The Tot 10: Best Literacy & Numeracy Toys
Looking for ways to build your child’s literacy and numeracy skills? In this article we look at why open ended toys are the key and share our top 10 picks!
When you think of literacy and numeracy, you might have flashbacks from your childhood of being forced to recite your times tables or read out loud in front of the class. You probably think of toys that are designed to improve these skills as dull and torturous.
Good news: Many of the best literacy and numeracy toys aren’t specifically designed to teach reading and math. These open-ended toys allow children to learn these skills incidentally while they play – hooray!
And because research has come such a long way, even structured literacy and numeracy toys are infinitely more fun than any educational toys we had when we were kids.
In this article, we’ll look at:
- What open-ended toys are and how they teach literacy and numeracy skills
- The important role parents can play in teaching literacy and numeracy skills and how more structured toys can help
- Our favorite literacy and numeracy toys
Scroll down to learn more…
What are open-ended toys and how do they teach literacy and numeracy?
Open-ended toys are toys that can be played with in a variety of ways, have no set rules or outcomes, and encourage imaginative thinking and/or problem-solving. Examples include blocks, pretend play sets and crafting materials.
As children dream up new scenarios, they constantly seek out new words to describe, plan, create and solve problems. And when parents ask open-ended questions about their children’s games (without intervening or directing their play), they help their little ones expand their vocabularies even further.
Why is this important? Research indicates that early language proficiency is strongly correlated with high performance on language and literacy tasks later in life.
Open-ended toys can also introduce children to basic mathematical principles. They encourage children to sort objects, recognize patterns, calculate amounts, identify shapes, fit objects together and solve problems – all of which are examples of mathematical thinking.
How can structured toys and parents help teach literacy and numeracy?
You might be wondering by now whether the more structured literacy and numeracy toys you have at home, such as flash cards and math games, are also useful. The answer is: absolutely!
While there is a wealth of evidence to show that children learn through unstructured play, recent research has demonstrated that a more formal approach to teaching children literacy and numeracy also has major benefits.
In the study, a group of four-year-olds watched adults demonstrate literacy and numeracy activities over the course of four weeks. Then, while the children were playing, their parents and the researchers did literacy and numeracy activities in the background. The idea was that by purposefully exposing children to these types of activities and showing an interest in them themselves, adults would increase children’s interest in them.
It worked: in just four weeks, children exposed to numeracy demonstrations played more with numeracy concepts and those exposed to literacy demonstrations improved on reading measures.
The moral of the story? Parents have a much greater influence on the types of games their children play than they think. No matter which literacy and numeracy toys you buy, spend some time demonstrating how they work to your children and let them see you reading a book or calculating the weekly budget. These simple actions can have a big impact on their reading, writing and math skills.
The Tot’s 10 best literacy and numeracy toys
From day one, you can use these high contrast black and white flash cards to show your baby upper case letters and animals! As your tot gets older, you can play games with prompts such as: Line up all the land animals. Find the card with the first letter of your name. Count how many cards have water animals. Age recommendation: 0 months +
Created specifically for The Tot by an Early Learning Educator, the 12 – 18 month Play & Learn Set consists of six open ended toys as well as a detailed booklet with loads of activity ideas and developmental milestone advice! Age recommendation: 18 months +
9 sets available for ages 0 months to 6 years!
Handmade in small batches in Canada, Dough Parlour’s non-toxic scented play dough is a fun way for tots to learn how to describe colors, scents, shapes, textures, while also providing a sensory experience! Age recommendation: 2 years +
To take the activity further, try using the tools in the Let The Play Dough Kit to manipulate and shape the dough! Age recommendation: 3 years +
While your tot is learning all about weather patterns and temperature levels, they’ll also be able to develop important life skills such as knowing how to dress for the climate! Will they need to pack a hat? Umbrella? Gloves? Age recommendation 3 years +
Made of solid wood and finished with non-toxic water-based paints, this 30-block set includes the numbers 00-9 and a collection of adorable corresponding characters, words, and symbols. Teaching numbers, words, days of the week, and math, these durable blocks are just as much fun as they are educational! Age recommendation: 3 years +
While this one may feel a bit more formal, it’s actually a fun way for kids to make believe they’re playing ‘school’ themselves, which allows them to work on character development, sequencing, hand-eye coordination and even honing fine motor skills. Age recommendation: 3 years +
Can you name the colors? How many discs can you thread? How many yellow discs can you stack? These are just a few prompts you can try with the Let Them Play Rainbow Disc Stack & Thread Kit! Age recommendation: 3 years +
One way to help your tot learn about their body and health is with this adorable wooden doctor kit from Make Me Iconic! It’s also a great way for children to learn how to express themselves, work on their hand-eye coordination and of course – partake in imaginative play! Age recommendation: 3 years +
Play kitchens and food toys can be a fun way for kids to learn all about meal prep, healthy eating and manners! To help develop literacy and numeracy skills, try getting your tot to dictate or write a shopping list! Count how many things you’ll need to buy! Age recommendation: 3 years +
Available in more colors
If you’re looking for ways to help your big kid with their literacy and numeracy skills, The Tot Play & Learn Set for 5 to 6 year olds is just the thing! Packed full of activity ideas and tips for encouraging both cognitive and physical development, it has six games and toys for kids to play with! Age recommendation: 5 years +
9 sets available for ages 0 months to 6 years!