21 Screen-Free Toys That Are Fun And Educational

Total win-win.

Here’s the thing about educational toys… they’re great, but you also want them to be fun.

As a mom of a toddler, I wanted to share some of my family’s favorites so far, and ask for some input from the pros.

So I turned to Anne Gillyard and Jodi Arellano, the founders and professional playroom designers behind grOH! Playrooms.

As experienced educators turned playroom designers, Anne and Jodi are all about learning through play. And because they care about design, their educational toy picks will actually look good in your playroom, too. Parent win!

This list has five screen-free picks from me and 19 more from the experts at grOH! — all of which can give little eyes a break while still helping their brains grow.

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A 100 Words Book
Your child can use this to help develop vocabulary in both English and Spanish.

Why I love it: Yes, this one is kinda noisy, but my three-year-old loves switching the words from English to Spanish and back again. It's really helped him grasp the concept of different languages. In fact, he'll often ask me what the Spanish word is for everyday items even when he isn't using it... and thank goodness Siri is there to back me up when my memory recall to high school Spanish fails me.

Get it from Amazon for $15.99.
A Hide and Seek Alphabet Pop-Up
Made to be travel-friendly, this turns ABCs and 123s into a fun memory game.

Why I love it: It's a great little game to help learn letters and numbers, and — I cannot stress this enough — there are no small pieces and it doesn't make noise. It's been a total home run during long car trips and my son plays with it a lot even when we're home. I've loved seeing him make associations with the letters and items around the house.

Get it from Amazon for $17.54.
A simple magnetic maze
This game can help with fine motor development.

Why I love it: Another toy that works on concentration and focus! (Plus things are slightly quieter around the house when it's getting used.) I also love watching how my son is working on his fine motor skills while moving the magnetic marbles around. This game also travels well!

Get it from Amazon for $22.99.
A butterfly grow kit
This can help show your little one that caterpillars are in fact VERY hungry and then they turn into butterflies.

Why I love it: I did this when I was a kid and it was so fun to do again with my own kid. We read The Very Hungry Caterpillar a lot during this time, so it was the perfect complement to talking about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. It might not be butterfly weather where you live (it needs to be at least 55 degrees out to release the butterflies), so I like that this kit comes with a voucher so you can wait to order the caterpillars when the time is right for you.

Get it from Amazon for $20.66.
A Little Passports subscription box
Little Passports
The box is filled with toys and activities that foster play-based science and geography learning. Plus, it shows your little one just how big the world is!

Why I love it: We get the Early Explorers kit (for ages 3-5) delivered every month and it's always fun, from the unboxing to the actual included activities. I love how it gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about a different part of the world with my little man. It's absolutely piqued his curiosity about travel and that's an interest I'm invested in helping him pursue. They offer kits for kids up to age 12 with different themed boxes covering geography to STEM.

Get it from Little Passports for $19.95+/month (available in five styles).
A sweet little doll
Olli Ella
Though tiny, this can help foster storytelling and imaginative play.

Expert recommendation: These pocket-sized, soft, and shapeable Holdie Folk dolls come in a variety of skin tones and are great for imaginative play. When children tell stories, they practice concepts like beginning, middle, and end, as well as conflicts and resolutions with the characters they create.

Get it from Ollie Ella for $17.90 (available in 18 styles).
A set of Magna-Tiles
Made up of different shapes, this set can actually help your child learn starter principles of geometry.

Expert recommendation: By using concepts of geometry (like using two right triangles to create a square), kids can explore both two- and three-dimensional shapes. Magna-Tiles can also take part in their small-world play stories — kids will create buildings, castles, parking garages, and zoos all with the same materials. This is as open-ended as it can get!

And the more open-ended we are with our play materials, the more they require problem solving, creative thinking, and language to explain the purpose and their creation.

Get the 100-piece set from Amazon for $120.
A cute and classic animal figurine set
This can lay the foundation for a life-long love of life sciences.

Expert recommendation: Animals become characters in children’s play stories, and playing with various animals often inspires deep learning and interest in animal facts and research. And for the littlest children, making animal sounds actually strengthens the muscles to help them develop oral language.

Get it from Amazon for $19.99.
A classic stable
You can use this to set the stage for small world play — and work on those fine motor skills.

Expert recommendation: This can help facilitate small-world play, and we're huge fans of that. Adding environmental cues — like a stable to indicate they are on a farm — can give kids suggestions of what to play when they are having a hard time inventing their own play story. Plus, kids use fine motor skills to manipulate the pieces and they use their imaginations and language to tell stories.

Get it from Amazon for $32.99.
A colorful set of building blocks
Bella Luna Toys
These may look simple, but they can actually help with your child's language development.

Expert recommendation: You can add to your child’s play story by adding some environmental pieces. They can set up houses or trees and create their own little community or neighborhood. As they expand their small-world play, it helps their stories and even their language become more complex and interesting.

Get the set from Bella Luna Toys for $73.
A classic Lego collection
Your emerging engineer will love to tinker around with all the little pieces, creating whatever their heart desires!

Expert recommendation: We adore Lego sets, but it is a completely different skill to build following instructions versus building by brick and imagination. It takes engineering, experimentation, trial and error, and vision to carryout a structure with a brick and Lego set. A balance of both are important for Lego builders as they both develop important skill sets.

Get it from Amazon for $23.99.
A scooter
Not only is this an incredible cool and fun toy, but it can also help with focus and core control.

Expert recommendation: Wait, a scooter can be educational? YES! Physical and gross motor play helps kids learn to focus. Not only do they learn how to concentrate, but they gain the muscle and physical strength required to sit in chairs as well as core control.

Get it from Amazon for $139.99 (available in 12 colors).
A retro-inspired toy car
This can be used for both racing — and conducting starter physics experiments.

Expert recommendation: Not only are these toy cars perfect for storytelling and community creating, but we're also into their very cool retro vibe. Plus, did you know every time your kids set up ramps and car races, they’re actually conducting physics experiments? Inertia! Friction! Kids really are amazing.

Get it from Amazon for $10 (available in nine colors).
A marble run set
With so many different pieces, your kiddo can build, test and try different ideas while playing.

Expert recommendation: Without even knowing it, your kids will learn about ramps, acceleration, friction… it's all about physics with this toy. But they'll also get a fun lesson in trial and error and prediction. What will adding this piece do to the overall structure? Try it out, test it, and see what happens. Not to mention collaboration, cooperation, and communication — maybe even with a sibling.

Get it from Amazon for $98.09.
A toy cash register
Your child can learn all about starter math skills with this cute little thing.

Expert recommendation: Sure, they may be playing grocery store, but counting money and exchanging it for items is a great, authentic way to really practice beginner math skills. Once their play becomes more complex, kiddos can write their own price tags and do their own addition and subtraction… pretty soon you'll have them helping run your household budget — with your supervision, of course!

Get it from Amazon for $22.49+ (available in four colors/styles).
Some Colors of the World crayons
These can help teach inclusivity through art.

Expert recommendation: Art has always been a powerful tool to start conversations about race and your community with little ones — and it's even better when the crayon colors are more inclusive of all skin tones. Play is a great way to teach anti-racism to children. (If you want more ideas on how to make anti-racism part of your child's play, you can check out a blog we wrote on the topic here.)

Get a 24-crayon set from Crayola for $2.99ora 10-pack of markers from Amazon for $7.99.
Some mess-free Kwik Stix paint sticks
These are perfect for helping your kids practice making mistakes — an important skill to have!

Expert recommendation: These quick drying, mess-free paint sticks are a parent AND child win. Art is such a powerful form of communication. Even when it's just a bunch of scribbles, kiddos are planning, pivoting, and practicing making mistakes. One more plus side? It gives them an opportunity to care for their environment by cleaning up after themselves.

Get a 24-pack from Amazon for $20.97.
A wood model kit
Not only is this kit handy and functional, but it will also teach your child STEM skills!

Expert recommendation: If you have a Lego builder who is ready for another level of challenge, try this. Kiddos who love the engineering side of Legos are a great match to model building. These kits from National Geographic add an additional STEM element by including solar power.

Get it from Amazon for $24.99.
A nature detective set
This can help your small scientist spark the curiosity they need in life for other school subjects, like reading.

Expert recommendation: Fostering curiosity is so important because research has shown that it actually helps little ones learn to read. And with this set, exploring the outdoors is also directly linked to an understanding of science. (Even better? Outdoor play helps little ones burn off some of that adorable but endless energy.)

Get it from Amazon for $8.99.
A Kinetic Sand kit
Use this to take your sensory bins to the next level.

Expert recommendation: Everyone works on interpreting sensory details from their environment — and some kiddos are more sensitive than others. When you give them options while playing with sensory materials, like Kinetic Sand, they work on learning to integrate those sensory experiences and make sense of them. This skill helps them in real life, like when they get paint or dirt on their hands.

Get it from Amazon for $12.89.
A tried-and-true train set
Plus, this doubles as a tool to teach planning and spatial awareness.

Expert recommendation: This true classic should not be underestimated. From hand-eye coordination to patience and perseverance, your little ones will learn to adjust the tracks to keep the trains on their wheels. There is also a lot of planning and spatial awareness that develops from connecting one side of the track to the other. This also takes a lot of focus, so parents might even get a few minutes to themselves!

Get it from Amazon for $49.99.

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