Inside: Math toys to encourage hands-on learning for counting, measurement, problem-solving, and graphing. These are the best inquiry-based math toys and STEM toys for children.
13+ Math Toys to Inspire Play
Did you know that early math practice is linked to later success?
And lucky us!
We have the chance to take full advantage of this discovery with our early learners by providing them with intentional math toys (aka math manipulatives) to help guide their mathematics and spatial skills play.
RELATED: See our complete toy guide HERE.
What are STEM Toys?
Are math toys the same as STEM toys?
Inviting children to explore the best math toys will help them discover a deeper understanding of STEM learning.
STEM learning stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. There is a similar acronym that is STEAM where the A stands for Art. Together, they inspire meaningful learning opportunities.
But here’s the catch with STEM toys.
Don’t be fooled that toys that light up and include the latest technology are necessarily better for our children.
You can read the Guiding Principles for Use of Technology by the Department of Education here.
Let’s start early learners with these math toys that promote inquiry-based learning.
RELATED: Curious how my kids play? Breakfast Invitations are a great way to begin the day!
What we are looking for in Math toys:
Allow the early learner to touch and move the object in a variety of ways.
Allow new discoveries each time the manipulative is played with.
Offer problem-solving opportunities.
Allow children to practice making a plan and using the math toy to test their thinking.
Create conversations and increase vocabulary.
Create connections to previously learned skills.
Support number sense.
Support opportunities to learn by doing.
Let’s introduce this thinking in the early years!
Here are the best math toys.
Remember, these are not math toys being suggested by the latest toy company. These are the best math toys suggested by an educator and mom to three.
These are the math toys that I have seen help make connections to important math concepts and deepen inquiry-based learning.
These are the math toys you will see again and again throughout the years to come.
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Counting and Sorting Bears
I really do love these little bears for our 3+ crowd! These bears can be counted, sorted, used for measuring, and even pretend play. See our full list of counting bear play ideas.
We first discovered Plus Plus a couple of years ago and my boys have been attached ever since. We have used them to measure lines, color sort, and transform them into the most creative objects. Every time my boys pick up this math toy, the execution is different. – A HUGE perk of open-ended play.
Another gem here! Picasso Tiles are another favorite. We consistently play with them at home, along with taking them on road trips. Picasso Tiles are our absolute favorite for manipulating shapes and forming creative sculptures during imaginary play.
Transparent Geometric Shapes
This was on my son’s Christmas list last year and they offer a great conversation about what makes a three-dimensional shape. Examine these on the light table, or in your hand. The best part? The box reminds you of all of the formal names so you can correctly share without a frantic Google search as your child asks. 😉
Cheers to the famous Grimm’s rainbow. The colors are extremely bright and vibrant. During play, the rainbow instantly becomes boats or ramps for the race car. – a great way to test our force and motion. When not in use, this rainbow also makes a beautiful display.
Mega Bloks were given to us five years ago and we still use them on a daily bases. These make a fabulous gift for one-year-olds, two-year-olds+. All three of my boy’s designs with these blocks.
The light table is an investment that will be used for years to come. This particular light table is high-quality and fits all three of my boys to work together at the same time. Using this light table is a great way to promote collaboration as they all work on an idea.
What we use on the light table:
Wooden Geometric Shapes
Get creative and paint these geometric shapes as you talk about the sides and corners. Try and see which shapes stack, and which shapes will roll. This is a classic assortment that will go with your neutral home. Great looking option for minimalists!
Wooden Pattern Block Set
What I like most about this set is that you can use the pattern blocks with or without the picture cards. We love to read the book Mouse Shapes or The Perfect Square to inspire what these pattern blocks can do!
Pattern Blocks Next Level
These pattern blocks have smaller picture cards. They are great for children that have played around with pattern blocks in the past and have a great understanding of how the shapes fit together.
This collection has 72 pieces, and 12 different puzzles that are perfect for teaching problem solving and patterning activities. This is also an excellent math brain game for spatial awareness and great for kids 6+.
Geometric Shapes Building Set
A big math conversation in grade school is around sides and vertices (corners). Here, your child can spend time building the shapes they already have in the geometric sets shown above, or create their own. This is an excellent math toy to discover straight and curved lines and how they come together to make a completely closed shape. The Math Common Core also asks children to model shapes in the world by building shapes from components. You can begin to practice this skill at home with this math toy!
Hands-On Soft Color Cubes
Show me some cubes, and I will help you create 10+ activities using them. Have your child use these one-inch cubes for color sorting, measuring taped lines, or even imaginary free play. You will be so impressed with the buildings they create to explore inquiry-based learning. Inquiry-based learning is active learning that is started by asking questions and requiring thinking skills to continue. Children create questions on their own as they stack the cubes and see how they can come together as one structure.
Octagon Wooden Play Pattern Puzzle
How many triangles can fit into one giant hexagon? Here, it seems to be 72! This Fat Brain math toy will allow your child to play, create and discover how to place the different triangles together. Encourages spatial reasoning, fine motor skills, planning, creativity.
Wooden Stepped Counting Blocks
I am never disappointed with Grimms. The blocks are always so well made, and come in bright, vibrant colors. This is a fantastic math toy for measurement, counting, addition, even multiplication & division in the years to come!
Classic home-school connection right here. Unifix Cubes are something your child uses at school and will help them continue to practice number sense at home. Help your preschooler better understand what a “group of ten” actually looks like, and help your Kindergartener combine two groups to make a total amount. Hands down, Unifix Cubes help build a solid foundation to number sense.
There is so much to love about dominoes. Early learners can begin to count the dots and understand that the last number counted is represented by a number name.
Stacking the dominoes and watching them tumble down in a ripple effect is a powerful exploration for force and motion, and gravity. This is another way to help promote inquiry-based thinking and learning.
Colored Sorting Bowls
If you don’t have a spare set of colored bowls, now is your chance to stock up. Color sorting never gets old. Use them in activities such as Primary Color Sort, or in a sensory bin to help get your toddler off and going.
Tracks and Trains
These tracks help promote teamwork as children work together to make different tracks. This set is compatible with other major train tracks.
13+ Best Math Toys
Remember, having high quality, open-ended math toys inspire thinking in self-guided play. Let’s let our early learners explore the concepts prior to reading about them in a textbook or worksheet!
Search for math toys that your child can touch, move, and manipulate.