Every year, parents bemoan the excess of Christmas and, in particular, the wrapped toys that children eagerly rip open and often abandon just as quickly. What makes a good toy? Frequently the best toys are the ones that challenge and engage a child beyond a trend or shiny plastic parts.
Below are a handful of gift ideas that have been recognized as some of the best educational toys for children ages 2 to 18, with the majority priced at or under $25.
A few of these toys are only available online but most can be found right here in Sonoma stores. I’ve seen many of them flying off the racks at The Toy Store and Cornerstone Kids. All prices and ages are approximate.
Building & Construction
I am always a fan of building kits. Squigz Suction Construction ($25) enables kids ages 6 to 8 to build flexible creations that tower, bounce and stick to almost any surface – even windows. For the 5 and under set, there is pipSquigz.
Kids ages 8 and up can replicate 100 electronic experiments with Snap Circuits ($30+). All of the easy-snap pieces are color-coded and named to represent real electronic parts. Experiments include radios, doorbells, flashlights and alarms.
The Littlebits kits for ages 7 to 12 are the real deal … electronic modules – switches, dimmers, bulbs, buzzers and the like – that can be arranged to build specific projects, but can be also tinkered with to create whatever kids can dream up. Instead of springs and strand wire, LittleBits’ modules all connect magnetically, which make experimentation with soldering and wire-stripping free and safe. ($100 to $200)
While this is a book, “Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff” ($19) has some creative ideas that can keep dad and child busy for many weekends to come. Readers’ Books has a good collection of similar books.
Along the same lines, “The Book of Impossible Objects” sets out 25 different activities (and lessons on the science behind the illusions) that encourage critical thinking, creativity, following directions, understanding of perception ($18). Like what you ask? A set of hinged mirrors, acetate animations viewer, optical spinners, 3D stare-a-saurus, phenakistoscope wheel and more.
Puzzles and Games
Perplexus Epic for ages 8 and up is a challenging 3D marble maze game housed in a sphere ($25). Players have 125 barriers to overcome, developing speed and balance skills. Also available at the rookie level.
Tenzi ($17) is billed as the world’s fastest dice game. Players ages 7 to 17 roll dice over and over until they all land on the same number. The companion book, “77 Ways to Play Tenzi,” is $10.
Similar to Yahtzee, the self-contained, virtually unbreakable dice game Double Shutter for ages 8 and up combines luck, logic and strategy ($22).
Great for long car rides is Find It ($22). Kids ages 8 and up shake, twist and study a sphere filled with what looks like ice cream sprinkles to find a variety of objects hidden inside.
Flexicubes ($14) range in difficulty from simple to genius and they challenges kids ages 6 and up to duplicate a set construction goal or to see how many different designs they can come up with.