As commercials begin to flood the airwaves and stores ramp up their holiday promotions, parents are turning to their children’s wish lists.
Toys always are a must-have on most kids’ lists, but parents can rest easy knowing that in addition to favorites, there are many toys on store shelves that have educational value.
Here are a few gift ideas for the upcoming season that satisfy the need for fun and learning.
Perfect for toddlers, Hucklebee is a cute and cuddly bumblebee that features colorful shapes on the tips of its legs for feeling, counting as well as learning colors and shapes.
“Hucklebee comes along with 25 colorfully fun activity cards—50 actions—to promote interaction between the adult and child while getting in touch with their senses and emotions,” said Amy Bender, who owns Whiting’s Mind Benders puzzle and game shop (mindbenders.biz), which sells the toy.
Chris Reddick, who co-launched Toys in the Attic in Hobart and Crown Point, says Playmonster’s USA Map Magnetic Playset and Solar System Magnetic Playset are great gifts for kids in school.
“USA teaches elementary school age kids where states are located, the capital and something the state is known for,” Reddick said. “Solar system teaches them the names of the planets and their location.”
For older kids, he recommends WordSpiel.
“This is an awesome game for teenagers and adults,” Reddick said. “It’s a word game that combines making words along with strategy.”
Perfect for younger toddlers, the Giant Tangram (edushape) toy is made of huge foam pieces that create puzzles but are durable and safe for young hands.
For kids learning to read, write and add, the Magnetic Game Box ABC Expedition (HABAusa.com) is an introduction to letters and numbers. The set includes a carrying case and magnetic pieces, making this perfect for travel.
Children also will learn math skills using the Pretend and Play Teaching ATM Bank (learningresources.com), which teaches financial skills while the kids withdraw, deposit and save money using the electronic ATM bank.
Little readers will enjoy Jumbo Minds books (jumbominds.com), which introduce science in an engaging way and grow with children—they can start with learning letters and words and keep it as a science reference.
Snap Circuit Project Kits help satisfy young and older kids’ desire to build by snapping into place circuit board components, says Bender, who offers the kit at Mind Benders in Whiting.
“It’s hands-on electronics exploration at its best,” she said. “The outcome—a functioning FM radio, LED lights illuminated or a working motion detector, to name a couple. You choose.”
A beginner kit is suited to kids older than 5, with a more advanced arcade themed kit for those 8 and older that features more than 200 projects.
Kids who love construction also will enjoy the Brackitz Bugz Play Park (brackitz.com), which encourages open-ended, imaginative play. Children can use their ideas to construct new worlds, with more than 20 play parks and obstacles.
Other popular construction gifts that spark the imagination include Magformers Log Cabin Set (Magformers.com), which allows kids to create cabins, tree houses and more; the Little Archives subscription services (thelittlearchives.com), which offers crafty kids a monthly project; and the MOD-t 3D printer, made for kids and the kid in all of us.
If you have a budding scientist, consider the GeoSafari Jr. Talking Microscope (educationalinsights.com), which features Bindi Irwin, daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, sharing kid-friendly facts about nature as they take a closer look through this talking microscope. Perfect for preschoolers, this microscope is packed with images and audio about animals, plants and everyday items.
Children also will love the many robots available, including the Macrobot (silverlit.com) equipped with tri-color LED eyes, a motor with counter and gyro sensor, 6-axial motion sensor and obstacle detection; and the Design and Drill Robot (educationalinsights.com), the perfect introduction to STEM learning through basic engineering and construction play.
Targeted for teens, the Cue robot (store.makewonder.com) is the first robot that texts, can talk or chat, and race kids around the house.
Gifts can even teach kids on how to work together, especially as they are about to embark upon school.
At Toys in the Attic, Reddick recommends Peaceable Kingdom’s Hoot Hoot Owl game, designed for kids 4 and older.
“This is a cooperative game that teaches kids to work together, cooperate, social skills and strategic thinking,” he said.
For kids who like to put on a show with audience participation, check out the Magic Hat (thamesandkosmos.com), with a magic hat, rabbit puppet and more than 40 other props. Kids will learn and perform 35 magic tricks.
Logic games often offer several challenges and are progressive, beginning at a starter level and leading the players to expert levels, Bender said.
“Games like this can be introduced as early as 2, and many are suited to adult play as well, so everyone will enjoy,” she said.
Games such as Roller Coaster Challenge and Rush Hour help develop skills such as problem solving, observation, comprehension and logical deduction, Bender said.
Both offered at Mind Benders, Roller Coaster Challenge allows participants to construct their own roller coaster, while Rush Hour encourages gamers to figure out how to drive out of a parking lot in the middle of a traffic jam with a series of strategic moves.