Toys: the silly four-letter word parents cringe at when they come between a clean room, a sibling argument or a holiday wish list that seems to be overflowing with all things T-O-Y. Although, as parents, we feel like toys are overtaking our living spaces at times, we do know that they play a vital role in the way our children explore the world and become familiar with key social, emotional and educational skills, even before the school years hit. Deciphering between the aisles of toys at your local big box store can feel overwhelming, especially when the next hot toy is right around the corner. We encourage you to choose toys that foster skill-building initiatives across an array of developmental necessities, from fine and gross motor skills to social, emotional and educational development benchmarks.
Here are our top picks for 2021 by age group:
From the day they’re born up through about three or four months, babies’ eyesight isn’t fully developed to see colors or low-contrast patterns. Because of this, it’s important to show them high-contrast (especially black and white) images to help them learn to focus their vision.
These fun panels feature high contrast patterns that youngest babies need for their developing vision. They also have soft, squishy shapes, gentle crinkles, and fun textures to encourage the baby’s sense of touch and hearing. The small size of the panels makes them easy to toss your stroller or diaper bag, and you can either keep them separate for an individual experience or attach them to form a soft booklet.
This interactive walker features a removable play panel and an early learning center that allows for hours of fun and learning for your little one. Ideally, for babies 9 to 36 months, this toy grows with your baby into toddlerhood. This walker includes 3 different shape sorters and 3 light-up buttons to begin development on fine motor skills. With over 70 different songs, sound effects, and phrases, this toy is sure to foster strong sensory development at all stages.
It’s an exciting day when your baby moves on from bashing their toys and starts pretend play… except now you can’t do anything in the kitchen without them wanting to join you and play sous-chef. While this can be scary as a parent, learning by imitation is an important stage of development. The learning tower is the perfect solution to foster independence and interactive learning! Designed by a Montessori school educator, the tower elevates your child to kitchen counter height so they can get in on the action. You can also buy additional educational boards and ramps, which help kids improve their color perception and coordination.
This preschooler version of Bingo is a board game that equals hours of fun! The simple game is similar to bingo where each child competes to be the first one to fill their Zingo cards. Each tile has a simple image labeled with the word describing the image. The game teaches kids letter-word association as they match common words with the pictures while playing the game. It is the winner of an Oppenheim Gold Award, Parents’ Choice Gold Award, Astra Best Toys for Kids Award, and more.
This is the perfect gift for an aspiring scientist. Packed with 47 materials to perform 30 kid-friendly scientific experiments, this set will keep your school-aged kids entertained for hours. The kit contains fun materials to help your budding scientists create experiments like rainbow rain, erupting volcanoes, bottle-blowing balloons, and more. Your child can learn about scientific cause and effect, how mixing chemicals work, and more. The kit stimulates your child’s scientific interest and introduces them to lab work, which can lead to hours of learning and fun.
The most fun gift for an aspiring botanist, this light-up terrarium allows your tween to grow their own mini garden, inside, from scratch. This product has been evaluated by STEM and meets the highest quality standard for a STEM educational toy. Aside from the jar, the kit includes vermiculite soil, blue sand, river rocks, wheatgrass and chia seeds, bunny and mushroom mini figures, removable stickers, a spray bottle and a wooden stick. One of the most fun features for kids is that it glows in the dark, so they can use it as a nightlight while watching their garden come to life.
With technology at an all-time high, we opted to steer clear of any mainstream favorites when it comes to gifts for teens. Airpods, anyone? Instead, we chose KiwiCo’s Electronic 4 Pack Kit. These four advanced electronics projects are designed to teach, engage, and inspire kids and teens! The kit includes everything your teens need to create their own hand-crank flashlight, light chasing robot, light up speaker, and laser projector! Your teen will feel confident and accomplished with this fun technology-forward option from KiwiCo.
When it comes to gifting, especially during the holiday season, it can be hard to decipher exactly what toys, gadgets or favors to get for the children in your life, especially when the market is saturated with options. We recommend sticking to choices that aid in their development growth to ensure playtime is also a learning experience.