A Rationale for Using Toys in Science

IMG_5470Although students tend to enter school with a natural proclivity for scientific questioning, observation and wonderment, conventional science teaching often stifles their natural curiosity with a focus on textbook learning (Taylor, 2015, para. 1). The use of toys; however, as naturally engaging resources “can provide motivational and experiential links between science concepts and everyday experience” for both students and teachers (Lim, 2013, p. 74). They can be useful for increasing student interest, assisting students to remember concepts, and as the basis of discovery activities to stimulate questioning and experimentation (Stein & Miller, 1997, p. 22). Three broad justifications for the use of toys in teaching primary science include:

Toys motivate student learning and give teachers confidence to teach science concepts

Toys are useful resources for making scientific concepts more accessible to children, as age appropriate concrete materials that are relevant to students’ lives, harness student interests and link their own experiences to the task at hand (Cooper & Keast, 2010). They can help to engage and motivate students for science learning, as Taylor states, toys “are interesting and familiar; they are readily available and inexpensive. They help make the point that science is not something that one does three times a week in school with equipment that goes back in the cabinet…but rather something that permeates everyday life” (Taylor, 2015, para. 3). In learning through toys, Stein and Miller argue that students may then be able to apply science concepts to other toys, bringing them in to share with the class and extending learning and application beyond the classroom (1997, p. 22). There is also some research to suggest that toys equip teachers with the confidence to teach science that they might otherwise lack (Taylor et al., 1990, p. 70). Toys can assist teachers to more readily grasp basic science principles, can motivate them to learn about and teach science concepts, and undertake deeper self-directed learning (Taylor et al., 1990, p. 70).

Toys are constructivist aids that can develop students’ inquiry skills

The use of toys to teach science reflects an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning. An inquiry approach is characterised by questioning, deep thinking, collaboration, and self-directed learning (Stephenson, n.d., para. 6). Its guiding theory of constructivism sees knowledge as constructed by individuals making sense of their experiential world through a variety of tools, resources and contexts, with learners bringing their own unique prior knowledge and beliefs to the learning environment (Yilmaz, 2008, p. 162). In this way, toys provide a stimulus for knowledge construction through investigation and experiential learning.

This open-ended inquiry and investigation also assists students to develop the skills required in scientific inquiry, such as, questioning, predicting, and developing explanations (Taylor et al., 1990, para. 5). As Taylor highlights, part of science teaching and learning is about developing ‘the habits of mind’ such that when new things are encountered, students ask how it works, why it works that way and how they could make it work better (2015, para. 6). Learning experiences that center on toys are useful to developing this type of thinking.

Learning with toys can address students’ differentiated learning needs

One of the strengths of teaching using toys is that they can facilitate learning across a range of student learning needs. In a study undertaken by Taylor et al., toy-based activities proved to be beneficial for gifted students, given the open-ended nature of the activities, which allowed for investigation to reach the limits of students’ understanding (1990, p. 71). Many teachers also reported benefits to educationally disadvantaged students, with improvements seen in attention span and engagement, as one teacher noted “when observing the students at work with the toys, it was impossible to separate students who were gifted, average, of lower ability, learning disabled or with discipline problems” (1990, p. 71).

With these considerations in mind, ‘Marbulous Marble Race’ is an appropriate aid for teaching primary science. As a product, it is compelling to watch and offers opportunities to play and experiment. For the teacher, it provides a structure for inquiry and investigation, as students can experiment with contact and non-contact forces. Once they are equipped with the language and concepts to explore, this toy encourages the use of scientific language as students describe the forces acting upon the marbles. As the concept behind this resource can be replicated in a design task, the Marble Race is a versatile toy that lends itself well to both inquiry and design-based educational experiences. Being adjustable, it provides opportunities for students to experiment with different designs and extend their learning in a differentiated way.



  • Cooper, R. and Keast, S. (2010). Make the Links. Teacher: The National Education Magazine, Aug., 20-21.
  • Lim, B. K. (2013). Toying with Science. Procedia: Social and Behavioral Sciences, 90, 72-77.
  • NSW Board of Studies. (2012a). Science K-10 syllabus. Sydney: NSW Board of Studies.
  • NSW Board of Studies. (2012b). Maths K-10 syllabus. Sydney: NSW Board of Studies.
  • Stein, M. & Miller, D. (1997). Teaching with Toys. The Science Teacher, 64(4), 22-25.
  • Stephenson, N. (n.d.). Introduction to Inquiry-Based Learning. Retrieved from http://www.teachinquiry.com/index/Introduction.html
  • Taylor, B., Williams, J. P., Sarquis, J. L. & Poth, J. (1990). Teaching Science with Toys: A Model Program for In-service Teacher Enhancement. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 1(4), 70-73.
  • Taylor, B. (2015). Using Toy to Teach Physics. Physics World, Jan. Retrieved from http://live.iop-pp01.agh.sleek.net/2014/12/17/using-toys-to-teach-physics/
  • Yilmaz
, K. (2008). Constructivism: Its Theoretical Underpinnings, Variations, and Implications for Classroom Instruction.
Educational Horizons, 86(3), 161-172.

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