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...

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

1. Orchard Toys First Times Tables Games, £8.50

– Great for multiplication confidence

Age suitability: 5+| Best for age: 6+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Gold, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A teacher-tested educational board game with a pancake theme that's designed to support your child with their 2, 5 and 10 times tables. You spin the spinner, solve the sum on the pancake before using the spatula to flip it over and find out the answer. Comes with 30 pancake cards, 4 place setting boards, 1 card spatula, a spinner and 3 number line boards. For 2-4 players.

Why we love it: It's a great-value, easy-to-grasp game and does a good job of making multiplication fun. Charlotte, mum of our child tester Matilda, 6, found it helped boost her daughter's confidence with her 2 and 5 times tables. "And she has learnt her 10 times tables while playing the game," she said. "She can't wait to show her teacher and friends what she has learnt. Both my girls play this game nicely together and help each other and laugh."

Available at: Orchard Toys, Amazon and Early Learning Centre

2. CoComelon Colour Learning Sheep, £22.99

– Great for learning colours

Age suitability: 12 months+ | Best for age: 2+ | Batteries: 2 x AAA (not included)
Awards: Gold, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A grabbable 14cm-high white sheep that thrillingly glows a different colour to match the colour of the object it's placed on – and then plays Baa Baa Black Sheep with the 'black' changed to its glow-colour. Comes with an 8-colour playmat and can also be used as a nightlight.

Why we love it: It's definitely got the thrill factor – and that's even before you add in the Cocomelon association. Our child tester Eadie, 2, loved dancing and singing along to the music, saying, "My sheep, my sheep!' whenever she wanted to play with it. Eadie's mum Amanda was impressed with how well it helped her get to grips with matching colours. She thought the paper rainbow mat wasn't very robust (it isn't) but we can see there's a QR code that allows you to print more, if you need to.

Available at: Amazon

– Great for early numeracy skills

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Gold, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A set of 100 interconnecting, stackable cubes, 11 character cards and 15 write-and-wipe activity cards, designed to support – and build on – counting, addition, subtraction and problem-solving skills featured in the popular CBeebies Numberblocks show. Comes with an activity guide.

Why we love it: The blocks are bright and colourful and, once you've stuck the face stickers on (while does take a while!), immediately familiar to any Numberblocks fan. The idea is that you watch the episode of the show and then carry out the activity but it does take some time to work out which card and which activity matches which episode, so we'd advise doing a bit of prep before you get your child involved. Anna, our teacher tester who tried out the set with her Year 1 (P2) class said, "I think this is fun and has great potential for developing an understanding of numbers. There are also lots of opportunities to extend the activities. I found the best learning happened when the kids were playing with the characters during the show, interacting with what was happening. They then continued to role play afterwards, talking all about numbers in their game."

Available at: Amazon, Learning Resources and John Lewis

4. Great Little Trading Co Alphabet Learning Toy, £38

– Great for letter recognition

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Silver, Made For Mums Toy Awards 2021

What is it: A 26cm x 15.8cm x 6.5cm wooden box containing wooden alphabet tiles (upper case on 1 side, lower case on the other), flashcards (with letters on one side and letter-formation guides on the other) and a wooden pencil. The box itself has a chalkboard lid which can be flipped over to become a tray for sensory letter-tracing play with sand or rice (not included).

Why we love it: It's a beautifully designed box that's just perfect for lots of child-led letter play. It would be nice if it came with some chalk for the chalkboard, though. Katrina, mum of our child tester Sienna, 3, said, "Sienna has gained so much confidence with phonics since using this box. The flashcards are a good size, they are colourful and they have age appropriate images on for letter recognition and phonics."

Available at: Great Little Trading Company

5. Smart Games Apple Twist, £14.99

– Great for 3D problem-solving

Age suitability: 5+ | Best for age: 5+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 3-D challenge in which you have to work out a way that to bend the 3 plastic caterpillars so that they can all eat from the same 24cm apple, which itself is divided into 5 horizontal segments each of which can be rotated 180° . There are 60 challenges (from easy to expert) to solve. Comes with a challenge booklet.

Why we love it: This is a great game for stimulating a range of cognitive skills including spatial insight, problem solving and logic – but in a fun and engaging way. Amanda, mum to Frankie, 5, said, "This is definitely worth the price, as it provides hours of fun. I like how this gets more challenging as you go along. It’s definitely not going to become boring for him!" Frankie himself added, "I like that you can twist the caterpillars and there’s lots of puzzles to do."

Available at: Smart Games and Dotty Hippo

6. Wooden Cargo Ship, £29.99

– Great for shape and letter recognition

Wooden Cargo Ship

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

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 at: Eduk8 Worldwide, Amazon and Onbuy

7. Learning Resources Smart Snacks Counting Cookies, £22

– Great for early number recognition

Learning Resources Smart Snacks Counting Cookies

Age suitability: 18 months+ | Best for age: 2+ | Batteries: None

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 at: Learning Resources, Amazon and Primary ICT

8. Orchard Toys Sounds Detectives, £10.75

– Great for listening skills

orchard toys sound detectives

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

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 at: Orchard Toys and Tink n Stink

9. Sink Or Float Activity Set, £25

– Great for scientific thinking

Age suitability: 6+ | Best for age: 6+ | Batteries: None

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

10. Melissa & Doug Latches Board, £21.49

– Great for problem-solving

melissa & doug latches board

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

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 at: Amazon, Smyths Toys and John Lewis

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About the author

Helen is Deputy Editor of MadeForMums, the author of Parenting for Dummies (Wiley, £17.99) and the Head Tester for our MadeForMums Toy Awards. She has written about parenting for Mumsnet, Pregnancy & Birth, Prima Baby, Boots Parenting Club and She Magazine and she's also been Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby. She has 3 boys and a heavy-duty washing machine.

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Authors

Helen Brown
Helen BrownHead of Content Delivery

Helen is author of the classic advice book Parenting for Dummies. Before joining MadeForMums over 7 years ago, she was Head of Community at Mumsnet and also the Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby.

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