I was recently introduced to Helen Sadovsky, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist who started an Instagram account dedicated to sharing her favorite learning games and toys for kids. She says that when parents think about their child development, they often consider the importance of good nutrition, adequate sleep, and appropriate behavior-management, but sometimes miss another important component— the importance of choosing high quality toys.

Children learn through play, so you want to pick toys that expose them to new experiences, concepts, and ideas. I know that since Harlow likes to mainly play dress-up and with dolls, I have to make an effort to introduce learning games into her repertoire, something I did a little more easily with Mazzy.

To help, Helen compiled a list of 12 toys that would be valuable for children who are about to start, or are currently in kindergarten. These, of course, are just ideas, and reading through them will hopefully inspire you to find more great toys on your own!

1) Shelby’s Snack Shack

I love Shelby’s Snack Shack because it works on so many important developmental skills. While playing, children practice turn-taking, counting, following directions, and recognizing numbers. Also, using tweezers to pick up objects helps strengthen hands. Strengthening muscles in the hands can help children hold pencils and manipulate other small objects needed for life and learning (i.e. scissors, buttons, zippers).

2) See & Spell

See & Spell not only teaches kids to recognize and match letters but is also great for practicing spelling words as kids get older. Spreading the letters on a table or the floor and asking kids to locate the correct ones also promotes visual scanning and visual attention, which are skills needed for reading.

3) Silly Street

Silly Street is a creative board game, floor puzzle, and dramatic adventure in one. To move forward in the game, children are required to perform silly actions that are written on the cards. These cards incorporate movement, creativity, interaction, motor-planning, coordination, and communication challenges. Silly Street is a great game to help boost confidence and socialization.

Sight Word Swat is an absolutely awesome game for kids who are learning to read. The goal is to find and SWAT the “fly” while the sight word is read. This game encourages visual scanning, attention, and quick reaction time, while helping build vocabulary, reading, and spelling. Sight Word Swat comes with 220 different sight words.

5) Memory Yoga

Memory Yoga is a great way to introduce kids to yoga poses while working on visual attention and visual memory.  Yoga is known to help refine balance, coordination, focus, and discipline. It also provides sensory input that calms the nervous system.

6) Sum Swamp

Sum Swamp is a board game focused on teaching and reinforcing basic addition and subtraction in young kids. I love that kids can learn and practice early math skills without being aware of it.

Kids often struggle with relating the events of stories in the order that they occurred. With How to Tell a Story Blocks, kids have a chance to practice this skill by creating and telling their own stories. Each cube has a different story element. There is conflict, character, motivation, dialogue, theme, and climax.

What Letter Do I Start With? is an excellent board game that combines Eye Spy with early literacy skills. Players take turns picking letters and racing to find pictures that start with that letter. A picture of an airplane can be used with the letter A for Airplane or P for Propeller.

Playing with Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty is a lot of fun but is also beneficial for stimulating the sense of touch, developing hand strength and bilateral coordination (use of two hands together). It can also be used as a fidget toy to improve focus during listening tasks. Aaron’s Thinking Putty comes in different varieties, consistencies, and colors for children to explore.

If you are sick of Uno and Go Fish, Too Many Monkeys is another great beginner card game to play all together as a family. It’s helps your child practice taking taking turns and following directions, as well as counting, number recognition, and problem-solving. It even introduces the concept of probability, because with each round, the winner gets to play with one less card.

11) IO Blocks

Construction toys promote imagination, creativity, problem-solving, and motor skills (fine motor strength, and coordination of both hands together). Studies have also shown that adults who played with constructions toys as children have better spatial reasoning skills. IO Blocks is an open-ended construction set that comes with unique shaped pieces that interlock together in multiple ways. It also includes sample cards with design ideas and an App that’s free to download that lets you see 3D views of the designs.

Helen wanted to add that “although choosing the right toys is incredibly valuable, it cannot replace the benefits that children receive from unstructured play outdoors, playground equipment, running, or visiting a museum. Those experiences are invaluable in the development of healthy nervous systems, socialization, motor skills, language, and communication, and they should be incorporated into children’s lives as much as possible.”

Let me know what your favorite learning games are in the comments below!

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Helen Sadovsky has been a Pediatric Occupational Therapist for over 9 years. She runs Toy Ideas, which shares innovative developmental toys for children on Instagram. She also founded Personalized Toy Ideas, a service that provides parents with appropriate toy suggestions specifically for their child’s interests, play skills, and abilities. To learn more about her mission, check out her website and follow her Facebook page.