Best Educational Toys of 2012
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Posted: 2012-10-24 13:59:16 By:


Some of best educational toys of 2012:

Toys with a High Tech Edge



2012 Award
LeapPad2 Explorer
(LeapFrog $99 Score: )

This updated version of last year's breakthrough LeapPad Explorer remains our top pick in high tech toys for 2012. Just like the original, it delivers on all counts in terms of being age appropriate, engaging and easy to use.

What we wrote last year: 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.

What's new this year: it's lighter, smaller,  has 4 GB Memory, both a front and back camera, video capability, a faster processor, and you can recharge (although recharger sold separately).  There are now 325 plus games to access from the LeapFrog library as well as eBooks. Comes loaded with 5 apps.  We recommend that you download the more open-ended art studio (it no longer comes loaded).  It comes in both green and pink.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
SmartLab DJ Rock Dock
(SmartLab  $20 Score: )

A science toy that will get plenty of play. First things first, kids follow the step by step directions to make a circuit that will turn into a plug in set of portable speakers. Now put them into one of the easy to assemble paper housing boxes. No special tools are needed. Now, plug it into your ipod and play!  A small scienctific fact: the sound is greatly amplified when the speakers go into the housing that ceates a sound box. This set of real speakers will work with an ipod, smart phone or any mp3 player.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
Laser Peg Bot
(Laser Pegs $19.95 Score: )

Want a fun introduction to circuits?  This intro set from Laser Pegs comes with instructions for 6 different models, but our testers loved treating this as an open-ended set. Make the connection between the pieces and they light up.  The low watts come from the 3 AA batteries (not included).  The company makes more extensive (and expensive kits)-- one of our favorites was last year's award winning 3D Light board.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on


Science Games and Puzzles



2012 Award
Sci or Fi Files Game
(Educational Insights $14.99 Score: )

Players take turns reading three science statements that are printed on their cards. Everyone guesses which one of the statements is true or which one is false. Turn the card over to get the answer and the explanation. Players collect score chips for getting the facts right. There are 200 double sided cards with tons of fun facts and explanations. The box, designed like a file cabinet is set up with Physical Science, Earth and Space, Life Science and Unclassified (as in misc.) fact cards. You have to get one chip from each category to win the game. This was more fun than we expected at the start. It is something of a trivia game but the information is interesting and since they give you three choices players can always do an educated guess without feeling stupid or at a complete loss and even learn a little factoid,too. 10 to adult.

Age: Later School Years, Tweens, Teens, Adult. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
Ravensburger Augmented Reality Puzzles
(Ravensburger $20 Score: )

Technology meets the Jigsaw Puzzle and Wow! Put these1,000 piece puzzles together and then use an iPhone or iPad to see your puzzle come to life! You get a free app download to activate the amazing video that asks you to find the image on your puzzle of the active animal or object moving on your screen. Of course, doing a 1,000 piece puzzle makes a great cooperative project for the whole family to do. Activity idea: Put the pieces on a table in a room the family uses and display the box cover as an invitation for 'getting it together' when anyone in the family has some free time. Once these big puzzles are done the whole family can enjoy this new dimension by clicking on an iPhone or iPad. A fun novelty for older kids and their parents. There are currently four puzzles: Underwater, Animals in Africa, Paris, and Norway. New for 2013, Times Square comes to life with signs and taxis and 360 degree animation; or for a bit of geography check out the World Map with an interactive quiz game to play together.

Age: Tweens, Teens, Adult. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on


Construction Sets



2012 Award
LEGO Star Wars Gungan Sub
(Lego Systems, Inc. $69.99 Score: )

Our LEGO Star Wars fans gave this set high marks: "the shape of the pieces are different", "the tail spins!", "fun build", "I like the minifigs!"   This 465 piece set comes with a cockpit that opens, two cargo containers and a rotating tail. You can detach the mini-sub -- providing more room for dramatic play.   The plus of these sets is that most kids both build and PLAY with the sets once they're together.  Cleverly, each set comes with different minifigures-- so that's also part of the appeal of putting together the fleet.  This build comes with Queen Amidala, OBi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn and of course, Jar Jar Binks.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens, Teens. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
LEGO Friends Heartlake Vet
(Lego Systems, Inc. $39.99 Score:)

After building this set our test builder asked for more of the Friends collection for her birthday! She wants the Dog Show next. First step is building the office veterinary office run by Vet Sophie and her helper Mia. The buildings are interchangeable and have movable pieces so the building can be designed and redesigned. The set includes Mia, Sophie, a horse, dog, and hedgehog. It includes aquarium, examination table, mailbox, horse pen, hedgehog cage, x-ray and scale. Our tester especially loved all the small details, as well: a thermometer, clipboard, ice pack, stethoscope, spoon, syringe, registration chart and flower accessory pack with 3x4 flowers, 4 butterflies and 4 ladybirds. 343 pieces. 6-12

Note: Our first reaction to this gender specific product was negative. After a lot of reflection, it's still not our preference, but we have to share that our testers generally loved the kits. The most important piece
of feedback we received, is that girls that were not building (many had left LEGO behind after DUPLO) were now building, enjoying the experience andasking for more sets. So if pink is the only way to get girls building then--bring it on. Girls have traditionally been left behind in fields that involve spatial relationships and math that are built in to toys for boys that typically play with building sets. We still think that girls could and should build with the same primary colored bricks that boys use, but if this will encourage them, we would rather have them building than not. At least LEGO has tried to expand on ideas of what will interest school-aged girls by offering a vet set, an inventor's kit and a cafe. It's not about the mall and shopping which was the emphasis of "girl's building kits" in the '90s.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
Knex Ferris Wheel 2012
(KNEX $20.99 Score: )

Scaled down to 475 pieces, the new Ferris Wheel not only takes up less space, it takes less time to build, yet is a satisfying motorized project when it is complete. One of three new Amusement Park sets that are more realistic in size and scope for young builders. In previous years huge five-foot tall Knex models with 2,000+ pieces required a significant amount of time and space. For most builders the new and smaller Ferris Wheel that stands under two feet tall when complete will be more do-able. That said, this is still a parent-child project for the suggested age on the box. Takes 2 AA batteries that are not included. Labeled for 7+.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on


Math and Word Games



2012 Award
Zip Zap
(Gamewright $10.99 Score: )

This is a number sequencing game that is played quickly. No turn taking. Everyone plays at once and tries to be the first to put down the number that comes next that is of a matching color. If you happen to have a wild card, so much the better--you still need the right number, but it can be played on any color. So there are two attributes at play here. A good choice for 6 & up.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
Sumology: The Game of Equations
(SimplyFun $40 Score: )

An entertaining game played with wooden tiles that might be called, Scrabble meets Math. Begin by drawing 8 tiles. Instead of creating words with your tiles, the object is to build equations in a crossword style, horizontally or vertically. You need to connect your new equation to the other tiles on the table and then you can add up the digits in your equation to get your score. The game uses all four basic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. 8 & up.

Age: Later School Years, Tweens, Teens. Award Year: 2012.




2012 Award
Pathwords Jr.
(ThinkFun $19.99 Score: )

Remember your word maze games? Playing Pathwords is a bit like finding those words. It's a single player game with a book of words that fits under a playing board grid. The player must find the words in the "Find" list and then cover them with the colored see-though playing pieces. The words can be spelled backwards and forward and require overcoming some spatial challenges. There are 40 puzzles in the spiral book that progress from easy to far more difficult. 6 & up.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on


Listening, Pre-reading and Active Play



2012 Award
Jack and the Never Land Pirates Challenge Game
(Wonder Forge $19.99 Score: )

An active early listening / reading game. An adult either reads the directions on the cards or kids use their beginning reading skills to follow the directions. On a player's turn he chooses a red doubloon and a blue one and reads the challenge that the two combined create. If he thinks he can do what it says to do he shouts, Yo Ho, Let's Go! If he does it successfully he wins gold doubloons for his team. If he can't do it, then he can pick another blue one. But be careful! If a player picks three game-over cards the game is over and his team loses! The cards have images that help the beginning readers and the idea of a pirate game will often charm beginners into playing and building their reading or listening skills.  Marked for 3 & up. We think this will be a better bet for older 4-7.  A fun game for a pirate themed birthday party, too.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on


Strategy Games



2012 Award
Willy's Wiggly Web
(Peaceable Kingdom $19.99 Score: )

Unlike the usual game of adding items without making everything fall, this is a cooperative game where you want bugs to fall out of the web, one at a time, without letting Willy the Spider fall out of the web! This is a fun game for 2-5 players to help kids learn to use a scissors and learn to the concept of left and right. Set up will need help by an adult, as the paper web is stretched across the cardboard twigs. Now the cardboard bugs are poked into the web and Willy is added, too. Play begins as each player takes three snips with the safety scissors trying to make a bug fall. There are three levels of play. Game One is just about the cutting and having some strategies to avoid Willy from falling. In Game Two players pass the scissors to the person on their left. In Game Three you draw a card that says if you pass the scissors left or right and how many cuts you can make. Each game takes about 15 minutes. This comes with 50 stretchy paper nets but you can order more for free by contacting the company at It's marked 3-6. We think older 4's and up will do best

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
Turnstile Puzzle
(Thinkfun $19.99 Score: )

A solo brainteaser game with an interesting new format. The playing board comes with a variety of turnstiles that you set up to match one of the forty challenge cards. Place the color tokens and then your job is to move the tokens to their matching corner. It takes logic and patience to find the way through the maze and win. 8 & up.

Age: Tweens, Teens. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on


Music and Arts



2012 Award
DoArt Watercolor Pencil Art
(Faber Castell $14.99 Score: )

We love this series from Faber-Castell that allow kids to try their hand at different aspect of pencil and brush arts. This kit includes instruction for how to work with watercolor pencils.  Comes with ten colored pencils, sharpener, sketchbook, eraser, tracing paper and twenty page instruction book. A great choice for traveling during the holidays for older kids.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
eeBoo Play Papers
(eeBoo $8.00 Score: )

Choose from the many packs of special printed papers that are ideal for origami, collage, scrapbooking and general paper crafts. There are 54 sheets in a pack, all in different colorful patterns. Inside the package are directions for simple origami and other craft ideas.  The self-sealing envelope keeps the paper supply fresh between projects.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2012.




2012 Award
eeBoo 12 Jumbo Double-Sided Color Pencils
(eeBoo $7.50 Score: )

Learning to write letters and drawing is just more fun when the pencils have colors. This wonderful set comes with a special pencil sharpener to fit the wider shaft. It has six extra big easier to grasp pencils; each have two different colors. There is a set with primary colors or another with pastels. 5 & up.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2012.




2012 Award
eeBoo Sketchbook with Glow in the Dark Covers
(eeBoo $6.00 Score: )

60 pages in these handsome spiral sketchpads 8.5 x 11.5. Choose from the many covers to appeal to the child you are shopping for this season. We like the fact that there are covers to appeal to boys as well as girls and pencil kits that match. This gives a real gifty look to what we consider basic gear for school-aged kids who will use these kinds of supplies well past the holiday season.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2012.


Products for Infants
Products for Toddlers
Products for Preschoolers
Products for Early School Years
Products for Later School Years
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