17 Educational Gifts For Kids
You spend hours searching for the perfect toy for a special child in your life and he ends up playing with the box! Or the gift is exciting right out of the box but then is left, forgotten, at the bottom of the toy bin. Educational toys with lots of open-ended play possibilities can beat the post-Holiday blahs. Kids will love the presents because they inspire creativity and you appreciate the learning value!
When I reached out to my parent and educator friends about Holiday gifts that promote learning, they almost all recommended books, art supplies, and just heading outdoors with the family. Bless them, I totally agree!
Still, we know that aunts and uncles and grandparents are going to be asking for the wish list. For those who want ideas for gifts they can buy and wrap with a single click or credit card swipe, here are 17 Top Educational Gifts of both the connected and unplugged varieties. I've included some classics along with a few brand new gifts--all are sure to be a hit with your little learner!
Learning Fun For the Whole Family
InsectLore Butterfly Garden: We had a blast observing our caterpillars spin into chrysalides and then emerge as beautiful butterflies. A great hands on experience to learn about this cycle of life. Purchase direct from InsectLore ($20).
Become a Member: Near where you live, there is probably a local zoo, science center, aquarium, museum, arboretum, botanical garden, or nature preserve that offers programs and hands-on exhibits for kids. We have a world-class aquarium nearby and they just added a beautiful vivarium filled with exotic butterflies. Memberships for the year not only promote learning, they also encourage family togetherness--all at a discount!
Giant World Map: Let's check the map! Whether you are studying weather patterns, food products, history, or culture, or just explaining where Grandma is taking her vacation, a world map is handy to have around. Joelle Daddino from NY recommends a the FAO Schwarz Big World Map ($80). If that seems a little pricey, I have my eye on Dino's Illustrated Map, which I spotted at my local library ($15 at Fat Brain Toys).
3-4 Years of Age
Super Sorting Pie: Pretend cooking is a big part of my kids' imaginative play. And this toy from Learning Resources encourages creative story telling and introduces a number of basic skills for preschoolers, including colors, counting, and sorting. Melissa at Imagination Soup also appreciates the pincers for fine motor skills practice. Older kids can also use the pie for addition and even multiplication practice. Get it at Learning Resources for $28.
Fraction Action Board: Guidecraft has introduced a line of eco-friendly, wooden puzzles for preschoolers and older children. My mother, a former special education teacher, actually gasped and exclaimed, "What beautiful puzzles!" when she saw these. The Fraction Action Board is a fun shape recognition puzzle for younger children and a good introduction to fractions for children ready for more advanced math. ($25 at Guidecraft)
Kiwi Crate Subscription: A subscription to Kiwi Crate is like having a talented early childhood educator right in your home. Each crate has materials for at least two themed activities and plenty of ideas for educational connections. There is no limit to the possibilities with these open-ended projects. Subscriptions start at $59 for 3 months at Kiwi Crate.
Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel: This fast-paced game was recommended by Amy of As the Bunny Hops and several others. The play is simple: just spin the spinner and try to fill-up your log. Along the way, kids practice colors, counting, and learn a little bit of strategy. ($20, Educational Insights)
Boomwhackers: Preschoolers can experiment with music making in a very physical way with Boomwhackers. And what kid doesn't love parent-sanctioned whacking things with big, musical sticks? ($16 and up at Amazon)
Layer Body Puzzle: Learn about the human body with this layer puzzle that shows the organs and muscles beneath the skin. Although I wish the puzzle came with a guide for learning more, it sparks interest in learning more. My daughter enjoyed her puzzle so much that we had to purchase one for my son. ($25 at Rosie Hippo)
5-6 Years of Age
Perplexus Rookie: Ever since PlaSmart sent me the Perplexus Rookie, it has been a constant source of quiet amusement in our house. This 3D Maze builds concentration and patience with all its pathways, stairways, and tunnels. My five year old has solved the puzzle but still picks it up at least once a day. ($23 at HearthSong)
No Stress Chess: My daughter has been learning chess and her little brother wants to play with her. Our good friend Athena recommended this as a game that is fun for kids at all levels. With cards that tell you which piece to move and give you a reminder of how the pieces move, there is no stress with this chess, just fun! ($13 at Toys R Us)
LeapPad Tablet: Not only a great pick for an educational gift, the LeapPad is shaping up to be one of the hottest toys of the season. If your child has been reaching for your iPad, get a tablet designed for kids and stocked with educational games. Bundles start at $140 on LeapFrog.
What's Gnu?: Phonics, rhyming words, common word endings...you'll get practice with all the building blocks of reading with What's Gnu. Bethany of Musing Maniac recommends this literacy game for teaching word recognition, vocabulary building, and reading. ($20 at ThinkFun)
Snap Circuits, Jr. SC-100: Use simple instructions to build basic circuit projects and you will have a kid who is fascinated with engineering and electronics. If your child is always asking "How does this work?" then snap circuits will be a favorite in your household. ($20 at Amazon)
Talking Microscope: When kids are ready to explore science on a microscopic level, they will get a good look with the Talking Microscope from Young Explorers. The microscope comes with 12 pre-prepared slides and 5x magnification. Dawn Betke of Love Laugh Learn Live says that her teenage daughter still has her talking microscope, which encouraged her scientific exploration as a young child. When kids are ready for a more sophisticated instrument, Young Explorers offers a Deluxe Microscope for ages 8+. (Talking Microscope, $40 ; Deluxe Microscope, $80)
First Act Discovery Guitar: Making music is one of the biggest brain boosters. Reading music is like learning another language and rhythms are an intuitive way to gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. Plus playing an instrument is just plain fun--something that enriches your life and relationships. First Act makes an entire line of kid-sized instruments that encourage musical learning. The First Act Discovery Guitar has child-friendly features to get your kid playing right away. ($20 at Toys R Us)
Sleeping Queens: My kids are wild for Sleeping Queens. Ever since their godparents gave them the game, they have been clamoring to play it every day. No wonder...the game was designed by a six year old! The game mixes strategy, luck, and some addition skills, making for a winning combination. Although the manufacturer's suggested age is 8+, a child who understands basic addition can play this game. Get it at Gamewright ($11).