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Best educational toys for toddlers

Getting the balance right between toys that stimulate your toddler’s senses, pique their curiosity and provide ample learning opportunities is no easy task during this speedy phase of development. Here are our top picks for educational toys that provide all-round educational development.

By Nicole Weinstein | Last updated Jan 18, 2022

child playing with wooden blocks

Toddlers love to be busy, on the move and exploring all their senses. It’s an exciting age of development – one that often gets bad press with phrases like ‘the terrible twos.’ But their impulsivity and tantrums are often born out of the frustration of not yet having the physical skills or brain development needed to be able to achieve a task.

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The good news is that toddlers’ brains are hardwired to seek out opportunities to test their physical endurance and cognitive abilities. Every experience is educational and every toy or object they encounter has educational value. Although they will struggle to sit for any length of time, they will surprise you with just how focused and involved in their play they can actually be.

A varied range of rich educational resources is on the market to help your toddler through the terrific-twos. Here are the top 10 educational toys for toddlers, as recommended by Mumsnet parents.

1. Best overall educational toy for toddlers: Early Learning Centre Retro Diner Kitchen

Early Learning Centre Retro Diner Kitchen

Price: £84.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Age range: 3+

“We had the ELC Diner Kitchen. We liked the bright but not OTT colour (it was red). Two kids could play easily next to each other. Decent height. We found lots of accessories that could coordinate with it.” Aroundtheworldin80moves 

Toddlers love mimicking the roles of their parents and getting involved in pretend play is a firm favourite, especially when it involves the hub of the home. Toy kitchens, such as this modern diner, are a huge hit on the Mumsnet forums, with parents like EmsArms saying that it's “by far our most used toy.”

Its sturdy design, complete with sink, microwave, fridge, oven and hob, means that children can indulge in role play for hours. There are also plenty of shelves to fill up with empty food boxes, toy food, pots, pans, plates and cutlery.

It’s the perfect height for toddlers up to pre-school age and there’s plenty of room for siblings to play together: one can wash up while the other makes dinner. In fact, there’s so much to keep children entertained that they won’t need interactive lights, buttons and microwave pings. Other than the clicking sound that the knobs make when turned, there’s silence. Just the sound of your child’s imagination coming to life.

Pros

  • Good value for money

Cons

  • Expensive compared to other toy kitchen
  • Flat-packed and requires self-assembly

2. Best budget educational toy for toddlers: Tala Hardwearing Wooden Spatula Set

three wooden spoons

Price: £3 | Buy now from Amazon

Age range: 2+

A set of wooden spatulas coupled with some saucepans turned upside down may be all that’s needed to keep your active toddler amused for a sustained period of time. They’ll love to listen to the different sounds these utensils make as they bang them on metal pots and pans and other surfaces within the home – try plastic cartons or cardboard boxes.

If you have a budding MasterChef on your hands, you can also use the spatulas for baking. Toddlers love to get involved in household activities and they’ll enjoy being able to mix ingredients together. It’s a great activity for building up the muscles in the wrist and also helps with hand-eye coordination, which lays the foundations for early writing.

And why not bring a wooden spoon to life by turning it into their favourite character? Draw a face, add wool for hair and glue on some fabric for clothes. Not only will your child enjoy getting creative, but it will be great for their verbal skills when they use it as a puppet.

Pros

  • Versatile
  •  Inexpensive

Cons

  • Hazardous if they get too over-enthusiastic when banging or swinging them around 

3. Best educational toy for pretend play: Melissa and Doug Ice Cream Counter

Melissa & Doug ice cream parlour

Price: £38.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Age range: 3+

“My son is now three. He still plays with his Melissa and Doug ice cream parlour." Time To Eat

Toddlers love to re-enact real-life situations in their play – and what better way to do this than serving up ice creams on a sunny day, no matter the season?

Made by renowned wooden educational toy manufacturers, Melissa & Doug, this wooden ice cream counter includes eight brightly-coloured ice cream scoops, six toppings, two cones, tongs, a tub and wooden spoon. There’s also a scooper for picking up ice cream  and releasing it with the push of a button, which is great for building  fine motor skills.

Although it’s recommended for children aged 3+, children from aged 16 months upwards will enjoy getting involved in creative role play using this set. The parts are chunky and well-made and a great size for small hands, although it may be a good idea to remove the small spoon if younger children are playing with it.

The counter is easily transportable, so it can be easily moved from table-top to garden, or wherever the play is taking place. It comes with a menu card and paper money, which also helps with counting skills.  

Pros

  • Sturdy and realistic
  • Great play value

Cons

  • Paper money can be easily torn

4. Best educational toy for construction: John Lewis & Partners Alphabet Blocks

wooden blocks

Price: £12.75 | Buy now from John Lewis & Partners

Age range: 18 months+

“Wooden blocks and a decent board to rest them on? Might not be the most exciting present but they never went out of fashion in my house.” PinkPlantCase

Building blocks are a staple of early childhood. There’s no right or wrong way to play with them – they can be used to build towers, bridges or homes for small world play figures, or they might be transported around the house in pushchairs or trolleys. Placing one block on top of another requires concentration, fine motor control and hand-eye coordination, which are great skills for active toddlers.

With this set of 40 hand-crafted wooden alphabet blocks, children will have the added bonus of being well ahead of their peers in terms of number recognition and recounting the alphabet.

Each coloured block has a number, letter and picture representing what each letter stands for, for example Barry the Bumble Bee and Nelly the Elephant. Some even come with the symbols +, x and =, so there’s even scope for doing sums!

Pros

  • Good value for money
  • Will last for years

Cons

  • Would be useful if it came with a storage bag

5. Best educational toy for creativity: KUB® Original Tuff Tray

Tuff Tray

Price: £25 | Buy now from Amazon

Age range: 3+

“The actual Tuff Tray itself has been a great investment though as it’s large enough for a range of activities. It also makes a very lazy/quick pool for the garden as it heats up quickly in the sun due to it being black plastic without having to blow up and fill up a toddler pool.’ Dollhousedoor

The humble Tuff Tray, otherwise known as a builder’s tray for mixing cement, has come into its own in Mumsnet households since Covid, with many parents raving about how they used it during the summer months for messy play activities, such as “slime, rice, squidgy soap… and more.”

The KUB® Original Tuff Tray is a large plastic, shallow tray that can be used for sand or water activities, making mud pies, painting and bubble play, getting messy with gloop (cornflour and water), or creating scenes for small world play animals or people.

It can fit through standard doorways, be easily transported indoors or out and made into a tough tray table with added leg frames sold separately.

Pros

  • Made from tough recycled plastic
  • Simple to store away

Cons

  • Expensive for a tray - cheaper alternatives can be bought from builders’ merchants

6. Best educational toy for interactive role play: LeapFrog Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Cart

LeapFrog Ice Cream Cart

Price: £39.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Age range: 2+

“This has been a HUGE hit.snoopy8 

When it comes to all singing, all dancing educational toys, LeapFrog hits the mark. Watch your little one as they use their gross motor skills to push the cart around, jingling to the tune it makes along the way. 

When inserted, the ‘talking’ menu cards give instructions on how to make the ice cream, when to press the bell and when it’s time to pay. Children not only develop listening skills but they also use their fine motor control to transfer the ice cream scoops to wafer pots using the magic magnetic scooper.

There are six menu cards, each containing different combinations of ice cream concoctions, and there’s a push-down pump for toppings and the face on the front of the cart lights up when the music plays.

Mumsnetter Number109 bought the LeapFrog Ice Cream Cart for her 18 month-old and said it was “very popular straight out of the box,” while DollyPartBaked says that it’s a hit with both her children because it’s “not massively big” and gets “more play time than the toy kitchen.”

Pros

  • Batteries included
  • Lots of different elements

Cons

  • Low handle for wheeling around (dimensions are ‎21.7 x 51.6 x 63.2 cm)

7. Best educational toy for problem-solving: Brio My First Railway Beginner Train Set

Brio My First Railway

Price: £35.23 | Buy now from Amazon

Age: 18 months +

“This is great as a gift because there are so many sets that vary in price depending on your budget and can be added to at a later date.Grimbot

This classic wooden train set has been designed specifically for toddlers. It has 11 pieces of wooden track that will put your child’s problem-solving skills to the test as, over time, they try to get to grips with slotting them together to form different layouts. Its study design also means the track doesn't dislodge accidentally if your child unintentionally bumps into it.

There’s a rainbow-coloured suspension bridge and a train with a rattle carriage that fit together easily in any combination thanks to the reversible magnet connections.

Branded as ‘frustration-free play’ because the guiding ramp tracks will help your toddler get the train on to the railway tracks easily, this set can withstand being stomped on and thrown about, and lasts for years – the ideal toy for your creative (and sometimes volatile) two-year-old.

Pros

  • Compatible with all standard Brio train sets
  • Durable
  • Visually appealing

Cons

  • Not battery-operated - some children will prefer the battery-operated Brio My First Railway Train Set, also available from Amazon

8. Best educational toy for fine motor control: Learning Resources Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Set Toy

Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Set

Price: £8.89 | Buy now from Amazon

Age range: Ages 3+

This set of chunky, plastic tweezers and scoopers have been designed to strengthen children’s fine motor skills and improve their hand-eye coordination.

The snapping crocodile tweezers help develop the pincer grasp needed for holding a pencil, the scoopers (which can be used in sand and water) are useful for scissor skills, and the Twisty Dropper suction straw is great for strengthening a two-year-old’s hand muscles.

Bright and colourful, this set is great for using alongside sensory play – and even in the bath.

Pros

  • Great for encouraging scissor control and pencil grip
  • Made from sturdy plastic

Cons

  • The Gator Grabbers are quite chunky so it may be difficult for kids to pick up anything too small

9. Best educational toy for listening skills: Stoie’s Musical Instrument Set for Toddler

Stoie's Wooden Music Set

£33.96 | Buy now from Amazon

Age range: 3+

Budding musicians will love this 13-piece set of wooden instruments designed with toddlers in mind. There’s a tambourine, maracas, two sets of hand bells, a chime bar, hand drum, wooden block and flute, all which produce a variety of sounds.

Watch your child’s delight as they blow, bang, shake, ring and rattle the instruments. Get them to repeat the sounds you make with the hand bells - a great activity for developing listening skills.

The instruments have a lovely, smooth finish and are just the right size for small hands. But they do contain beads, tassels and bells, so we’d always advise adult supervision. They also come in a handy cotton drawstring bag, which makes them great for taking them to grandmas.

Pros

  • Good variety of sounds
  • Eco-friendly

Cons

  • Instruments individually wrapped in non-recyclable plastic

10. Best educational toy for physical development: Micro Scooter Mini Eco Deluxe Scooter

Micro scooter

£80.95 | Buy now from Amazon

Age range: 3+

“We got DS a Micro Deluxe for Christmas - the Eco one made from recycled stuff. DN has one and it's lasted ages. The adjustable height is a real benefit, the steering is good, every single piece (wheels, nuts, bolts etc) is replaceable very cheaply if something does get broken, and they have a reasonable resale value if in decent condition.” KarlKennedysDurianFruit

Your toddler will need to have mastered a lot of skills in order to get to the point where they’re able to ride on a scooter. Not only will they have learnt to run and walk, but they will also be beginning to master the art of balance and coordination, which the scooter will also help with.

They will love the rush of excitement as they whizz around corners holding on tight to the handlebars of the Micro Scooter, which have been designed so that little ones can safely lean in the direction they want to go.

The new eco version has been made from old, discarded fishing nets from the ocean, but follows the same design as the traditional scooter, which has been a hit with parents for almost 20 years.

It has three wheels for additional stability, it’s lightweight and the foot brake is positioned at the back of the deck for ease. Scooting provides hours of fun and has the added bonus of promoting your child’s independence.

Pros

  • Lightweight and eco-friendly design
  • Extendable steering bar which grows with your child

Cons

  • Expensive

What makes a good educational toy?

The best educational toys will capture your child’s interests and allow them to engage in free play of their choice for sustained periods of time.

How to choose the best educational toys for toddlers

  • Follow their interests: Toddlers’ brains need repetition to build up understanding and develop new concepts. Don’t be surprised if they’re more interested in emptying the contents of the kitchen cupboard or exploring the inside of a cardboard box than any new Christmas present. Allow them to explore their interests through educational toys – and extend their learning by dedicating a ‘safe’ kitchen cupboard just for them or providing them with different-sized cardboard boxes for stacking and building dens
  • Easily recognisable: For toddlers aged 18 months upwards, make sure that role play toys look like real-life versions of what they’re intended to be. For example, a toy milk bottle for a baby doll should look exactly like a milk bottle. If the resources are obvious, they can just get involved and start playing with them. It’s not until the age of three that they can begin to transform open-ended resources with their imagination (for example, pretending that a wooden block is a telephone).
  • Age range: Check the recommended age range and ensure that your child has adult supervision if there’s any doubt about safety (i.e. small parts that could be choking hazards or substances like glue).
  • Durability: Check reviews carefully for items that are hardwearing and don’t easily break. 

What is the best educational toy for toddlers?

The Early Learning Centre Retro Diner Kitchen is the best educational toy for toddlers because it gets them involved in what they love doing best at this stage in their development: mimicking the roles of parents and carers. There’s plenty of room for siblings to play alongside each other in this stylist retro kitchen, and especially it’s great for imaginative play.

How we chose our recommendations

Because we know that there’s nothing like a real recommendation from a real parent, especially as Christmas approaches, we first headed to the Mumsnet forums to find out which nightlights discerning Mumsnet users had bought for themselves.

We then did some research across the wider web, looking at which night lights had won accolades or been featured in ‘best buy’ lists across websites and print media, and what customer reviews said about them. Having collated all that information, we picked the night lights we thought would make the best buys in several interest categories.

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Why you should trust us

We work hard to provide unbiased, independent advice you can trust. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one.