How to choose toys to support your pre-schooler’s learning

October 31, 2018 Published by

One of the biggest myths about playing is that it is a waste of time unless it has a purpose. But even scientists agree: play is vital for your child’s development.

For play to be valuable to your child’s learning, it doesn’t need to to be ‘educational’ – there are many, many more skills that will come in handy at school and beyond besides reading, writing and maths.

“Whilst it’s great to find toys that engage children with things they’ll learn at school such as words and numbers, toys that develop their social skills are key for this age group as these are correlated with success at school as well as being important for children’s emotional well-being.” Dr Amanda Gummer 

Your child needs listening skills, to learn from their teacher. They need to be able to concentrate to do their work. They need social skills to make friends, the ability to manage their emotions, creativity to solve problems.

So when you are looking for toys that will support your child’s learning, remember that at this age they’re learning more by doing this:

Than this:

Imaginative play

Playing make-believe is really popular at this age and is the superfood of the balanced play diet, so it’s something that’s difficult to get too much of.

Pretend play encourages your child’s imagination, storytelling, language and social skills, while also giving them a chance to explore their understanding of the world.

So I suggest looking for toys that support this make-believe play – shop role-play props (e.g. play food and money), toy animals, dolls and vehicles are usually popular at this age but think about what your child’s interests are and go from there.

Writing and self-care skills

Before your child can learn to hold a pencil to write or do up zips and buttons on their clothes, they need to develop strength and coordination in their hand and finger muscles (known as fine motor control).

Arts and crafts are a brilliant way to develop your child’s fine motor control. Messy play is particularly good because it is very sensory, so it’s even more stimulating for inquisitive little minds.

But if the thought of cleaning up afterwards is too much to bear (I can’t blame you!), there are lots of slightly less messy alternatives such as paint sticks.


Nurturing independence, curiosity, confidence and social skills will give your little one the best possible start in school and life.

To help you find good toys to support these skills and more, we’ve highlighted some of our pre-schooler favourites in the Christmas Good Toy Guide which you can view here. Simply click on the toy to read the full review online, including in-depth age guidance as well as an overview of the skills the toy can help your child develop.

For more advice and tips for Christmas, take a look at The Christmas Good Toy Guide magazine.

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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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