Disclosure: I am a blog ambassador for Lakeshore and am compensated for my work. I received product free of charge, but all thoughts and opinions are 100% mine.
What can you do with one good learning toy? A whole lot.
You don’t need a lot of toys. You just need the right toys. Make this your new toy motto and it will change the way you view the toys you bring into your house.
Toys have a funny way of building up in our homes. They multiply. They extrapolate. They fill so many nooks and crannies but it doesn’t have to be this way (and it can actually be overwhelming and stifling for kids).
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There is a better way: shift your focus to good toys, to learning toys.
Learning toys are better toys.
We know that play is the work of childhood.
We know that toys drive so much of the vehicle of play.
That’s all the more reason to look critically at toys and find the best learning toys possible.
What are learning toys?
Learning toys are open-ended toys with a little something extra. They’re amazing for play AND amazing as the tools for learning activities.
These toys span years of childhood and cover wide ranges of developmental levels. Kids can use them for so much and for so long.
Learning toys aren’t one and done toys. They don’t toys have one single purpose.
A good toy has so many play potentials
The mark of a good toy is one that can be used so many different ways, and can be the vehicle for so many learning opportunities.
The secret is knowing what to look for in a toy and then finding ways to use that toy beyond play.
RELATED: Curious what else I love at Lakeshore? Check out my full list of favorites.
How can you go beyond play with a toy?
I knew two things the moment I saw this toy:
- My kids are going to love it.
- I can teach them so much with it.
That’s the mark of a good toy: It’s a toy we can see the child actively playing with and learning from for years.
This toy has 60 nuts, 6 bolts and loads of play potential. I couldn’t wait for my kids to get their hands on it.
I turned that one toy into 9 different activities
A great toy, like this Nuts About Patterning! set, can lend itself to so many activities. Kids can play with it, we can teach with it, and everyone can enjoy it for years. The longevity is high here.
Aside from just playing with it – building, creating, imagining, and exploring – here are 9 learning activities using just this one toy.
RELATED: Looking for more toy ideas? Here are my favorite Lakeshore gifts for under $20.
One Toy. Nine Activities.
Ten-frames are awesome. They’re a quick and effective way for kids to organize counting, understand value, and determine number relationships.
First, tape out a ten-frame on your carpet.
Have your child roll two dice and count that many nuts into the ten-frame.
STOP and talk.
Ask them how many that is altogether.
Ask them about the relationship of that number to 5 or 10 (is it more than 5? How many more? Is it less than 10? How many less?).
Eventually, ten-frames will help our kids with addition, but for now – it’s a great tool for counting and studying numbers, and building a deep relationship with them.
Long before kids are ready for rulers, they need the chance to explore the world with non-standard measurements.
This means using objects as units of measurement that aren’t typically used in “real life” – like nuts from a kids toy (wink). We consider this a “non-standard” unit of measurement.
I grabbed toys from my daughter’s (4) toy baskets and set them on the carpet.
I first modeled how to use the nuts to measure and then had her try.
She mastered this is no time so we started to up the ante: “Can you predict or guess how many nuts long this will be?” “Can you find something else that is 5 nuts long?”
PATTERNING – COPYING
The Nuts about Patterning! obviously has a clear design for patterning, but how do you teach kids to pattern?
We started by copying and extending patterns.
Using white butcher paper, I made patterns for my daughter (4) to copy and then continue building.
This gives a concrete opportunity to work on a rather abstract skill.
She copied the patterns and I asked the all-important question: What comes next?
Copying, extending, and building them together helps kids grow their patterning skills.
PATTERNING – USING THE BOLTS
We did use this toy exactly as it was intended – to make and show our own patterns. It’s the perfect learning activity for preschoolers and early elementary-aged kids.
Remember that this is where the patterning skill is very abstract as kids are having to create the pattern in their mind and translate it to the nuts and bolts.
This is not an easy task!
Patterning involves high level thinking skills that goes well beyond the rote memorization of other subjects.
It’s always fun to introduce a new process art activity so I left this “invitation to play” out for my kids post nap-time.
I rolled out a big sheet of butcher paper and a second, smaller sheet for the paint. I also set a bunch of nuts out for my kids to paint with.
Using washable paint, they smooshed and dabbed the nuts into the paint and onto the paper.
They experimented with making designs, patterns, shapes, and other creations. My kids always love using unconventional materials for art.
It has a way of them think “outside the box” for their art.
Just rinse the nuts in water or a bath, use a scrubby brush, and all will be well!
LEARNING ABOUT ADDITION
A great toy like Nuts About Patterning! is a great way to teach the concept of addition.
With two paper plates and a deck of cards, have your child flip over two numbers.
On one plate, put that many nuts. On the other plate, put that many nuts.
First, talk about it: “Which plate has more? Which plate has less?”
Then move into the idea of joining or combining the two groups. I like to dump one plate onto another very dramatically.
“Whoa! What happened to our numbers? Did they get bigger or smaller when we put them together?”
In this activity, you are NOT working on teaching a child math facts. Instead, you are working on teaching them the concept of joining two groups together (aka addition).
MAKE A GRAPH
Graphs are one of my favorite preschool activities.
Use tape to construct your graph – make four columns for the four colors of nuts.
Start by counting out a small group of nuts for your child to work with.
Next, have them sort the nuts into groups by color. Finally, work together to add them to the graph.
The bulk of learning with a graph is asking and answering questions about the data. “Which has the most? Which has the fewest? How many more blues are there than oranges?”
Creating, analyzing, and reading a graph is high level thinking for children – this is an activity that can be done often.
Need a little fine motor skills activity? Try threading the nuts.
Grab some yarn and all 60 nuts to set up this activity super quick.
Tie one nut to the bottom of the string to hold all the others in place.
Encourage your child to make patterns with the nuts or come up with some sort of design for their necklace.
Threading takes hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and so much patience – it’s so good for little learners.
SHAVING CREAM SENSORY BIN
Let’s have some messy fun with these nuts!
I took my beloved sensory bin and dumped all the nuts into the bottom.
Over the top of them, I squirted loads and loads of shaving cream. I wanted to give my kids a chance to build, construct, and engineer.
The shaving cream acts like a glue for the nuts. My daughter said she was a cement mixer as she built her towers higher and higher.
It’s also a great independent activity or invitation to play – a chance for them to explore and learn.
Learning toys are the way to go
Our children deserve better toys than one-and-done toys that do the work for them.
Instead, take the time to really consider toys and all their potential. Try to see just how much play and learning can come from a toy, how many years the child will have to play with it, and how we can teach with the toy.
Look at everything we can do with the Nuts About Patterning! toy – pretty amazing!
Having the right toys matters
When I’m looking for great learning toys for my kids, my go to spot is always Lakeshore Learning.
That’s where I find the most unique toy and play opportunities for my kids – and ones that I can always leverage into important learning activities.
I’ve been a customer of Lakeshore’s for more than a decade now and there’s a reason. Their toys are teacher-designed, kid-tested, and something special. They’re pretty magical.
You don’t have to own all the toys, just the right toys.
And luckily, I know exactly where to find all those “just right” learning toys.