Young girl sitting at a desk and playing with the Leap Frog Touch and Learn World Map.

Back to school is an exciting time filled with new faces, routines, and supplies, like educational toys. Children and teenagers may be reluctant to give up their carefree summer fun for routine school responsibilities. But there’s no reason to sacrifice pleasure when returning to the books, especially when your child can learn with interactive, fun, and best of all, educational toys. These encourage a passion for learning by combining it with play, which can soften the transition from vacation to classroom.

Educational building toys

Building blocks are one of the oldest educational toys around. With the simplicity and diverse options they offer, it’s no surprise that they’ve stood the test of time. They come in a variety of kits with different geometrical shapes and attachment tools, allowing kids to personalize their playtime. With choices ranging from over a hundred quirky-shaped pieces to just two dozen simple blocks, parents can find a kit suitable for their child’s age, play styles, and learning goals.

Building toys for pre-school aged children

Pre-school aged boy playing with building blocks.

Kits that come with easy to grab shapes, such as rectangular planks, circular columns, or cubes, are perfect educational toys for preschool aged children. The best part of these kits is that they don’t come with any pre-determined goals or rules. In fact, their simplicity allows young children to freely express their creativity by placing blocks below, on top, or next to each other. For this age group, I also recommend blocks that are magnetic to make attachments and detachments hassle-free. This will further encourage 3-5-year-olds to explore the world through touch, building spatial awareness.

Another great aspect of building kits is that you can adapt them as your child gains confidence and coordination with their hands and eyes. Unlike self-contained toys, such as board games, building kits can be expanded by purchasing blocks in different shapes and sizes. As your child grows, continue challenging their motor skills by adding angular or non-symmetrical blocks. Companies that produce building kits usually have product lines that offer similar kits suitable for different age groups. This makes it easy to maintain a colour theme in your playroom. I also like kits that come with a transportation bag or storage box, encouraging clean ups as part of playtime. It’s never too early to start teaching responsibility through educational toys.

Building toys for older children and pre-teens

Child playing with the educational toy VTech Marble Rush Raceway Set on the floor.

For elementary aged children and pre-teens, building kits that focus on a goal, such as building a race track, are great educational toys. They develop problem-solving and planning skills for children who have already mastered motor skills. Not only do these players enjoy challenges, but they also gain confidence seeing their play culminate in a finished product. Look for building kits that contain over a hundred pieces and building guides. A fun game is getting your child to look at the finished image and try assembling the pieces without reading the guides. If they run into challenges, encourage problem solving. Then, read the guide together to see where they went wrong.

Older children will also enjoy kits that come with lights, launchers, tracks, music, and other functionalities. These kits usually run on batteries. They can also be quite advanced in design and construction, allowing for hours of educational playtime. Even though more advanced kits focus on building particular products, they still allow for some variation. For example, a racetrack building kit may include pieces that can fit together in more ways than one. This diversity provides a desirable balance of creativity and logic. Because they encourage hands-on construction experience, these kits do a good job of introducing science concepts, such as balance and gravity.

Educational tech toys

While limiting children’s screen time is a common parental concern, allowing kids to play with tech as educational toys is worthwhile. They will be living in a highly technological world. So, learning how to use tech safely and effectively at a young age is a skill within itself. Good tech toys also build on other essential skills, including problem-solving and socialization, as well as content knowledge, such as math and geography.

Tech toys for elementary aged children

Child's hands playing with the educational toy PlayShifu Plugo Count Math STEM with ipad and play mat.

When it comes to tech toys, elementary age children do best with straightforward functions and accessible content. That is why STEM education toys, especially those that use augmented reality, are great choices for this age group. These toys come with a physical play mat or object as well as links to a digital app. Once the app has been downloaded to a tablet, children are guided through games using the play mat or object. Most of these games are content based, meaning they pose geographical, historical, mathematical, or other fact-oriented questions for your child to interact with on the accompanying toy.

For very tech-friendly parents, there are also “smartphones” designed specifically for children. These devices mimic a real smartphone by allowing children to message people that have been pre-selected. They also come with games that teach science, spelling, and other subjects. Like an adult phone, they are equipped with cameras that allow your child to practice photography. Designed for both safety and fun, these devices are suitable educational tools for familiarizing children with smart technology.

Tech toys for older children and pre-teens

Woman and young boy playing with the educational toy GJS GEIO Gaming Robot.

Older children and pre-teens nowadays are quite tech-savvy. This means that tech toys must have a certain level of complexity to engage them. Robots that come with smart programming functions are fantastic educational toys for these age groups. Your children can program these robotic toys to carry out a series of actions. Not only do these actions include simple backward and forward motions, but they may also incorporate complex movements such as dancing or singing. In the competition for your child’s attention, the smartphone is a leading contender. But don’t be surprised if these robots can hold their own!

More complex models also come with detachable pieces, allowing players to manipulate the design into their own personalized robot. These robots are also smart enough to respond to external stimuli, such as avoiding obstacles when moving around the room. Still eager for more fun learning? Robotics that are connected to an app provide further educational content by teaching players the foundations of coding. If your child enjoys tech, smart programming robots will satisfy their computational thirst without going over the allotted screen time.   

Other educational toys: coding and telescopes

Boy playing with an educational toy, the Osmo Coding Starter Kit for Ipad.

Aside from robotics, there are other educational toys that teach basic coding skills. Coding kits come with physical play objects, such as cards or blocks, and an app with games. At first glance, coding is often intimidating with series of symbols that have unclear significance to an untrained eye. However, these games simplify coding, making it into straightforward shapes or signals that incorporate objects in the real world. By moving the blocks or cards, children are guided through different coding challenges, training their logical thinking ability.

Pre-teens and teenagers interested in exploring the night sky may enjoy a telescope. These are not new toys per se, but newer models come with functions that weren’t available before. Some new telescopes allow for a camera attachment to be installed, so stargazers can snap clear photos of the stars and planets. I’d look for one that comes with a travel bag for easy transportation and app that provides information about the planets.

The back to school season is a great opportunity to bridge fun with education. Learning may not always be a fun-filled path, but with Best Buy’s selection of educational toys, you can bring pleasure to even the most challenging subjects. In frustrating moments at school or at home, a dose of fun can keep your child on track with their learning goals.

Lillian Liao
Lillian is a Vancouver writer who is thrilled to be blogging on fitness, travel, and work-related tech for Best Buy. When she isn't working on her latest writing project, she enjoys learning different languages, staying active, and exploring the city's cafe scene.

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