Family Favorites: Educational Toys for Play-Based Learning

School is officially out, and while parents, teachers and children may be rejoicing, the dreaded summer “brain drain” looms in the background. With about a third of the school year spent at home, learning through worksheets and/or digital resources, parents are more nervous than ever that their kids will fall behind if/when school begins in the fall. 

We’ve compiled a list of toys for all ages that encourage learning through play. Whether you give one of these items to a birthday boy/girl or surprise your own child, you can rest assured that s/he will be learning important skills under the guise of playing. Research backs the importance of learning through play, especially for early education, and after the disruption of the 2019-2020 school year, parents and children need all the support they can get. 

Lucky Ducks is a wacky, quacky memory and matching game that practices developmental skills for young children, helping kids with shape recognition, color matching, and memory. Lucky Ducks is a modern version of a traditional matching game that moves while players try to find a match, which makes it easier for little fingers/hands that can’t necessarily hold a deck of cards. It’s also simple enough that young children can play independently! For 2-4 players, ages 3 and up. Available on Amazon (with over 800 positive reviews!) and Walmart.


Chef Showdown Food Matching Game is a food-themed matching activity game for 2-4 young players that teaches matching skills. Flip the sand timer and start the food matching madness! Race to find a perfect match on your card to the food cards on the table. As soon as you find a match, place your chef on that card! But watch out — the other players can knock off your chef if they also have a match! This is another fast-paced family game that is simple enough for preschoolers but engaging enough for older kids (and adults). Ages 4+.  MSRP $39.99. Available at Amazon and Walmart


Little Medical School® “How to be a Great Sibling” teaches big brothers/sisters how to care for the newest addition to the family. Choose from two baby options, “caucasian” or “multi-cultural” and help keep older sibling engaged and a part of the process when bringing a new sibling home. Activities include Prepare for Baby, Keep Baby Safe, Watch Baby Grow,  SHHH…Baby is Sleeping, and Be the Best Helper. Ages 4+ but appropriate for slightly younger. MSRP $29.99.


Let’s Go Fishin’ provides reel-y good fun for all ages! The rotating pond and fish that open and close their mouths allow children to practice fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination as they race to catch the most fish. Each game only lasts a minute or so, so parents can join the fun without committing to an hour of gameplay (Monopoly, anyone?). Other bonus: kids can play this game on their own, so it’s perfect when mom/dad needs a few moments to get something done. For 1-4 players; ages 4 and up. Available at Amazon (over 3.5K positive reviews) and Walmart.


Little Medical School® “How to Be a Veterinarian” offers aspiring veterinarians a variety of hands-on and educational activities. This “Classroom in a Box” kid can be enjoyed multiple times as the laminated boards can be erased when used with the enclosed dry-erase marker. The five separate activities include Adopt A Pet, Perform A Nose To Tail Exam, Measuring Your Dog, Healthy Treats and Sick of Ticks. The included plush dog is cuddly and soft and perfect as a nighttime companion for younger kids. The kit is designed for children 6+ but can easily be adapted for younger kids. MSRP $29.99.

LEGO® sets are classic and timeless for a reason; they provide endless hours of imaginative play. Kids learn to follow directions and the fundamentals of design and engineering in order to correctly build their chosen set. LEGOs encourage creativity, independence, and allow kids to use their imagination. They are fundamental “building blocks” for a STEM education. Sets are clearly marked by age, but most start around age 6. For younger kids, check out the larger LEGO counterpart, DUPLOs, which are appropriate for kids under 6. Available at Amazon, Target, and most stores that carry children’s toys. Prices vary.

Erin Schoen Marsh
Erin Schoen Marsh
Erin is a writer/editor, yoga teacher, and mama to two little ones.

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