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Friday, August 21, 2009

Back to School: Educational Games and Toys

By Rachel H and Allison T

Just a quick shout out to all our Smarty friends who tuned in to watch us yesterday morning on Fox 8, and a special thanks to loyal reader and guest blogger Jenni M who agreed to wake up at that ungodly hour to help us out! - KM

Although children usually do not want more work after surviving a long day at school, completing homework, and playing sports, we have some tried and true after-school activities that will help boost brain power without the kids even knowing it! These are also great ideas on how to keep your child’s brain active on snow days, long car rides, or rainy Saturday or Sunday afternoons. These have all been child tested and mother approved in our houses! We have a variety of ideas for toddlers and up. Read below for ideas to keep brains active for children of all ages without them even knowing that they are … shhhhh … learning!

Alex Little Hands Lacing Cards

These are perfect for young preschool children and toddlers who are beginning to learn to work with their hands. These lacing activities help develop the fine motor skills and are the perfect size for little hands. This developmental stage is important when children are learning about their world through their sense of touch. The lacing cards are colorful and bright and come in a variety of themes.


I can’t remember who told me about the Leapster when my son was 3 years old, but I want to give them a big hug. My son and daughter both have their own Leapsters with age appropriate, interactive educational games. The Leapster is recommended for children ages 4-10, and depending on where you purchase it, it can cost anywhere from $50 to $60.

Brain Quest Cards and Brain Quest Workbooks

My son received his first set of Brain Quest cards for Christmas when he was four years old. I had no idea that this would be the first of about twenty sets of cards we would eventually own. This is one product that I rarely say no to when he asks me to buy him a new set. We’ve spent hours quizzing each other at night and in the car – math, reading, American and Presidential history. Also, great birthday presents for your kids’ friends! You can find them in any bookstore. We buy the sets at Costco because they are a little bit cheaper.
The Brain Quest Workbooks are equally as awesome. Though, they are more expensive than most workbooks, usually around $11, they are worth the money. They are also in bookstores, Costco and online. The age range for the cards and workbooks are ages 2 to 12.

Leap Frog Math Desk

This is a great tool for children ages 3 and up. Not only does it help children recognize numbers, but it has different levels for higher learning abilities. When my children first started to play with this, they would play the game where they were simply recognizing numbers. Then they moved on to find “what number comes before 14 and after 12”, etc. There is also a board for them to practice writing the numbers themselves. The skills build on one another. It is amazing how much my children learned from this game and it is the perfect size to fit in their lap on a car trip.

Board Games

Memory – There are so many different versions of Memory that you will be able to find one that fits the age and gender of your child. My daughter loves the Dora Memory game, which is for 3 years and up, while my son loves to play my husband’s VERY old Memory game that is for 7 years and up. This is one of my all-time favorite games to play with my children.
Boggle and Boggle Jr. - A great family game to help your child learn how to spell and search for words. Boggle is for age 8 and up. Boggle Jr. is for age 3 and up.
Guess Who – terrific for memorization, questioning strategies, and logic. Good for ages 4 and up.
Scrabble – obviously for a little older, but this is a game that is challenging even for adults, so you won’t get bored playing this with your children!
Bananagrams – for ages 7 and up. Really cute game that is fun for adults as well. Teaches spelling and vocabulary. Think Scrabble times two!

Leap Frog DVD’s

I should not admit this, but both of my children learned all their letters and sounds from this DVD! No kidding! They loved, loved, loved the Letter Factory DVD and picked up on letter recognition and sounds so easily at a very young age. (I think age 2 is where most kids will usually sit still for this.) Then we moved on to the Word Factory DVD, which teaches children to put letters together to make sounds. The next level is the Storybook Factory, which is also really cute and educational. The other one we have is the Math Circus, which teaches numbers, skip counting, and addition. I highly recommend these videos for all ages. It makes you feel a little more justified in throwing in a video for the kids.

Free Educational Web Sites
My absolute favorite –, plus,, and Also, check out our blog here for many more web site ideas!

Other things to keep in mind when wanting to keep brains active at home: many children learn through different senses, so if your child is having trouble learning the alphabet, have them shape a letter out of playdough or practice writing it with chalk or a wipe-off board. Also, if you have your children write letters to family members, make cards, or keep a journal, It is an easy way to practice writing skills without making it such a daunting task.

And, certainly last but not least ... READ, READ, READ!!! Make it a habit early on and stick to it!

Share some of your favorite educational toys and games below.


Maythi said...

Great post! Thanks for all the wonderful ideas.

We love our Brain Quest cards and Leapster too! Starfall is awesome for reading and seems to follow the old tried and true way of learning to read - PHONICS! Another favorite at our house is Fridge Phonics by Leapster - my 4 1/2 year old STILL likes to play with this and now is helping our 1 year old learn how to use it.

Puzzles are also great for fine motor skills, reasoning, and PATIENCE! I don't know about you, but we are really needing to work on that one at our house!

I love that you added "Read, Read, Read". And if you have an older child that can either read,knows the story and can retell it to a younger sibling,or can pretend read (describing pictures, etc.) encourage that as well. Some of my favorite moments are watching our oldest "read" to our youngest.

Andrea said...

I am glad you put the Bananagrams on here. I had heard that this game is fantastic for adults as well, but could not remember the name.
We also like the game Blokus as a family. Great for all ages.

Kelly G. said...

Yahtzee is a great kids game for counting, and also for fine motor skills. My son loves to roll the dice, count the dots, and then write the numbers into the tiny spaces (after I tell him what they are).

Another great toy is a simple calculator with large buttons, or a toy cash register. Both feel like "grown-up" toys and are great for teaching number recognition. While I am cooking dinner, I give my son math problems to punch in and let him tell me what answers he gets.

One of my son's favorite Christmas gifts last year was Gobblet. It's like Tic Tac Toe but you can cover each other's pieces as you play, so it involves a lot of thinking ahead.

Last, I would add Uno to the list. This old favorite teaches number recognition, colors, and taking turns. Plus, you can practically see your kids wiggle with excitement as they get ready to slam you with a "Draw Four" card.

Anonymous said...

We also enjoy Sequence for Kids. It involves strategy and recognizing animals. Trouble in the Bubble is another tried and true; our Family loves it! Also teaching kids to be a good loser (it's easy to be a good winner) can be a valuable lesson.

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