If you want to make educational toys at home for a child, chances are you might be confused about where to begin. Educational toys promote learning in children by teaching about a particular subject or skill.
To make educational toys at home, you only need basic supplies such as fabric, wood, pebbles, or even dried pasta. First locate the child’s age and learning goals on this table. Now decide upon your favorite educational toy. You can also follow the instructions for the educational toys that I made at home for my kids.
The very first thing you need to consider however is why you want to create the educational toy in the first place.
Why create educational toys for children?
A wide variety of educational toys can be quick and easy to create using only one or two supplies. For example you might want to quickly put together a toy that keeps your toddler occupied while you cook food.
If the toy teaches your toddler something like counting or sorting, then it’s a winner all round. Dried pasta shapes or a bag of assorted pompoms are all you need and you’re good to go.
But if you are making a toy for a special occasion like a child’s birthday, you will not want to throw together some pasta shells in a can and call it a day. Instead you will need to give your project some thought and fore planning.
In my experience of making educational toys for my two young girls as well as for children of friends and family, I have learned that a successful toy always begins with the why. Why do you want to make it? Is it for a child’s birthday? Is it that you are seeing your niece after two years? Or is it that you just want some time to do the dishes without your toddler wrapped around your legs?
If it is indeed a special occasion involving an exchange of presents and cards, then please stay away from dried pasta shells! But that is not to say that they have their own special place as an educational toy too.
What educational toy should you create?
Once you have nailed down the age, learning needs and occasion for creating an educational toy, it is time to browse the internet for ideas. Pinterest is an excellent place to start.
For example if the child is 2 years old, simply search for educational toys for 2 year old, and see what comes up. You are bound to find something in the results that you can create at home.
But here, let me share with you four different educational toys that you can make from four completely different types of mediums (or media or whatever). All of these toys are very cheap to make.
And if you have the basic supplies at home already, you might not have to spend any money creating these at all.
Use dried pasta to make educational toys
Let’s start with the easiest homemade educational toy that you can create from just a handful of supplies from your kitchen cupboard.
You can use pasta shapes of all different sizes and textures for educational purposes. Young toddlers can use jumbo tweezers to practise fine motor skills. The pasta can also be used as counters to practise numbers and basic mathematics.
You can add in other supplies like acrylic paints and glue to create colourful pasta jewellery or pasta mosaics.
Lasagne sheet sun catchers
Flat lasagne pasta sheets are excellent for creating sun catchers. When I was working in an after-school club, this was one of the most popular craft activities among my kids.
Simply grab some Sharpies, acrylic pens and flat dry lasgne pasta sheets. Now let children draw colourful designs and patterns onto the pasta. You can find tonnes of inspiration online that you can print out for reference.
Once done, put the pasta sheets up in a window to catch the sun’s rays, creating beautiful sunlit pieces of art.
This blog has done a fabulous job of showing in detail how to create these sun catchers.
The best thing about using dried pasta as an educational toy is that it is so cheap and versatile. You don’t need any skill or equipment for this and you can get going with just a handful of supplies. It is perfect for when you are at home with your kids and need a creative educational toy quickly.
Pasta is brittle so don’t be surprised if your children’s crafty creations crack and disintegrate within a few days. I would also also not recommend gifting pasta to a child as a birthday present for crafting purposes! I don’t think it will be received very well!
Use stones to create educational toys
Story stones are easy to create and make for an excellent educational toy.
Simply start with some clean smooth pebbles. If you live near the coast, you could go down to the beach and collect smooth beach pebbles for this purpose. Alternatively you could get a bag of smooth garden pebbles from your local garden center.
The pebbles should be large enough for you to draw on. Their size should also be appropriate for toddlers to hold and play without swallowing them. Flattish pebbles are best as they don’t roll over easily. Since you will be drawing on these, stick with lighter colored stones so that your paints and markings really pop.
To decorate your story stones, you will need acrylic paint or pens, along with permanent markers. My favourite medium is acrylic pens as they are incredibly bright and make permanent marks. Finally, you will need a can of spray-on varnish to seal your work.
How to make story stones
Here’s the fun part now. You need to start by drawing images on your smooth stones. The internet is a great place for inspiration, along with favourite storybooks. You could create a wide array of images including story characters, everyday items, letters, numbers and words.
Just remember to draw only one or two pictures on each stone.
Now color your pictures with bright acrylic paint. Outlining the images with black makes the pictures pop. Once you are satisfied, finish off your story stones with a spray of varnish to seal the paint.
Story stones gifting and presentation
Story stones are best presented as a set, with at least eight stones or more together. This gives the child enough visual prompts to think creatively and spin a story around them. The stones can also have a theme running through them.
One of my favourite ways to present story stones is in a pouch made out of natural fabric like canvas, burlap or linen. You could sew or purchase these pouches very cheaply online.
You can further customise story stones by putting the child’s name on the pouch.
Story stones are a great way of sparking children’s imagination. Children play by pulling a stone out of the pouch and placing it on a flat surface. Then they take another stone out and place it next to the first one and try to spin a story around the pictures they see.
As more stones are added, the story develops and deepens further, creating unique and exciting pieces of prose. Older children can use story stones to write these stories down, honing their language and communication skills.
But story stones have numerous other inherent educational qualities as well. Younger ones can play with these to identify colors, shapes, objects. The stones can also be used for counting, phonics (with words written on the stones), maths etc.
Story stones also act as excellent visual aids while reading stories to children of pre-kindergarten and elementary school (Key Stage 1 in the UK).
Tactically, the smooth pebbles nest easily within children’s little hands, making them a joy to play with. This experience is far more rewarding than, say, handling picture flashcards. And as a toy, story stones are also highly portable. They can also be expanded upon as children grow older.
How well you paint and finish them depends upon your commitment to your craft. You don’t have to be an artist to create story stones. However if you take the time to spray them with clear varnish, you will know that the child can use them for years to come.
The only downside of story stones is that they are hard and dense. So perhaps a very large collection of these will not make for your first choice as part of your holiday luggage. This is hardly enough reason for you to not create story stones for someone you love!
Fabric quiet books make excellent educational toys
Ok so this is by far my favourite kind of educational toy to make at home. Quiet books ─ also often called busy books ─ are soft, interactive, touch and feel books made out of fabric, felt and other haberdashery supplies.
Quiet books contain colorful, fun activities that children can sit and do by themselves. They provide children with the perfect tactile, sensory, educational and playful experience all wrapped up in one neat little book!
I have been making quiet books for over 5 years now. And I could go on and on about them to no end! But I’ll let you be the judge: check out my post that will quickly give you an overview of quiet books and how to make them. You can find it here.
The best thing about quiet books is that they can be customised to no end. They also cover a wide age range of children, from absolute infants up to 7 years. Children with heightened sensory needs can even use quiet books beyond 7 years.
Since quiet books are so customisable, their educational value is immense.
You can read more about all the benefits of quiet books in my post here. It will really give you an insight into what you can expect if you decide to create a quiet book at home so do check it out.
I think the only downside of creating a quiet book at home is that you need to sew and so it takes some time to create them. Perhaps a few days.
I have seen some fabulous quiet books that people have created simply with a needle and thread. But in my experience, using a cheap little sewing machine to create a quiet book pays dividends for your craft.
This is really not at all as challenging as it sounds. In fact before 2014, I had never done any sewing at all. So everything that I learned about sewing is through making quiet books.
Most of the time you will only be using the straight stitch function. This is the simplest function on a sewing machine and the quickest way to create a quiet book in the shortest amount of time.
For further considerations, do check out the link I have posted earlier which will help you decide whether making a quiet book is for you or not.
But if you have a few weeks and if you love the child enough, do consider this seriously. It’s tonnes of fun and very rewarding indeed. Quiet books also make for fabulous birthday presents!
Paint wooden blocks to make educational toys. (Or may be not?)
Now you might be thinking something that sounds as simple as painted wooden blocks should be the easiest and quickest educational toy to make. This would mean that it should be a strong contender for making at home.
But in my experience, creating painted wooden blocks at home is not as simple or rewarding as it sounds.
Let’s begin with making the wooden blocks themselves. You will need to either cut a 3×3 or 4×4 post into accurate cubes or cuboids. If you are using a hand saw, you’d better be super accurate in your sawing skills.
Or you could make this easier by having your hardware store cut these up for you. You could also purchase pre-cut wooden cubes, for example on Ebay.
However the edges of all these cubes are sharp. I have bought and tried these myself and I wouldn’t let babies or toddlers play with them unless the edges are well sanded and smooth.
So you would need a nail file or sanding block to sand down every single edge of every wooden block. You’re talking about hundreds of edges here.
Next you need to paint the blocks in different vibrant colors. You would use acrylic paint for the job. But you can only paint 5 sides of the cube in one go. Wait for all the cubes to dry. Recoat. Wait. Recoat a third time. Wait.
Now flip the cubes over and paint the bases of each. Three times over.
Finally it’s time to seal the cubes with varnish. It’s the same spray-and-wait game. Once the top and sides are done, you will flip each cube over and seal the base.
Each of these steps sounds simple enough, but the fact is that the compounding effect of your efforts will not amount to much at all. At the end of all that hard work, you will still be left with a pile of colored wooden blocks and not much more.
Sure the blocks can be used for a variety of educational purposes like counting, sorting, color matching and maths practice. But is it worth making these at home when a set of brand new colored wooden blocks is selling for only $2.47? I’d rather leave it to commercial suppliers.
Colored wooden blocks are therefore simple enough to make if you have the tools and the will to make these at home.
On the other hand, the amount of time, money and effort needed to create these just doesn’t justify making these at home. It is best to buy these from a retailer and focus your creative efforts on another educational toy.
Homemade educational toys ─ some parting thoughts
According to Soto and Guyton as quoted by Wikipedia, the educational value of commercially sold educational toys is often questionable at best. Instead, “homemade educational toys may be just as effective as expensive purchased ones, as long as developmental issues are understood.”
And this is why it is so important that you begin by looking at the table at the beginning of this article to figure out the developmental and educational needs of the special child in your life.
Handmade toys ideas
If you are looking for ideas to create homemade toys, check out Pinterest. You are sure to find enough inspiration to get started.