Best Counting & Math Toys

Updated August 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best counting and math toys

Last Updated August 2020

Did you know kids as young as a year old begin learning numbers? They’re able to acquire basic concepts, which serve as the foundation for math curriculum in preschool and kindergarten. To boost math skills and learning, help your kids level up with some counting and math toys.

The educational toy market is saturated with counting and math toys, especially with the rise of the STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, and math). There are board games, flash cards, blocks, and even tub toys that help kids recognize numbers and learn to use them in daily life. Because each age group requires tailored learning methods, you’ll find many counting and math toys employ more than one technique. Counting blocks, for example, often come in bright colors to engage kids visually while they add and subtract.

Ready to dive into early math education with the kids? This buying guide shares an overview of popular toy categories, helpful shopping tips, and a few recommendations to help you find the right counting and math toys.

While you can give a more advanced counting and math toy to your kid, be sure its components are age-appropriate. Small pieces in certain toys can pose choking hazards.

Key considerations

Math learning by age group

12 months to toddler: Early math education for kids ages 12 to 36 months involves learning number sense. Learning to count accurately at this age lays the foundation for basic addition and subtraction. Shapes and patterns are also explored as concepts as kids learn to classify information. 

Preschool: These kids build on their early math skills with a greater focus on accuracy. Addition and subtraction are more formally introduced, and well as quantities and estimations. Kids also learn to make comparisons at this stage, which helps them understand subjective differences in height, weight, and size. 

Kindergarten: Kindergarten is a milestone for kids, especially when it comes to math. Here, they receive formal instruction in addition and subtraction with worksheets or workbooks where they write digits and number signs. They also explore comparative scenarios, drawing shapes, and problem-solving.

First grade: By this age, kids have mastered basic number writing skills, as well as addition and subtraction. They learn real-life math applications, such as measuring or telling time. Place value and decimals are also explored, usually explained with money. Basic geometry is also introduced by way of spatial concepts and comparisons.

Second grade: This math curriculum is also a turning point, as kids learn more advanced number operations, such as multiplication and division. They’re introduced to even and odd numbers, word problems, charts, and graphs. Kids also learn how to measure dimensions of shapes, data analysis, and probability.

Popular types of counting and math toys

There’s a diverse range of counting and math toys, so there’s definitely something out there that will spark your child’s curiosity. Even if one doesn’t appeal to them, there are plenty more to explore. 

One thing to keep in mind with counting and math toys is that they’re often classified by target ages, not grades. This is done to meet toy safety standards as well as age-appropriate guidelines. 

Board games can be classified as educational or recreational and are generally age-specific. When it comes to counting and math toys, they both achieve the same thing, which is offering a hands-on way to apply math skills.

Educational math board games encourage kids to utilize skills in number recognition, critical thinking, operations, and order. Regular board games also get kids thinking because they have to count spaces, wait their turn, and amass currency or game pieces.

Flash card games, like board games, fall into the educational and recreational categories. Those produced as learning tools have clear direction, and the packaging explains how the concepts are explored. Depending on the age group, they can feature just shapes or images or incorporate numbers or word problems.

Card games also help kids flex their math skills, especially games like Uno, solitaire, or Go Fish. While they’re normally played for fun by kids and adults alike, it’s easy to identify which math skills they build, with mental math at the forefront. 

Counting activity sets are generally geared toward toddlers through kindergarteners. These take on unique forms with balancing sets, building blocks, and figurine sets. The classic abacus also gets an honorable mention here, as it remains one of the leading toys in this category.

Another thing to keep in mind with these sets is that they’re usually focused on understanding quantities and how they're affected by number operations. In balancing toys, for example, kids have a scale and a collection of objects. They need to employ critical thinking skills to assess how many objects are required to balance the scale. 

Shape sets and puzzle boards teach geometry in its purest form. More often than not, these are designed for kids in the early stages of learning shapes leading up to kindergarten. These sets help kids solidify their understanding of shapes and their representation in the real world. As they present shapes in a three-dimensional way, kids also develop spatial sense. Many toys in this category revolve around fitting an object of the correct size into its right space. Because success involves trial and error, kids also work on their problem-solving skills.

Simulation toys present kids with real-life applications of counting and math. You’ll find toys for all age groups here in the form of clocks, play money, or cash registers. The appeal of simulation toys is that they offer open-ended play and tactile stimulation. There’s no winning or completion of the activity, so kids acquire skills in a self-paced way. When using a play cash register, for example, they develop counting skills and begin to associate currency with value. Kids are then able to observe the exchange of money in real life, such as in retail settings.

DID YOU KNOW?

Flash card games can stand up to considerable handling, but they don’t always do well with moisture. Extend their lifespan by keeping them away from bottles and liquids.

Features

Popular trends in counting and math toys

Color: You’ll notice that most counting and math toys utilize bright, eye-catching colors. It makes toys visually appealing and even provides the opportunity for a secondary lesson on colors. It also aids in classification and association when it comes to grouping or pattern activities.

Characters: Familiar and friendly characters are often used as a gentle delivery method for information. Kids are able to connect with them, and they can feel more open to exploring challenging material. Math and counting board games, for example, often incorporate friendly creatures into game pieces and cards. 

Tactile stimulation: Counting and math toys provide tactile stimulation because kids are able to touch and feel the concepts as they master them. Addition and subtraction make more sense on a physical level, for example, when moving beads across an abacus. 

EXPERT TIP

If you’re a big fan of a counting and math toy, consider exploring other educational products in the company’s line.


Staff  | BestReviews

Counting and math toy prices

Counting and math toys range in price from $5 to $40. The more complex the toy, the more expensive it is.

Inexpensive: Budget-friendly counting toys cost between $5 and $15. These include a variety of flash cards and board games, as well as some small simulation sets.

Mid-range: In the range of $15 to $30, you’ll find a wide variety of counting and shape sets, as well as deluxe simulation toys. Because these toys are often made of wood, plastic, and sometimes metal, the added cost of the product drives up the price.

Expensive: Counting and math toys priced at $30 and above usually come from boutique and independent toy companies. These use premium materials and are sometimes handcrafted.

DID YOU KNOW?

Not every counting and math toy revolves around numbers. Skills like identifying patterns, drawing comparisons, and decision-making are also developed with these toys.

Tips

  • Invest in more than one type of toy. With so much variety in counting and math toys, you can try more than one to see which ones your kids enjoy the most.

  • Ask kids why they like their toy. It’s important to find out why your kid actually likes their counting and math toy because it can shed light on interests or the type of learning they enjoy. This aids in choosing their next counting and math toy.

  • Use toys for enrichment. Counting and math toys can be helpful for kids who have experienced difficulty learning in school. They offer a friendly, constructive approach that might be enough to push through obstacles.

FOR YOUR SAFETY

Wooden number puzzles are classic toys, but make sure they’re well made and safe for play. Poorly made puzzles are notorious for having ill-fitting pieces and splinters.

FAQ

Q. Are counting and math toys intended for independent or group play?A. There are toys for both categories. Simulation and shape sets are usually geared toward independent play, whereas games require at least two people. Even then, it’s important to keep in mind that toys for group play can also be separated into two categories: those that need assistance from adults and those that can be played by children without help.

 

Q. Don’t older kids use counting and math toys?
A. Since most kids master counting and develop a keen number sense by second grade, you’ll find more educational toys are geared toward math or STEM. These are often more advanced versions of toys given their advancement in skill level. Magformers or LEGO, for example, replace building blocks or beads.

 

Q. How do I know when my child has outgrown their counting and math toy?
A. One sign kids have outgrown toys is lack of interest, especially if it was a toy that they used to enjoy quite a bit. Another telltale sign is that they progress through games or challenges much faster than normal, which indicates mastery of the material. 

The team that worked on this review
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  • Melinda
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    Web Producer
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    Senior Editor
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