By Chrysta Naron
With the holidays approaching and shopping lists and letters to Santa getting longer every day, it’s easy to get stressed looking for the perfect gift. So we’re making holiday shopping just a little bit easier. We’ve compiled a list of 14 terrific educational gifts for preschoolers that will become household favorites the whole year through. These fabulous gifts spark early learning and a love of reading in your child. And best of all? None of them sing or have flashing lights.
Also, check out Maya’s post, Answers to Six Top Questions About Teaching Your Child the Alphabet, for evidence-based information on how and when to help your child learn their letters.
Educational Gifts for Kids Who Can’t Read Yet
This giant floor puzzle is so fun. It’s bright and colorful and has illustrations kids are drawn to. My favorite part is that the puzzle features lowercase letters rather than uppercase letters. So your child will be learning an important new literacy skill. With its large pieces and simple shapes, this gift is great for ages 2-4. I bought this puzzle for my own nephew and he began to understand the alphabetic order while assembling this puzzle. He also began to ask questions about why letters matched the pictures, introducing him to letter sound correspondence. A big thumbs up from me (and my nephew).
Storytelling cards like the Create a Story set from eeBoo are fantastic fun and learning for kids long before they begin reading, though they remain fun for years after, too. These are sets of cards with pictures on them meant to inspire storytelling. There are different themes, so you’ll be able to find a set that appeals to your child. The child can lay out cards in any order and create their own story right in front of their eyes. When they’re finished, they’ll love explaining the plot to you! Alternatively, you can spare your wallet (and the planet) by making your own DIY story cards or story cubes by upcycling an old card deck or a few building blocks.
These blocks are fantastic for children who are ready to start learning to read simple words. They’re strong, interactive, and a great practice tool! Children spin the blocks around and learn to spell and read basic words. The blocks come with cards, so children can replicate words and match them to an image. However, children can also play with them independently and learn how to sound out words that they create themselves.
If you are a fan of the Montessori learning method, you’ll really like these Montessori language objects. These collections of small materials align with different phonetic skills. For example, some collections contain objects whose names rhyme, and others have groupings of objects whose names start with the same letter sound. The small items help children learn to associate letters with sounds while playing. They make great stocking stuffers, too!
This beautiful board book combines dynamic graphic art with uppercase letters. It’s tactile and fun for all your little learners. This book is great for helping young kids identify letters and introducing them to the sounds that letters make. Your child will fall in love with their ABCs with Touch Think Learn: ABC. (Plus, see our list of awesome alphabet books for more book ideas.)
Educational Gifts for Kids Who Are Starting to Read
For the little budding author in your life, this make-your-own-book set from Creativity for Kids will be an inspiring gift. The set includes three blank hardback books (yay, durability!), markers, and stickers. Your child can dictate stories for you to transcribe, then they can illustrate them. If your child wishes, they can simply create an illustration-only picture book. As your kids are ready to tackle writing themselves, these books are a great opportunity to sit together to practice sounding out and writing words to create their own story. Their creativity will flourish, as will their love of books. Once they’ve finished their literary masterpiece, they can read their story to you. What a wonderful way to choose a bedtime story!
Mad Libs are a great gift for older preschoolers! They’re a fun stocking stuffer for your child and a playful, silly way to spend some time together. Even if your child can’t read or write yet, they’ll love supplying you with words for the Mad Libs, and you’ll be teaching them about nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. There are dozens to choose from, so you’ll be able to find one for every child you know!
This game is set up as a treasure hunt. The adult hides cards throughout the house. The child must read a clue on each card in order to find the next card. What if your child doesn’t know a word? There’s a visual printout included to help your child learn to read new terms. The game also has three difficulty levels, as well as wipe-off write-your-own cards, so it can grow as your child’s reading skills do!
Say goodbye to outdated Dick and Jane and colorless BOB books. These lively books are wonderful early readers. They’re funny, brightly colored, and organized into color-coded difficulty levels. The books are well thought-out and well paced. The stories grow longer with each level and at a certain point even begin to include fun comprehension questions. These books are dynamic, so children don’t feel like they’re being forced to do practice reading. I highly recommend these!
MyLibook offers early reader books personalized with your child’s name and an avatar that you choose to represent them. Kids will be so excited to read stories about themselves, driving their desire to learn to read the books on their own. You can choose to buy a single book, or go for a whole set. There’s also a second set that builds on the first one and gently introduces additional words.
Educational Gifts For Children of Any Reading Level
Like Stitch Fix crossed with a library, Literati is a book subscription service that’s fun and fabulous. You sign up for a group based on your child’s age and then each month you receive a box of books. It starts with board books and goes up through high school. Keep the ones you like, send the rest back, and only pay for the ones you keep. You also get a monthly art print and cute little extras like stickers or temporary tattoos. A fresh stack of books each month—what could be better? Having new reads available keeps kids engaged and eager to read, and it keeps the adults in the household from getting burned out reading the same tattered tales again and again.
Homer is a digital reading program for kids. It serves kids from two years of age just learning their letters to first graders working on fluency and comprehension. It has fun games, adorable characters, original fiction and nonfiction stories, and adaptations of well-loved favorites like Thomas the Tank Engine or Angelina Ballerina. Children learn how to read through song, animations, interactive readers, and excellent curriculum. Their program can be done on a tablet or on a computer, so it works with the technology that best suits your family. Kids are so enthralled with Homer that they feel as though they’re getting playtime as they learn.
Epic is, well … epic. It is a digital collection of tens of thousands of books, audiobooks, and educational videos. Your child (or any child you know) will love the ability to browse and choose the content they want. Adults love that it is a safe digital platform that’s educational too. You can learn more from our post How to Get Your Child to Read More at Home with Epic! Digital Library.
Give the Gift of a Book Date
This gift isn’t one you can easily wrap. Buy the child you love a gift card to a local bookstore. Then, choose a day and time to go together on a book date. Tell your child that they can use the gift card to buy books—whatever book they want and however many the card can cover, but they have to choose a book. (Otherwise you might end up with $25 worth of fairy tattoos.) You can explore every area of the bookstore, taking time to read stories together, finding old favorites from your childhood, asking the store clerk to help you find books on rocket ships or baseball or mermaids, or just marveling at how many Llama Mama books there are.
A love of reading doesn’t just happen overnight. Children must be introduced to books and reading. It can come through reading together at bedtime or snuggled up on a rainy day. It can be as simple as finding letters on a cereal box. But the more fun you make reading and the more pockets of joy you create surrounding books and words, the more your child will feel drawn to reading themselves.
Whether it’s for your own little ones, or the children of friends and family, these great educational gifts for preschoolers and toddlers will make everyone on your list happy. (No batteries required.)
What are you gifting this year?
Chrysta Naron (she/her) is an early childhood educator, curriculum specialist, and the founder of the education nonprofit Read the Room. She believes everything is better with glitter! Read more from her at playfulprek.com.