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  • Peg Marano

All I want for the holidays…

Everyone asks us the same question... what are some educational toys we can get for your toddlers. And honestly, any toy that you can create an interaction with is an educational toy because of the process. That said there are some that are better than others. The over arching theme here is child-directed play. So here's our list of favorite things....


Toys that engage in creative play are our FAVORITE!!!!!!! Think play kitchens, doll houses, baby dolls, race tracks, building sets (out side of legos though I love a lego set). These toys create engagement as well as process. Kitchen sets, baby dolls, etc help children model behavior. It helps them observe the world around them and process it into their own experience. They begin to understand relationships, emotions, social interactions and how the world works. Race tracks, building sets, etc create the ability to see clearly cause and effect relationships. They begin to predict outcomes and understand connections which are necessary skills for math and science processes. So here are a few of my favorites!


This KidKraft wooden farm to table play kitchen is my favorite. Actually any play kitchen that fits your place and has some food, cookware, serving wear, and cleaning products are fabulous. This KidKraft one offers the concept of farming/gardening so you get a little science happening there as well. With this set children will engage in creative play. Model everyday life skills, engage in social emotional learning, and develop loads of vocabulary. It's also well made, compact and reasonably priced. Some of these kitchens rival a total remodel!! Check it out HERE.


Along this same idea are construction work benches. There are a couple I like especially The Step 2 Pro Workshop is pretty fabulous and compact and has a good bit of tools and some storage . They all work the same skills as the play kitchen and also help to develop some nice fine motor skills along with some killer eye hand coordination necessary for writing skills. Check it out HERE.


My next favorite set of toys are play sets. I'm not particular to a product but I like ones that children are familiar with so this will be a personal choice. I'm including a few different types but the concept here is to choose something they will engage with creatively. Retelling stories that they see on a favorite tv show or something they just have an affinity for like this farm set or superheroes are a perfect way to engage in creative child-directed play. Check these out! Click here for the farm set pictured. For the Peppa Pig fan. For the Little Superhero in your life.

The simplest of items and one of my all time favaorites are puzzles. Sometimes we get fed up with puzzles because they have SO MANY PIECES. Alphabet puzzles all 26 letters!? But there are some simpler ones that will engage the same necessary processes. One of the biggest skills being "grit" which is the ability to learn that failure is not the end game but a step in the process to success. Not to mention a nice little workout for those fine motor skills as they turn pieces to figure out how the fit.

The puzzles pictured come with their own storage rack! Check them out HERE.

HERE is a smaller animal puzzle set option.

(If you already have puzzles I love these storage bags to keep them together and allow them to store vertically!)


Speaking of fine motor skills I LOVE PLAY-DOH!!!! There I said it. Every parent hates it because it has surely ruined a carpet or two but used at a kitchen table or in their high chair contains the mess. Nothing can produce the fine motor development like a few cans of PLAY-DOH. I like this simple bulk PlayDoh pack!

I'll also include one that will help engage in the writing process if they are ready. I love these because they aren't electronic and require some fine motor action to erase their doodles. Erasing also helps their fine motor development. Don't worry too much about how they are holding at pencil. That skill takes time to develop but practice equals progress. Here's this fun "tablet!"


Another favorite for creative imaginative play are Magna Tiles. They work all of the same developmental skills but really emphasize the child-directed play (they set the rules of the play).

Click HERE for the pictured Magnetic Blocks!

Click HERE for classic MagnaTiles!



I couldn't write a blog post about toys without saying this ... LESS IS MORE. We are giving our kids too much choice and frankly it is overwhelming for them. Think about trying to figure out a paint color and walking into Home Depot and staring at the wall of colors to find the perfect pale blue. Are you feeling the anxiety? Your kids are no different. I also know that perhaps if you are living in an apartment space is a premium. So here is a subscription set that offers some great creative play options at a fair and reasonable price. They are curated by educators and are age specific. Click here for rental/subscription info.


And for the record... your kids aren't going to remember what they got at the holidays but they will remember the interactions. So create good memories... they're free and long lasting for all of you.




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