School closures mean that many parents are facing a sudden scramble to get to grips with educating their children at home. If you’re struggling, you’ll be pleased to hear that you don’t have to replicate the school day to provide your kids with opportunities to learn. We asked seven homeschooling experts to recommend their favourite educational toys and games for nursery, primary, and secondary school–aged kids.
For Ages 3 and Up
A set of simple wooden blocks provide multiple opportunities for children to learn, according to Stephen Spriggs, director of William Clarence education consultancy. “In order to build a structure like a house, children need to be adding and doing times tables as they go,” he explains. Simon Webb, author of Elective Home Education in the UK, recommends this colourful free-building set with cubes, cones, columns, triangles, and arches.
Sign up for a Mud + Bloom subscription and every month you’ll be sent a box containing gardening and nature activities that support the national curriculum. You don’t need to have a garden or even a trowel at home, as each box contains everything you need. “This is best for a preschool- or primary-aged child,” says Eloise Rickman, who runs the A Beautiful Education homeschooling course. “Filled with seeds, nature crafts, and seasonal art activities, this is my go-to when thinking of gifts for children we know.” If you sign up now, you’ll get your first box sent to you on 15 April.
“Every child I know loves these,” says Rickman. “They are good for developing problem-solving, creative, and storytelling skills, as well as being brilliant fun for all ages.” Magna-Tiles were invented by a Japanese mathematics teacher who wanted to help pupils learn geometric concepts through a hands-on experience. You can even download lesson plans to structure your playtime and help children develop their maths and science knowledge.
“Developmentally, a train set offers children the chance to develop their fine-motor skills as well as their logic and reasoning,” says Anna Glews, author of A Short Guide to Home Education in the UK . “Educationally, in addition to offering them the chance to develop their storytelling skills, it introduces STEAM subjects in a really organic way.”
“If you’re looking for a long-lasting, adaptable-for-all-ages, truly nonprescriptive toy, I love Waldorf rockers/balance boards,” says Glews. “They really are a great tool for children to explore their imagination. They can be a seesaw, a bridge, a shop counter, a mountain, a seat, a rainbow …” [Editor’s note: postage and packaging are not included in this price.]
“So many children struggle with maths as they get older — sometimes because they haven’t truly grasped the concepts of numbers and how they work,” says Gill Hines, education and parenting consultant and co-author of the Home Education Handbook. “This great toy helps children understand numbers by using visual and manual manipulation — sight and touch — to understand how numbers work with each other. Great fun and simple to use with or without an adult.”
For Ages 5 and Up
These plastic puppies may not look like computer coding equipment, but that’s exactly what they are. “We have found kids have so much fun with these that they don’t realise they are learning the fundamentals of coding,” say Tom Rose and Jack Pannett, podcast hosts and former primary school teachers.
“Chunky wooden construction kits with big screws and bolts are better than anything which can be produced virtually on a screen,” says Webb. “There are few better ways for a child to interact with the real world than to build an actual crane or racing car.”
“The David Walliams connection and artwork is bound to make children love these,” says Hines. “Like all good games, these involve skill as well as fun and are best played on the floor. An excellent way to help children spell and read without even noticing.” Ideal for Key Stages 1–2 to help develop spelling skills.
For Ages 8 and Up
Rose and Pannett used to play this dice game for hours when they were kids. “It provides an opportunity for your children to refine their maths skills in a competitive yet simple format,” they say. “The combination of foundation maths, tactics, and a bit of luck is sure to keep the family entertained.”
This set covers the requirements of the science national curriculum, combined with a bit of a design and technology lesson. “It is an excellent kit for learning all about electronics, using simple press stud fixing suitable for all ages,” says Hines. “Make things that make noises, use lights and movement. Probably best to work alongside an adult to get started but great for independent learning once familiar.”
“Rush Hour strikes the perfect balance between enjoyment and challenge,” say Rose and Pannett. “When we were teaching, we used this game to good effect as a warm-up, getting the children in the right headspace for learning.” The aim is to move pieces strategically to get your car through the gridlock, building reasoning skills as you play.
“Board and card games are an excellent way of helping children understand the limitations of rules, the importance of taking turns and to develop strategies,” says Sue Fairhead, author of Home Education — What? Why? How?: A Guide for Beginners. This fast-paced, multiplayer card game is good for families who like playing solitaire. Players race to get rid of all the cards in their hand by playing them in piles of 1–10 in the centre of the table in any of the four coloured suits.
Fairhead likes this family-friendly variation on dominoes, in which you attempt to expand your kingdom by laying matching terrain tiles strategically.
Fairhead recommends this game of storytelling and guesswork, which is great for developing vocabulary and creativity.
For Ages 12 And Up
For older children a more complicated construction kit will keep them busy for hours. Fairhead says she realised many years ago that “you cannot have too much Lego”. “It can be used for basic construction, learning to follow instructions and almost endless creative play once the initial toy has been taken to pieces and rebuilt,” she explains. “It can also be used for demonstrating basic arithmetic operations.” This London Architecture set is a best-seller on Amazon. It includes a booklet containing information about the design, architecture and history of the National Gallery, Nelson’s Column, London Eye, Big Ben and Tower Bridge.
Dice games like this are good for teaching children about probabilities, explains Fairhead. Players roll dice to harvest resources — such as wood, stone, and clay — on the island of Catan. Then they develop settlements into cities by making trades with rivals. [Editor’s note: Catan is sold out across multiple retailers, but we found a Starfarers edition available.]
The Strategist UK is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Read about who we are and what we do here. Our editors update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.