In very many ways any toy is educational because children learn something from everything they encounter, but for the sake of argument we will reserve this description for toys which deliberately set out to teach a child something, whether that be reading, writing, science or general knowledge. If it has a specifically educational aim then this is where we can look at it (books however will also get a section of their own, because….books!)

At the bottom of the age range are toys which focus on teaching children letters, numbers colours etc. They range from simple sets of letters and numbers in foam to amazing electronic contraptions that make noises and have flashing lights or recorded animal sounds and nursery rhymes. On the plus side having these things in the child’s toy box allows the child to gain familiarity with letters and sounds, and at least the electronic toys don’t get tired of singing the same counting song for the fifteenth time since breakfast, however mere exposure is not enough. In order for children to get the link between the shapes, the sounds and the meanings an adult is going to have to show them the way.


Children almost never teach themselves to count or to read just because you want them to or because some arbitrary developmental list says its time, but if the basic building blocks are in their consciousness and they are familiar with them then you would be surprised how quickly they learn when they decide the time is ready.

Many parents know the joys of structured reading schemes followed by many schools ( though you will get quite tired of them if you have several children). Here are some classics and some new gems that would be welcomed by almost any would be reader.


One of the most neglected skills in today’s schooling is handwriting. I know lots of people who say it is not necessary and that by the time children have left school everything will be done on computers anyway so what is the point. Well the point is we are not there yet, the point is to retain the ability to jot down information, write a quick list, send a birthday card or just enjoy calligraphy. Some days the computer doesn’t work, some times the school or the exam requires pens and pencils – and anyway fine motor skills and the ability to handle a pen or pencil with precision is the first step in drawing and all the joys that brings.

Young children are very proud when they can write their name (though be aware there is generally a phase where they write it on absolutely everything – the family dog is often not impressed by this development). There are some good letter practice and hand writing kits, I also like the rubber finger grips that fit over ordinary pens and pencils and which help little hands form the correct grip and are particularly good for children with hyper-mobility or other dexterity issues.


Early familiarity with numbers and basic arithmetic concepts like add subtract multiply and divide pay huge dividend when it comes to school. A child who recognises numbers and knows you can use them in puzzles or games will be unafraid and willing to learn about them in a more formal learning environment. It is not unreasonable to expect that an early ability with the basics leads on to more easily understanding complicated stuff later on, laying a solid foundation for understanding and achievement in a highly regarded part of the academic curriculum. The important thing is to make it normal and fun to play with numbers. Plastic or foam numbers, cusinare rods, balance beams and unifix. Count everything, play dominoes or triominos, anything with dice and counting such as snakes and ladders, backgammon, card games like crib, darts, all these things make numbers, adding and subtracting and multiplying all seem like normal parts of having fun. What ever you do don’t make it boring or scary.


A health curiosity is inbuilt in most children so all that you need to do is foster this and make it possible to ask questions and test possible answers for themselves in a safe and satisfying way.

Magnifying boxes to look at the wonderful world of nature up close. (for some reason all children like looking at tiny things with many legs)

Planets to hang from the ceiling.

Posters that give information and great decoration at the same time.

For older children microscopes, science kits and build it yourself engines.


The ability to learn languages is never so automatic as when children are very young and even if you don’t live in a bilingual environment there are a number of ways you can encourage children to acquire the basics of another language and so gain the mental agility and brain benefits that knowing languages can bring. You can also sign up to some cool language learning courses and apps – such as Duolingo

Children’s computers

Of course your child can always use your computer/tablet/smart phone if you want them to, however when dealing with the younger child there is something to be said for a product specially designed with them in mind. Preferably one which is extremely rugged, since if there is one thing that is almost guaranteed it is that the little darling will drop the piece of expensive electronic equipment before you have finished paying for it.