Do you want to play? With just five little words, preschoolers can pull friends, parents, and early childhood educators into an imaginary world where pretend-play forms the beginnings of friendships. Preschoolers don’t have to know that pretend play supports their social-emotional development but now you do! It’s why we love equipping homes and classrooms with opportunities for pretend play. If you are looking for a birthday gift, preschooler toy ideas, or new resources for your early childhood classroom, we put together 10 of our favorite toys that encourage social-emotional development through peer interactions and imaginary and creative play.
10 Favorite Social-Emotional Learning Toys for Preschoolers
Social-Emotional Benefits of Preschoolers Playing Dress Up: Preschoolers seem to live in the land of make-believe. Costume sets and dress-up pieces encourage children to fully immerse themselves in the roles they choose to play. When preschoolers pretend to be a medical professional or fire chief (or teacher or mom or garbage truck driver or unicorn wrangler), they are learning important social-emotional skills by acting out different social situations, behaviors, and responses. Playing dress-up even helps them develop empathy because they literally put themselves in the shoes of someone else.
Social Emotional Benefits of Pretend Play with Toy Food: Order up! To a preschooler, “playing pizza” is so much more than taking your order and giving you a slice. By mirroring the roles they see people play in the world around them, they begin figuring out how they fit into their community and family, gain an early understanding of empathy, grow in self-confidence, and even practice the give and take of social conversations.
Social-Emotional Benefits of Preschooler Books: Of course, books support early language and literacy development. However, books can also help preschoolers gain social-emotional skills. We love this book because of the positive message about being courageous and for the soothing and self-regulation technique that the main character uses to work through his fear. We even put together a few questions you can ask your preschooler as you read the book together. See this previous article for the questions and 9 other social-emotional books for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
6. Lego Duplo
Social-Emotional Benefits of Open-Ended Building: Building blocks provide endless hours of preschool play while also supporting their growing confidence and self-expression. When preschoolers work together on their creation, this supports turn-taking, collaboration, and listening to and incorporating other people’s ideas while also giving them practice at picking up on unspoken social cues. All of these are social-emotional skills needed for forming and maintaining a positive self-image or healthy relationships with others. Plus, helping preschoolers learn how to connect brick blocks together and encouraging them to keep trying builds up resilience and independence.
Social-Emotional Benefits of Playing Card Games with Preschoolers: Playing card games with preschoolers gives them practice following rules and taking turns and requires that they pay attention. Plus, spending time laughing and being playful together shows your preschooler that they are fun to be around, which contributes to positive self-esteem and confidence. Added bonus: These card games easily slip into a bag or in the car so parents can hold an impromptu game at a restaurant, at the park, or even at the pediatrician’s office.
Social-Emotional Benefits of Preschooler Instrument Play: Preschoolers experience a wide range of complex emotions long before they can identify, label and express or control them appropriately. Playing musical instruments gives preschoolers a creative (and healthy!) way to explore, express and better understand all those emotions. Plus, playing age-appropriate musical instruments also helps preschoolers practice self-regulation and build up their self-confidence.
10. Learning Resources All About Me Family
Social-Emotional Benefits of Doll and Action Figure Play: Through doll play (or stuffed animal play or action figure play), preschoolers can create a world with characters and actions that mirror their emotions and give them practice at expressing and regulating their feelings. They also gain empathy and compassion skills by acting out different scenarios with the figures. Added bonus: These figures can be used to help teach preschoolers colors, counting, and sorting.
Did we leave off your favorite preschool birthday gift or toy that supports social-emotional development?
We limited our list to 10 so we know we left off some must-have favorites of yours (like sidewalk chalk and a fun sprinkler set or a toy kitchen)! Let us know your favorite preschooler gift in the comments.
Lisa Camino Rowell has spent more than 20 years in early childhood education. She’s written for well-known brands, such as Kindermusik International, Reading Rainbow, Babies R Us, Crayola, KinderCare, and Pampers. Lisa loves writing for the Teaching Is a Royal Adventure blog because she considers it her life’s best work whenever she creates content that supports the role of parents as a child’s first and best teacher or provides tools that help early childhood educators excel in the classroom.