Safe & Unsafe Toys for Childcare Centers During COVID-19

While in the reopening phase at your center, it’s important to think about what the students can and cannot play with. Since early childhood education is based on hands-on play, you want to find ways to stay true to that philosophy but in a safe way. Below you will find lists of appropriate toys for use and inappropriate toys for use according to safety and health guidelines.

Safe Toys

Individual Sensory Bins

Sensory play is vital to hands-on learning, especially for toddlers and preschoolers. Since it isn’t safe to have community bins, you can still implement sensory play with individual bins. Each bin should be wide enough and deep enough to play.  There are so many mediums which you can use like water, sand, rice, beans, etc. Choose a few toys and tools for each bin, and the students will have a blast with this.

Change out and clean each bin monthly or if you have it in your budget, buy multiple bins per child to have a variety. (Budget tip: once it is safe to go back to community bins, you will have all of these smaller bins to use for storage solutions! Think of it as an investment.)

Lego

Who doesn’t love Lego? Consider dividing the blocks into smaller/individual bins and giving each child a Lego “plate” to build upon to define his/her space. Once the child is done playing with the Legos, spread them all out on a plastic cloth or tarp to sanitize and leave to dry for the next day.

Blocks

Foam or wood blocks are great for play and can be easily wiped down and sprayed for easy sanitization. Consider dividing up the blocks for smaller groups who can play in their space (Hint: use painters tape to create construction zones for the children to build in). After each use, spray down and allow to dry completely.

Art Easel/Paint

Allowing children to still create using paint is important. Wipe down brushes or consider purchasing a set for each child to use and keep in separate containers. Be sure to switch out new water and wipe down your easel in between each use.

Magnatiles

Children LOVE Magnatiles or any magnetic building items that they can use for open-ended play. Allow one or two children spaced apart to play with them and then wipe/spray in between each use.

Play Kitchen

This may be surprising that this is labeled appropriate, but dramatic play is so important to children’s development. If you eliminate costumes and use hard plastic toys and utensils, then this can still be a safe way to play and learn. Consider spacing the play kitchen furniture so that children can still stay safe and play. Don’t forget to clean all of the toys used before allowing new children to play.

Plastic Clipboards

Children love to draw, color, and write anywhere that is not a formal desk or table. Having a clipboard allows for a child to create wherever they want! Bring them outside, on the floor, etc. Plastic clipboards are easily wiped down, too!

Contact-Free Technology

This is a very expensive option, but well worth the investment. This type of technology, such as Beam, projects games onto the floor where children can safely play in a germ-free, contact-free way!  You’ve probably seen this in a local mall in common areas where children are trying to “stomp on balloons.”  This smart technology is great for learning, moving, and staying safe! If you can’t go outside to play, this is an alternative that’s worth considering!

Playground Balls

These can be used in your indoor place space or outside and be wiped down easily. There’s so much you can do with a playground ball! Practice throwing, shooting into a basket, throwing at a target, catching, etc.  These can be easily cleaned each day.

“Larger Than Life” Outdoor Plastic Blocks

These are such a hit to have outside in addition to climbing and play equipment. Sometimes kids still want to build and play outside, so this is a great alternative to high-energy gross motor activities. These are also super easy to clean and air dry.

“Larger Than Life” Outdoor Games

Kids love to play giant games like Jenga or Connect Four and can do so with safe distance between them while outdoors. The blocks and pieces for connect four can be easily clean and left to air dry between uses!

Unsafe Toys

Costumes

Kids love to dress up and dramatic play is a big part of their development, but it’s best to not have costumes out during this time and even during flu season. As an alternative, you can give each child his/own hat or apron to keep in their cubbies in the hall where they are the only ones allowed to wear those items. 

Stuffed Animals

Unless you have a washer and dryer in your facility and can wash these items daily, it’s best to not have stuffed animals or pillows or things that can’t be easily washed. INSTEAD, try using outdoor pillows or outdoor cushions as an alternative in your cozy corner since they are easier to wipe down! (I suggest using outdoor cushions even when there isn’t a pandemic!)

Community Sensory Bins

It is too risky to allow all of the little hands to play in the community bins even if they wash before and after. Since little ones can’t always keep from touching their faces, it’s best to use individual bins. The alternative to this can be wearing gloves and masks while playing, but that may not be as fun.

Cardboard Puzzles

While these are fun, they are hard to clean since spraying or wiping them down too often will have them start to peel and disintegrate. Try finding puzzles that are plastic or foam instead.

Community iPad or Computer

There are way too many germs that stay on computers and iPads in general, so having only one or two for the classroom isn’t going to work. It’s best to have individual ones or contact-free alternatives to technology during this time.

Sand Pit/Table

Just like the issue with the community sensory bins, it would be entirely too hard to try to change out the sand throughout the day and keep it from spreading germs. Individual bins are the way to go!

Water Table

*Unless you can drain and refill between each use.

Water play is so fun, especially during the warm months. If you can’t do individual bins, then make sure you have a water source where you can drain in between each use, wipe down, and then refill again. This takes a lot of time and work, so having individual bins is the easier and safest way to go!


There are so many ways to continue to help students grow and achieve milestones but still remain safe. It just takes a little more thought and creativity, which I know that you, teacher, have a lot of!

Teachers are magical, thoughtful, and resourceful, so be encouraged and be sure to collaborate with other teachers to get through this together! What ways are you helping your classrooms stay fun and safe? Add other ideas in the comments so we can share our experiences!

Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 15 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 5, 7, 9 and 11 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.

8 comments

  • Deborah King says:

    These are all great ideas. We haven’t opened yet, but I was totally on the same page with the individualizing everything possible. I had an idea for the computes but I might put that on hold for now. Love the idea for the outdoor cushions because the children are used to coming into my classroom with a soft area and right now that is not the case. Thanks for that idea.

    • Thanks for the comment, Deborah! I have always used outdoor cushions at my center, and the best part is that they’re usually more inexpensive, too! I just got 70% off some of them at a local craft store 🙂

    • Tawanna Betts says:

      I believe that saran wrap might be helpful for the computer and mouse. It is easy to pick up and dispose and alcohol pads can be used to clean in between visits.

  • Janet says:

    We always have used bean bag chairs as a soft seating in our book areas. Easy to wipe down and comfortable

  • Rebecca Palumbo says:

    Could I use my water table if I put dishwashing soap in it and make bubbles? The toddlers love to play with the bubbles and it keeps their hands clean!

  • Patience says:

    Thank you for all the help and support you provide to us

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