The preschool age can be tricky because kids of this age love to play with anything they can get their hands on, and yet you want to make sure they are safe and taking advantage of every opportunity to learn. Although every child is different, the following toy recommendations should be a hit with most preschoolers.
Pretend toys help preschoolers learn about the world around them and encourage independence.
- Melissa & Doug has many high quality pretend toys for preschoolers. Their wooden food play sets are a durable addition to any play kitchen area. The slice and bake cookie set and pizza party set get high marks from parents on the Fat Brain Toys website.
- Tool sets are another useful type of pretend toy for preschoolers, since working with tools helps build find motor skills. Green Toys makes play tool sets for preschoolers out of recycled plastic. There is a blue, green, and yellow set for boys and a pink, purple, and green set for girls. The girls toy set won the 2013 Canadian Toy Testing Council three star seal.
Preschoolers often frustrate easily with their limited language skills and ability to grasp what is going on around them. Play sets with characters and various accessory pieces let preschoolers create stories that deepen their understanding of how people relate to each other.
- Playmobil is often a hit with young children who have outgrown their Little People sets. Their toy kits include themes from construction work to air travel to special international sets. Their variety and educational value make them a winning choice for both parents and preschoolers. Awards Playmobil has received include the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio (Gold Award), Parenting Magazine Best in Play Award, and the FamilyFun Magazine T.O.Y. Award.
- Imaginext toys are recommended for children ages 3 to 8. They are very similar to Playmobil toys, but include sets featuring licensed characters such as the DC Super Friends. The Super Friends bat cave gets 4 1/2 stars on Amazon, with many parents saying it encourages lots of creative play.
Building blocks help preschoolers develop fine motor skills and spatial reasoning skills.
- Lego may bring back happy memories from your own childhood, but MegaBloks are a more economical choice for today's preschooler. MegaBloks sets come in a variety of themes, including sets with Hello Kitty, Dora, Barbie, and Hot Wheels themes. The best selling MegaBloks set on the Toys R Us website is the MegaBloks first builders' big building bag, which features 80 MegaBlocks in classic colors. Reviewers at Toys R Us give the product an overall rating of four out of five stars.
- If you'd prefer wooden blocks for your child, Yoyo.com lists the PlanToys 50-piece wooden block set as one of its "Top Picks" for preschoolers. This set features blocks made from rubber wood that are colored with nontoxic dyes using sustainable manufacturing processes.
Board games are excellent toys for preschoolers because they teach kids about good sportsmanship while providing a fun way to work on recognizing colors, letters, and numbers.
- Updates on classic game choices are sure to make your preschooler smile. Froggy Boogie is a modern version of the classic memory game that has received a Parents' Choice Gold Award and been named a Parenting Magazine Mom-Tested Pick.
- You can also find many games based on popular children's books, such as the Very Hungry Caterpillar Matching Game. This game was included in two of Dr. Toy's "best of" awards categories, including the 100 Best Children's Products of 2012, and the 10 Best Socially Responsible Products.
Electronics for preschoolers are controversial due to concerns that too much screen time is harmful for a child's development. But, if you're not opposed to letting your preschool play an educational game or two, Leapfrog has electronic games customized to the 3-5 year old demographic.
- With the LeapPad 3 system, children can learn how to read, respond to music, and learn their shapes and colors with interactive games that are designed to be both fun and educational. They are perfect for travel time on family vacations or just to enjoy during an ordinary day at home. This tablet gets rave reviews from parents who note that it is a great, child-friendly tablet.
- Leapfrog also makes a LeapReader system that features an electronic pen preschoolers can use to "read" one of 150 different books. Pointing the pen at unfamiliar words allows preschoolers to enjoy and better understand their favorite books whenever they wish. The LeapReader system gets a 4 1/2 star rating from Walmart site reviewers.
With childhood obesity becoming a growing health concern, many parents find themselves in search of toys that will encourage their children to become more active. Step 2 makes many outdoor toys for children that promote physical activity, including:
- The Play Up Teeter Totter received great reviews from consumers who noted that they loved the idea that the toy was suitable indoors and out, and helped young children understand the concept of sharing and working together because you cannot teeter totter alone.
- An Extreme Coaster that received a Toy of the Year award from Family Fun magazine. The coaster is not only fun, but encourages exercise and co-ordination skills as children climb the steps to take another ride.
Find What's Right for Your Preschooler
Young children vary widely in maturity and temperament, so it's important you find toys that fit your unique child. For example, it is probably not a good idea to provide a video game to a child with attention span problems, or a sports set to a child who prefers to be indoors indulging in a coloring book. Think of who your child is, and then enjoy the process of finding toys to enhance and refine those unique gifts and qualities that already exist.