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I’m kind of a minimalist. So after having kids, I never wanted to have tons of toys. Generally, I would say that my two boys have fewer toys than most of my friends’ kids, but we still have a decent amount. While my wife and I have often looked for interesting toys, this is even more the case now as we’ve accumulated plenty of run-of-the-mill toys.
Check out the list below of some awesome, educational and unique toys, many of which promote STEM learning. This list is geared towards toddler ages. Some of these toys we personally own or have tried and some we have not, but I researched and read reviews for all of the items listed below. I only put ones that I truly believe are great.
Coding has become a hot trend with kids in recent years. Some say coding is a necessary 21st century skill. Regardless of whether or not you believe this, a coding robot is pretty cool and a lot of fun. Coding can be very complex, but kids as young as 4-5 can learn coding basics through coding robots.
Botley from Learning Resources is one of the most popular coding robots, It’s recommended for kids as young as 5. It’s screen-free meaning no computer, tablet, or phone is needed to use it. There are coding cards and a remote. I’ve seen Botley used with kids in an after school club, and the kids were genuinely enjoying themselves.
Thames & Kosmos Kids First Coding & Robotics is another coding robot for young kids. Designed for ages 4 and up, it’s similar to Botley in that coding cards are used so it’s screen-free. According to the company website, the 30 lessons that come with the kit “are aligned with standards for computer science education developed by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and the International Society for Technology (ISTE) Education, as well as courses from Code.org.”
If you have an older kid, Artie 3000 is a great option as it’s for ages 7-12. It has built-in wifi, so you do need a device like a computer or tablet to use Artie. You create codes for Artie to draws lines making shapes and designs.
Automobile Engineer Kit
Thames & Kosmos Kids First Automobile Engineer Kit is an award winning toy. In 2015, it was a Parent’s Choice Gold Award Winner as well as a PAL (Play Advances Language) Award Winner. Kids learn hands-on engineering skills, develop spatial awareness, and have fun doing so. The kit comes with a wonderfully done 32-page storybook, which follows two kids as they encounter various people and situations going through town. In each situation, they build a vehicle to help with the issue. The idea is for kids to build each vehicle as they read through the book. There are 10 vehicles in all – minivan, crane, fire truck, tractor, school bus, motorcycle, cement truck, forklift, pickup truck, and race car. The listed age is 3+, but I think most 3 and 4 years olds will need a decent amount of assistance.
This is a bit of a tangent, but Thames and Kosmos products have been mentioned a couple times. Thames and Kosmos have hundreds of science kits (they really do) ranging from toddler aged up to teens and even adults. If your kid is interested in science, you’re bound to find a kit that meets that interest, so check them out. For example, there are Simple Machines, Remote Control Machines, First Botany, and Chemistry Sets just to name a few.
Educational Insights Design & Drill
Kids seem naturally drawn to tools and how they work. With Educational Insights Design & Drill, kids can really explore the realistic workings of a power drill. The drill is for kids ages 3-6 so it’s thoughtfully designed with features that allow kids this age to grab and operate the drill and pieces. My son was able to use it well at 3 years old. The drill has a forward and reverse mode along with bits that can be switched out. There is also a screwdriver and wrench. It’s designed so that no matter which tool is used, each fits into the head of the bolts. The bolts screw into a plastic activity board. There are also pattern cards with different designs. Some are just colored patterns, but some are images of a train or a house for example, so kids can practice color and pattern recognition.
Fat Brain Toys
If you’ve never heard of or checked out the toys from Fat Brain, you really should. They have awesome toys that have won numerous awards and are consistently highly reviewed by users. There are so many great toys that I wanted to mention them as a whole company. I listed some of their toys below to give you an idea of their stuff.
Squigz are little suction pieces made from silicone rubber. They are BPA and latex free. They suction to one another and they suction to surfaces too. There are eight Squigz shapes, so there are many ways kids can play around and put together designs.
Spell-Your-Name Alphabet Railroad is pretty cool. You can purchase a train for any letter. It’s a great gift idea for a kid that loves trains like my son. Think how excited a kid who loves trains will be pulling a train with his name spelled out along a track.
I like to think of Tobbles Neo as glorified stacking blocks because they offer so much more than traditional stacking blocks. Their shape is unique for one, which allows for more stacking configurations. They are also weighted, which makes for an overall different play experience including wobbling and spinning. The tactile elements from its ridged tops to its grippy feel are yet another strength.
The Teeter Popper is as the name suggests. It teeters and it pops. It’s basically a curved board that kids can sit, stand, or lie down on. There’s not a specific way it needs to be used, and that’s part of what makes it so great. Kids will naturally play with it how they want and develop physical and motor skills. The popper part is due to the suction cups at the bottom. Of course, if you use it on a surface like carpet, it won’t pop, but you can still play with the same as on a hard surface. It has a weight limit of 110 lbs and even kids 8+ would probably have fun with it.
Okay, maybe a balance bike is not a toy along the lines of the other toys on this list. But I just think balance bikes are so great that I had to include it. The point of a balance bike is to get young kids to learn to balance so the transition to a two-wheel pedal bike is easy (or easier). If kids really learn to balance, they should be able to skip training wheels. Since balance bikes have no pedals and usually no brakes, kids propel themselves by using their feet. I like to think of the Flintstones car. As they get better and more comfortable, kids start to run and glide with their feet instead of walking. To slow down and stop, kids intuitively put their feet down.
There are many companies that sell balance bikes. Some of the most popular ones are Strider, KaZAM, JoyStar, and Bixe. Our son has a KaZAM bike. Personally, I like KaZAM’s design as the bikes have a footrest. It appears to be the only company that has this design element. KaZam’s website states, “KaZAM’s footrest is key in developing balance and coordination, helping a child to find their center of gravity.” I do believe it helps, though it certainly is not a necessity, as the other companies’ bikes all have excellent reviews. The point is that balance bikes are fantastic.
Thinking Putty is an award winning putty made by a company called Crazy Aaron’s available at Vat19.com, whose slogan is “Shop Curiously Awesome Gifts.” (They really do have some fun, interesting stuff). The Putty is never supposed to dry out, and it is crazy how many types of putty there are. For example, there are Cosmic, Heat-Sensitive, Glow in the Dark, and even Dino Poop. Two of the coolest ones are Liquid Glass Thinking Putty and Magnetic Thinking Putty. Watch the videos below. They’re mesmerizing.
Magnetic Drawing Boards
There are two different types of magnetic drawing boards that I’ll talk about here. The first type of magnetic drawing board is similar to the classic Etch A Sketch. These feature a magnetic tipped stylus and magnetic stamps that work by pulling magnetic particles to the drawing board. Most of these boards now also feature different colors. Erasing is super easy with a sliding bar.
The second type of magnetic drawing board is the one I really like. These boards have little holes and hundreds of self contained metal balls/beads inside. You use a magnetic stylus to pull the metal balls up to the hole. To “erase”, you can use your finger or the nonmagnetic surface of the pen to push the balls back down. Maybe I’m weird, but I find the little clicking sound as the balls are pulled up the hole to be very satisfying. The video below shows how these boards work really well.
Let’s keep the magnetic theme going with Magna-Tiles. These magnetic tiles help kids develop all sorts of important skills such as symmetry, shape design, magnetic properties, patterns, and more. There really are countless ways kids can put these tiles together, which inspires a lot of creativity.
This toy is one that I’m greatly interested in personally because I’m intrigued by bugs. Many kids are too, so Educational Insights Bugnoculars allows an easy way for kids to observe and study bugs much more closely. In case you’re worried, there are little breathing holes around the lid, but still make sure the little bugs are let out!
Got Any To Add?
What are some other great toddler toys you know? Feel free to share via the comments below. If you found this list useful, you can check out similar posts such as 7 Great, Budget-Friendly Products For Active Parents and 9 Great Road Trip Toys For Kids.