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We don’t think there’s a right or wrong way for kids to play. For this kid-oriented gift guide, we focused on learning toys—open-ended games, kits, toys and crafts that promote lifelong skills like critical thinking, problem solving, logic, and even coding. And, of course, we spent some time playing with our picks at home with our own kids. Here are the learning toys we love. We think the kids in your life will love them too.
Please choose a newsletter to subscribe to. That wasn’t a valid email address. Feel free to opt out or contact us at any time. Opt out or contact us at any time. You’ll be hearing from us soon. The types of toys featured in this guide are often called STEM toys because they can help develop skills that would be useful in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
These toys are open-ended, adaptive, flexible, provocative, and, most importantly, fun. We’re not saying these toys will make kids into future inventors, programmers, or poets. Mostly we like these toys—and think the kids in your life will like them too—because they are open-ended, adaptive, flexible, provocative, and, most importantly, fun. In fact, some research in child development has shown that kids have more fun with toys that help them learn. To identify toys and games for this guide, we visited Katherine Delmar Burke School, an all-girls K-8 school in San Francisco.
We spoke with Mike Matthews, the director of curriculum and program innovation at Burke’s, and Jenny Howland, the kindergarten-through-4th-grade technology teacher, to find out what they think makes a good learning toy and which ones would be good choices for kids to play with at home. We tried out a number of games, toys, and kits in their lab ourselves and learned which ones have been most successful—and fun—for the students. We also talked to Wirecutter staff with kids in their lives to find out their favorite learning toys, paying particular attention to recommendations we received from multiple sources. Burke’s learning lab, by parents on our staff, or both. For the 2017 update to this guide, we’ve added a recommendation from our guide The Best Robotics Kits for Beginners, for which we spent an additional 35 hours researching and testing the best kits for learning robotics. Open-ended: Whether a simple set of building blocks or a codable robot, the toys we recommend here can be played with, disassembled, reassembled, and interacted with in a variety of ways. Many of the games have no single solution and require the players to collaborate.