24 Skill-Building Toys for Pre-Schoolers of All Abilities

Pre-school girl playing with a pop fidget sensory toy

Playtime isn’t just about entertainment for kiddos—it’s also a great way for children of all abilities to develop a wide range of skills. For kids with diverse needs, including autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome, playing with sensory toys, emotional development toys and toys to help with motor skills can be a great way to learn.

We know it can be tough to choose the right skill-building toys for your preschooler or kindergartner, so that’s why we’ve curated a list of 24 toys to help save you time. These toys were chosen with input from Ashley Simmons, a pediatric occupational therapist with New Horizons Rehab in Listowel and Kincardine, Ont., and Hina Mahmood, senior occupational therapist at the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation in Burnaby, B.C. Read on to discover toys to help your child with social skills, cognitive skills, physical skills and more!

In this guide
1. For social skills
$ 14.93

Charades for Kids

Games like this one encourage little ones to take turns and consider another person’s perspective, Simmons says. Plus, charades requires kids to use their imaginations and roleplay—also great for social skills.

$ 32.97

Melissa & Doug Wooden Sandwich Making Set

Pretend play based on daily activities, such as preparing and sharing food, encourages social skills, Simmons says. See what fun meals and sandwiches your child invents, and who they share them with!

$ 15.97

Sweet Baby Doll Toy Set

Taking care of a baby doll like this cutie encourages pretend play, which is an important part of developing social skills. Dolls also encourage children to think about how people interact with each other.

$ 51.38

The Worry Box

Reading books together is a great way to encourage shared experiences and can give kids a new perspective. This set of 10 paperback story books will help you teach your little ones about emotions, too.

2. For speech and language development
$ 37.33

Seek-A-Boo Game

This memory game encourages toddlers and preschoolers to expand their vocabulary by identifying basic words while helping them work on their gross and fine motor skills through picking up the cards.

$ 37.57

Farm Bristle Blocks

Open-ended reciprocal play can encourage kids to communicate. Build something together with these colourful plastic bristle and wooden blocks, and see if your little one can make sounds for the barnyard animals. Bonus: The storage bucket makes it easy to travel with.

$ 20

Kid Connection Car Transporter Toy Vehicle

In addition to encouraging coordination skills, this toy vehicle (which features sounds and music, and comes with batteries!) provides a great way to work on language skills with your child while interacting during play. You can talk to your child about where to place the green car, for example.

$ 29.97

Melissa & Doug Music Makers 7-Piece Wooden Musical Instrument Set

Use this set of cute wooden instruments (which comes with a handy storage crate) to make music with your child. “The most important thing is that parents and caregivers engage with kids in play,” says Mahmood. “It will help them develop their social and communication skills.”

3. For anxiety and concentration
$ 19.97

Fidgetz Fidget Toys Combo Set

Fidget toys can be helpful for kids who are feeling anxious, especially during times of transition such as leaving for daycare or getting ready for bed,” Simmons says. This set provides a variety of tactile, sensory experiences to help soothe a child who may be feeling overwhelmed.

$ 19.97

Kinetic Sand Sandisfying Set

Sensory toys such as kinetic sand encourage mindfulness and help reduce stress. And because it can be squished and squeezed, this sand set also provides deep pressure, which is a sensory need for a lot of kids.

$ 16.47

Play-Doh Starter Set

Play-Doh is another sensory toy that can help calm anxious minds. Squishing, rolling and cutting out shapes with this set (which includes four different cans of colour) is a great way for children to slow down, focus on their senses and relax.

$ 15

Kid Connection Plush Cat

Simmons uses stuffed animals as a tool to work on calming emotions. “They can be comforting and can also be used as a breathing buddy by placing them on the tummy while lying down and taking some deep breaths,” she says. “The child can watch the toy rise and lower with their breaths.”

4. For sensory stimulation
$ 19.97

Infantino Llc Press & Stay Sensory Blocks

Sensory play (which helps kids learn to process objects and environments using touch, sight, hearing, taste, smell, balance and motion) is very important for all toddlers and preschoolers, says Simmons. Sensory blocks like these textured ones encourage tactile discovery.

$ 19.98

Disney Girl Power Princesses Balance Board

Wobble boards have a cause-and-effect element to them and also encourage sensory processing skills, Simmons says. It’s also a cool way to work on vestibular input and balance.

$ 32.99

Sensory Bin: Dinosaur Dig

Mahmood recommends sensory bins to help with stimulation. With this kit, kids will love scooping, sifting and brushing off fossils—which will also help to develop their fine motor skills.

$ 59.98

Little Tikes 3-ft Trampoline

Figuring out cause and effect has never been more amusing than bouncing on a trampoline. Mini trampolines are also a great way for sensory-seeking or hyperactive kiddos to get their sillies out or take a body break.

5. For fine motor function
$ 15.47

Crayola Create & Colour Super Tips Washable Markers Kit

“Anything that involves using the hands to do a skill will help kids develop the coordination and strength needed for daily tasks like eating with utensils, handwriting and doing up fasteners on clothing,” Simmons says. Colouring is an easy way to do that and this kit comes with everything they need to get started.

$ 39.99

Learning Resources Wriggleworms! Fine Motor Activity Set

This unique toy was designed specifically to help develop fine motor skills. Catching and pulling the worms from the “dirt” helps preschoolers develop hand strength and coordination—and it’s super fun, too!

$ 8.47

Spark Create Imagine 3D Wooden Alphabet Puzzle

Mahmood likes to recommend toys that work on fine motor and visual perceptual skills while also helping kids learn their colors and letters. Puzzles do all of the above—plus, they’re a calming activity you can do together.

$ 34.97

Lego Duplo Fun Creations Building Blocks

Building sets like this one offer a fun way to work on fine motor skills, Simmons says. Lego Duplo is a great choice for little kids or bigger kids who are struggling with fine motor skills since the larger pieces are easier to manipulate than regular Lego.

6. For gross motor function
$ 29.97

Frozen 2 Character Tent and Tunnel

Anything that encourages your child to move their body in different ways can help develop gross motor skills. Tunnels are one way to do this, Simmons says. Bonus: This tunnel-and-tent combo doubles as an awesome fort.

$ 58

Fisher-Price Unisex Balance Bike

Bikes like this one aren’t just great for gross motor skills—they help develop balance, too. It’s also really important for kids to get outside every day, says Simmons, and outdoor toys encourage physical activity.

$ 8.99

24-Inch Inflatable Beach Ball

“It’s important to do activities that provide a little bit of challenge to encourage skill development, but that also allow a child to be successful enough to have fun,” says Simmons. Younger kids typically do better playing catch with a large, soft ball like this one.

$ 69.97

Step2 Shootin' Hoops Junior Basketball Set

Mahmood recommends an indoor or outdoor basketball set as a fun way for kiddos to work on gross motor skills. It also encourages social skills as they learn how to play the game, share the ball and take turns.

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Natalie Stechyson is an award-winning journalist and the former Parents Editor at HuffPost Canada. She currently works at CBC News as a copy editor, plus freelances for Today's Parent and other Canadian publications. She lives in Kingston, Ont., with her husband and two sons.

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