Best Educational Toys
As Featured on the TODAY Show
Tags: Educational Toys, Education Games, Science Kits, Building Sets, Egypt, Math Games, Today Show
Posted: 2010-01-10 19:43:01 By: Stephanie Oppenheim

 

So what can you do to support your child without turning into a flash card tyrant?  There are lots of fun games and activities that you can do at home to help reinforce what they’re doing in the classroom that will not produce tears and frustration.

 

ABCs and Reading

Playing games that allow kids to see and experience the "ABCs" is much more fun than drill cards.  Playing  games with your kids also allows you some insight (in a very low key way) about what they know and, perhaps more importantly, what areas they need more help in.  The idea is to build their sense of confidence --and the best way to do that is to find games that are on their level.  Buying a game to "grow into" is not a great idea-- steer clear of marketing campaigns that promise to "teach" your child.  The truth about most electronic drill machines is that they only really reinforce what your child already knows--they are not really designed to truly "teach".  The only thing most kids walk away with is frustration!

 

One of my favorite games to play involves using a pad of post-its...and asking your child to find things in the house that start with a certain letter, a certain sound, a certain color...you get the idea.

 

Here are three new products that our testers really enjoyed!

 

 

 


2009 Award
Dr. Seuss Super Stretchy ABC Game
(I Can Do That Games $16.99 Score: )

Twirl the "tornado" and letters to play magically appear on the small board. These are the letters kids need to touch with a hand, foot or ear displayed next to the letter. It's a lot like your old game of Twister, but this is for those flexible little kids who are learning their letters. The giant size play mat is ideal for play dates, parties and family gathering where active play can have some extra learning power built in. For 2-4 players, ages 3 and up. This game will be ideal for early school years kids, although many preschoolers will like it as well.   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: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

 
2009 Awards
LeapFrog Tag Junior
(LeapFrog $35 Score: )

Tag Junior is really a well designed platform for the 2-4 crowd. The books are all printed on sturdy cardboard stock. Pre-readers can use the Tag device to make the books speak more than the apparent text on the page. There are more than 100 interactions in each book that invite children to find objects on the page, as well as simply reading what the page says. Unlike the original Tag toy that reads true storybooks along with interactive touch features, this junior version explores ideas that do not have to be "read" in sequence. For younger children who may dip into a book without regard to its sequence, this makes sense. The toy comes loaded with one book, If I Were, a book full of animal sounds. There are 8 other titles available and a total of 13 that will be released this year. You buy the extra books in the store and then you download the interactions into the Tag Junior device with your computer. There is an ABC Orchestra book, another with action words. One of the best for this age group is a color concept book featuring Curious George. Dora the Explorer is also the star of a bilingual counting book that goes from 1-10 (although for most 2-4's learning to count to five in one language is probably enough.) You'll want to share these books with your child before handing off the device that they can then use independently. A carrying case ($14.99) that holds the Tag Jr. and five books will come in handy for storage as the library grows. 2-4

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

SNAP ADAPTATION: The chunky sensor is easier than most to grasp. If it needs to be futher adapted, a glove with velcro in the mitt and a strip of velcro on the sensor may do the trick. Unlike simply reading along with a recording, this learning tool enables beginning readers to follow along and get the sense of how the text moves from left to right. It encourages readers to learn the "mechanics" of how a book works from front to back, from left page to right. Add to this the fun of exploring the pages and art to make things happen and this goes a few steps beyond any other read aloud story system with real books!

 

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
eeBoo Write Me a Story
(eeBoo $11.95 Score: )

We love these handsome story pads that use the same artists as their games and story cards to make stick-on seals that can be put on the top of the lined paper. Parents can take dictation of a child's story or older kids can use the stickers and blank pages to write their own tales. Getting kids to tell a story is the first step in getting them to read a story. 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: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

Science

 Whether you are making your own play dough. forcing an avocado pit to grow,  or taking a nature walk, the opportunities for introducing science concepts are all around us. There are two new books from Silver Dolphin that got our attention this season as well as the return of Mindstorms from Lego.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Journal of Inventions: Leonardo da Vinci
(by Jaspre Bark/illus. by David Lawrence , Silver Dolphin Books $24.95 Score: )

Adapted from the journals of Leonardo, readers get a sense of the artist’s thinking and his inventive original ideas for machines, buildings and even a robot of sorts, that he did not get to build but dreamed of as possibilities. Within the covers of this amazing book, Leonardo’s dreams take form in sturdy three-dimensional pop-ups that are engineered of paper. His Flying Ship, Mechanical Man, and all the others fairly float above the pages. A coffee table book that will inspire young science minded readers as well as adults

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Age: Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
World of Inventors: Alexander Graham Bell
(by Nancy Honovich, Silver Dolphin Books $21.95 Score: )

Illustrated with archival photos of Alexander Graham Bell and his inventions, the 40 page book feels a little more like an engaging but faded magazine from another time in sepia tones. It includes a short history of communications, the story of his inventions, and a kit for building an intercom modeled on Bells’ telephone. Our tester found the directions clear and easy to follow and the working intercom with a 19’ wire a perfect addition. 8 & up.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

History

Making history come alive is such a treat. History can start at home--with making a family tree of your own ancestors.  Encouraging your kids to interview their older relatives about their favorite toys as kids, their favorite ice cream (is there a family preference?)...Or taking kids on local trips so that they get a better sense of where they live and those that came before them.  Ever see a momument in your town that you pass every day?  Here's a good place to start. School aged kids love amassing facts and trivia--most communities have Chambers of Commerce and Historical Societies that are full of info.

 

If you have a child interested in all things Egyptian, you have to take a look a this set...

 

 

 


2009 Award
Playmobil Pyramid & Egyptian Collection
(Playmobil $109 Score: )

For history buffs, here is an amazing build! Enter the world of mystery and danger! A world of mummies and ancient curses! A 20" X 20" pyramid with removable side panels, a hidden chute with buried treasures, secret chambers with a trapdoor, collapsible stairs, and a deadly scorpian trap to ward off grave robbers. The kit includes four figures, golden trinkets, scorpions, snakes, and other accessories.  Pyramid measures 20.6"Lx20.6"Wx13.7"H. Marked for 4 " up - we'd say this is a good set as a follow-up to a museum visit or for kids who are studying Ancient Egypt in school. This is not an easy build and may require parental help, even for school aged kids. Like most big Playmobil settings, this is a good parent & child together project. Also great are the smaller builds: a Sphinx($34.95), Chariot ($17.99), Royal Ship($45), Tomb and Treasures ($39.95).

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, Later School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

Problem Solving

So much of being a good student is developing problem solving skills and the patience to stick with a challenging task.  Especially in our "instantaneous" world, developing these skills takes work. The key is to develop strategies at an early age so as they find new challenges in their school work, they don't shut down...but find new ways of approaching difficult material.  Part of that coping mechanism is knowing when to ask for help--something that many kids shy away from.  Doing puzzles is a good place to start. They take some time...and require a game plan.  Here are three new favorites (although we question the age labels on some of them).

 

 

 


2009 Award
Simms Taback Animal Parade Floor Puzzle
(Briarpatch $18.99 Score: )

You are going to love the look of this handsome 48 piece floor puzzle. Each animal pictured comes in four pieces with the background color serving as a clue. You do need plenty of room for this loooong puzzle and younger kids may need help to get started. But not to worry, the big pieces make this ideal for younger kids. After it is complete, be sure to play a riddle game by taking turns telling a few sentences about the animal you are thinking of and see if your child can find it. For example: Say 'I am thinking of an animal that goes hippity-hop and has a bushy tail.'  Add a color clue, if needed, or a rhyming clue. Encourage kids to take turns in making up the riddles. Also special, the Simms Taback Jumbo Floor Puzzle ($18.99) with farm animals.  They say 3-6. We're sure 3's will need help. So will most 4's. 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: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
eeBoo Once Upon a Time and Life on Earth Puzzles
(eeBoo $15 Score: )

In this new puzzle collection there are two very attractive sets of 9-piece puzzles called Once Upon a Time by Lizzie Rockwell and Life on Earth by Melissa Sweet.  Each set contains six different puzzles. We think you will need to show kids how to sort the six puzzles by the patterns on the back and then give them some strategies for doing one puzzle at a time and putting each puzzle together by making the borders first. These will be challenging since the pieces are small and may need to be rotated to find the fit. These are a good choice for 4’s and 5’s.
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: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Creature Floor Puzzles
(Chronicle $24.95 Score: )

Striking oversized animal portraits of a Chimpanzee, Asian Elephant, African Lion and two Tigers are featured on four 16 piece puzzles. Each of Andrew Zuckerman's close-up images is a memorable photograph, full of detail. All four puzzles come in one set. Since these are 2 double sided puzzles, children may need some help using problem solving strategies to keep the puzzles from getting totally mixed up. Each puzzle when assembled is 2 feet square. This is fairly challenging, despite the oversized pieces. Cutout fit in places they do not belong and turning the pieces to find the correct place it will fit, is far from simple. That's why we do not think that the age designation of 3 & up on the box is fair. We'd say 3's and 4's with a parent helping would be hard pressed to put this together. At the earliest, we'd say 5 & up.  Normally this would knock the product off the Platinum List, but it's such an amazing puzzle we want to be sure it doesn't get missed.  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: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

Math

For some kids, math just comes naturally to them. I  was so math phobic, that I always take great interest in finding games that are friendly.  Of course one of the best ways to work on your math skills is to keep score. It may take a little bit longer if your child keeps score--but it is a great way to practice (as long as there aren't other kids/siblings that will tease him).  Here are two new math games--but be sure to check our Games section for many more choices.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Polar Derby
(Gamewright $14.99 Score: )

The reaction of all of our testers was immediately positive--everyone loved the 25 small polar bear play pieces.  They're "fun" "cute"...and from our point of view have a lovely old fashion charm to them. Then the directions...here, everyone agreed it they could be clearer--and shorter.  But because the game looked so attractive all of our testers wanted to stick with it.  And after a while (after several consultations to the instructions), everyone agreed this was a fun game that required some math and strategy.  The goal is to collect the polar bears with the highest value (they each have numbers on them).  Roll the dice and then determine how to collect the bears. If you roll doubles you can take bears away from your opponent.  Our testers also liked that once you got the hang of it - the game played quickly- making it possible to play many rounds.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Yamslam
(Blue Orange Games $19.99 Score: )

If you love dice games and math games, Yamslam will be right up your alley. You're rolling the dice in order to collect the corresponding chips before your oppponents do. You roll in the tin container...that looks like it's a travel game for the Ocean Eleven crowd. The Vegas/poker style look of this one attracted some of our older testers. A good game for building math skills.

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

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

Spatial relations

Building with blocks is such a great way to develop visual discrimination skills and spatial relations (not to mention creativity and language) that it should be required that both boys and girls play with blocks several times a week.   Unfortunately, blocks are something that are usually bought for boys and not for girls.  If we want to foster young women to take up architecture, engineering and mathematics...give them blocks!!

 

Here are just three of the new sets we love this year:

 

 

 


2009 Award
Lego Racers: Monster Jumper and Extreme Wheelie
(Lego Systems, Inc. $15 Score: )

Build these 91 piece racers with pull back motors and they will scoot across the floor and even jump over the ramp! This is the kind of building toy that challenges without taking days to finish. You can't go wrong with either the Monster Jumper or Extreme Wheelie. Or buy both and race them against each other. Ideal for 7-12 years olds. 

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

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Lego Pink Brick Box
(Lego Systems, Inc. $16.99 Score: )

While we're usually not big fans of such gender-specific toys, if this product will get your daughter interested in building --go for it!  Playing with construction toys improves spatial relations and related math skills--so if we want more female engineers--we need to start when they're small with opportunities that introduce them to these concepts. While this set suggests you can build a house and does come with a pony, it also is open-ended (just stop looking at the box color)...with 216 pieces. Earlier color-coded building sets for girls,that were  introduced a while back tended to provide gender specific themes such as beauty shops, mall, kitchens (really!) At least this Pink Brick Box is more open ended. The models shown are a vehicle, people, pets, and a house. We can live with that. As always we're big fans of these sets that come in sturdy buckets for easy storage. 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, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2009 Award
Citiblocs 100 piece set
(Citiblocs $27 Score: )

These wooden blocks look like the much pricier original French, Kapla blocks. Compatible with the originals, they are all the same size pieces of natural wood.  The open-endedness of these blocks truly  challenges the builder's imagination and dexterity. The smooth and precision cut blocks are made of Radiata Pine from certified renewable forests in New Zealand and come packaged with suggested projects kids can build without glue or pegs. Also new this season, colored Citiblocs. These make interesting patterns and may hold added appeal to some young builders.  A 54 piece set is $17 and can be used for adding accents or on its own. We like the basic blocks in natural color for starters.  The packages say 3 & up, we think older builders of 5 & up will find them more interesting.  The activities suggested will challenge even older kids.  Our recommendation--put them on the coffee table and see what everyone, young and old, comes up with.  We found them addictive.
The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.
 

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 


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