Toys That Delight & Educate Children from Zero to Five

Finding the right gifts for children is a challenge – even when you work in early education. We’re all looking for something that’s fun, entertaining, and educational. But how can you tell the difference between something that the kids will toss aside upon opening Christmas morning and something that will delight and educate? This year I turned to a few experts who happen to work down the hall from me and asked them to share their gift ideas that prove educational toys are also some of the most fun.

First I asked Kent Mitchell, Early Learning Indiana’s VP of Outreach & Partnerships, who also happens to be the dad of a little learner, for his fun and educational present picks. His response, “Magna-Tiles are an amazing gift. Kids can use them in many different ways, so they support exploration and various stages of development. They also promote hand-eye control!” Magna-Tiles are designed to hold a child’s interest and attention and also build developmental skills while promoting imaginative play. Want to upgrade your Magna-experience? Users and toy makers alike have uploaded a range of videos that highlight all the fun ways to play with these geometric building units.

Courtney Penn, Pre-K Family Engagement Corps’ AmeriCorps Program Director and Family Engagement Specialist gave me a multitude of ideas. More than just proven playthings, she highlighted her go-to toy company: Lakeshore Learning. Although she loves Lakeshore toys, she says her most tried and true gift are wrapped-up reads — books. “I like to give them something educational; that they can keep for a while.”

On My Way Pre-K Coordinator and former Day Early Learning Center Director, Marla Segal, loves dramatic play items like dollhouses and baby dolls for boys and girls – after all toys have no gender roles. What is her favorite gift item for any child? The popular children’s book, The Little Engine That Could!  “I love the moral of the story, and it was also one of my favorite books as a kid!” As a mother, she loves gifts that encourage artistic expression and toys that she knows her young daughter will learn from and grow with.

babyemsEarly Learning Indiana’s Development & Marketing Associate Brittany Fortman shared fun ideas for infants because she has a 7-month-old son. She says her favorite gifts so far have been a sit-and-stand activity walker because it grows with baby and has numbers, shapes, colors, letters, and animals to learn from. Also, she said raved about Stack & Roll cups! “These are my favorite right now. They can stack and they also connect and make a ball to practice rolling. Stacking and counting are great for teaching early math skills.”

In the end, I was pleased with what I learned from my friendly and experienced colleagues. As a mom, I’ve come to realize that really any toy can be educational. Through interactive play with children and giving them a chance to express themselves, we encourage our children to learn by doing. Now that I have a new outlook when purchasing toys, I am excited to find more great tools to combine fun and growth.


Maya Taylor is Partnerships for Early Learners’ Family & Community Engagement AmeriCorps Public Ally. Her work focuses on providing useful information and opportunities for engagement to families of young learners.