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I have a very smart little boy. Like scary smart. But, given his own decisions, he will play video games all day. I’m constantly in search of toys that draw him in and keep his attention but that have some merit. I set out over the last two years to find these toys and I’m happy to say they exist. Some are very reasonably priced. Some are kind of pricey. But, they all held his attention and had something to offer other than screen entertainment. They are all award winning and highly acclaimed. Here are my picks and a few of my friends who have children of other ages and girls.
First, is Ozobot Evo App-Connected Coding Robot. I love this thing. I’m not one of those moms who can sit and build Legos for hours with my kids but this toy really kept me interested. It is a cute little robot that teaches coding with color. You can do the coolest things with it. My son and I have drawn entire cities, inserting color codes to make the little robot do different tricks and go in different directions. I even bought a second robot so he and I (and his friends) could race through mazes. Truth be told, I wrote a long paragraph describing what this toy does but in the end, I didn’t do it the justice that watching this video will. It is $84.99.
This next item isn’t pricey at $21.99. It’s the Gravity Maze, recommended for 8-15 year-olds. It is a great single-player game for improving planning, spatial, perception and problem solving skills. Basically, you add pieces to the game board based on challenge cards to get a marble from its beginning location to a target location. Each block you add has different ramps and ridges that when put together properly, will deliver the marble to its intended location. The game offers 60 challenges ranging from beginner to expert. Sometimes my son just fiddles with the towers on his own, without the cards. It’s something he’ll often do at the counter while I’m cooking dinner – if I tell him he has to do something without a screen.
This next toy has been around for awhile. In fact, the one my son uses was handed down by his older sister but it remains a highly rated and relevant toy. It’s Snap Circuits and it’s $45.99. It comes with over 60 parts including a doorbell, radio, burglar alarm and more. As you can guess, it teaches about electronics – circuits. The pieces easily snap together to make simple and complex projects that really work! The manual includes over 300 projects to make so there is something new to do almost every day. The manual is nicely designed starting with simpler projects and working towards more and more complex ones. Kids can also design their own. The item is intended for ages 8 and up and is priced at $45.99. My son is eleven and still uses his.
My son’s, and many kids’, all-time favorite continues to be Legos. Don’t let these little plastic blocks fool you – they are a valuable learning tool. With sets for small children to adults, and some specifically geared towards girls, there is something for everyone. If you aren’t aware, here are some things that can be gained by playing with Legos: small and fine motor skills, coordination, following instructions, spatial skills, literacy (as they follow written instructions), creativity, reasoning, organization, problem-solving, planning, eye-hand coordination, cause and effect, sequencing…I can go on and on. Many of the skills gained indirectly and directly help children learn math and science. Lego’s can be found at garage sales, second-hand stores, and of course online and in stores proving that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to play with Legos. Of course, the new sets can get quite pricey but no one says you have to start with sets. Other toys like Kinex, Tinker Toys, and even just building blocks teach and reinforce the same skills. There’s tons of items like these. Just search building toys on Amazon and you’ll be inundated with endless opportunities.
I’ve had different versions of these for all three of my kids and all were loved. I chose this one because of its rating. The Marble Run Maze Ball Game – 85 Piece Marble Maze is a great and reasonably priced learning toy at $20.96. This item teaches spatial relations, dexterity, small motor skills, planning, creativity and more. It’s also lots of fun. This is one that my husband loved to do with our kids. You use the over 80 pieces to create infinite numbers of mazes. Because of the small marbles, it is not appropriate for young children.
This NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Break Open 10 Geodes is a great way to introduce children to geology. Geodes are spherical rocks that contain hollow cavities lined with crystals. Because the geodes included in this kit are naturally occurring, each set will be unique. Safety goggles are included for protection when the rocks are opened up. The kit includes a 16 page colorful guide. There are endless possibilities for extension activities with the geodes. This product is $24.99 and recommended for ages 6-15.
The Ozmo Genius Kit is great for kids 5-12 but does require access to an ipad. The Genius Kit includes five great games (Masterpiece, Numbers, Words, Tangram, and Newton). Kids play at drawing, math, word, and visual challenges in front of the iPad, Osmo “sees” their real-world handiwork and responds with on-screen encouragement, guidance, and giggles. It’s pricier at $99 but it offers wonderful learning opportunities that will span many years. With add-ons, it can be a new toy over and over again.
You may have recently been noticing advertising for this item. The Piper Computer Kit is a kit that kids can use to build a fully functional, wifi enabled computer with an LCD screen! The fun doesn’t end with building the computer because then you get to learn programming and coding. Intended for kids ages 8-13 and is pricey at almost $300 but you end up with a working computer!
This Planter’s Choice Light-up Terrarium Kit is a wonderful opportunity to learn about Earth’s ecoystem. “WHAT IS A TERRARIUM? It is a miniature garden within a container that simulates a natural environment. So, let your child discover the beauty of nature by creating their own beautiful terrarium with this all-inclusive kit. Watch as it grows by day and glows at night with the innovative LED light under the lid.” They’ll learn what plants need to grow and thrive in our environment and why it’s important to care for our planet.
Made specifically to entice girls with it’s turquoise and purple colors, this Educational Insights Nancy B’s Science Club Stir-It-Up Chemistry Lab & Kitchen Experiments Journal. The 22 page activity book is filled with experiments using household items including, extinguishing a flame with invisible gas; making their own bubbling ‘lava’ in a bottle; causing chemicals to change color; and more. Intended for kids 8-12 years old and priced reasonably at $15.02 with many other accessories available for purchase.
For younger children, QuadPro Bug Catcher and Viewer for Kids, helps them learn about life sciences. Little kids are fascinated by, well, everything so it’s important to let them explore everything. With the Quadpro Bug Catcher, they get to not only collect bugs but it is also a magnifying glass that allows them to view their catches up close. The one button system enables them to catch bugs without touching them. This toy, for $15.95, is intended for kids ages 3 and up.
With this same age group, how about a pair of child friendly binoculars? These Binoculars for Kids 8×21 Shock Proof Set by Living Squad are a wonderful addition to any outdoor activity. Examine birds, clouds, trees – anything that they can view from a distance and get a closer look at. Take them on a hike, to the beach, or on a walk. So much to discover! $26.50 and meant to withstand clumsy hands.
This is an oldie but a very goody! The Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Baby’s First Blocks toy should NOT be overlooked. You don’t need fancy electronic toys for kids this age. Basic is best. With this block sorter, toddlers will improve fine motor skills, learn spatial skills, shapes, object permanence, and so much more. They are so proud when they fit the right shape through it’s correct slot. It’s only $7.88 and should be thought of before more expensive toys with bells and whistles.
With above, this is another toy that no toddler should miss out on! The First Years Stacking Up Cups for only $3.99 is a toy that every child should have. Again, it teaches small motor skills, spatial skills, planning, building, one-to-one correspondence, size, shapes, and so much more. Try them in the bath or sandbox for more fun. Blows those loud blinking toys away!
For those just a year or so older, I love this! Another toy that requires no batteries or internet access. There’s plenty of time for that. The Measure & Pour Water Play Kit, will be loved by kids. Teaches cause and effect, volume, mass, basic units of measurement, balance, fine motor skills, and more. So simple, but offers so much! Kids love to play in water and this allows them to experiment and learn. Can be played with outside, in the bath, or in the kitchen sink. Practice pouring and measuring. Pretend your cooking. It’s all fun with this toy for $39.88. Watch how much longer they’ll be interested in experimenting with these items than watching a video or messing around on your Ipad.
Do you remember finger painting? It’s one of the few memories I have from preschool. I loved it! Mixing colors, making pictures, getting your hands dirty. It’s all great learning fun! Get this set of eight Crayola Washable Finger Paints. Learn about primary colors, secondary colors, textures, creativity, and art. Just $19.99 for these vibrant colors. Don’t forget the finger painting paper!
So, from my selection you’ll see that learning toys don’t necessarily have to be expensive or electronic. In fact, for the younger group, it’s better if it isn’t. They’ll have plenty of time to spend on screens and electronic devices when they get older. Put it off as long as you can.