50 years of the Early Learning Centre: The top toys you may remember from childhood

Early Learning Centre 50 years

by Lorna White |
Updated on

The Early Learning Centre has been sprinkling magic into childhood for a whopping 50 years now! Yep, you heard that right – five whole decades of sparking imagination, nurturing creativity, and bringing smiles to little faces.

The Early Learning Centre has been there every step of the way throughout our own childhoods and now our own children. As we celebrate this milestone, it's time to take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of our all-time favorite ELC products that have been making parenting a tad easier (and a lot more fun!) for generations. We even remember being treated to some of these in our own childhoods!

History of the Early Learning Centre

First founded in 1974 by David John Beale, the very first shop was on London Street in Reading, Berkshire after he struggled to find fun and inspiring toys for his own children. What set ELC apart was that founder John employed the services of a child psychologist to make sure that any of their toys and books were of a positive and educational value to children.

At first, the concept of the shop was for parents to join as an Early Learning Centre member to be sent new sets of educational toys and books on a regular basis. If they decided to keep the toys, they would pay for what they kept, however, if they decided to return the items, they would not be charged.

Since then, the Early Leaning centre has expanded its stores worldwide as well as online. You may remember that from 2007, the Early Learning Centre stores were located in Mothercare shops in the UK and now, you can find the Early Leaning Centre in The Entertainer toy shops.

Join us as we reminisce about the toys that have stood the test of time, captured our hearts, and become cherished staples in our homes. Whether you enjoyed these in your own childhood or you’re on the hunt for some brand-new toys, there's something very special about these ELC toys.

The best Early Learning Centre toys to celebrate their 50 years

Best baby toy

Little Lot Activity Tag LionEarly Learning Centre

Although there might not be all that many toys our newborn can enjoy, but with this activity Lion, it’ll give them plenty of things to explore and snuggle. Made to attach to prams and car seats with its clip, this colourful lion comforter features different soft textures and sounds as well as things to crinkle with their little hands for plenty of sensory stimulation.  

Suitable from birth, the vibrant colours, patterns, textures and sounds made when little one grips the crinkle toys, it also helps develop their fine motor skills.


  • Suitable from birth
  • Great for developing fine motor skills
  • Ideal for sensory stimulation


  • May not fit all car seat and pram handles

Best sensory toy

Early Learning Centre RainmakerEarly Learning Centre

This is a classic sensory toy that is a real staple in any toy box. This colourful rainmaker toy is mesmerising for little ones! As they turn, twist and shake this rainmaker, they’ll hear the calming rain-like sounds as the bright beads tumble around. Your baby and even older kids will love playing with this toy.  

Specially designed for smaller hands for hand eye coordination, it stimulates their senses and is sturdy in design. One mum said this toy was game changing, commenting, “anyone who has a small child needs one of these! Whenever my babies were crying (a lot where my daughter was concerned), I would get this and it always stopped the crying! Seriously, this is a game changer of a toy!”


  • Great for sensory play
  • Develops hand eye coordination
  • Stimulates sound senses as well as colour


  • Not suitable for babies under 6 months

Best wooden toy

Early Learning Centre Wooden Little Town Train SetEarly Learning Centre

There’s no way we could do a roundup of our favourite Early Learning Centre gifts without including this iconic wooden train set (we swear we all had one of these at some point?!). In the box, you’ll find over 30 wooden pieces as well as the option to design your own little town however you like with shops, signposts, people and trees. 

Connecting together using magnets, this train set is ideal for boosting their imagination. From making sure all the passengers are aboard and pushing the train off from the station, they can use their best train conductor voice when playing.  

Parents particularly loved the quality of the wood in this toy, compared to other wooden toys, commenting, “I bought this for a two year old and the connectors are really easy to put together, I can see this track lasting.  I have bought supermarket track before and it was more difficult and splintered easily.”


  • Made from sustainably sourced wood
  • Great for imaginative play
  • Includes over 30 pieces


  • Contains small parts

Best outdoor toy

Early Learning Centre Sand and Water Table with Lid & AccessoriesEarly Learning Centre

For outdoor fun, we love this sand and water table. It’s like having all the fun of the seaside in your garden! Featuring two separate troughs, one for filling with water and one for filling with sand like a sandpit, it also comes with ten toys to play with including a spade, moulds, scoop and rake for the sand plus funnels, boat and wheels for the water.  

It also comes with a waterproof lid to cover the table when it’s not in use, meaning you can keep the sand dry and clean from things like bird poop. The lid fits on perfectly while leaving plenty of room to keep the toys neatly inside. And as if that wasn’t enough, the lid also doubles up as an activity table with little road markings on, meaning your little ones can use their toy cars to play when the lid is on.  

Parents also loved how easy this was to put together, meaning tots could start playing with it straight away. One parent commented, “very easy to construct. Extremely useful to have a good lid so that it can be kept outside. Wonderful colour mixes. The variety of play equipment that came with the table was also very inspiring - surprised to see how much having water running through the sieve was enjoyed.” Just note that this doesn’t come with sand included and it needs to be purchased separately.


  • Comes with a lid
  • Great for sensory play
  • Includes tools


  • Sand isn't included

Best for motor skills

Woodlets Shape SorterEarly Learning Centre

Shape sorters are an essential toy for developing numerous skills including their motor skills, hand-eye coordination and colour recognition. The challenge is to see if your child can match the different shapes to the correct shaped holes in correspondence with both the shape and colour.  

The bright colours also make this toy fun for your child’s visual senses as well as their mental stimulation. We also love that this toy is made from wood, making it an excellent choice for sustainability and also is great for standing the test of time.


  • Made from wood
  • Good for learning colours
  • Helps develop hand eye coordination


  • Not suitable for newborns

Best musical toy

Early Learning Centre Wooden GlockenspielEarly Learning Centre

We know musical toys can be a bit of a headache for us parents, but the joy our little ones get out of making these new sounds bring us so much joy. One of the more least offensive sounds on the ears is a glockenspiel, as it’s a little more quiet compared to drums! One parent who bought this as a gift agreed, and found the parents really didn’t mind the sound. “Given as a present to a 17 month old, who parents were very pleased with the glockenspiel and the sounds it produced.” They said.  

Made using high-quality wood, it’s the perfect first instrument for any tot. It comes with a wooden mallet that your little one can use to tap and play on the eight bright and colourful glockenspiel keys. 

It’s a great toy for helping your child learn the different colours and their names as they play, and the bright rainbow colours are great for stimulating their visual senses, along with the sounds that stimulate their sound senses.


  • Made from sustainably sourced wood
  • Great for sound stimulation
  • Good for learning colours


  • Can get very noisy for parents

Best arts toy

Early Learning Centre Paint PaletteEarly Learning Centre

Children can get hours of fun out of a paint set. Whether you’re creating some seasonal crafts by painting leaves or you want to try some finger painting, having a set of child safe paints in your cupboard is a must for parents.  

This set of non-spill paint pots are great for a mess free playtime where you can avoid any spillages or accidents. Just note that paints aren’t included but you can buy the paints separately, allowing you to choose which colours you want and dispense just as much as you need into each pot.  

Excellent for boosting their creativity, there are so many different masterpieces your little ones can make using these paints. Parents loved that you can securely fasten the lids to each pot meaning your paints won’t dry up when not in use.


  • Great for imaginative play
  • Helps you avoid spillages
  • Boosts their creativity


  • Paints are not included

Best bath toy

Early Learning Centre Bathtime Musical Froggie Foam MakerEarly Learning Centre

Bathtime with your toddler just got a whole lot more fun thanks to this adorable Bathtime Musical Froggie Foam Maker. With strong suction cups to attach to your bathroom tiles or side of the bath, all you need to do to make the foam is fill the base of the frogs mouth with your soapy bathwater and press the button for all the bubbles to start coming out of Froggie’s mouth.  

You also have the option of switching Froggie’s sounds on to hear his merry tunes and funny sounds that are sure to get a giggle! As well as stimulating their senses, this bath toy helps encourage them to love bath time, particularly if they aren’t so keen on it!  

Parents loved this for their little ones, however, some did say they found the build a little flimsy. “Our little girl (1 year old) loves this, it's made bathtime easier as it keeps her entertained for a little longer. The water tray felt a bit like it was going to break the first couple of times I took it off but it's been fine after daily use over the last month or so.” One parent commented.


  • Makes bathtime fun
  • Doesn't require extra soap
  • Good level of suction


  • Not very durable
  • Batteries not included

Blossom Farm 12 Piece Jigsaw PuzzleEarly Learning Centre

There’s nothing like a fun jigsaw to keep them entertained on rainy days indoors, and we love this sweet farm yard inspired jigsaw from ELC. With 12 pieces, it’s ideal for toddlers developing their problem solving skills as well as their hand eye coordination.  

It’s bright and colourful design will also stimulate their visual senses and they’ll become very familiar with the farm characters in the jigsaw including Martha Moo, Ruby Rabbit, Breezy Bee and more, further developing their imagination.  

The pieces are on the chunkier side, making them ideal for smaller hands and it also means you’re less likely to lose a piece when tidying it away.


  • Chunky pieces for small hands
  • Boosts problem solving skills
  • Improves hand eye coordination


  • Not as durable as other toys

Best christening gift

Early Learning Centre Wooden Noah's Ark Shape SorterEarly Learning Centre

If you’re stumped on what to get someone for a Christening gift, we’d recommend checking out the Early Learning Centre’s range of toys. We particularly love this Noah’s Ark Shape Sorter for babies being Christened as it's something they can actually play with while sticking to the biblical theme.  

The challenge is for your little one to get all the animals to safety before the rain comes. All they have to do is match the animal pairs together and get them into the ark in time.  

As well as boosting their problem solving skills, it will also help little ones learn more about the animal kingdom and their knowledge when it comes to identifying and naming different species. It’s also excellent for their imagination and fine motor skills.  

Parent testers loved how well-built this toy was, with one parent commenting, “Our one year old loves this toy. It’s the birthday present he keeps returning to. The animals are lovely and its a well crafted toy. Would highly recommend for imaginative play.”


  • Great for problem solving
  • Built well
  • Helps boost animal knowledge


  • Not suitable from birth

To mark the special birthday occasion, the Early Learning Centre is also launching some special products. Mary Price, co-founder & CEO of Addo Play, commented:

“We’re absolutely delighted to be celebrating 50 years of ELC and to launch our three brand-new, exclusive products as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations. Each of the three toys exemplifies our ongoing commitment to bringing innovation through quality new product design, as well as continuing to make much-loved, timeless toys that have formed an important part of childhoods across the UK.

“For five decades, ELC has provided countless generations of children with engaging, enriching experiences that have supported their development and sparked their imaginations, and we’re incredibly excited for the next 50 years of ELC, and beyond!”

Happyland Limited Edition Gold London BusEarly Learning Centre

There are only 3,150 of these Limited Edition Happyland Golden London Buses available to buy so don’t miss out! Designed especially for the 50th anniversary, this toy is inspired by an open top London Bus. You can lift off the top deck of the bus to let the passengers jump aboard the bus and your little one can act as tour guide as they drive around the city. Perfect for imaginative play this bus also includes fun buttons that make sounds. 

The three characters that come included with the bus can be stored away in the golden bus when not in use for easy tidying and storage. The characters are nice and chunky so little hands can easily grip them and you also get a bus stop sign included so all the passengers will know where to get on. This special edition bus also comes in a more classic red colour too in case the gold isn’t for you.


  • Includes batteries
  • Great for imaginative play
  • Good for learning social interaction


  • Only a limited number available

They’re also going to be launching a very special ELC Birthday Bear, an ideal first cuddly toy for babies. With embroidered eyes and gold touches to stimulate baby’s senses this cuddly companion will be in stores and online soon and available throughout the year.

From those iconic toys that filled our childhoods with joy to the modern toys that continue to captivate our little ones today, the ELC has truly been a beacon of fun and learning. Let's raise a toast to the next 50 years of inspiring young minds and nurturing the imaginations of generations to come.

Lorna White is the Senior Digital Writer for Mother&Baby. After running the Yours magazine website, specialising in content about caring for kids and grandchildren, Lorna brought her expertise to Mother&Baby in 2020. She has a keen interest in a range of topics from potty training and nutrition to baby names and early development and has a wide range of experienced medical experts and professionals at her fingertips. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her two young sisters, dog walking and enjoying the outdoors with her family.

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