Preschool toys are designed to stimulate your childrens imagination and encourage a love of learning, but more than anything, preschool toys are lots of fun. This guide will help you choose the best toys for your 3 – 5 year old, and ensure that play time is fun for everyone.
Things to Consider
When choosing toys for your preschooler there are several things you need to consider, but most importantly there is safety, quality, and age appropriate learning.
Once your toddler reaches 3 years, you can start introducing smaller toys or toys with smaller parts, but do so with caution. While your preschooler is officially past the infant stage, there will still be times when toys end up in the mouth, or up the nose! Toys with small parts should be used with supervision, and be put away carefully after use – especially if your child has younger friends or siblings.
While children seem very grown up at 3 or 4, the reality is they are still growing and developing, and they will trip, tumble and fall every day. Make sure your child’s toys have no sharp edges, or pointed protrusions which can cause serious injury if fallen on.
Quality is a huge issue when it comes to buying toys, not only because high quality toys are generally safer, but because they last longer as well. Many of the toys which are appropriate for this age group, will be enjoyed by your child (and subsequent children) for many years to come. It is worth paying a little bit more to ensure they last the distance.
Play is your child’s version of work, and in the preschool years, their play will largely imitate the work they see in the world around them. Preschool toys are all about imagination, make believe, and playing ‘pretend’, so the best toys for this age group are toys that imitate your own tools for living.
Look for tools you use in your own ‘work’ such as gardening implements, cooking utensils and telephones, but make sure they are the right size and weight for your child. Giving your child a toy (or tool) that is too big or heavy causes frustration, and limits how much ‘make believe’ they can really play. There are lots of great child-sized ‘tools’ available, so make sure you find ones that suit the age and stage of your child. Staff at NZ educational toy stores will be able to point you in the right direction.
Best Preschool Toys 3-5 Years
3 – 5 year olds will still enjoy many of the toys featured in our Toddler Toys article, especially dolls, sand toys, dress ups and books. In addition to the toys listed below, these toddler toys definitely make the Top 10 list of preschool favourites.
Playdough is the most famous brand of modelling dough, and in fact people use the term ‘playdough’ to account for all sorts of modelling doughs on the market. But no matter what you call it, soft, reusable dough is an absolute favourite for preschool children.
To begin with, your child will simply poke, prod, roll and squash the dough with no apparent purpose, but as they do so they will develop fine motor skills and begin to discover just how dough works. They will ask themselves questions like how far can it stretch, how can I make one piece stick to another, and what makes the dough get sticky? All of these questions (and more) will prompt their problem solving skills into high gear.
Asides from fine motor skills, problem solving, and sheer creativity, modelling dough provides the perfect opportunity for children to imitate and play pretend. At around this age, children will stat to “bake” and mimic your behaviour in the kitchen with amazing accuracy. You can encourage this type of play by providing accessories for your child like cookie cutters, rolling pins, baking trays, and pretend ovens.
Building Blocks and Accessories
Up until about 3 years age, children will simply build for buildings sake, and large towers will be stacked and toppled, over and over and over. However at around 4 years old, children will start to build projects which then form the basis of further play. Things like farmyards with countless paddocks, and cities with sprawling roadways will take up your entire lounge floor, and the game itself can last for hours.
The best blocks for this age group are big flat blocks which don’t have to be inter-connected. I prefer wooden blocks, but there are some good plastic blocks on the market also. Block play accessories like farm animals, cars and trucks, road signs, and buildings are great toys to add at this age, and will really help to extend your child’s play.
Paint, Crayons, and Collage Materials
The fear of too much mess means many parents leave creative play for kindergarten or daycare, but providing creative play for your child doesn’t have to mean lots of mess. Your child will have lots of fun with simple materials like jumbo crayons and paper, blackboard and chalk, or child sized scissors and a pot of glue.
The benefits of creative play are enormous, and it seems such a shame to waste them for the sake of keeping the house clean. There are so many materials and creative play equipment which are perfect for this age group, so don’t worry about the mess and make the most of this fabulous age.
Move over Mozart – we have a preschooler on the loose! Give a preschooler some musical instruments and be prepared to watch creativity in action. They will compose and perform countless concerts, join in with their favourite tapes or CDs, and mimic television ads like a professional. They are not yet concerned about embarrassing themselves, so you get to see some real personalities shine through.
Good musical instruments for this age group are maracas, xylophones, triangles, bongo drums, and castanets.
Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles
Puzzles are great problem solving toys and will help increase your child’s concentration span and mental alertness. Interlocking wooden puzzles with about 9 large pieces are good for this age group, and you can buy them with or without a tray. As your child progresses, you can introduce puzzles with smaller pieces.
Tricycles and Trolleys
At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, 4 year old boys need time and space to let off steam. Lots of time… and lots and lots of space! Tricycles and trolleys are great outside toys for your child (boy or girl), and they provide a chance to get really physical.
These toys also allow your child to push their limits, and explore risk taking with speed and stunts. Some children will push those limits further than others, so make sure you have some serious ground rules and supervision in place.
Books and Storytelling Equipment
Preschoolers have the most amazing imagination, and can create stories that are made for the big screen. Obviously books help to develop that love of stories, but there are some other great storytelling toys available also. Things like hand puppets, finger puppets, flannel or magnetic story boards, giant books, posters, and simple dress ups, all make storytelling an exciting adventure.
Sand pit toys and dolls are also favourite preschool toys, and you can read more about these in our Toddler Toys article.