Melissa & Doug Introducing Skills At Play Learning Toys for Building Skills blog post


Skills At Play!™: A Guide to Toys That Teach Important Developmental Skills

May 24, 2024

Kids are doing more than just having fun while at play—they’re also learning and developing valuable skills that will serve them well for school and for life.

Melissa & Doug’s Skills at Play! is designed to help parents and caregivers easily identify which skills our learning and developmental toys help promote. For example, if your toddler is experiencing speech delay, you’ll look for the Skills at Play icon on our packaging that calls out “communication” so that you know that toy was designed with purpose to help promote the particular skills you’re looking to develop.

We’ve created a dedicated page at to provide an overview of Skills at Play! and help you browse and shop our skill-building toys.

What is Skills at Play!?

Every child is different. They each develop Physical, Cognitive, and Social abilities at their own pace. To help you understand the skills all kids are practicing when they play, we’ve created Skills at Play!

Look for the color-coded icons and benefit callouts on our digital platforms, as well as the physical packaging for our learning and developmental toys. Keep reading to learn about the different skills our toys help promote through play.

Physical Skills: Fine Motor | Movement | Sensory

Help your little one grow their physical well-being through growth, coordination, and exploration of the body by developing fine motor, movement, and sensory skills.

Fine Motor: Small muscle movement, especially in hands, fingers, and wrists, often in coordination with the eyes. 

Our Take Along Toolkit is a great way to build fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination because the 24-piece set is sized just right for little hands, and made from high-quality wood painted in bright, bold colors.

Movement: Use of larger muscles for locomotion, balance, stability, and object control; sometimes called gross motor skills. 

Kids have to use all their big muscle groups to play with our huge, super-cool Mega Race Car Carrier, a giant hauler with six cars and unlimited play possibilities. Kids have to reach, grab, stretch, grasp, bend, squat, and more while they “drive” this big truck full of race cars—a great way to develop motor skills while motoring!

Sensory: Processing sensory input, including sight, sound, touch, taste, smell. 

With our Work & Play Desktop Activity Board, it’s never been so much fun for little ones to “get to work” on developmental skills. Sensory features include a peekaboo mirror, buttons, rolling contact list with beads in the tumbler, sliding track mouse, spinning pencil, and interactive mug.

Cognitive Skills: Problem Solving | Cause & Effect | Colors | Matching |
Sorting | Shapes | Numbers | Letters | Colors

Promote brain development through problem solving, cause & effect, colors, matching, and more, which encourages logical thinking, goal setting, and patience.

Problem Solving: Working through challenges by trial and error; encourages logical thinking, goal-setting, and patience.

An early-learning powerhouse that encourages color and shape recognition, manual dexterity, and more, our Match & Roll Shape Sorter is a brightly colored wooden shape sorter that’s an exciting update on a classic toy.

Cause & Effect: Actions make things happen; allows kids to make predictions and helps teach that actions and behaviors have an impact.

Pull these soft constructions vehicles back to get new skills rolling! The action of rolling, grasping, and pulling back on our Pull-Back Construction Vehicles is great for teaching cause & effect, developing motor skills, and hand-eye coordination. 

Colors: Recognizing colors helps create the link between visual clues and language; encourages creativity and imagination.

Kids will delight in stacking, building, and knocking down our 100 Wooden Blocks in countless colorful combinations, while gaining invaluable practice with color and shape recognition, fine motor skills and dexterity, and pre-math skills. 

Matching: The ability to recognize and remember a single similar characteristic or feature; helps develop memory and visual attention.

Get ready for lots of matching and mosaic fun with our Pattern Blocks and Boards classic wooden toy, which lets kids explore shapes and colors hands-on. This art activity set helps kids practice matching, spatial awareness, color recognition, hand-eye coordination, and problem solving skills. 

Sorting: Moving objects from one place to another and grouping them according to similarities and differences; encourages decision-making and numeracy (the ability to understand and work with numbers).

Count on the Melissa & Doug Lacing Beads set to make a bold statement! The shapes are designed for little hands to grasp, and the laces are thin enough to allow the beads to slide easily. Our Lacing Beads let kids practice sorting, counting, shape recognition, hand-eye coordination, fine-motor skills, and creative expression. 

Shapes: Recognizing, identifying, and differentiating between shapes; helps with visual attention, spatial awareness, and numeracy.

Our Shape Sorting Grocery Cart comes filled with fun skill-building activities! Very young kids can sort colorful chunky wooden food shapes through holes in the sides of the cart; as kids grow, using the cart as a push toy helps build motor skills and inspire imaginative play. A great way to encourage kids 12 months+ to explore problem-solving and cause-and-effect!

Numbers: Counting, identifying numbers, and comparing quantities; the foundation of numeracy.

It’s time for learning fun with our Shape Sorting Clock! Kids can learn numbers, how to tell time, match the colors, sort the shapes, and solve the puzzle as they manipulate the color blocks and turn the hands, building cognitive and motor skills. 

Letters: Recognizing the look and sounds of letters and how they go together to form words; the foundation of literacy (listening, speaking, reading, and writing).

Your child can have twice as much fun with our double-sided Magnetic Chalk & Dry-Erase Board! Provides opportunities for kids to practice letters, numbers, color recognition, and fine motor skills, while little artists can express themselves in so many ways. 

Social: Communication | Self Esteem | Emotional | Storytelling | Empathy

Your child will learn how to make connections with others through communication, emotional, and storytelling skills, as they express thoughts, feelings, and information.

Communication: Understanding and expressing thoughts, feelings, and information; begins with head, eye, and body movements, and vocalization.

Your child can have twice as much fun with our double-sided Magnetic Chalk & Dry-Erase Board! Provides opportunities for kids to practice letters, numbers, color recognition, and fine motor skills, while little artists can express themselves in so many ways. 

Self Esteem: Perception of self; affects motivation, achievement, relationships, and resilience.

More than a shape sorter—this is an on-the-go activity center that helps kids' self-esteem as they get the "I can do it!" satisfaction of correctly placing pieces! Kids can lift crinkly flaps, identify the pictures, match the shapes, and drop the textured blocks through the Take-Along Shape Sorter! The baby- and toddler-friendly games and learning activities are great for enjoying together or for independent play, and are sure to keep little ones giggling while they learn. 

Emotional: The ability to recognize, express, and regulate emotions; helps with the ability to establish relationships and communicate needs.

The right travel toy for your baby can make all the difference if it helps them self-soothe, and our super-sweet Ice Cream Take Along Toy clip-on vibrating pull-toy is a delicious way to entertain babies while stimulating their senses—without the sugar rush. Pull it down and it expands to four stacked scoops in different patterns, colors, and textures when baby lets go, the cone vibrates and plays chiming sounds as it jiggles its way back to a single cone.

Storytelling: Using words and actions to express a series of related events; encourages imagination and interaction.

Our Match & Build Blocks can build much more than towers: This colorful soft-block set helps develop motor skills, logical connections, creativity, and more, so it grows along with a child, helping build key developmental skills along the way. Kid-friendly artwork on the coordinating cubes encourages matching activities (numerals with quantities, animal heads and tails, and everyday shapes), puzzling (complete the picture of a Ferris wheel), and even sequential thinking and storytelling with before-and-after flaps on three of the blocks. 

Empathy: The ability to imagine what others are feeling or thinking and to respond with care; encourages tolerance and acceptance and helps build conflict-resolution skills.

Our Bowling Friends set features six unique character pins decorated in bright colors, raised textures, and sweet facial expressions to encourage little bowlers. Set them up indoors and out—young children will have a blast finding new ways to knock them down! 

For more great toy content from Melissa & Doug, follow the links below:

Shop Melissa & Doug

Shop Melissa & Doug New Arrivals

Explore Melissa & Doug Living Playfully Blog

Visit Melissa & Doug Gift Finder