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10 of the best educational and learning toys

We love toys that integrate learning with a proper dose of fun and the top educational toys selected here all make child's play of maths, language, geography, hand-eye coordination and musicality

best educational toys

Educational and learning toys span a huge range of different subjects and skills. There are those for younger children to encourage skills like shape-sorting or others that help school kids to improve specific knowledge or learning.

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We’ve tried and tested a huge pile of learning toys and – with the help of our child testers – have selected the ones, aimed at children aged 18 months to 8 years, in a range of prices, that we find particularly engaging and effective…

Here’s our pick of the best educational and learning toys, as tested by children and rated by parents

1. Wooden Cargo Ship, £29.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A 35cm-long wooden cargo ship featuring a crane with a magnetic hook and 26 magnetic blocks that have different upper and lower-case letters, numbers, shapes and symbols on their sides.

Why we love it: It’s really nicely designed, well-made and durable. Our child tester Andy, 5, loved piling all the cubes up and getting the wooden crane to grab them one at a time. His mum Oana said: “It’s very versatile. He can find letters, and can form patterns of shapes and colours.” It’s worth knowing that each cube only has 1 magnetised end, so children may have to try a few times before picking one up, but that’s deliberate – so that the letters and numbers are always the right way up. We chose this for our Top 100 Xmas Toys list

Available from:  Eduk8 WorldwideAmazon and Onbuy

2. Learning Resources Smart Snacks Counting Cookies, £22

Age: 18 months+

What it is: A 15cm-tall 2-piece cookie jar that contains 11 4cm soft plastic cookies with numbers (0-10) on 1 side and a corresponding number of chocolate chips on the other.

Why we love it: Our child testers had loads of fun with this sweet and simple counting toy – and particularly liked placing all the cookies back in the jar and putting the lid on. We’re impressed that there’s a number 0 in the biscuit mix and we love how tactile the choc chips are – so that you can ‘feel’ the numbers you’re counting. They also make fantastic role play props for toy kitchens and teddy bear tea parties.

Available from: Learning Resources, Amazon and Primary ICT

3. BrainBox Maths, £12

Age: 7+

What it is: An educational maths memory game, designed by a primary school teacher, that teaches Key Stage 2 concepts in a fun and engaging way. Comes with 55 cards, an 8-sided dice and a rules card. For 1 or more players.

Why we love it: The cards are brightly designed and the memory element of the game makes it fun for kids to play with others of all abilities. And our child testers – not all of whom enjoyed maths much at school – all gave it a big thumbs-up. Clare, mum of our child tester Jack, 8, said, “My son even wanted to play it over breakfast!”.

Available from: Amazon and John Lewis

4. Hape/Baby Einstein Magic Touch Piano, £24.99

Age: 12 months +

What it is: A small 20cm wooden ‘piano’ with 3 interchangeable sheets of music (6 songs in total) and touch technology keys. Requires 3 x AA batteries.

Why we love it: It’s such a lovely looking toy, and it makes really nice sounds when you press the pretend keys – not at all tinny or plinky plonk. Our child testers’ parents liked the clear and simple colour coding on the music sheets, too. We can see this being a toy that would last years, as your child goes from hitting random notes to learning to match colours and play ‘proper’ tunes. Bonus points for the volume control button!

Available from: Amazon, Smyths Toys and John Lewis

5. Orchard Toys Sounds Detectives, £10.50

Age: 3+

What it is: A combined app-and-board game, where you listen to the sounds and try to match the pictures on your cards to build your path. Comes with instruction leaflet (access to the Orchard Toys app is free). For 2 to 4 players.

Why we love it: A lovely simple game that encourages listening, observation and concentration. Lindsey, mum of our child tester Charlie, 3, said: “My son loved the noises and guessing the sounds, and has asked to play with it several times.”

Available from: Orchard Toys and Tink n Stink

6. LeapFrog Learning Friends 100 Words Book, £19.99

Age: 12 months+

What it is: A plastic book with interactive pages featuring 100 words and accompanying pictures that, when touched, ‘say’ the word and add sound effects and fun facts. Can be switched from English to French. Requires 2 x AA batteries (included).

Why we love it: The touch buttons are big, bright and sensitive, the words are spoken in clear friendly voice and the pages are super-robust and toddler-enthusiasm-proof. Our child testers really liked the ‘my body’ and ‘fruit’ pages, and their parents agreed this toy book would be a great way to help develop speech and vocabulary.

Available from: Argos, John Lewis and Smyths Toys

7. Janod 4-in-1 Magic Suitcase,£35

Age: 3+

What it is: A set of double-sided, fold-out 37cm x 30cm wooden-edged boards that feature a chalkboard, whiteboard, ‘magic’ drawing board with stylus (think Etch A Sketch) and a magnetic board with 42 magnets (27 letters, 10 digits and 5 signs). Comes with a box of multicoloured chalk sticks and an eraser.

Why we love it: It’s gorgeous to look and beautifully made, and our child testers were wowed that it all packs away neatly into its case, which has nylon carry handles and a metal fastener on top. We like that it’s a generous size (but not too big for your average kitchen table) so there’s lots of room to draw and squiggle and make words and sums.

Available from: KidlyThe Toy Centre and Amazon

8. Sink Or Float Activity Set, £25

Age: 6+

What it is: A set of bath toys with a cunning sciencey spin: they come with little cards explaining the sink-or-swim games you can play with each of them. Includes a 2-piece submarine, 15 colourful weights, 2 balls, 2 stars, a toy raft, 10 activity cards, and a multilingual guide.

Why we love it: An achingly simple (and splashy) way to introduce a little bit of problem-solving into bathtime. Not to mention the concepts of gravity, buoyancy and density. Our child testers had a lovely splashy time and their parents were impressed by the concepts they absorbed,

Available from: Learning Resources, Amazon and Springboard Supplies

9. Janod Magnetic World Map, £34.65

Age: 7+

What it is: A 77cm x 46cm wooden map board, showing the continents and oceans. It comes with 92 magnetic pieces to represent either a country or region, featuring its name, capital and an illustration characteristic of that part of the world. Colour-coding helps you to find the place for each piece and the finished map can be hung on the wall.

Why we love it: It’s a really fun and visually appealing way to learn about geography that can be used time and time again. Our child tester has his hung on his bedroom wall – and has become quite a fount of knowledge of the world’s captial cities!

Available from: Amazon, Precious Little One and Brand Alley

10. Melissa & Doug Latches Board, £17.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A 29cm x 39cm wooden board with painted animals hiding behind lots of different latches and catches to work out and undo – and do up again.

Why we love it: It’s a simple concept – but brings plenty of opportunities for learning. Simply unlock the latch (tick: fine motor skills) and discover a sweet animal picture behind it (tick: learning animals). Add in the bright colours and numbered doors (tick: colour and number recognition), and you’re on to a winner. Our child testers were fascinated – and so excited when they found the animals!

Available from: Amazon, Smyths Toys and John Lewis

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