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During the holiday season, the stores are packed with a variety of toys and games, making it hard for parents to know which types are appropriate matches for their children. By selecting toys that offer a combination of fun and learning, parents can do more than just stimulate a child’s enjoyment – they can inspire and enhance his reading and math skills while nurturing problem solving and imagination.

Choosing the right toy for your child will give him the opportunity to think, practice a particular skill or learn something new, as well as engage him in hours of play. To strike a balance between learning and fun, parents should look for toys that fit their child’s age, skills, abilities and interests, and give him the opportunity to learn and grow. Take the time to understand how the toy works and whether it’s suitable for your child. You’ll help your child learn and have fun at the same time!

To help parents identify toys that nurture learning behaviors in key areas of development, the education experts at Sylvan Learning, the leading provider of tutoring to students of all ages, grades and skill levels, offer the tips below and the corresponding clip-out shopping guide to help parents find toys that making learning fun:


Board games can show children how math is used beyond the classroom. Take turns playing banker in Monopoly® or play a game of Yahtzee® and calculate the odds of rolling specific number combinations.

Electronic counting games offer children number and counting challenges.

A toy cash register helps children understand math when making change with money.

Building blocks teach children about geometry and shapes.

Dominoes are a great game for children of all ages. Smaller children can use them to recognize similar quantities while older children can explore the concepts of probability.


Books help children enhance their vocabulary and appreciate words and literature. See if there is a certain author whose books your child likes to read and be sure to bring home a couple of his favorite books. For guidance on age-specific books in your child’s favorite subject areas, check out

Find a special diary or personalized writing tool for your child and she’ll have hours of fun writing journal entries every day. Before she realizes it, she’ll have set aside extra writing time that she’ll look forward to! Visit the “Parent Resources” area of for online journals.

Subscribe to a magazine for your child (e.g., Ladybug, Ranger Rick, Spider, Your Big Backyard, Zoobooks, etc.) to learn about topics of interest to him. He will be excited about having his own reading materials that come in the mail addressed to him each month.


Pretend play with dolls, stuffed animals and action figures can spark a child’s imagination. Dress-up costumes, dollhouses and other pretend props encourage children to tell stories and play make-believe.

Young children love to pretend with child-sized versions of everyday adult objects. Find activities and toys that are pretend versions of items you use on a regular basis. Children love to do what grownups do.

Toys like the Easy-Bake® Oven introduce children to basic food preparation skills, such as reading recipes and following cooking directions.

Art materials, such as paint sets or craft kits, foster creativity and help improve reading and writing skills.

Reasoning Skills

For young children, toys like building blocks, LEGO’s®, and Tinkertoys® actually help children acquire the reasoning necessary to learn math more quickly.

Look into games like Connect Four® or Yahtzee® to teach your child strategy and problem-solving skills; he’ll have fun learning and playing before he even knows it!

Science kits, chemistry sets and ant farms offer great insights into the world of science and help enhance reading comprehension and critical thinking. They also encourage your child to follow the rules and strategy behind experiments.

Video games are often not thought of as educational toys, but they help build reasoning skills and logic as children navigate the different levels of each game.

Project-based toys such as model airplanes, cars, ships and rockets help children build motor skills, teach them how to follow directions, and encourage ideas about how things work.

Susan Southerland is the Director at the Little Rock Sylvan Learning, the leading provider of tutoring to students of all ages, grades and skill levels. With 30 years of experience and more than 900 centers located throughout North America, Sylvan’s proven process and personalized methods have inspired more than 2 million students to discover the joy of learning. Sylvan’s trained and Sylvan-certified personal instructors provide individual instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, study skills and test-prep for college entrance and state exams. Sylvan helps transform kids into inspired learners with the skills to do better in school and the confidence to do better in everything else. Visit to share your personal academic experiences and comment on academic trends. For more information, call 1-800-31-SUCCESS or visit For more educational resources for children in grades pre-K through 12, please visit or call (501) 791-9200. 

Susan has always enjoyed children of all ages. As a teenager she began working with Girl Scouts and throughout the years have worked with kids from ages 2-18 years. She is the Sylvan Learning Director.

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