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24 Screen-Free Gifts For Kids That Are Actually Fun *And* Educational

Total win-win.

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Here's the thing about educational toys… they're great, but you also want them to be fun! To get ready for the holiday season, I wanted to share some of my family's favorites so far.

My little dude is doing Pre-K full-time remote this year. Because school is done through Zoom, I'm trying to supplement his learning with non-screen toys. But listen, we're all doing the best we can!

I also wanted to ask experts for their recommendations. Anne Gillyard and Jodi Arellano are the founders and professional playroom designers (hello, dream job 👋) behind grOH! Playrooms.

This list has 5 screen-free picks from me and 19 more from the experts at grOH! — all of which can give little eyes a break while still helping their brains grow. ✨

1. This 100 Words Book to help develop vocabulary in English and Spanish.

The 100 Words Book for kids
Leap Frog / Via amazon.com

Why I love it: Yes, this one is kinda noisy, but my three-year-old loves switching the words from English to Spanish and back again. It's really helped him grasp the concept of different languages. In fact, he'll often ask me what the Spanish word is for everyday items even when he isn't using it... and thank goodness Siri is there to back me up when my memory recall to high school Spanish fails me.

Get it from Amazon for $14.99.

2. This travel-friendly number and letters toy, which turns ABCs and 123s into a fun memory game.

Battat / Via amazon.com

Why I love it: It's a great little game to help learn letters and numbers, and — I cannot stress this enough — there are no small pieces and it doesn't make noise. It's been a total homerun during long car trips and my son plays with it a lot even when we're home. I've loved seeing him make associations with the letters and items around the house. He'll now say things like "D is for dog!" and it's just the cutest.

Get it from Amazon for $10.95.

3. This simple magnetic maze game to help with fine motor development.

A toy that has kids move magnetic marbles through a maze with a stylus
HABA / Via amazon.com

Why I love it: Another toy that works on concentration and focus! (Plus things are slightly quieter around the house when it's getting used.) I also love watching how my son is working on his fine motor skills while moving the magnetic marbles around. This game also travels well!

Get it from Amazon for $22.99.

4. This butterfly grow kit to show that caterpillars are in fact VERY hungry and then they turn into butterflies.

A butterfly growing kit that shows kids how caterpillars turn into butterflies
Insect Lore / Via amazon.com

Why I love it: I did this when I was a kid and it was so fun to do again with my own kid. We read The Very Hungry Caterpillar a lot during this time, so it was the perfect complement to talking about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. It might not be butterfly weather where you live (it needs to be at least 55 degrees out to release the butterflies), so I like that this kit comes with a voucher so you can wait to order the caterpillars when the time is right for you.

Get it from Amazon for $24.70.

5. A monthly subscription to Little Passports.

A monthly subscription kit that includes a map of the world, as well as cardboard figurines, and a toy suitcase
Little Passports / Via littlepassports.com

Why I love it: We get the Early Explorers kit (for ages 3-5) delivered every month and it's always fun, from the unboxing to the actual included activities. I love how it gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about a different part of the world with my little man. It's absolutely piqued his curiosity about travel and that's an interest I'm invested in helping him pursue. They offer kits for kids up to age 12 with different themed boxes covering geography to STEM.

Get it from Little Passports for $19.95-$22.95 per month depending on your subscription model.

6. These sweet little dolls that can help foster storytelling and imaginative play.

Olli Ella / Via us.olliella.com, Olli Ella / Via us.olliella.com

Expert recommendation: These pocket-sized, soft, and shapeable Holdie Folk dolls come in a variety of skin tones and are great for imaginative play. When children tell stories, they practice concepts like beginning, middle, and end, as well as conflicts and resolutions with the characters they create.

Choose from 18 different dolls; get them from Ollie Ella for $16.95 each.

7. A set of Magna-Tiles — which can actually help your child learn starter principles of geometry.

Brightly colored magnetic tiles for children built into a castle
Magna-Tiles / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: By using concepts of geometry (like using two right triangles to create a square), kids can explore both two- and three-dimensional shapes. Magna-Tiles can also take part in their small-world play stories — kids will create buildings, castles, parking garages, and zoos all with the same materials. This is as open-ended as it can get!

And the more open-ended we are with our play materials, the more they require problem solving, creative thinking, and language to explain the purpose and their creation.

Get a 100-piece set of Magna-Tiles from Amazon for $108.03. If you're looking for a lower-cost option, a 100-piece set of a similar product, PicassoTiles, costs $52.98.

8. This cute AND classic animal figurine set that can lay the foundation for a life-long love of life sciences.

Children's toy figures of a donkey, cow, rooster, and sheep
Schleich / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: Animals become characters in children’s play stories, and playing with various animals often inspires deep learning and interest in animal facts and research. And for the littlest children, making animal sounds actually strengthens the muscles to help them develop oral language.

Get this set on Amazon for $19.99.

9. This classic stable to set the stage for small world play — and work on those fine motor skills.

A child plays with a toy stable with two toy horses
Melissa & Doug / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: This can help facilitate small-world play, and we're huge fans of that. Adding environmental cues — like a stable to indicate they are on a farm — can give kids suggestions of what to play when they are having a hard time inventing their own play story. Plus, kids use fine motor skills to manipulate the pieces and they use their imaginations and language to tell stories.

Get a stable from Amazon for $39.20.

10. This colorful set of building blocks that can help with language development.

A set of brightly colored blocks that look like tiny houses
Bella Luna Toys / Via bellalunatoys.com

Expert recommendation: You can add to your child’s play story by adding some environmental pieces. They can set up houses or trees and create their own little community or neighborhood. As they expand their small-world play, it helps their stories and even their language become more complex and interesting.

Get this set of village building blocks from Bella Luna Toys for $73. You can also find a colorful starter set from Melissa & Doug for $16.99 on Amazon.

11. This little kiddie drum — so they can march to their own beat. (And maybe even drum up those test scores later in life. 😉)

A child's drum with two drumsticks
Eastar / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: Children who practice and participate in music often score higher on standardized tests. And while life isn’t just about standardized tests, this really does say something about the neural connection between music, math, and language. The rhythm, rhyme, and language embedded in music primes the brain for other learning.

Get it on Amazon for $29.99.

12. This adorable ukulele to start your little rockstar's career, and also build lifelong confidence.

Mahalo Ukuleles / Via amazon.com, Kathleen Shea-Porter / Via BuzzFeed

Expert recommendation: This is the perfect starter instrument for every budding musician. Kids both use these in lessons and also in pretend play. The social and emotional skills and confidence building involved in performing music can, with practice, transfer into other parts of their life! Added bonus: You’ll get the cutest pics and videos.

Get it on Amazon (available in 11 colors) for $34.95.

13. A classic Lego collection for your emerging engineer.

Amazon

Expert recommendation: We adore Lego sets, but it is a completely different skill to build following instructions versus building by brick and imagination. It takes engineering, experimentation, trial and error, and vision to carryout a structure with a brick and Lego set. A balance of both are important for Lego builders as they both develop important skill sets.

Get this classic box set for $26.99 on Amazon.

14. This cool and incredibly fun scooter — which can help with focus and core control.

Micro / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: Wait, a scooter can be educational? YES! Physical and gross motor play helps kids learn to focus. Not only do they learn how to concentrate, but they gain the muscle and physical strength required to sit in chairs as well as core control.

Get this cute scooter (available in 14 colors) on Amazon for $139.99. Or, check out this Radio Flyer scooter for $32.90.

15. These retro-inspired toy cars for racing — and conducting starter physics experiments.

A blue and white, retro-looking wooden toy car
Candylab / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: Not only are these toy cars perfect for storytelling and community creating, but we're also into their very cool retro vibe. Plus, did you know every time your kids set up ramps and car races, they’re actually conducting physics experiments? Inertia! Friction! Kids really are amazing.

Get one of these cars on Amazon for $9.95 (available in eight styles).

16. A marble run set so your kiddo can build, test, and try different ideas.

Two boys play with marbles on a wooden marble run set.
Hape / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: Without even knowing it, your kids will learn about ramps, acceleration, friction… it's all about physics with this toy. But they'll also get a fun lesson in trial and error and prediction. What will adding this piece do to the overall structure? Try it out, test it, and see what happens. Not to mention collaboration, cooperation, and communication — maybe even with a sibling.

Get this wooden marble run set on Amazon for $113. If you're looking for a more affordable option, you can snag a different set for $39.99.

17. A toy cash register to learn all about starter math skills.

A toy cash register with play money
Learning Resources / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: Sure, they may be playing grocery store, but counting money and exchanging it for items is a great, authentic way to really practice beginner math skills. Once their play becomes more complex, kiddos can write their own price tags and do their own addition and subtraction… pretty soon you'll have them helping run your household budget — with your supervision, of course!

Get this cash register (available in two colors) from Amazon for $33.47.

18. These Colors of the World crayons to teach inclusivity through art.

A 24-pack of crayons specifically designed to match skin tones from around the world
Crayola / Via shop.crayola.com

Expert recommendation: Art has always been a powerful tool to start conversations about race and your community with little ones — and it's even better when the crayon colors are more inclusive of all skin tones. Play is a great way to teach anti-racism to children. (If you want more ideas on how to make anti-racism part of your child's play, you can check out a blog we wrote on the topic here.)

Get this 24-crayon set from Crayola for $2.49. You can also find a 10-pack of markers on Amazon for $7.08.

19. These mess-free paint sticks that'll help your kids practice making mistakes — an important skill to have!

Kwik Stix / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: These quick drying, mess-free paint sticks are a parent AND child win. Art is such a powerful form of communication. Even when it's just a bunch of scribbles, kiddos are planning, pivoting, and practicing making mistakes. One more plus side? It gives them an opportunity to care for their environment by cleaning up after themselves."

Get a 24-pack of Kwik Stix on Amazon for $18.99.

20. This handy and functional wood model kit, because STEM!

A wood model kit of a mars rover
National Geographic / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: If you have a Lego builder who is ready for another level of challenge, try this. Kiddos who love the engineering side of Legos are a great match to model building. These kits from National Geographic add an additional STEM element by including solar power.

Find this kit on Amazon for $24.99.

21. This nature detective set that can help your small scientist spark the curiosity they need in life for other school subjects, like reading.

Hape / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: Fostering curiosity is so important because research has shown that it actually helps little ones learn to read. And with this set, exploring the outdoors is also directly linked to an understanding of science. (Even better? Outdoor play helps little ones burn off some of that adorable but endless energy.)

Find it on Amazon for $8.99.

22. This Kinetic Sand kit to take your sensory bins to the next level.

Two kids make a sandcastle with Kinetic Sand
Kinetic Sand / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: Everyone works on interpreting sensory details from their environment — and some kiddos are more sensitive than others. When you give them options while playing with sensory materials, like Kinetic Sand, they work on learning to integrate those sensory experiences and make sense of them. This skill helps them in real life, like when they get paint or dirt on their hands.

Get it on Amazon for $19.97.

23. These bath toys to make time in the tub a multitasking event.

Boon / Via amazon.com, Boon / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: Similar to marble runs, kids can learn how liquid and objects move through different water runs with these. They'll learn how force moves objects. They'll also have to use science to test out their hypotheses as they work to move water from one space to another, over and over again.

Get these on Amazon for $24.98.

24. A tried-and-true train set that doubles as a tool to teach planning and spatial awareness.

A wooden train set with a track, train, station, and trees
BRIO / Via amazon.com

Expert recommendation: This true classic should not be underestimated. From hand-eye coordination to patience and perseverance, your little ones will learn to adjust the tracks to keep the trains on their wheels. There is also a lot of planning and spatial awareness that develops from connecting one side of the track to the other. This also takes a lot of focus, so parents might even get a few minutes to themselves!

Get this BRIO train set on Amazon for $49.99.

For more from grOH! playrooms, visit their website or follow them on Instagram.

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