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Educational toy facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Lego Color Bricks
Lego bricks encourage learning through play.
A girl with LeapPad

Educational toys (sometimes called "instructive toys") are objects of play, generally designed for children, which are expected to stimulate learning. They are often intended to meet an educational purpose such as helping a child develop a particular skill or teaching a child about a particular subject. They often simplify, miniaturize, or model activities and objects used by adults.

Although children are constantly interacting with and learning about the world, many of the objects they interact with and learn from are not toys. Toys are generally considered to be specifically built for children's use. A child might play with and learn from a rock or a stick, but it would not be considered an educational toy because 1) it is a natural object, not a designed one, and 2) it has no expected educational purpose.

The difference lies in perception or reality of the toy's intention and value. An educational toy is expected to educate. It is expected to instruct, promote intellectuality, emotional or physical development. An educational toy should teach a child about a particular subject or help a child develop a particular skill. More toys are designed with the child's education and development in mind today than ever before.

Educational theories and play

Sometimes described as "the work of children", child's play can be viewed as the process through which children experience the world, practicing and internalizing new skills and ideas. Experiences include imitation, reasoning about cause and effect, solving problems, and engaging in symbolic thinking." As children grow and learn, the repertoire of skills which they are developmentally ready to acquire expands, building upon previous knowledge. Play is important for children's cognitive, emotional, and social development.

Teachers who use educational toys in classroom settings try to identify toys that will be appropriate to a child's developmental level, existing skills, and interests. They try to engage children with toys in ways that support cognitive development. Many educators emphasize the importance of open-ended imaginative play, exploration and social engagement. Toys with the quality of open-endedness can be used by children in a variety of ways and at different ages and developmental levels. Educational toys vary widely in terms of their open-endedness and their potential for exploration, imaginative play, and social engagement. Play theorist Brian Sutton Smith, who advocates for free play, has asserted that "the plans of the playful imagination dominate the objects or the toys, not the other way around." Toys whose design is more heavily specified and restricted may be less intuitive for children to use, and require more engagement and support from adults. Many studies of educational toys report that the effectiveness of a toy is more related to the involvement and guidance of adults, or to the child's intellectual level, than to the toy itself.

Educational toys claim to enhance intellectual, social, emotional, and/or physical development. Educational toys are thus designed to target development milestones within appropriate age groups. For preschool age youngsters, simple wooden blocks might be a good starting point for a child to begin to understand causal relationships, basic principles of science (e.g. if a block falls from the top of a structure, it will fall until a surface stops its fall), and develop patience and rudimentary hand-eye coordination. For a child moving towards elementary school, other, more sophisticated manipulatives might further aid the development of these skills. Interlocking manipulative toys like Lego or puzzles challenge the child to improve hand-eye coordination, patience, and an understanding of spatial relationships. Finally, a child in elementary school might use very sophisticated construction sets that include moving parts, motors and others to help further understand the complex workings of the world. Importantly, the educational value derived by the child increases when the educational toy is age appropriate.

Measuring educational effectiveness

Studies that examine the usefulness of manipulatives have found that outcomes may vary widely depending on physical characteristics of the materials themselves and the ways in which they are used. Emphasis is often placed on the importance of the physicality of the manipulative, but some work on teaching geometry concepts suggests that manipulability and meaningfulness are more important than physicality. Students who used a Logo computer program that required them to consider their actions carefully learned more than students who learned from textbooks, and retained that knowledge longer than students who used physical manipulatives.


Toys are big business: the global toy market is estimated at over 80 billion US dollars annually. In 2013 the average household in the United Kingdom spent the equivalent of $438 US per child on toys, while US families spent $336 per child. In advertising, "educational toys" are sometimes differentiated from "promotional" toys, which are marketed primarily as part of a group of related products (e.g. American Girl dolls, Transformers, Steven Universe toys). It is also possible for these categories to overlap (e.g. Star Wars Legos).

The term "educational toy" is often applied in toy advertising to promote sales to parents. The packaging of many toys includes a table of skills and benefits asserted to be enhanced by use of the product. The actual developmental benefit of these, by comparison to a cheaper, simpler or more easily available product, is often unproven. In many cases homemade educational toys may be just as effective as expensive purchased ones, as long as developmental issues are understood.


Didactic model of anatomical planes
Didactic model of anatomical planes

Examples of educational toys include:

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