Toys for Thought

Toys for Thought: 7 Toys for Preschoolers

Have you ever asked yourself, “What toys should I give my children? What will he be most entertained by? What will she learn the most from?” Walking down the toy aisles at your local Target or Wal-mart can be very overwhelming – most of your choices involve batteries and high tech finesse. 

What If I told you the best options are the most simplest? As parents and caregivers, we want to encourage and support children’s sense of wonder. By giving them the right tools (or toys), children will flourish while they discover how the world works around them.

Peggy Ashbrook, an early childhood educator and writer, provides some insight into the world of wonder and whimsy of childhood exploration. “Simple toys and tools can engage children as they explore natural phenomena in ways that will support their later science learning. Adults who allow children to play and work through small difficulties by themselves support children as they build an understanding of how the world works. Resist the temptation to ‘fix it’ or ‘make it go faster’ or ‘use it the right way,’ and you will build your child’s self-confidence and problem-solving ability.”

Here are our 7 toy recommendations for preschoolers that show the power of simple toys in your child’s learning and development. 


1. Spinning Tops

boy holding wooden spinning top toy

Concept: Use these toys as tools to explore motion

Spinning tops are simple yet fascinating toys that can provide children with endless opportunities of entertainment. But did you know that they can be valuable tools for exploring motion and physics? By encouraging your child to play with spinning tops and asking them open-ended questions, you can support their sense of wonder and curiosity while also helping them learn valuable scientific concepts. 

One way to support your child’s exploration of spinning tops is to ask them open-ended questions about how the tops move and behave. For example, you can ask them how hard they need to push each type of top before it starts to spin, or whether lighter or heavier tops are easier to spin. You can ask them to compare the spinning behavior of different types of tops, such as tall vs. short tops or tops with different shapes or materials. 

Another way to encourage exploration is to challenge your child to experiment with different types of tops and modifications. For example, you can ask them to see if a top with a penny taped to it can maintain a spin longer than a regular top, or if a top with a differently than a traditional top. 

By using spinning tops as a tool for exploration, you can help your child develop an interest in science and physics while also building their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. So next time you’re at the toy store, consider picking up a few spinning tops and encouraging your child to experiment and explore. You never know what fascinating discoveries they might make!

Purchase these in party stores or in catalogs that sell small plastic party favors. 


2. Magnifiersboy looking at butterfly through magnifying glass

Concept: Tools can extend our senses, allowing us to obtain more information than we would be able to on our own. Magnifiers extend our sight by making objects look bigger.

Tools can be incredibly powerful in extending our senses and allowing us to obtain more information than we would be able to on our own. One such tool that can be particularly fun and engaging for children is a magnifier. Magnifiers can extend our sight by making objects look bigger, revealing details and aspects of nature that are too small to see with just our eyes. 

To support your child’s exploration with magnifiers, encourage them to look closely at everything around them! Magnifiers can be used to examine skin, coins, flower structures, and insects – all objects with small parts that make up the whole. This tool can also be used to make the world look blurry and eyes look huge, which is always a fun activity for kids. 

Another variation of using a magnifier to explore is to fill a round, clear plastic jar with water and have your children look at their hands or a picture through the jar. Children often notice the change in apparent size, and this can lead to interesting discussions about the properties of water and the science of refraction. Ask them questions such as, “Did your hand look bigger?” and “Did my hand really get bigger, or did it just look bigger?” to encourage critical thinking and observation skills. 

You can purchase inexpensive plastic magnifiers from drug stores and discount stores, or you can order them from a scientific supply company. Consider picking up a few for your child’s toy collection – not only will they be a fun way to explore and learn, but they will also help your child develop important scientific skills and curiosity about the world around them. 


3. Eye Droppers or Pipettes

Using eyedroppers and pipettes can be a fun and educational activity for children, as they learn a lot about how liquids behave through hands-on exploration. For example, they can learn that squeezing the bulb of a dropper pushes air out and when they release the bulb, it pulls water in. They can also observe that water forms drops, which can lead to discussions about surface tension and the properties of water. 

To support your child’s exploration with eye droppers and pipettes, show them how to use the dropper to force the air out of the bulb and how to release it to allow it to pop back into shape, drawing in air or liquid as it reforms. Encourage them to feel the air as it leaves the dropper by holding it up to their cheek (away from their eyes) as they squeeze the bulb. They can also use the dropper to suck up small amounts of rain from a puddle or to mix colored water from one dish with water of a different color in another. Turning the dropper upside down can create a fountain, which can be a fun and engaging way to explore the behavior of liquids. All of these activities can help your child develop small motor control as they learn to manipulate the dropper and pipette. 

You can purchase these tools and toys from a pharmacy or dollar store, or you can order them from a scientific education supply company. Consider buying just a few at first to see how your child responds, and then order more if they show a continued interest in this type of exploration.

4. Bubbles and Bubble Wandboy playing with bubbles

Bubbles are more than just a fun way to play, they also teach preschoolers about geometry (shapes) and an awareness of air movement. As children blow bubbles, they learn about the shape bubbles can take and where they float.

Bend a pipe cleaner into a square-shaped bubble wand and encourage your child to predict what shape the bubbles will take. As you blow bubbles, use words like “sphere” to describe the three-dimensional shape of the bubbles, expanding your child’s vocabulary. Try blowing bubbles of different sizes to help your child understand how bubbles can change. You can also experiment with different kinds of bubble hands, such as ones with multiple holes or unusual shapes, to see how they affect the bubbles. 

You can find bubble solutions in party stores year-round or in drug stores and discount stores during the warm months. You can also make your own bubble solution with dish soap and water for an easy and inexpensive option. 


5. Balls

children playing with ball

Preschool children love to play with balls, and there’s a lot they can learn from them. By using balls of the same size but differing weights, children can explore how the mass, or weight, of an object affects its motion. 

To support their exploration, ask your child questions like “Which ball will roll farther if we give them the same push – the heavier ball or the lighter ball?” Children will be able to see firsthand how the mass of an object affects how it moves. They can also compare the height of the bounce of balls made of different materials, exploring the properties of different materials. 

These kinesthetic experiences with balls will help children build a solid foundation for future science learning. As they throw or kick balls, they become familiar with the effects of gravity and can draw on these experiences in later learning. 

You can purchase a variety of balls at toy stores, drug stores, and discount stores in the toy or sports sections. Encourage your child to explore and experiment with different balls and see what they can discover!


6. Mirrors

preschooler with mirror

Exploring mirrors with your preschooler is a fun and engaging way for preschoolers to learn about the properties of light. By using mirrors, they can see how light travels and reflects off of different surfaces. Here are some ideas on how to support their exploration.

Encourage your child to look into a mirror and move it around to see how their reflection changes. They can try moving closer or farther away from the mirror, or changing the angle of the mirror to see different parts of their face. Place a mirror outside on a sunny day and have your child use it to reflect sunlight onto a wall or other surface. They can observe how the light changes as the mirror is moved around. Encourage your child to draw a self-portrait using a mirror. They can use the mirror to observe the different parts of their face and draw what they see. 

Mirrors can be purchased at a pharmacy or dollar store, and plastic mirrors designed for preschoolers can be ordered from preschool or scientific education supply companies. With these simple tools, preschoolers can begin to develop an understanding of how light works and how it interacts with different surfaces. 


7. Magnetspreschooler with magnets

Children can play with magnetic force and explore this property of materials. By using the phrase, ‘attracted to the magnet,’ instead of ‘sticking to the magnet,’ you reinforce that there is no ‘stickiness’ involved—magnetism is a force that pulls or pushes. How it does this involves understanding that all materials are made of tiny pieces too small to see (atoms), a concept that children will build toward understanding around age 10. There is no need to rush this understanding. In early childhood, children can understand that being attracted by a magnet, or not, is the nature of a material.

Support your child’s exploration of magnets by asking questions like, “what objects in my house can be attracted to a magnet?”, and “can magnetic force work through fabric?”. Put the magnet in a sock and see if it can still attract objects together! 

You can purchase magnets that are too large for a child to swallow. These can be found in hardware stores or toy stores, or they can be ordered from preschool or scientific educational supply companies. 

The most important science learning comes from experiencing the natural world. Without the natural world, we could not manufacture any of the human-made materials that make our lives easier and more comfortable. The natural world is the most important science tool of all, so go outside with your child, breathe, look around, and explore. 

Here at Kids’ Care Club 

When you step into a classroom at Kids’ Care Club, you will not find many battery operated toys that light up and play songs. You won’t find TV’s or children playing computer games. 

You will however, find all of the items mentioned above and more. You will see children using their senses and imagination to explore and play. We believe that play is important to their development, and therefore provide items that enhance and foster their natural curiosity.

 Things such as marble mazes, wood blocks, gears and levers, and items from nature such as pinecones and plants, are available to children—toys that encourage open-ended play. There is no right or wrong way to make these items come together and work efficiently. Children can work together in small groups or independently to build their problem-solving skills, as well as use their vivid imaginations to conceptualize and then create.

We encourage you to schedule a tour today to learn more about how our teachers are creating environments that inspire creativity. 

Additional Resources

Find more information and tools on our.  Parent Resources page »

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