Face it. For better or worse, we live in a world chock-full of electronics. Think about all the electronic devices you might use in a day: a computer at work, a computer at home, a laptop, a Smartphone, a digital music player and countless others. They're everywhere. It's no wonder children are interested in toys that mimic these electronic devices, and it's not a bad idea to introduce them to the types of tools that will likely be a part of their entire life. But what parent eagerly hands over an expensive and sensitive device to a toddler or preschooler? We've all done it at one time or another – and then anxiously watched as sticky fingers navigated the touch screen, or worriedly calmed a child's boisterous excitement about the gadget. Kids just being kids can spell disaster for your electronic devices.
That's where preschool learning toys come in. Many of them are designed as kid versions of electronics for grownups. These electronics for kids are durable, kid-friendly, "just like Mom's" and educational, to boot. Here you'll find reviews that compare some of the best preschool learning toys out there. Our top picks include Fisher-Price's Computer Cool School, LeapFrog's ClickStart My First Computer and LeapFrog's Text & Learn. If you don't find quite what you're looking for here, check out our electronic learning system reviews. Also explore our Learning Center for articles about preschool learning toys. At TopTenREVIEWS We Do the Research So You Don't Have To.™
The toy market is flooded with battery-powered electronic gizmos with buttons and noises to entertain kids (and drive parents batty). However, the best early learning toys will do more than just entertain; the best will appeal to kids and parents alike, have educational value for preschoolers, and introduce basic computer skills.
The products we've reviewed for this comparison of preschool learning toys are recommended by their respective manufacturers for preschool-aged children – roughly three to six years old. While each child will develop at her own rate and be ready for different play features at different ages, you should look for kid-friendly features that make these electronic learning toys suitable for the preschool set. Color graphics and a large display area hold children's attention and make it easier for them to interact with the toy. Additionally, large keys and buttons are perfect for little hands that are still developing fine motor control. Look for learning games that are age-appropriate as well. Tasks that are too simple won't hold his attention, and games that are too complex to manage will leave her frustrated.
Additionally, just like Mom and Dad's electronic devices, some are portable and some are not. Consider your lifestyle and whether you want your child to be able to use the toy on car trips and take it to Grandma's house, or whether you're looking for something more stationary for your child.
While you're considering your child's needs, you should also take into account your own sanity when choosing electronic toys for your child. A volume control allows you to minimize the noise level, and a durable design means you won't mind if your child plays a little rough with it. Also, take a look at the battery requirements and the warranty timeframe. A few of the products offer add-on software to extend the learning and play for your child. Having a new game to play can keep your child learning and interested, but the cost of multiple add-ons can add up over time.
Also, be on the look-out for parent tips and suggestions offered by the manufacturer on how to enhance the toy's learning potential for your child. Some toy documentation includes suggestions for parents on how to use the preschool learning toys in other educationally beneficial ways. Others have information for parents on their website.
Again, children all develop at their own rate. It's important that you know your child and what he or she is likely to find stimulating play. The products we reviewed here are geared to the preschool set, and as such the educational elements cater to early learning skills such as mastering the alphabet, working with numbers and identifying shapes. Many also expose children to phonics, matching, drawing and music. Electronic learning toys can also teach kids computer skills like screen navigation and mousing. A QWERTY keyboard may help preschoolers get used to the setup of keyboards for typing, but some parents prefer a keyboard in alphabetical order for kids still learning the alphabet.
Help & Support
Look for documentation and user guides. Many of the best preschool learning toys are pretty straightforward in how they function, but some are much more complex. A simple glance through the included documentation could save you hours of frustration. If you do run into trouble with a product, most manufacturers provide phone numbers for customer service, and some offer contact via email.
The sheer volume of preschool learning toys available can be overwhelming. Here we've compared the best devices that mimic Mom and Dad's electronics. These products are kid-friendly and durable; they offer educational content for preschoolers; and with options like volume control and suggestions for parents, these products are fairly parent-friendly as well.