We began our minimalism journey when our oldest child was three years old. As first-time parents, we had bought into the myth that our baby needed ALL the things from the infant aisles at Target. When we moved from a three-bedroom house (with a basement!) to a two-bedroom apartment, we realized things had to change. Over the last six years, we have focused on finding and keeping only the BEST learning toys for our two girls.
The key is finding learning toys that will grow with our kids though several ages and stages. Now that our girls are 6 and 9, our toy collection is pretty much complete!
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Learning toys for babies:
- Bristle Blocks
We got this set of bristle blocks for our younger daughter’s first birthday! Little ones love to grab the blocks, the bristles are great for teething, and they are a fantastic quiet toy for read alouds when kiddos get older.
Learning toys for toddlers:
- Mental Blox
Mental Blox are one of our favorite building materials. The blocks are made of a light plastic, small enough for older babies and young toddlers to play with. Preschoolers can sort the blocks by shape and color, or use the enclosed picture cards to recreate structures. Older children can use the blocks for geometry lessons, to discover the differences between circles and spheres, squares and cubes.
- Kitchen + play food
We bought this kitchen on clearance at Cracker Barrel (similar) the year our younger daughter turned 2. Four years later, it’s still a toy that gets played with whenever we have friends over. Our girls love to play restaurant and hotel, and having a kitchen gives them some fun opportunities for imaginative play.
- Melissa & Doug cutting set
Our cutting fruit is a toy that has been well-loved for years. We have a cheaper, plastic version, and I wish we would have invested in a wooden set from the beginning. Toddlers love the Velcro sound when the pieces are separated, plus they are great for learning vocabulary, practicing matching, and having fun making silly combinations.
- Wooden Blocks/Jenga
Our girls have a set of wooden blocks (similar to these), but they have more fun with our Jenga set that we bought at a thrift store. Last spring, I painted them in gradient patterns for an extra layer of learning.
Learning toys for preschoolers:
- Dress-up clothes
Starting a dress-up box for your kiddos will provide hours of fun! We like to buy individual pieces that can be mixed and matched to create new scenarios: masks, hats, vests, and scarves that can be used in a variety of ways.
- Train set
I never expected my kids to enjoy having a train set, but we slowly added pieces over the years and it is now one of our favorite winter toys. The girls have gone from watching us build a configuration to creating their own.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that we used to live in a two-bedroom apartment. Having an indoor trampoline has been a lifesaver on days when it is too hot or too cold to play outside. Our version (similar) has a handlebar that is easy to remove, making it fit perfectly under a twin-size bed for easy storage. (It also makes a great addition to our reading nook.)
- Busy Farm
Any type of animal counters will serve your children well. From counting, to sorting by color, to using for imaginative play, we have loved our little animals.
We bought our easel from IKEA, and it has provided hours of fun. From drawing to writing messages to each other, it’s the perfect size for toddlers and preschoolers to discover their inner artist.
- Playdough + cookie cutters
Making homemade playdough is one of our favorite activities! We have had this set of cookie cutters for years; it includes letters, numbers, seasonal items, and a variety of shapes. I love that our girls can use them for painting and tracing as well.
- UNO Cards
There are so many fun educational games for families to play, but I picked UNO specifically because of its versatility. I wrote more about the ways we like to play with the cards in this post: 7 Must-Have Math Toys for Every Family
Learning toys for kids:
There are a number of marble runs available these days, but we are partial to the Discovery Toys version. The quality, durability, and guarantee are SO worth it! We have gotten more than our money’s worth over the past five years or so.
As we enter the holiday shopping season, I would love to hear YOUR family’s favorite learning toys!
Come join the discussion in our private Facebook group, The Parent Resource Room:
These are fantastic!
I always loved those bristle blocks. I just noticed you are in Iowa. My husband and I graduated from UNI. 🙂