10 Educational Toys We Love
Learning can, indeed, be super fun. Check out these 10 ADHD-friendly toys and gifts to help your child focus, learn to solve problems, and build social skills.
Over 3 billion toys and games are sold in the United States annually. We’ll refrain from guessing how many end up in the back of the closet for years on end, and instead recommend a few we think stand a decent chance of grabbing your child’s attention. Needless to say, this list isn’t the be-all, end-all. Instead, think of these picks as representative of the kind of toy we’re especially fond of for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): educational, fun, and inventive. When new toys make a beeline for the back for the closet, we believe it’s because they lack that trio of qualities. So here’s to 10 educational games that strive for, and deliver, something more.
1. Learning Resources Pretend and Play Calculator Cash Register
Ages 3 to 8
If the all-too-recent Wall Street crash/housing bust/debt bomb offers any indication, it’s not too risky to conclude that the world could use more financial literacy. So why not start at a young age? This realistic cash register goes a few steps beyond its predecessors of yore, featuring a solar-powered calculator with oversize buttons as well as imaginary currency and credit. The result? A math lesson, a mimic-the-grownups device, and an intro to currency all in one. And like any good toy, it’s also fun to just mash the buttons and make it ding.
The bottom line: Learn about finance with this multifaceted toy.
2. Kidsonroof Totem Tree
Ages 6 and up
Unleash your child’s inner tree-hugger with this highly inventive puzzle. The durable yet biodegradable cardboard kit provides a base for kids to design their own tree, using the leaves provided or attaching their own creations – pictures, drawings, names from a family tree, etc. Essentially, Kidsonroof Totem Tree offers a blank canvas in the shape of a maple. In theory, there’s a nature lesson in this half puzzle, half art project, but what impresses us most is its open-endedness. Given the level of prescription that comes with so many toys these days, an invitation to explore freely is particularly welcome – and provides an important lesson in creative problem solving.
The bottom line: A high-quality art project that’s also eco-friendly.
3. Classic Gyroscope
Ages 5 and up
Surely what Barbie meant to say is that physics class is tough. So we applaud any toy that establishes the bona fide awesomeness of the subject, toughness and all. Turns out you can’t beat the gyroscope for a fascinating lesson in angular momentum – the same mysterious force that keeps bicycles upright, ships on course, and satellites orbiting the planet. The gyroscope has been packaging this lesson into a sturdy, handy, and portable device for roughly a century, and it’s still inexpensive and mind-blowing after all these years. Yank the string, and the spinning wheel will defy gravity long enough to inspire an interest in angular velocity, nutation, torque vectors, and other physics staples. Your kid will have an innate grasp of conservation of energy years before it shows up on a problem set.
The bottom line: Teach physics with a centuries-old classic.
Ages 5 and up
This strategy board game has become something of a sensation, winning a Teacher’s Choice Award and a Mensa Select Award. The goal is to fit all your differently shaped pieces onto the board – a task that draws on spatial reasoning and logic. Invented by a mathematician, Blokus draws on the stuff of geometry class, without feeling like, well, homework. In fact, elementary school kids can play long before they’ve officially waded into proofs and postulates; we like to think it whets the appetite for what’s ahead. Suitable for adults as well as kids. Think Tetris, on a board, without the mind-destroying music.
The bottom line: Challenging and fun for adults as well as kids. Like Tetris but better.
5. Periodic Table Shower Curtain
OK, bath accessories like this periodic table shower curtain aren’t technically toys. But given that high schoolers seem to spend half their waking hours in the shower, might as well have them come out knowing the atomic mass of beryllium. Last we checked, chemistry teachers still require their students to know the periodic table, but we also like the playful reminder that learning can happen anywhere.
The bottom line: This accessory makes shower time productive.
6. Live Butterfly Garden
Ages 4 and up
How many toys come with a mail-in voucher for larvae? Not enough, in our opinion. The award-winning Live Butterfly Garden kit includes an easily assembled mesh habitat and feeding supplies (bring your own sugar and water). Once the larvae arrive in the mail, your child will have a front-row seat over the next three weeks as they grow, form chrysalides, and finally become beautiful painted lady butterflies – which should then be released. An excellent and memorable intro to biology.
The bottom line: Raising butterflies encourages curiosity and wonder.
7. Curiosity Cube
9 to 24 months
Nothing fancy here, just a well-designed plastic cube with baby-friendly, sensory-activating gizmos everywhere you turn it. It’s sure to open young neural pathways – and also keep your kid amused while you mash bananas. Just about everything’s an educational toy as far as babies are concerned, but this award winner is especially adept at cramming in activities that will engage the senses and improve fine motor skills. It’s got color, it’s got moving parts, and it’s got six sides of curiosity-piquing doodads. Where many baby toys miss the mark – too much stimulation, too narrowly targeted for a certain age, too noisy for parents – this one gets it right for 9- to 24-month-olds.
The bottom line: A curious widget perfectly targeted for toddlers.
Ages 6 and up
Even some of the best toys out there become a snooze for parents eventually. Not so with SET, an addictive and challenging matching game in which players pick out patterns involving symbols, numbers, and colors. An excellent brain stretcher, good for long stretches of quiet fun, and an equally good time for grownups as well as kids.
The bottom line: You can’t beat this addictive yet challenging game for ages 6 and up.
9. Melissa & Doug See & Spell
Ages 4 to 7
How did Melissa & Doug toys get so popular? Partly through their ability to cram multiple kinds of fun into simple, attractive wood products. This relatively cheap puzzle lets kids work on their spelling (three- and four-letter words), their hand-eye coordination, and even their writing by using the letters as stencils.
The bottom line: An attractive wood toy that helps children spell.
10. Uncle Milton Ant Farm Gel Colony
Ages 6 and up
Ant farms are so 20th century – if you’re going to invite insects into the home, why not make their habitat the futuristic 3-D variety? This Uncle Milton Ant Farm Gel Colony, an update on the classic science toy, makes observing ants much easier (you can see the tunnels from all directions) and eliminates the need to feed them, thanks to a nutrient-rich gel substrate. Bonus thrill: Getting live ants in the mail!
The bottom line: Ants on display!
This article is reprinted with permission from GreatSchools.org.
Updated on January 24, 2021