Purposeful Play: A Teacher's Top 10 List of Quality Toys for the Classroom
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Parents and teachers alike are beginning to realize what a difference quality toys can make in the home and in the classroom. When we say "quality," we don't necessarily mean more expensive. Sure, some toys that are built to last, may come with a higher price tag, but that doesn't mean collecting exceptional toys over time has to break the bank. When we say "quality," in reference to toys, we are referring to toys that do more than entertain. Quality toys serve other purposes. They spark imagination, inspire creativity, improve motor skills, and even teach about the world around us. In this blog entry, we'll share 10 of our favorite toys, (in no particular order), and why we love them!
1.) First up on our list of faves, stepping stones. Stepping stones can be used in so many ways; indoors on a rainy day, as part of an obstacle course, to teach colors, improve gross motor skills and core strength, and to better balance. There are a ton of balancing stones on the market, but the Turtle Steps by Hapi Nest are our current favorite! These adorable, multi-colored steps bare the resemblance to turtle shells just peaking out of the water. The textured surfaces help keep tiny feet from slipping. The non-slip edging lining the bottoms ensure the shells don't slip or slide on multiple surfaces. The set includes 3 large shells, 3 smaller shells, a game spinner, game cards, and a large tote to keep everything together. At around $40, the shells are an affordable addition to any classroom or playroom. Find them here: https://www.amazon.com/Hapinest-Balance-Stepping-Obstacle-Coordination/dp/B0821N2C12/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3S7DHDB7GXAOO&dchild=1&keywords=hapinest+turtle+steps+balance+stepping+stones+obstacle+course&qid=1599435295&sprefix=hapinest+%2Caps%2C196&sr=8-1
2.) Magnetic tiles are next on our list of favorites. Seriously, who doesn't love them? The possibilities are endless. They can be used to build, teach colors, shapes, and patters, incite questions about what magnets are and how they work, and lay the foundation for understanding geometry. Magnetic tiles are great for providing open-ended play. Meaning, they can be played with in many different ways. It never ceases to amaze us as teachers, how our students come up with so many ways to utilize magnetic tiles. They are one of those toys that can be enjoyed by any age. There are multiple brands of magnetic tiles on the market. Most seem to be comparable in quality, and can even be combined with other brands and sets. Follow the link to see where you can find one of our favorite brands!
3.) Social-emotional play is so important for preschoolers. What better way to become a caring, empathetic, nurturing individual, than through dramatic play? That's why baby dolls and figurines are next on our must-have list of toys. Seeing a small child singing to a baby doll while rocking in a chair, or two friends roll playing with figurines, may not seem that unusual or special at the time. However, so much is happening in those moments. Children learn to become social-emotional beings by playing and acting out these scenarios. Baby dolls and small figures can be found just about anywhere toys are sold. These wooden dolls by Clicques, are some of our favorites! Find them here: https://clicques.com/collections/figurines
4.) As an arts preschool, we have to include musical instruments on our list! There is nothing sweeter (or louder), than a group of preschoolers creating music together! Music is powerful. It has the ability to bring us together, calm us, energize us, and so much more. In our music classes, we practice rhythms, sing, dance, and create. Music can be made with just about anything, including our bodies! Clapping our hands, stomping our feet, humming, singing, and whistling, are all ways we can make music without special instruments. However, it never hurts to have some durable, kid-sized instruments on hand! Check out one of our favorite sets here: https://www.amazon.com/Stoies-International-Toddlers-Friendly-Musical/dp/B082NMQ1PN/ref=sr_1_7?crid=1ZQ60X4AXQHBE&dchild=1&keywords=instruments+for+kids&qid=1599591266&sprefix=instruments%2Caps%2C183&sr=8-7
5.) One of our favorite tools for calming an overstimulated child, is sensory play. The possibilities for sensory play are endless. That's why sensory bins are next on our list! Sensory bins can be made with just about anything you can find around the house. Some of our favorites are dried pasta, dried beans, sand, water, and dried rice. For little ones who are still using their mouths as much as their hands for sensory experiences, we suggest crushing up crackers or cookies into a powder, instead of using sand. Change out your bins for each season by adding seasonal trinkets from around the house or even the dollar store. Add small construction trucks to sand and make a miniature construction site. Teach letters by hiding alphabet puzzle pieces in your sensory bin, and have your child search them out to complete the puzzle. In our next blog post, we'll dig deeper into the benefits of sensory play, and share more of our favorite sensory play ideas!
6.) Have you ever been inside a preschool or daycare that didn't have blocks? What manipulative center is complete without them?! Blocks are excellent for open-ended play. Playing with blocks can help strengthen fine motor skills, incite creativity, teach shapes, and lay the foundation for understanding forces like gravity. How many times as teachers, parents, and caregivers, have we watched a child in our care build a tall tower, just to knock it down? A quick internet search will show you that there is no shortage of blocks to pick from! Blocks don't have to be extravagantly expensive to to entertain a child, (although there are some cool ones out there), we just recommend having lots of different shapes of blocks to encourage creativity. Who knows, your little builder may grow up to be a professional architect! (But if they don't, they will at least have a good grasp on identifying and naming shapes.) Here are some of our favorites! https://www.amazon.com/Lewo-Wooden-Construction-Building-Stacking/dp/B01NBHV2AW/ref=sr_1_6?dchild=1&keywords=wooden+toy+blocks&qid=1599674690&sr=8-6
7.) Next on our list of favorites, are art supplies. We are an arts preschool after all! If you want to encourage your child to be creative, then give them opportunities to create! According to Mary Ann F. Kohl, author of Primary Art: It's the Process, Not the Product, "Creating art may boost young children's ability to analyze and problem-solve in myriad ways." We see this everyday at the Wilmington Preschool of the Arts. Some of our favorite arts supplies are paint, yarn, glue, glitter, (We're brave. We know), sequins, feathers, paper, fabric, cardboard, beads, tissue paper, crayons, etc. We can't get enough of those around here! We see the way creating art builds confidence in children. We are incredibly grateful to experience that magic with our students every single day!
8.) Number 8 on our list are puzzles! Everyone knows puzzles are fun, but they also help to develop problem-solving skills, improve concentration and memory, better hand-eye coordination, improve fine motor skills, and help teach children to learn to work with patience. When we say puzzles, we don't only mean the flat, jigsaw type puzzles. We also like 3D puzzles, pattern block shapes, logic puzzles, mathematical puzzles, etc. Block shape puzzles that include shape cards, are some of our favorites. In these sets, children are encouraged to use the shapes to mimic the design on the cards. They can also use the shapes to make their own unique design. https://www.amazon.com/LiKee-Stacking-Montessori-Educational-Toddlers/dp/B07QZB8PLW/ref=sr_1_9?dchild=1&keywords=wooden+shapes+cards&qid=1599680512&s=toys-and-games&sr=1-9
9.) If you've ever asked a preschooler what they want to be when they grow up, chances are they've told you anything from a dinosaur to a firefighter. Imaginative play is such an important part of preschool, and play in general. Imaginative play helps children to express themselves, and explore the world around them. Even Einstein understood the importance of imagination when he quoted, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution." That's why dress-up clothes and anything associated with dramatic play, are next on our list! Dramatic play is crucial to language development and self-expression. There is a reason why as a preschool center, we are required to have dramatic play centers in every classroom! Here at the Wilmington Preschool of the Arts, we try our best to keep our dramatic play centers exciting and engaging, by changing out our themes every month. we have everything from play kitchens, to a play diner, camping gear, a pretend florist shop, doctor's office, you name it!
10.) Last on our list, but certainly not the least, are STEM toys! STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Obviously, it would make sense that these toys are big on our list! STEM toys help lay the foundation for learning about the sciences and mathematics. Examples of STEM toys could be anything science related, such as microscopes, magnifying glasses, and chemistry sets. STEM toys can also be anything relating to magnets and blocks, which you already know we are big fans of. We love science at WPA, and even have a weekly science lesson for our after-schoolers, in addition to our science centers we have in each classroom. Here are a few of our favorite STEM toys.
We know that preschoolers don't need a bunch of specific toys to learn about the world around them. However, we do know that not all toys are created equal. We hope our list of favorite toys has been informative, and is helpful the next time you're searching for the perfect toy for the preschooler in your life. That being said, we know that the most valuable gift you could give any child, is the opportunity to play!