Children learn by doing. That’s why having the best products for hands-on learning is important.
Currently, I have two toddlers and it’s a bit chaotic over here. I understand how important it is to keep hands busy, so when I started homeschooling my kids, I knew I wanted to make learning come alive for them.
Since then, I have been on a search for educational tools that stray from traditional pen and paper and assist with multiple areas of cognitive development for little ones. My favorite products for hands-on learning do just that: keep play meaningful, purposeful, and, of course, FUN.
Disclosure: I receive a small commission from any purchase, using these links. All opinions are honest. See the full disclosure here.
Products for Hands-on Learning: Toys/Learning Tools & Morning Bins
Toys get such a bad reputation. But, when toys do something cool like encouraging your kid to build, explore, create, or imagine, a toy turns into a learning tool. These are some of my kids’ favorite toys… ahem…. learning tools!
A very popular activity that typically includes “toys” in our household is our Morning Bins. In the morning, I fill a couple of plastic bins with different toys and other learning supplies that the kids can explore together. There are so many options as to what I can place in a Morning Bin. Our favorites are on this list!
Usually, Morning Bins include activities that are hands-on, independent, and perfect for warming up those little fingers. Activities that promote fine motor exercises will make pencil grip easier for children. Morning Bins last anywhere from 30 minutes or more in our house, depending on our schedule that day. During the time they are exploring the bins, I’m (hopefully) sipping coffee without many interruptions.
Sometimes I may set out one toy/learning tool and other times I combine items. For example, pairing magnetic tiles and pom poms with construction vehicles turns a regular “toy” into something more purposeful and meaningful. Now the kids can use pom-poms as boulders and magnetic tiles for garages or anything else their little imaginations cook up!
The items below can all be Morning Bin options and are our favorite products for hands-on learning throughout the day!
Magnet tiles are totally awesome. My kids love them and haven’t quit playing with them for years. Since these tilesets are open-ended, it’s fun to watch what your child creates. Magnetic tiles also make wonderful, at-home learning tools. You can use them to build letters (Magnatile offers free alphabet downloads via Instagram!), create houses for people and animals, or even take the play outside to make cool designs on the garage door! There are tons of great sets available on Amazon. This is the magnet tile set one we own and love- especially since it comes with an excellent storage bin!
I love wooden toys! This is the cutest wooden block city set. Your child can build a city, practice letters and words, put together a puzzle, and engage in imaginative play. Another reason this is one of my favorite products for hands-on learning is the storage bag that it comes with!
Wooden Stacking Blocks
This is another fun wooden toy that requires concentration and lots of hands-on work! These rocks are designed to be stacked on top of one another. It can easily be turned into a game you play together or paired with some construction vehicles to act as “boulders”.
Learning Resource Cubes
I love Learning Resource products because they are well made. These cubes are fun for both building and counting. The set comes with nice quality activity cards that are useful as your child practices more difficult math concepts. I love making math as hands-on as possible!
I love Skoolzy products because they come with a nifty bag for easy storage. These plastic lacing beads from Skoolzy, make it easy for my kids to practice patterns, learn shapes, and design necklaces all while working on fine motor skills.
Another set we love is the Skoolzy Peg Board Set which also comes with a bag.
Wooden Building Blocks
There are so many building blocks out there! I always love a classic, wooden block set. These blocks are good quality, colorful, and come with a great cylinder bin you can use for storage. The lid for the bin can be used for a hands-on sorting activity too!
Brain Flakes are a wonderful product for hands-on learning. They come in a storage container and also have a booklet of different ideas kids can build (Their Instagram page is also full of fun creations from kids!). Brain Flakes are great for older kids 4+ and perfect for fine motor practice. I typically use them for Morning Bins, but if you are homeschooling, they can double up as counters, can be used as snowflakes for winter-themed activities, or used for sorting colors!
Transforming Letters and Numbers
Do your kids love Transformer toys? If so, they will love these transforming letter and number sets. My oldest son is a Transformer pro and will play with these robots for hours. I typically cycle them out when I think he’s getting bored, then bring them out a few weeks later, which works great for keeping toys interesting.
The letters come together to make three larger robots, which is pretty neat. Completing this activity requires matching and letter identification. You can use these as a hands-on tool to help with sight words or spelling too.
Magnetic Geometric Patterns
Geometric patterns are a fun introduction to puzzles, shapes, and geometry. I originally bought a classic wooden set, but my son became frustrated when the pieces “moved” every time he tried to set one into place. This magnetic set cures that issue, making this activity much more enjoyable for little hands. It also comes with a bag for your magnetic shapes, as well.
Tinker Totter Monsters
BeginAgain Tinker Totter sets are amongst my children’s favorite products for hands-on learning because they can create silly characters by building with wooden shapes. These sets are well-made and perfect for building those little hand muscles needed for gripping writing utensils. Keep a lookout for the rocket ship set to make its way back to Amazon! That one is especially a fan favorite here.
Take Apart Toys
This set is very cool! There are many like it online, but this particular one comes with a carrying case for everything- which you will DEFINITELY want to have with these take-apart toys. Your kid can use a toy drill to put toy dinosaurs and a race car together. The car actually makes noise and lights up too! The first few times, I had to assist my son, but after a few times, he was able to take it apart and piece it back together all on his own. I love STEM-centered toys that can also lead to imaginative play!
This Take Apart Toy is another set that works great for cycling in and out to keep it interesting for your child.
Although not wooden like the BeginAgain Tinker Totters, this magnetic robot set is equally as fun. My kids love stacking these guys together and creating characters for imaginative play. This set does come with a nice, plastic carrying case for the pieces, which makes for simple storage and a super-easy Morning Bin idea!
Wooden Geometric Patterns
If you prefer wooden toys, I love this Melissa & Doug set. There are several puzzles provided a side-by-side tray to help consolidate the activity. I even use the tray for other activities like Salt Writing.
I love STEM-centered toys. This fun set is easily one of our favorite products for hands-on learning because it involves puzzles, trucks, and is child-led/independent. My 4-year-old can do these puzzles on his own, with little assistance. Trucky makes a great warm-up to the day or an excellent quiet time activity.
Magnetic Fishing Set
This fishing set is excellent. We’ve used it for so many learning activities! I’ve written letters on the bottom and added the fish to the bathtub, so the kids can practice identifying! I’ve also added them to a plastic pool and the kids had to fish for them, count them, and sort them by color. It’s a great way to get kids up and moving while working on fine motor skills. Depending on your kid’s age level and ability, you can increase or decrease difficulties.
PRO TIP: If you write with Sharpie, you can “erase” it by using dry erase markers. Just write over the Sharpie, and wipe it away.
Gears! Gears! Gears!
This set is one of the coolest products for hands-on learning that we own. The kids and I both love to build with it. Gears! Gears! Gears! is a really fun way for little hands to practice engineering and problem-solving skills. This set is best for older kids. My 4.5-year-old needs assistance from me but is moving towards independence.
Puzzles are classic toys that my oldest son just loves. We have all different kinds of puzzles but play a lot with these ones from Amazon. The scenes are fun and the pieces are wooden as opposed to cardboard, like other puzzles we’ve purchased. These are more difficult, so you will want to purchase some easier practice puzzles and then work up to these wooden ones.
For a different way to “puzzle” try out these puzzles by Likee. They come with little cards, so children can work independently on each of the pictures. The pieces are large enough for tiny hands too! We enjoy starting the day with these and use them as a nice, calm-down activity for the afternoon.
Magnetic Play Scenes
These magnetic play scenes are excellent. Although they do come with lots of small pieces, the box setup makes them easy to store. Perfect for morning bins or a road trip!
Products for Hands on Learning: Writing and Phonics
Learning all there is to know about the ABCs can be such a fun, hands-on opportunity for kids. Although practicing pencil grip with real pen and paper is very important for writing development, giving children the opportunity to work with letters and numbers in different ways, leads to long-term retention. These are some of my favorite products for hands-on learning practice with my kids.
Playfoam Letter Boards
Studies show that when hands work with new letters, they are more likely to remember them. When I teach new letters/letter sounds we always “build” our letter in some way. This Playfoam set is excellent because it comes with sturdy uppercase letter cards and different colored foam molds. My kids love using the foam mold to build letters and it doesn’t dry out! You can also use the letter boards as a set of flashcards.
The same company makes a set for number practice as well, check it out here.
Another fun way to “build” letters is with Play-Doh. Of course, you can use Play-Doh for tons of activities, as well! We love Play-Doh time, even though it can get a little messy. Play-Doh works great with sensory bins or trays as well. Have the kid build bugs, monsters, robots, or something from their own imagination, using other supplies you have around the house.
Magnetic letters for hands-on learning are a must! Once again, it can be hard to find simple magnetic letters that include both upper case and lower case. I like these letters from Melissa and Doug! The colors are great and can also be used for sorting activities. They are lightweight and easy to store, as well.
Seems so silly to say I have a favorite set of flashcards, but these are it! It’s hard to find good quality cards that are simple and include both upper case and lower-case letters. Trust me, you’ll want a set that has BOTH upper and lower cases. These are very simple with the letter and a picture that starts with that letter. We use them all the time!
This is another hands-on way to practice letters and numbers. Kids can work on sounds, identifying, and counting by using the cards included in this set. It also comes with a storage box for all the pieces.
Dry Erase Markers
If you’re practicing writing in a more traditional way, dry erase markers are a fun option! This is my favorite set of dry erase markers. They have built-in magnets on the cap, as well as an eraser top. My kids love how many colors there are to choose from and, of course, erasing their work.
Try these magnetic whiteboards! They are of great quality and come with markers and erasers. Aside from writing on these, the whiteboards are the perfect surface for kids to work with magnetic letters and numbers
Products for Hands on Learning: Sensory
Sensory play is so important for younger kids. Sensory play includes any activity that engages the 5 senses. Sensory play also includes movement, which I stress the importance of on my Instagram page. Another thing I love to create for my kids are Sensory Bins. Basically, it’s creating a bin they can use to explore with most of their senses! Below is a list of some of the things I use to create sensory opportunities for my kids.
I have tried many sand-like products, and kinetic sand is the easiest to clean up. Kinetic Sand is a fake sand mixture that can be molded and shaped into tons of things. This specific set comes with a nice carrying case, which is very helpful for storage. I like to set up a sensory bin with Kinetic Sand and some fun construction vehicles. I use little dried garbanzo beans for “boulders” or any other dry beans I may have on hand. It’s a very fun way to start the day or to calm down after a lot of movement.
Water play is the best! Kids love it, and it’s a great area for learning activities to take place, as well. make water play easy to set up, without having to do too much work! We’ve had our water table for years, and I promise you, the kids use it almost every single day.
For other water play products we love, check out my post here.
If you’re looking for a great winter-themed, sensory activity, this fake snow is excellent. It expands and feels a little like snow. Warning- this stuff is messy, so plan wisely. We did it outside and I had the “snow” in bins.
Water beads are very cool. They start small, you add water, and they grow into these round little objects- which make for a very fun sensory bin! This one is an ocean-themed water bead set that we love and also comes with a scooper. Add some other scoopers like the ones I’ve listed below or just some measuring cups from the kitchen. There are so many ways to use this water bead set, and it’s is definitely one of my most favorite products for hands-on learning.
Scoopers, Tongs, and Droppers
“Working out” your child’s finger and hand muscles is important because it helps with pencil grip when they are learning to write. We try to use tongs and droppers in our activities, as much as possible. This is a fun set that has a little bit of everything to add to sensory activities or that can be used for science experiments!
Never thought rice would be one of my favorite products for hands on learning, but there are so many ways to color rice and create sensory bins* for every theme and season. It’s affordable and easy to vacuum up! Different types of dry beans are also great for sensory bins at home.
Coloring rice is as easy as mixing food coloring and vinegar, then setting the rice out to dry. I love using these fun neon colors.
*When we do sensory bins inside, I usually lay a sheet down so I can easily clean the mess.
Wooden Craft Sticks
Popsicle sticks are a must for at-home learning. They are simple but have so many uses! I have both regular and colored sticks for crafting and sorting fun. We like to use popsicle sticks to build letters. What a fun way to make learning letters more hands-on.
If you do want to build letters and numbers with popsicle sticks, take a look at these shorter popsicle sticks too. There are also countless crafting activities that wooden craft sticks are perfect for.
Products for Hands-on Learning: Counters
Counters are any little object that can be used to count, scoop, grab, etc. I like to purchase counters that have multiple uses. For example, they can be used to outline or trace shapes, letters, or numbers. Counters make it easy to make learning more hands-on than traditional pen & paper.
Thesemancala beads are shiny and pretty. They can be used in so many ways- as snowballs, gems, eyeballs in Play-Doh, the list goes on and on… I also love these mancala beads because they come in a great little storage box!
These colored chips are ones I use all the time. They are perfect for covering up letters and numbers or using for addition and subtraction practice. We also use them to outline shapes, letters, and numbers! These chips from Amazon come with plenty of each color.
Buttons are awesome! We use them to build playdoh monsters and bugs or pretend they’re watermelon and apple seeds for counting practice. This set comes with a huge assortment of buttons, with so many colors.
To be fair, pom poms have so many uses, they should be in their own category-making them one of my favorite products for hands-on learning.
My suggestion is to have tons of different types of pom poms- cool colors, sparkly, small, large! These are a good pom pom starter kit though! We use them for crafts, sensory bins, in water to freeze, trash, and boulders for our vehicles, the list goes on and on. They also pair so well with fun tongs and scoopers!
Favorite Hands-On Products: Supplies
Whether you’re teaching in the classroom or teaching at home, these are the most perfect supplies to promote hands-on learning. The products listed below are some of the staples I have at my house to start off any hands-on activity we do together.
Clear Plastic Covers
I use these clear pocket page protectors almost daily! These clear pockets make printouts reusable and allow children to practice writing with dry-erase markers. I highly recommend them if you plan on doing any learning at home or want to practice writing outside of school.
Do A Dot Art! Markers
Dot markers are a must-have supply! They work great with letters and number practice but are also used for crafting. We’ve even created a connect-the-dots activity using butcher paper, painter’s tape, and markers that the kids really enjoyed.
Dot stickers are clutch to have around in order to make learning more hands-on. We use them in lots of the same ways we use our dot markers, but they are also perfect for matching and counting activities.
By using a Sharpie to write on them, you can get really creative with dot stickers. My kids love when I draw little fish on the stickers and they have to feed “sharks” the correct number of fish. We’ve also used them as flower petals in a counting activity.
Dot stickers are amongst the easiest, and most inexpensive products for hands-on learning that really can be utilized time and time again, in different ways.
Doesn’t get easier than using tape to place large pieces of butcher paper on walls, tables, or floors. They make such an easy surface for art, practicing letters and shapes, or drawing roads. Butcher paper is a must have for at-home, hands on learning.
Muffin tins make wonderful organizers for art projects and a base for sensory activities. Sometimes we stick fun objects in the tins and some scoopers. Amazing how such a simple activity can keep kids engaged and having fun.
Paint Tray Palettes
We do lots of painting for craft time. I’ve found it much easier to control the activity and the mess by using these plastic paint trays. Paper plates work fine too, I just like that we can reuse these.
Seems silly, but kids love hole punches. It’s a great tool to make letter and number practice more hands on. It’s also an awesome way for kids to build their little hand muscles.
I LOVE incorporating water into learning. Living in Arizona, we have a long and hot summer, so water activities are a must. We use these squirt bottles to identify and erase shapes, colors, and numbers written in chalk. We also love watering our plants outside (it’s way more fun this way!).
These squirt bottles are a blast too! We love using them to mix colors together.
Similar to the squirt bottles, sponges are another one of my favorite products for hands-on learning with toddlers at home. We use these for sponge painting but more so with water play! One time I cut the sponges into fish for the kids to toss into a bucket of water. It was so fun. These come with multiple sponges and a variety of bright colors.
Erase chalk letters or set-up a fake car wash, sponges definitely have their place for learning!
Cookie sheets make the perfect surface to work with magnetic items. I love that you can easily carry activities to different places as well.
Products for Hands-on Learning: Storage
Staying organized is something I’m still trying to figure out, but I know having the proper storage available makes it easier to maintain as much order as possible.
Trays and bins make everything better. Whether I’m using them for Morning Bins, using them to sort and plan our day, or handing over art materials and a task to my children, you can never have too many trays or bins! I do get lots of my bins in the Target Bullseye section. There are a ton right around the start of the school year, but these trays from Amazon are great.
Plastic Storage Bins
Whatever size bin you are looking for, having proper storage is necessary at home or in the classroom. Clear bins make it easy to find what you’re looking for. I also use these bins to store and cycle out certain toys.
Favorite Products for Hands-On Learning in a Nut Shell
Kid’s learn by exploring, building, creating and moving. Whether you are learning at home or teaching in the classroom, it’s important to incorporate as many products for hands-on learning opportunities as possible! These learning tools and toys, sensory items, and supplies will help engage children, while also keeping everything fun.
If you purchase any of these products, make sure to tag me on Instagram! I can’t wait to see the fun your kids will have with some of these ideas.