschool children and explained why I like them. If you would like to view the toy on Amazon please just click the picture.

Animal Puppets

Puppets are great for:

  • Language and encouraging children to use different voices
  • Role play – fantasy and real-life situations
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Sensory development
  • Hand and finger coordination
  • Social play
  • Introducing the idea of the performer and the audience
  • Listening as an audience
  • Taking turns
  • Confidence

You can use puppets to accompany a book or set up a puppet theater.

Threading Buttons & Spools

Benefits of this toy include:

  • Several children can play at one time
  • Introduces the concept of sorting and categorizing
  • Develops eye/hand coordination
  • Caters for different abilities – buttons are smaller with smaller holes, making them more challenging than the spools
  • Introducing the concept of comparison – measuring and comparing the lengths of completed threading
  • Colors and sequencing
  • Promotes sharing, taking turns, cooperation and teamwork, for example passing certain colors to friends

The children love turning their threading into a necklace and giving to the teacher to wear!

Super Magnet Lab

This is a science kit that allows for experimentation and exploration. It introduces the concept of magnetism.

This toy encourages:

  • Language: lots of talking and discussion as children explain and describe their discoveries
  • trial and error
  • patience
  • making hypotheses/predictions and testing them out
  • Consideration of the properties of materials
  • Eye/hand coordination

This kit can be used outside as well. A great extension activity is to draw charts or pictures of the results (magnetic/non-magnetic).

Play Register

This toy enables role play of a real life experience. The children practice interacting politely in a service context.

Benefits of this toy include:

  • A sensory experience with the register making noise and the feel of the textured coins
  • Modelling manners and language for real life situations
  • Eye/hand coordination
  • Sorting and matching – by color and size of coins
  • Number recognition
  • Maths concepts – grouping of 3, 6 and 9
  • One-to-one corresponding counting
  • Social interactions involving pairs or small groups in social play

Super Sorting Pie

This toy introduces concepts such as:

  • Colors
  • Sorting
  • Social interactions – group/pairs play
  • Grouping
  • Patterns
  • Pre-math: ‘more and less’ ‘full and empty’

This toy reinforces fine motor skills. Children with refined skills can use the provided tweezers or tongs for easier grasping.

You can use this toy as a basis to discuss healthy foods, likes and dislikes. You can provide real fruit to make it a more real-life experience. Alternatively it can be used in the ‘home’ area for pretend cooking.

Lego and Duplo


A much loved toy over the years, it’s not only fun but offers many developmental benefits:

  • Eye/hand coordination
  • Social skills – sharing
  • Creativity / imagination
  • Maths concepts – height, width
  • Balance (when creating tall towers)
  • Language – children can talk about what they’ve made, animal sounds, colors etc
  • Planning and designing

Sometimes children just want to build – without a specific goal in mind. It is best to phrase questions or statements to encourage conversations. For example “Tell me about it”, rather than “What is it?”.

Lego and Duplo can be kept aside to continue construction the next day. Ensure that you have ample available for 4 children to play with at the one time.

Adding different pieces such as farm animals or wheels gives an extra play dimension.

Hammer and Nails

This is a fun toy that requires muscle strength and the use of the wrist and full arm.

The toy develops:

  • Eye/hand coordination
  • Understanding of patterns
  • Identification of Shapes
  • Identification of colors
  • Imagination / design planning
  • Ability to follow set designs
  • Ability to match the set designs
  • Naming a variety of shapes
  • Visual discrimination

When this toy is used as a game it also introduces the concepts of:

  • Taking turns
  • Concept of spinning the pointer
  • Resilience

You can access my comprehensive e-book about my favourite games for pre-schoolers here.

Wooden Train Set

This toy is perfect for encouraging creativity and imagination.

Children design together in a social situation, sharing and cooperating.

They use their language and work together.  Pre-math language is required for example long, short or tall. The children practice describing, such as curved or arched pieces.

Other math concepts include taking the train ‘under’, ‘though’ or ‘across’. Children can identify patterns and shapes in the track with straight and curved pieces.

Science concepts are explored, such as the concept of going faster downhill and magnetism. Spatial awareness is necessary as the child’s whole body is following the track as they push the train around while avoiding dismantling the track.

A road for cars can be extended from the track using blocks, for example.

Real life experiences in road and rail safety can be discussed.

Fine motor skills are practised, for example, wheeling the trains around. The track is interlocking, similar to puzzle pieces

Dollhouse

A dollhouse can be a social experience. It can be a quiet experience played alone, played alongside another child or shared together with 2-3 children. The children are cooperating, working together and exchanging ideas. They are using their imaginations in their role play.

Children use their sorting, classifying and problem solving skills to design the furniture layout of the rooms.

Language skills are developed when children make up stories about what is happening in the house, T drawing on personal experiences. They are also listening to and respecting others’ ideas and opinions in the play.

A Dollhouse is a quieter, calming activity for both boys and girls when settling in to preschool.

Shapes Bean

The games that you and the children can create using the beanbags are unlimited.

Some ideas are:

  • Replacing balls for throwing and catching (gross motor and eye/hand coordination)
  • Balancing beanbags on their head while walking to music
  • Sorting and classifying according to color and shape
  • Parachute games (Beanbags can be placed under the parachute for the children to retrieve according to a chosen color or shape)
  • Weighing – math concepts of heavy and light
  • Counting
  • Reinforcing names of body parts (place on your arm, on your shoulder, etc)
  • Hopscotch – can adapt by drawing the shapes, rather than using numbers

Beanbags are a sensory experience and are adaptable for inside games due to their safe attributes.

What toys do you like to have in your preschool classroom?

 

What are the best preschool toys? TicTacTeach