I was asked what I thought was an educational toy. The person believed that most toys could be educational. I had to agree. You can make almost any toy educational if you present in an learning context.
I think non-educational toys do much of the essential movement and thinking for learning, like battery operated toys that move and do the job for your child. Montessori believed preschool children used their five senses to learn. Hands-on, concrete experiences are considered the best educational experiences for this age group. Many Montessori schools don’t allow preschool children use computers and electronic toys because they skip over the concrete learning children achieve by using their hands and senses.
I do like many traditional toys. Dolls, puppets or stuffed animals can be used for fun language activities. My children loved giving little plays or skits using their favorite dolls or stuffed animals. Puppets always seem to do some nice “talking.” In a sand box your child can transfer sand or beans with a small shovel or spoon to a bed of a toy dump truck. When its full, dump the sand, and do it again. This was a first practical life spooning activity for my children. They loved it!