Parents often ask what activities they can do with their children to encourage learning. My response is always play, play, and more play. Children learn primarily through play, especially during the early years. An activity as simple as building blocks helps develop important skills like abstract thinking, creativity, mathematical thinking, literacy, and social skills. Even more, this underrated activity is great for helping visual and tactile learners to understand the world around them.
With that said, there are several toys on the market that develop and strengthen the necessary skills children need to excel academically. To save you time, I chose my top 20 picks on educational toys that encourage critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, fine motor, science, technology, engineering, math skills, and more. Best of all, they’re all under twenty dollars and will provide endless hours of fun! So let’s get into it, shall we?
1. STEM Explorers™ Magnet Movers
STEM Explorers Magnetic Movers is designed to build early physics skills through fun magnetic experiments! The set includes ten open-ended experiments that challenge children to discover the world around them, from lessons in polarity to testing the magnetism of common household items. This is the perfect set to help little scientists build crucial critical thinking, problem-solving, and fine motor skills.
2. STEM Explorers™ Geomakers
STEM Explorers Geomakers is the perfect way to introduce and practice early geometry skills. This set allows children to craft their own two and three-dimensional shapes while building critical thinking and fine motor skills through open-ended play.
3. Crashapult™ STEM Challenge
The Crashapult STEM Challenge activity set teaches children concepts of angles, trajectories, and other physics fundamentals. The hands-on activity challenges children to build and complete high-flying obstacle courses designed around core STEM concepts. This set is also a wonderful way to practice trial-and-error, engineering, and critical thinking skills.
4. Gears! Gears! Gears!® WreckerGears™
WreckerGears encourages children to build new STEM skills with their own construction and destruction machines! Little engineers can build along with the designs in the included guide or let their imagination run free.
5. Skate Park Engineering & Design Building Set
This Skate Park Engineering & Design Building Set is great for tactile and visual learners. Children can build ramps and jumps while challenging their critical thinking, problem-solving, and STEM skills. This set is a great teambuilding activity for the entire family or a healthy challenge for that little engineer in your life.
6. Splashology! Water Lab
Your little water lover can explore the wonders of water science with the Splashology Water Lab. This lab is specially designed for the bathtub, sink, or water table and introduces children to buoyancy, flow, volume, and more. Children can use the waterproof experiment cards as a guide or enjoy open-ended play.
7. Rock ‘n’ Gem Surprise
Rock ‘n’ Gem Surprise is an awesome no-mess introduction to sorting, matching, and counting. The set comes with a play hammer and chisel, allowing children to crack open each reusable play geode and discover the translucent plastic gemstones inside. Gems also double as manipulatives, coming in eight different colors and four different shapes.
8. Yuckology! Slime Lab
Children will learn the science behind the colorful goop with this Yukology Slime Lab. All your little scientist needs are common ingredients found around the house and they can practice and build those early science skills as they mix, stir, and stretch their own slime creations. This lab also increases STEM skills in color mixing, measurement, and much more.
9. Yumology! Sweets Lab
Learn the science of sweet treats with the Yumology Sweet Lab. With this lab, your little chef can make yummy treats using common ingredients found around the pantry. This set is a great way to build early STEM skills as children measure, mix, chill, and eat their own ice pops, juices, and no-bake treats. No heat is required and it comes with a handy experiment guide for additional learning.
10. Pendulonium™ STEM Challenge
The Pendulonium STEM Challenge is great for learning physics fundamentals. This hands-on activity set challenges children’s engineering, problem solving, and critical thinking skills as they explore early physics concepts such as force and momentum in search of the ideal solution. Additionally, the Pendulonium STEM Challenge is completely kid-powered, helping build hand-eye coordination and muscle control.
11. Beaker Creatures® Whirling Wave Reactor
The Whirling Wave Reactor is a working lab station complete with a science activity guide that comprises 5 fun hands-on experiments and mini-posters filled with creature-inspired science facts. The set includes 2 creatures that children can extract, identify, and explore— one of which is a limited edition color-changing creature. Just open the reactor, place the Reactor Pod in the center chamber, fill it with water, and start spinning the lever to create a bubbling reaction that reveals a brand-new Beaker Creature.
12. Beaker Creatures® Magnification Chamber
Does your little scientist like observing things up-close? They’ll love blowing up their Beaker Creatures using this Magnification Chamber. The chamber’s movable magnifier blows up every horn, tentacle, and antenna for better viewing opportunities. The chamber also doubles as a mini lab station for the set’s amazing science experiments inspired by the creatures and their home planets. No need to purchase additional Beaker Creatures, as this set comes with two mystery creatures to explore.
13. Primary Science® Headlamp Projector
Learn the concepts of renewable energy in action with the Primary Science Headlamp Projector. Small solar panels on the lantern’s top collect energy from the sun during the day, storing it in batteries that power the lights within. This lantern is great for portable adventures and concrete learning opportunities. No need for batteries, this lantern stores up to 15 hours of light.
14. Code & Go® Robot Mouse Math Pack
The Code & Go Robot Mouse Math expansion set is great for learning early math concepts. The set includes number and coding cards, dice, and a playmat that helps introduce children to core coding concepts, lessons in addition, subtraction, number sequencing, and more. The set also comes with an activity guide including multiple levels of games, lessons, and suggestion for integrating Colby the Mouse’s coding functions into everyday math lessons. Colby the Mouse is not included, but can be purchased here.
15. Mental Blox® Go!
Your little Einstein can hone their critical thinking skills even when you’re on the go. The Mental Blox On The Go set is a 16-piece puzzle designed to tease brains and challenge critical thinking skills during long flights, short road trips, or even at home. The set includes 30 challenges in all designed to target different skills and subjects.
16. Wise Owl Teaching Bank
Teach your child early money management with the Wise Owl Teaching Bank. This adorable tabletop bank introduces concepts like budgeting, goal-setting, and charitable giving with the help of an included kids money guide and three removable compartments labeled ‘Spend,’ ‘Save,’ and ‘Share.’
17. New Sprouts® Mix It!
Perfect for visual and tactile learners, this New Spouts Mix It set is a great combination of learning and imaginative play. The mixer comes with a beater that really spins, as well as a measuring cup, stick of butter, 2-piece egg, and a mixing bowl. Skills developed include Imagination, role play, social skills, fine motor skills, self help, and vocabulary building.
18. Ten to the Top Addition Game
Ten to the Top Addition Game is just right for your little math enthusiast. The object of the game is to not topple the tower as players race to make ten by stacking a number cube on top of the last one placed. Not only is this a fun way to practice early math skills, but children also build hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and motor planning.
19. Primary Science® Color Mixing Glasses
These unique glasses have eight interchangeable lenses that allow children to observe the world while learning about color. The glasses teach primary colors as well as mixing to make secondary colors by combining up to 2 lenses per side. The set includes additional instruction, a color mixing chart, and kaleidoscopic fun when children use the lenses on their own.
20. Healthy Helpings™ MyPlate Game
Learn about the five food groups and have a fun-filled family game night at the same time with the Healthy Helpings My Plate Game. Be the first to fill your plate with a balanced meal by following the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines. Food cards have real-life photos, are self-checking, and help children create building blocks for a healthy diet.