Play and Learn: Excellent How-to Books for Kids


Rachel Rosenberg has been writing since she was a child—at 13, she was published alongside celebs and fellow teens in Chicken Soup For the Teenage Soul 2. Rachel has a degree in Creative Writing from Montreal’s Concordia University; she’s been published in a few different anthologies and publications, including Best Lesbian Love Stories 2008, Little Fiction, Big Truth’s Re/Coded anthology and Broken Pencil magazine. She also appeared on the Montreal episode of the Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids podcast. Her day job is as a Children’s Librarian, where she digs singing and dancing with small humans.

We all know that kids love to play and that it’s a crucial way they learn about the world, but did you know that play directly helps children develop early literacy skills? That’s part of why how-to books for kids are so important, as they can help guide children in making and building things in imaginative ways. Learning to craft and build is a form of playtime and is especially important for the development of a five to nine-year-old’s brain. Additionally, skills like origami, drawing, gardening, and cooking can help with promoting physical abilities; think of how using craft tools like scissors can help work on movement control and improve gross motor skills. Play is so crucial to children’s development that the American Library Association has emphasized the importance of play as an early literacy skill.

These eight how-to books for kids will engage the makers and tinkerers in your life, teaching them while broadening their interests. I’ve also included a couple of simple picture books that encourage building and creating; if you know a younger maker, they might enjoy getting started through those.

An additional note: at Book Riot, we do our best to actively promote diversity in books and publishing. This list features very few authors and illustrators of color because I wasn’t able to find many that had written how-to books for the K to 3 set (if you know of any I missed, please share!). I did, however, find some excellent digital creators of color making fun and educational craft content for kids. Tabitha Brown’s YouTube series, Tab Time, has how-to craft and snack videos that are aimed at preschoolers, and Cheryl Gavrielides’s Instagram, creative_mama_che, has some fantastic and easy craft projects as well. Make sure to check them out too!

Kindergarten How-To Books

Boxitects cover by Kim Smith

Boxitects by Kim Smith

More story than information book, this will be great for kindergarteners who are just beginning to experiment with building. I really like how Smith refers to different types of makers by their fave craft — blanketeers, spaghetti-tects, tin-foilers, and egg-cartoneers. At the end of the book, she even provides a couple of boxitect-friendly instructions, including how to make a tunnel and castle.

The Most Magnificent Maker's A to Z cover Ashley Spires

The Most Magnificent Maker’s A to Z by Ashley Spires

Aimed at the younger set of this age range, Spires has written an A to Z book focused on words and terms that will help little kids in their future experimentation: brainstorm, experiment, gather supplies, learn, rethink, and more. The art is adorable and features the imaginative little girl from Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing.

K-3 How-To Books for Kids

Junior Maker book cover

Junior Maker: Experiments to Try, Crafts to Create, and Lots to Learn! by DK

The text is big and unintimidating, and the crafts are tied to learning about specific topics like the solar system, the seasons, history, and animals. Very simple descriptions are accompanied by bright pages and vivid illustrations and photos. Among many other new skills, your little ones can learn how to create mosaics, put together marshmallow constellations, and measure rain.

Recycle and Play cover_Agnes Hsu

Recycle and Play: Awesome DIY Zero-Waste Projects to Make for Kids by Agnes Hsu

Aimed at the 3-6 age set, this book guides kids in being imaginative, reducing waste, and exploring new activities. Photographs are bright and colorful, and Hsu’s imaginative ideas are split by type of reusable materials (empty food containers, lids, milk cartons, etc). These are fantastic, simply made activities — I’m especially keen on the food box hippo game, paper tube shape stamping, and the sloth milk jug toss. And though they are for adults to make, primarily, kids can definitely help out with some of the tasks.

Rosie Revere's Big Project Book for Bold Engineers book cover

Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

This is an activity book using Rosie Revere, one of the characters from Beaty and Robert’s Questinoneers series. It’s a very accessible workbook that encourages little kids to be creative while building simple projects, and it’s aimed directly at them with lots of questions to answer between the pages of facts and engineering information. Currently, there are activity books for all five of the Questioneers, so you can also check out others like Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects, Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists, and the rest.

All the Science You Need to Know By Age 7 book cover

All the Science You Need to Know By Age 7 by Katie Daynes and Stefano Tognetti

This Usborne title is part of their All You Need to Know by Age 7 series. In this case, it’s an illustrated info book about being a scientist, the process of sorting things, and facts about living on a planet. Additionally, it provides data and activities across topics like animals, habitats, sounds, humans, weather, and more.

100 Easy STEAM Activities book cover

100 Easy STEAM Activities: Awesome Hands-On Projects for Aspiring Artists and Engineers by Andrea Scalzo Yi

Packed with creative projects that are easy enough for toddlers and older kids to enjoy, this will help kids learn early concepts in science, tech, engineering, art, and math. Activities like a rainbow water experiment and blowing giant bubbles will engage kids as they learn essential STEAM skills.

Making Books with Kids book cover

Making Books with Kids by Esther K. Smith

Written for adults but clear enough for kids to do it on their own with minimal help. And there’s no downside to doing a task like this together — talking about how to do things like this teaches children that adults are invested in their interests. In Smith’s book, tools and materials are explained clearly, allowing kids an accessible way to learn a new super-cool skill.

So there you have it, my recommendations for accessible how-to books for kids in kindergarten to Grade 3. These eight books will be fun for both kids and adults, and they’ll give you many rewarding, shared activities to tackle — fostering a stronger, more heartfelt connection.

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