The Power of Letter & Number Play
With the ongoing pandemic, we’re all feeling stuck inside. Homeschooling and remote learning have become more common than ever, which means more screen time for your child. And while traditional math, reading, and writing lessons are important, playtime is just as crucial for your child’s development. Letter play advances sight-reading, vocabulary, and spelling skills, while number play helps with counting and early math concepts. Toys for learning letters and numbers are a great way to help your child learn while having fun.
In particular, toys that are most likely to facilitate development are those that are most enjoyably and productively used for play together with an engaged caregiver, because in such contexts play with toys is likely to include rich language experiences, reciprocal (‘serve and return’) verbal interactions, and scaffolding. —The American Academy of Pediatrics
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on the skill-building power of different types of play.
The 10 Best Toys for Learning Letters and Numbers
These number and letter toys can help build kids’ language and number concept skills. We’ve included extra play ideas for each to keep the educational play going!
- Catch & Count Magnetic Fishing Rod Set
Why it’s great: There’s plenty of fun (and learning) in this sea. This set comes with 10 magnetic fish that are numbered and patterned to make matching, sorting, and counting a blast. Take turns using the spinner and then reel in the fish with the matching number.
Sweet detail: Comes with two wooden rods for double the fun!
Skills: Fine motor, hand-eye coordination
Countless Ways to Play: For an even more challenging game, have your child add up all the numbers on their pile of fish at the end of the game.
- See & Spell Learning Toy
Why it’s great: With eight two-sided cutout boards, there are 16 three and four-letter words for your child to learn. Each set comes with 50 colorful wooden letters for spelling fun.
Sweet detail: Each puzzle features a brightly-colored picture of the word they’re spelling to build their sight-reading vocabulary
Skills: Language, spelling, fine motor
Countless Ways to Play: Use the wooden letters as stencils for craft-time!
- Magnetic Car Loader
Why it’s great: Each colorful wooden car has a unique color, stripe, and number to inspire playful counting, sorting and sequencing activities. Link up the trailer to the car carrier to take the four magnet-topped cars for a drive, then unload each one at its destination.
Sweet detail: The magnetic arm can reach every car on the trailer!
Skills: Fine motor, numbers
Countless Ways to Play: Call out a number and have your child load up the corresponding car until the rig is full. Then roll on out!
- Shape Sorting Clock
Why it’s great: With this toy, it’s always time for learning fun! This popular clock with a large wooden face and moveable hands is great for matching colors, sorting shapes, and learning time.
Sweet detail: Includes extension activities to reinforce early-learning concepts
Skills: Fine motor, numbers, colors, shapes
Countless Ways to Play: Have your child move the hands on the clock to their favorite time of day—like snack time, lunchtime, or bath time.
- School Time Classroom Play Set
Why it’s great: Learning doesn’t have to stop in the classroom (virtual or physical). This innovative set comes with an exciting array of supplies—including wipe-off boards, 2 dry-erase markers, 12 pattern blocks, a bell, timer, pointer, and lots more.
Sweet detail: All the pieces fit neatly inside the box for on-the-go fun!
Skills: Creative thinking, language
Countless Ways to Play: Have your child play the teacher while you play the student to build their confidence and reinforce lessons they learned during school.
- Water Wow! Alphabet – On the Go Travel Activity
Why it’s great: Your child will learn the alphabet in no time with this alphabet-themed activity book that lets them trace their letters with water. The booklet includes every letter of the alphabet (uppercase and lowercase) and empty lines for practice, too!
Sweet detail: Pages are reusable for endless fun!
Skills: Fine motor, language
Countless Ways to Play: This mess-free activity book is great for in the car while running errands!
NOTE: There’s also a Water Wow! Numbers – On the Go Travel Activity
- Deluxe Wooden Stamp Set – ABCs 123s
Why it’s great: Kids can put their own stamp on creativity! This fun-filled set comes with a 4-color stamp pad and 71 sturdy wooden-handled rubber stamps. With upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation stamps, the possibilities are endless.
Sweet detail: Comes with a 25-page activity book to practice reading, writing, and early math skills!br />
Skills: Fine motor, language, numbers
Countless Ways to Play: Social distancing is hard on kids too. Use this set to create personalized cards for friends, grandparents, and teachers!
- Spin & Swipe Cash Register
Why it’s great: ADD a little fun to pretend-play! This wooden cash register comes with so many realistic details. Press the number buttons to see different counting pictures, then “pay” for the purchase with numbered coins to match the quantities. Coins will only fit in their matching slot, helping them to learn numbers 1 through 3.
Sweet detail: Just like grown-ups, kids can swipe a toy credit card too!
Skills: Fine motor, numbers
Countless Ways to Play: Suggest a pretend shopping trip but create 1 cent, 2 cent, and 3 cent price tags first. Have them add up each item in their cart and give you the total number of coins they need before “checking out.”
- Wooden ABC/123 Blocks
Why it’s great: It’s a great way to introduce your toddler to the alphabet. This sturdy wooden set includes 50 traditionally styled one-inch cube blocks featuring pictures, letters, and numbers for stacking, sorting, and spelling.
Sweet detail: These solid wood blocks will last for years!
Skills: Language, numbers, sorting
Countless Ways to Play: Encourage your toddler to spell their name then count how many letters are in their name.
- Classic Peg Puzzle Bundle (3 Puzzle Bundle)
Why it’s great: This bundled set includes our See-Inside Alphabet Peg Puzzle, See-Inside Numbers Peg Puzzle, and Fish Colors Mix ‘n Match Peg. With brightly colored pictures under each piece, you’ll have hours of fun learning the alphabet, numbers, and colors!
Sweet detail: The easy-grasp pegs are great for young children
Skills: Word recognition, matching, stacking, and sorting
Countless Ways to Play: Use the peg pieces to spell out different words with your child.
In its “Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era” study, the AAP noted that “High-quality toys in each of these categories can facilitate caregiver-child interactions, peer play, and the growth of imagination”:
Pretend Play Activity centers, dolls, play food, cooking toys, role play sets, puppets, vehicles
Developmental Play Fine motor manipulatives, activity stations, sorters & stackers
Problem Solving Blocks, construction play, puzzles
Creativity Craft kits, coloring activities, painting & drawing
Language & Concepts Alphabet activities, number activities, games
Physical Activity Balls, tunnel, gardening & nature
Here are our product picks for the best toys in some of these pediatrician-recommended categories! More to come: