Ten of our Favorite Manipulatives for Early Learning

We love hands-on toys in our house.  The first five years build the foundation that shape our kid’s future health, happiness, growth, and development.  Instead of surrounding the kids with flashy toys that make lots of noise, we love giving them toys that are both fun and help shape their development.  Check out ten of our kid’s favorite toys!


Melissa & Doug Animal Pattern Blocks Set

Great for color and shape recognition

Builds Fine Motor Skills

Best for kids ages 2-4.  As the puzzles get easier, I’d suggest putting construction paper or something similar to block the pre-drawn lines to make it a bit more challenging.



Guidecraft Twist ‘n Sort Puzzle

This one was put on recall because of the pegs coming loose, but Hape has a similar puzzle.  This one by Guidecraft is a bit more challenging, though.  Each peg offers a different level of difficulty.

Promotes color and shape recognition.

Builds fine motor skills.



Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Board

Kids get to practice snaps, latches, buttons, zippers, and laces with this fun basic skills board from Melissa & Doug.

The pieces come off like a puzzle.  My kids took all the pieces off and completed the task, then put the puzzle together.  I know others who glued the puzzle pieces down and used it just for the basic skills.



Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads

M&D have several variations of these lacing beads and all are excellent for working on kid’s fine motor skills.

After the kids master lacing the beads, use it to work on pattern-building, color sorting, or counting.




Discovery Toys Magnetic Tiles

There are a lot of different versions of these magnetic tiles.  We chose these just because they go on sale often.  I ended up getting them for $14.99 at Kohl’s.  We got two sets for even more fun.  Seriously, the kids play with these for hours.

Build 3D shapes and models. Learn magnetic properties.





This is similar to the M&D Animal patterns, but the kids have more freedom to build what they want.  The set comes with 50 pattern cards they can mirror, or they can create their own shapes and animals.  It’s all magnetic so it’s a fun toy to take on the go.

Boost fine motor and visual thinking skills

The 50 pattern cards are way more than what is included in other kits!



Melissa & Doug Shape Sequence Sorting Puzzle

Great for building beginning math skills.  It’s an open-sequence puzzle that has more than one possible solution.

Help kids recognize color, shape, size, and spatial reasoning.





Learning Resources Super Sorting Pie

Okay, we don’t have this exact activity.  Ours looks like a wok with little fruit and four sets of tongs.  It’s a very similar concept, and I can’t find ours for sale anywhere.  We got it at US Toys.

The tongs are excellent for working on fine motor skills and building strong pencil grips.  We race to see who can get all of their color out first.  We sort the colors.  Great for early addition and subtraction.



Melissa & Doug Sort and Snap Color Match

We’ve had this toy for years, and my kids still pull it out and play with it often.  Great for color recognition, sorting, and beginning math skills.   Start with matching the patterns on the picture card, then flip the cards to the back side which is in black-and-white and lets them make their own colors or patterns.  We keep the snap pieces in a ziploc bag since the box does not leave any room for the pieces.



Melissa & Doug Cutting Fruit Set

This one is great for practical life skills.  The kids get to practice cutting the fruit, and they love putting the fruit back together.  The fruit stays together with strong velcro so the kids really get the sensation of actual cutting.  We’ve had this set for 3 years and the velcro is still ‘sticky’.

They have other cutting works too with vegetables, bread, etc.
















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