10 Toys That Teach

Top picks from librarians who incorporate toys into their programs.

Playthings in the library? Sure, say many librarians—though they have different ways of incorporating toys into their programs. Cassandra Barok, the Young Minds program leader at the Columbus (OH) Metropolitan Library, looks for portable toys that focus on such early literacy skills as rhyming and letter recognition. Barok places them in the Ready for Kindergarten areas in her library, so kids can have fun with their caregivers while sharpening their pre-reading know-how.

Lisa G. Kropp, the assistant director at Lindenhurst (NY) Memorial Library and SLJ "First Steps" columnist, takes a slightly different approach—as do the kids’ librarians at Adriance Memorial Library in Poughkeepsie, NY. They all leave some playthings out on the public floor for their young patrons, but put the majority of toys aside specifically for use in their programs. “Keeping my programming toys separate from my public floor toys further expands the wow factor,” says Kropp. “Parents think, ‘I know the really big blocks or the fun kitchen are in the program, so I’ll sign up.’”

So what kinds of toys make the grade for the librarians we polled? First off, they have to be durable enough to stand up to heavy use and made of high-quality plastic or wood so they’re easy to wipe down. They must be safe and developmentally appropriate, of course. But most important—and here’s what separates the keepers from the rest—they can be used in different ways to support imagination and learning.

These 10 picks satisfy all of the above—and teach toddlers and preschoolers other important skills to boot. Get ready to unleash entertainment with a purpose!

1. Mod Blocks

Bright colors, fun designs, and odd shapes set these wooden blocks apart—and make them irresistible for toddlers and preschoolers alike. Plus, they give budding architects a chance to hone fine-motor and engineering skills. ($29.99, ages 18 months and up, habausa.com)

2. Fisher-Price Little People Caring for Animals Farm

As kids tend the critters on this cheery farm, they discover how their actions can set in motion certain effects, such as a hayloft that drops and stall doors that pop open. Along the way, they tap into their social and emotional abilities as they feed their charges and tuck them in for the night. ($39.99, ages 1 to 5, available from fisher-price.com in August; at Walmart now)

3. Round the Savanna Safari Rug

If you need a plush rug to cozy up a corner, this kidproof carpet combines comfort and adventure—and it’s large enough to fit several small patrons. It comes with a wooden safari truck and three savanna dwellers to inspire young imaginations. ($29.99, ages 3 and up, melissaanddoug.com)

4. 3 ’N 1 Magnetic Wipe-Off, Flannel Boards and Stands

Sometimes kids need a little hands-on action when they listen to read-alouds. Enter this board that measures two feet by three feet. One side is a magnetic whiteboard, the other black fabric for flannel or felt figures. ($39.99, all ages, constructive playthings.com)

5. ALEX My Music Play Table

Few things are more satisfying than making a joyful noise—especially when you’ve got a xylophone, drum, and cymbals to do it with. You can put this wooden table on the floor and let kids figure out beats and rhythm. ($44, ages 3 and up, alexbrands.com)

6. Puppy Playtime Goldy Locks

Tots love to “read” to stuffed animals—and this adorable goldendoodle will make those snuggle-up moments special. You can also create a vet center in a corner of your play area, housing this pup and a few plush pals, alongside tools to play doctor. ($22, ages 0 and up, manhattantoy.com)

7. Smart Snacks Shape Matching Cookies

Budding bakers not only learn their colors and shapes but practice their spatial and fine-motor skills by matching colorful treats to the shapes on the baking sheet. ($19.99, ages 2 and up, learningresources.com)

8. Big Mouth Farm Puppet Set

Bring tales to life with these four 10- inch-tall barnyard pals. Let the little ones take them to a corner where they can reenact the story or spin a yarn of their own. ($49.99, all ages, constructiveplaythings.com)

9. Charlie Harper Puzzle Blocks

Kids can mix, match, and stack these heavy-duty, chipboard blocks to reveal beautifully illustrated wildlife. The set of nine combines into six different creatures, including a tiger and a ladybug. ($39.99, ages 3 and up, landofnod.com)

10. OombeeCube

The youngest toddlers can entertain themselves by grabbing and touching these textured, colorful shapes, while slightly older preschoolers can sort them into their own cutout spaces. Bonus: The shapes are tethered, so no little pieces to pick up! ($16.95, ages 1 and up, fatbraintoys.com)

Linda Rodgers is a freelance writer living in Dutchess County, NY.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.




Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.