Education is essential, but it’s most effective when it includes a dose of fun. When it comes to children, toys are the perfect instruments for incorporating elements of excitement and amusement in learning. Why make young elementary school students read out of a textbook when you could give them robotics sets and buildable materials? As Let Toys Be Toys notes, an organization fighting to remove arbitrary gender segregation from toys:

“Play is crucial to how children develop and learn about the world. In education, it’s recognized that children need access to a range of toys and play experiences. Toys focused on action, construction, and technology hone spatial skills, foster problem solving, and encourage children to be active. Toys focused on role play and small-scale theater allow them to practice social skills. Arts and crafts are good for fine motor skills and perseverance.”

With the holiday season approaching, you probably have a few children on your gift-giving list. You might be tempted to shy away from “learning” toys—would a child really want to exercise their thinking skills when they have another present nearby that is pure entertainment? Children love learning, though, even the simplest of toys can help enhance their development. So when you are shopping at Target or Jizels, keep in mind a few reasons why educational toys are the perfect gifts for the kids in your life this year (and the next, and the next, and the next…).

Educational toys develop a variety of skills

There is scientific evidence that educational toys don’t just teach children about particular subjects, they influence how they think and interact with the world. Some skills such toys can develop include, but are certainly not limited to:

Cognitive skills: Cognitive skills refers to thought processes and free thinking. Hotaling Imports notes that “puzzles encourage problem-solving and recognizing shapes and colors. Board games can teach memory skills and help them concentrate. Even building blocks help their cognitive development because they help kids work independently.”

Motor skills: Toys that require babies and toddlers to use their hands and feet—or even their whole bodies—help improve their motor functions. From walking a toy dog to dressing a doll or fitting shapes into their proper places, children love toys that make them move and explore the world around them.

Linguistic skills: Language is essential for communication and expressing emotions, so toys that speak encourage children to mimic them, therefore improving their linguistic and vocabulary skills. Educational toys can also teach children the names of things, such as animals, objects, or places.

It helps them make friends

Educational toys are also valuable for teaching children social skills and empathy. They foster environments where children can get together and collaborate on a project or learn about the importance of sharing and taking turns. Children can also benefit from lessons about how to win or lose a game with grace and how to persevere when approaching challenges.

Children will also develop healthier relationships later in life if they learn how to control their emotions early—which is something many adults still struggle with. The right toys and games can teach children how to express their feelings and recognize emotions in other people, thus developing sympathy and empathy.

It keeps them busy

Not only do educational toys keep children’s minds engaged and active, as a parent, you appreciate how they keep your kids entertained! Many of them don’t require a screen, and toys that encourage critical thinking are excellent for alleviating boredom (it’s also more difficult for them to get in trouble around the house when their attention is occupied).

It makes them more confident

When children learn essential lessons from playtime scenarios, they can apply them to external situations later in life. Nicole Munoz from Brainy Child mentions that one of the earliest forms of play during childhood is functional: they will use objects for the same purposes repeatedly, which gives them confidence in their abilities and an understanding of cause and effect. When children feel as if they know what they are doing, they are more likely to explore new things and tackle new situations with less fear.

There is no understating the integral role that educational toys play in children’s lives. This holiday season (and all seasons, for that matter), you have an opportunity to advance growing minds in the right direction. And—besides developing intellectual and social skills—toys are monumentally influential for fostering creativity and imagination at any age. What educational toys and games will you give as gifts this year? Share your ideas in the comments.