For many of us growing up, play was reserved as a reward for something accomplished - “Finish your homework and you can go play.” Even now, it is rarely seen as an accomplishment in itself. However, many early childhood educators testify that much can be gleaned from play time. Basic milestones, like fine motor skill development, are achieved during play. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are vital in many situations, as is the determination necessary to sustain certain play scenarios. As such, many good toys are made to make the most of play.
The best toys meld learning and fun at their core. Here are some we believe to provide holistic play value in learning environments both in the classroom and at home:
For Gross Motor Skills
This totally open-ended toy is a crowd favourite. A balance board, a bridge, a camel’s back - the possibilities for what it could be are endless. As a balance board, it increases strength in core muscles and improves posture by maintaining the position of the spine. It is designed to develop balance, weight distribution, coordination and spatial awareness. (Psst! It’s great for yoga, Mom & Dad!). As literally anything else, it activates both mind and body to extend hours of imaginative play.
Grimms In Motion
As one player poses, the other attempts to copy it with the pieces of the magnetic figure. Alternatively, one player can create a pose with their magnetic figure, then describe this pose to the other player to mimic with their own magnetic figure, or even their body. With this game, children hone their listening and comprehension skills while practising vocabulary and descriptive phrases. As an added bonus, children gain a better understanding of body proportions and motion sequences.
For Fine Motor Skills
Magnetic tiles are completely open-ended and child-led, which means it’s up to the child to decide what the outcome of the play will be. The tiles can be used in a myriad of ways, including (but not exclusive to) colour-sorting, as construction materials or as loose parts. They’re also great for sensory play. The translucency of the tiles allow light to flow through, illuminating the colours and enhancing colour-mixing.
Building structures with these tiles takes time; depending on the child and his or her design, these structures sometimes collapse and have to be rebuilt. The entire process of play, then, is not just an exercise in creativity, but also a lesson in perseverance and resilience. Magnatiles really shine when they’re played with socially, in pairs or in groups.Throwing more than one personality into the mix will invariably lead to teamwork, communication, and patience. Magna-Tiles are the perfect classroom toy.
These handwriting stencils introduce children as young as three years old to proper penmanship in Manuscript, Transitional (D’Nealian-style) and Cursive letters. They assist with coordinating hand and eye movement, allowing for proper pencil slant, and forcing the hand to lift where normal lift occurs in the handwriting sequence. The stencils are designed to increase retention and focus; each card features two letters, keeping learning concise so the child is not overwhelmed by a large stencil with the entire alphabet. School-Rite is suitable for children of all ages and are especially helpful for Early Childhood Education, Special Needs, Left-handed Learners and Home Instruction.
Magnatabs are tablets with metal beads that are pulled up with a magnetic stylus to create solid lines. Helpful arrows on each letter/number provide directional instructions for children to follow. Erase with the tip of a finger by pushing the beads back down. Younger ones are entranced by the sound of the beads rising and falling, while older kids love its connect-the-dots aspect. Kids love the challenge of pulling every single bead up, a feat that helps to improve attention span. It’s super portable and a fantastic for engaging the kids whilst teachers or parents are preoccupied with other children. The tablets are available as the alphabet (both in lower and uppercase), numbers, and a free play board.
For Imagination and Creativity
These wooden pieces from Spain add to small world creation, allow for colour sorting and storing, posting, story creation and a myriad of other play ideas. GRAPAT designs are duly uncomplicated; behind the simplicity of each GRAPAT toy is the heart for maximum child-led play. The non-toxic dye used to paint each piece (by hand!) is also very light, allowing the quality of the natural wood to shine through. GRAPAT features a special Mandala series of loose parts, which, used with other materials, can be made into a beautiful display for the classroom as a class activity.
The beauty of the Mandala pieces is that they can be utilised for quite literally anything: make them tokens for point accumulation, or use them to sort the class into groups by colour. Students don’t have to be the only ones having fun with GRAPAT!
Imagine a book with a thousand stories, pictures that could move and characters that could appear and disappear at your whim. Zibelka is a story board with movable character pieces that allow storytellers to change things up with each telling. Different boards carry different hand-painted backgrounds with an assortment of woodland or fantastical characters: rabbits, goldfinches, goblins and dragons. Movement in the pictures requires interaction between child and image, where participation involves collaboration and compromise. Zibelka is a far more versatile source of storytelling than a single book or a television show, where the child is rendered a passive recipient. It is a wonderful open-ended storybook that allows opportunities for invaluable teachable moments.
For Logic and Problem-Solving
Developed out of necessity by an exasperated tutor, SumBlox is a toy for educators, by educators. When he realised the math games used by his elementary school students were not designed to hold their attention, digital game designer David Skaggs decided to turn the abstract concepts of mathematics into a tangible visual that could both educate and entertain. Skaggs engineered a toy that easily demonstrated mathematical proportions by carving numbers out of wood, then working with experienced elementary school teachers to develop and adapt the SumBlox into curriculums. Use SumBlox to teach basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions through various stacking games.
Whet an appetite for architecture at a young age with the ARCKIT. It is a freeform model that allows users to explore design and bring their architectural creations to life. The components of the ARCKIT use a “click and connect” system that allows a range of structures to be assembled and reassembled quickly, efficiently and without mess. It is based on modern building techniques and a 1.2m/4ft grid to scale. Suitable for schools with STEM labs, We recommend ARCKIT for ages 8 and up. That’s right, Adults, ARCKIT is for you too!
Used by Nobel laureates and mathematicians to prove contentious geometric theories, Zometool is a popular tool amongst the scientific community. Scientists, both experimental and theoretical, have vouched for its efficacy in the visualisation of complex polyhedra. Zometool creates with precision (the balls are made with precise angles) and is lightweight to make them easily worked by young hands. Educators are encouraged to use Zometool in experiments and class discussions so that students have a 3D visual to understand geometry and spatial interpretation. There are at least 60 different lesson plans available for teachers online on the Zometool website.
playhao carries a myriad of tech toys that encourage making the most out of screen time. From solving mysteries to recreating Iron Man’s gauntlet (not to be confused with Thanos’ infamous gold Infinity gauntlet), children are exposed to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) from as young as the age of 3. As the world becomes ever-increasingly tech-savvy, STEM toys are useful in familiarising children with the skills that will very soon be ubiquitous, even integral, in most school syllabi.
Of course, many of the toys listed are suitable for a multitude of things beyond what we recommend. For example, the Wobbel Board also adds to small world creation, and so facilitates imagination and creativity. In a Venn diagram, it would fall in the intersection of categories.
Play doesn’t always have to come at a price, and school doesn’t have to be boring! When children pick up a toy, their neurons are simply firing away to engage meaningfully with the object in their hands. Under the right guidance, these toys are tools for wonderful educators to bring big ideas out of little people!
Bring a magic spark to your classroom. If you have any questions at all about any of the toys (or others), click on the little blue chat bubble on the bottom right of your screen. Our playhao team would be more than happy to assist you!