Five Fun Learning Toys for Early School Years
Making Playful School Skill Connections
Posted: 2011-09-23 12:17:52 By: Joanne Oppenheim




2011 Award
LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer Tablet
(LeapFrog $99 Score: )

When we first saw the preview of LeapFrog's LeapPad, we were hopeful that the final version would really be all that they promised: age appropriate, easy-to-use and engaging to a generation of kids that expect great graphics, games, and speed. (Sometimes what we see at preview doesn't always translate into the final product.) We're happy to report that the LeapPad really delivered on all counts.

Let's address the elephant in the room. The LeapPad is not your iPad. In many ways, we think it's better.  Well, better for the young audience for which it was designed. At $99, the white, lightweight tablet delivers satisfying speed and graphics to your older preschooler and early school age child. Unlike your  iPad, everything is meant for your child.  The games pull from LeapFrog's library of 100+ educational games- so you can select those that are most appropriate for your child and her needs. You can use all Leapster Explorer games and apps you already have- also a plus.  Our testers also loved exploring the art program- here's an example of where an adult may want a turn!  The LeapPad also has a built in camera and video camera. All in all- a great use of technology that will entertain and engage your child.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on




2011 Award
Briarpatch I Spy Ready to Read Game
(Briarpatch $16.95 Score: )

Based on the small I Spy books for preschoolers, this is really a simple matching game that uses pictures to cue the sight word riddles on the game boards and playing pieces. Each player gets a game card with four playing pieces. Read the riddle and punch out the playing piece with the matching picture.

You'll want to help beginners with the first few readings, encouraging them to notice that all the riddles begin with the same words and end with a picture and matching word. Once kids know what the agreed on word is that identifies the objects, the game continues in reverse, as children read a sentence and then find the matching playing piece. It's not a high roller kind of game with much suspense or tension. But it introduces the idea of sight words in a playful way and kids who are eager to learn how to read. These are not about beginning sounds or learning to sound words out. These are sight words with picture cues for true beginners. Rules for using the playing pieces for a shape or concentration games or for a rhyming are also offered. There are 5 different games suggested for 1-6 players. The game is marked 4 & up.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on




2011 Award
Guidecraft Sun Sorter
(Guidecraft $25 Score: )

This is an open-ended puzzle for kids to explore. The 12 pieces are all the same size but in different colors. They fit back into the board with in any number of color arrangements. Or they can be arranged in a zig-zag line or a full circle outside of the puzzle board. Use them for color matching and naming with the beginner. There is a small booklet with playful ideas for introducing this clever puzzle. Made of rubberwood and stained with eco-friendly dyes, this is marked for 2 & up. We think this will be a tough for 2's but really good and challenging fun for 3-5's.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on




2011 Award
Learning Resources Double Duel Game
(Learning Resources $38 Score: )

Testers loved the four silly sound buzzers they could tap when they could answer the riddles in this fast playing word game. The riddle cards give you two clues for naming a sound-alike homonym. Someone plays the game show host and reads a card...i.e. Opposite of fine, a subject in school. First one to know the answer hits the bell and says...course/coarse. Itís a game that requires reading, thinking, and listening. There are two levels of play so younger and older players can play together with appropriate questions. 7- adult

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on




2011 Award
Pixy Cubes
(Blue Orange Games $15.99 Score: )

Although there are several challenging games that can be played with the colorful plastic cubes in this set, perhaps the best use of Pixy Cubes is for solo play. The 16 dice-size cubes come with patterns that can be used for matching the geometric designs or creating your own, in much the same way as parquetry blocks. While classic wooden parquetry blocks are larger and easier to manipulate, Pixy Cubes are better suited for older kids with finer eye-hand skills. Packaged in a neat metal container, this involves visual perception skills and problem solving. The set comes with a number of games that can be played with others.  However, we suggest that before kids try the competitive game play, all players should have time to work with the patterns and cubes on their own and /or in a cooperative puzzle solving way. The games can be played with 1-4 players. 6 & up.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on


Products for Infants
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Products for Preschoolers
Products for Early School Years
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