Choosing the right toys promotes creativity and innovation, which aids in the development of cognitive, social, and fine and gross motor skills. Some of the best options are toys that offer free open-ended play like blocks, Play-Doh, and Legos. Others, like board games, help build important problem-solving and social skills like teamwork and negotiation.
Toys are grouped in children’s main developmental stages: the sensorimotor stage (infancy to 2 years old), pre-operational stage (age 3 to 5), and operational stage (age 8 to 12). They’re also organized by toy type: building sets, board games, puzzles, and more. The toys we selected are more affordable, keeping the list at those under $50.
Blocks are perfect for fun and development in children of all ages, recommended in particular for children 3 to 8 years old—offering open-ended free play in a hands-on experience to engineer, build, tear down, and start all over.
No list of learning toys is complete without LEGO, especially the Classic Bricks and Gears Building Set, with varying levels of building complexity. LEGO also offers DUPLO sets for younger children between 1 and 5 years old, the Classic and Junior sets for 5 to 7 year olds, and City and Friends sets for 6 to 12 year olds.
The Big Chill
Recommended for kids 7 and up, K’NEX Building Sets encourage STEAMagination: the intersection of science, tech, engineering, arts, math, and imagination. Children can hone their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness using colorful plastic rods and connectors to create models included in the instruction booklet or anything they can imagine.
Since its inception in 1974, the Rubik’s Cube has remained popular, encouraging children, to focus on problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination, and mental reflexes, as well as mathematical and logical development.
Uno is a long-beloved card game for two or more players, great for preschoolers all the way up through adulthood. Uno offers many developmental benefits, teaching skills like logic and planning, and reinforcing number, color, and pattern recognition.