Gifts for the Preschool or the Early Elementary Child in Your Life

parenting tips Dec 06, 2022

Great Gifts for the Preschool or the Early Elementary Child in Your Life

Every year I get asked what the favourite toys were in my preschool. What toys I recommend as gifts. What types of toys promote independent and imaginative play. This year I thought I would write a little blog with some suggestions.

First, a couple thoughts to support your choices.

  1. Independent play has become a life skill that many parents need to foster and develop. A lot of children no longer possess this skill because of shifts in adult-child relationships. The toy or activity alone won’t develop this skill. I’m working on a post and podcast to dig into this in greater detail in 2023!
  2. Children will play for shorter periods of time when they have too many options. We often get caught in thinking something new will captivate their attention, but the opposite can be true if there is too much choice in their play space or area. If you find yourself buying things to solve the problem of boredom, needing free time/adult headspace, hoping your child will get engaged for longer periods of time, it’s likely they lack the skill for independent play and you will find yourself in a vicious cycle of buying.
  3. It is tempting to want to get everything listed here. Pick one and build out or add to it systematically over a long period of time (months to years). This will extend the life of your toys, reduce the possibility of having too many options and also spread the out the financial component.


Note: This post is not sponsored by anyone. It was developed based on my experience running a play based preschool for over 7.5 years, working with early elementary kids and parenting children who are now into their pre-teen/teen years.

Kitchen Fun: 

Food is not magic, but making it can be magical. Get children building skills from early ages. We started with the Kuhn Rikon knives because they have a great handle and cut reasonably well. In early elementary we moved to the Opinel and it is still used to this day.


Building Blocks:

Foster open ended play. I’m going to admit it out loud so someone can learn from my mistake. I regret buying Lego kits when my children were younger (under 7/8). It took away from their imaginary exploration and turned building into more of a step-by-step task, similar to a like a puzzle. This lead to wanting more kits instead of doing free building because once it was completed it wasn’t fun to rebuild and you couldn’t really make other things with the pieces (without destroying the ‘model’). Disassembling was a tedious task. I did all the organization hacks, but they were very onerous on my time and did not foster independence.

In my preschool there were no kits, just a Big Bucket Full of Duplo that I kept adding to. I wish I’d stuck to that concept with my personal children longer. It not only encouraged free play and independent skill building, it was super easy and fun to clean up. Throw blocks in bucket, done.

As an extension of this, Duplo can be ageless. Don’t feel pressured to shift to Lego for complexity or challenge. Combining Duplo with some other open ended play elements can really extend the imaginative play experience.

It’s kind of like reading. We push kids away from picture books because we feel they need a bigger challenge. The same is true of Lego. This is something else I wish I’d thought more about as a parent. I was excited by their ability to do a complex box, not realizing this wasn’t helping foster imagination because it was assembling someone else’s concept instead of creating their own. This is not to knock this kits, I do enjoy them… but for older kids. Like 8+ after the foundations of imaginative play are shifting to be more in line with the model style building.


Magnetic Tiles:

This might be the toy that got the most mileage. Combined with some Schleich Animals and some miscellaneous vehicles, the play opportunities were endless. As I write this I’m reflecting on all the cool things created over the years. Hotels, condos with parking garage, stables, castles, train stations, a space ship, ball run, stain glass windows… If I was still running my preschool I would invest more in Connectix because the quality, adaptability and options are amazing.


Animals & Creatures:

These lifelike creatures were durable, cleanable, great for indoor/outdoor use, use with play dough, use with magnetic tiles, water play…. Schleich are my fan favourite for this category! 

Speaking of water play, you don’t need a fancy table. A Rubbermaid bin is literally all you need. I’ll definitely do a post on this closer to summer.




Cooperative Board Games

My recommendations would never be complete without some Peaceable Kingdom Board Games! Hands down favourite in my family and my preschool. The ones in the picture were our fan favourites. I personally loved Race to Treasure!

Introduction to Interactive Screens

If you are looking to introduce some meaningful and engaging tech I always recommend OSMO! This wasn’t part of my preschool (there were no tech or electronics used at all) but it is the first tech I recommend because it’s highly interactive. There are pieces to move and engage with the screen which supports the findings that interactive screen time is more beneficial for young children versus passive.


A couple thoughts about gift giving in general

My gift giving has scaled back over the years for so many reasons, but one of those is Kindness to the Planet and understanding that we live in a world with far too many choices and that’s not actually supporting our mental well-being, in many cases it’s increasing anxiety. You will note that many of the items I shared have a bigger price tag, but when you are buying less, and less often this can help support this approach to gift giving. I would also like to say, these products are all so durable they can often be found on second-hand toy boards and have great re-sale value. So, you don’t have to buy them new either!



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