Educational toys for students
The Toy Shop of Sonoma has most of these educational toys in stock.
There is less reason to dread picking out toys and games for your child this holiday season. Toy makers finally seem to have gained some insight into how to make toys both fun and good for the young brain. Here are some recommendations, by age, that encourage creative thinking but are also a lot of fun for the whole family. Some are tried-and-true favorites, some are brand new. Most are available locally in Sonoma at either Corner Kids Store on East Napa Street or The Toy Shop on West Napa Street.
Hoot Owl Hoot ($16) is a sweet new game for ages 4 and older that develops self-esteem and cooperative skills in children and introduces them to strategy, problem-solving and turn taking. Kids work together to get the owl back to its nest before the sun rises. Each player gets three cards and moves an owl token toward its nest based on the color on the card. No reading required, so even the youngest family members can join in. Count Your Chicken is a similar game by the same company.
Day and Night ($22) is a perfect toy for ages 3 to 5. Kids try to copy an image in a book with the blocks provided on an included stacking stand. It has an easy and a harder level as kids get the hang of it. A similar game available from the same company is Camelot Jr. ($22).
Spot It ($10) is a fun matching game for ages 6 and up that heads in a new direction. Each of the 55 round cards has a symbol on it that matches exactly one symbol on every other card. This isn’t as simple as it sounds as it is all about speed. You can play with up to eight people, and there’s no reading involved. In a cute small container, it’s a great travel game for the whole family.
SET ($14) is not new but it is widely considered one of the best brain-booster games for ages 6 and older. SET is an addictive and challenging matching game in which players pick out patterns involving symbols, numbers, and colors.
Cubulus ($25) is great tactile fun for ages 8 and older. The game is part tic-tac-toe, part Rubik’s cube and part croquet. Each player gets nine balls of a particular color, and the goal is to form a square with four of your balls on one side of the squishy cube. This game is a great work out for spatial processing and critical thinking because your move might help you or inadvertently help your opponent if you can’t see the 3-D repercussion.
5 Second Rule ($25) is a fast-paced and creative word game for ages 10 and older. A timer gives you five seconds to name three examples in a category (three people who might find in a hospital). If you can’t, the next person tries, but they can’t use your examples.
In the same vein, Scattergories ($32) for ages 8 and older, is a modern and rambunctious form of Charades. Players must come up with words that begin with a certain letter, based on categories that include everything from sports to food. The game is both a hit with families and with teacher who use it to encourage quick thinking and creativity.
Magna-tiles are brightly colored geometric blocks whose magnets enable children ages 3 and up to create endless variations of 3-D objects and buildings. The tiles teach spatial relationships, math, logic and problem-solving. The tiles are very pricey but afford hours of amusement ($80-$200 for a complete set).
Pathwords ($20) is a single-player combined puzzle game and word search that gets harder as you move along. Players aim to fit colored pieces over the words in each puzzle so that all of the letters are covered. The trick is that sometimes the words are backwards, which can be tricky. There are a total of 40 games, from beginner to expert, which are fun for ages 12 through adult.
Minecraft (minecraft.net) is a computer game for Mac, PC, XBox and iPhone (under $30) that is surprisingly creative and engaging for tweens. Players roam through a virtual world where they build elaborate cities, buildings and alternate realities. The game is such a good example of game-based learning that MinecraftEdu is even taking off in school settings nationwide.
Qwirkle ($25) an award-winning strategy board game where children ages 6 and older score points by building rows of blocks related by color or shape. It is an easy game to learn but a hard one to ace.
There is perhaps no better way to teach kids about money than the Allowance Game ($17) for ages 5 to 11. The game has a similar layout to Monopoly. Players earn allowances and make decisions on how to spend their money wisely. Kids learn about interest, mortgages and starting their own businesses. The realistic coins help children with money counting skills. A similar game to look for is Currency Exchange for ages 5 and up ($13).
Kids ages 10 and older who are not squeamish, will get a huge kick out of the Visible Horse Anatomy Model and Visible Human Anatomy Model ($25). These anatomically accurate scaled down versions have highly detailed plastic parts representing the structures of the skeleton and vital organs and are fascinating to students who like to take things apart and see how things work.
Finally, Mind-Bending Speed Puzzles ($9) is a cute book for ages 12 and older that is perfect for long car rides. The entire family will be challenged by its wide variety of time-critical puzzles.
The staff at our local toy stores have great suggestions for other educational games. They enjoy giving advice and can tell you about other games and toys that are particularly popular for each age group.