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Educational gifts for the holidays and beyond (2006)

Published on: November 01, 2006

All
play is educational for kids. Play develops children's imaginations and
social skills and helps them understand how the world works long before
the word "science" becomes part of their vocabulary. And as any parent
has learned, even a stick or a cardboard box will do as a toy -- no
special equipment required.

Still, there's no denying that when
it comes to specific cognitive skills, some toys are better teaching
tools than others. Number sense, language arts, logic, chemistry,
natural history...there's a whole world of toys out there designed to
develop a child's knowledge in a certain area while masquerading as
nothing but fun.

For our third annual educational gift guide, we asked local toy stores
to tell us what they're excited about this year. They picked older
favorites and exciting new toys on the market. Some of their picks are
specifically academic, but boring? Dry? Dull? Nah. Kids will seek out
these toys long after the holiday gift wrap has been put in the
recycling bin.

Another option to consider as an educational gift is to buy a special
child in your life a membership to a local museum (listed online at
www.parent map.com/giftguide). Memberships are waste-free, can be
enjoyed year-round, and area residents have a rich variety of venues to
choose from.

All of the picks mentioned can be found at the stores that suggested
them (store name listed in parentheses; see sidebar for addresses and
phone numbers), but we've also included manufacturer's information so
you can inquire about them elsewhere.

Infants/Preschoolers

Eric Carle Polar Bear Touch & Stack Blocks
[Small World Toys, 18 months and up, $24.99]. This set of 10 colorful
nesting blocks introduces young children to numbers, colors and the
simple verbs that can be used to describe different animals from
Carle's Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? book, while
stimulating kids' tactile senses. Carle toys are especially apt this
year, as the child-friendly "The Art of Eric Carle" is on view at the
Tacoma Art Museum through Jan. 21, 2007. (Teaching Toys and Books)

Mixed-up Chameleon Maze Board
[Small World Toys, ages 3 and up, $24.99]. This Carle-based wooden maze
teaches color matching by challenging kids to manipulate colored metal
balls, using a magnetic wand, into the correct spot on the chameleon's
multi-colored body. (Teaching Toys and Books)

ElectroWiz Science Kits
[Norman & Globus, ages 4-6, $19.99] Most science kits tend to be
aimed at older children. These three highly recommended kits -- on
magnetism, electricity and chemistry -- are written with younger
children in mind. Each kit comes with activities, materials and
supplies, and includes a book with clear graphics that make it
accessible to even pre-readers. (Science, Art and More)

Elementary ages/Tweens

Cogno.
[DoubleStar, LLC, ages 7-adult, $29.99] This award-winning board game
was developed by a group of scientists, many of them from NASA, who
were concerned at the lack of science literacy shown by elementary
school kids. The space-based game boasts a cast of appealing alien
characters, but the science kids learn as they play is the real thing.
Players answer trivia questions as they travel from planet to planet,
and can consult the "Book of Y" for an explanation of the science
behind each correct answer. (Teaching Toys)

Blokus Trigon.
[Educational Insights, ages 5 and up, $33] A hexagonal board adds extra
challenge to newest twist on the popular Blokus strategy game. Kids see
how geometrical shapes fit together and learn to think ahead to block
fellow players' moves. The rules are simple enough for kindergarteners
yet play can become increasingly complex as kids master strategic
thinking. (White Horse Toys)

Do Art kits.
[Creativity for Kids, ages 9 and up, $15] Creativity for Kids, part of
art supply giant Faber-Castell USA, offers several art kits that
feature instructions and supplies of very good quality, including
artist's canvas, wooden articulated models and textured papers. Kids
learn art skills in a format that's more open-ended than some arts and
crafts kits, which allows them to exercise real creativity as they
work. The series includes "Faces and Features," "Drawing Power," "Say
it with Flowers" and "Have You Scene It?" (Teaching Toys)

ElementO.
[Lewis Educational Games, ages 10 and up, $34.95] Kids learn about the
periodic table of the elements in this Monopoly-like game, in which
elements are traded instead of properties, using Neutrons and Proton
Certificates instead of cash. ElementO cards demonstrate how the
elements fit into daily life. (Science, Art and More)

Physics Solar Workshop.
[Thames & Kosmos, ages 8 and up, $59.99] One of the newest
additions to Thames & Kosmos' popular line of science kits focuses
on solar energy. The kit comes with a solar panel that can be used to
make models -- built by kids -- run using solar energy. A 64-page
booklet comes with the kit to enhance kids' understanding of the
physics of solar cells, and the way that solar energy can be used to
run motors. (Teaching Toys)

Microcontroller.
[Thames & Kosmos, ages 12 and up, $149.99] Another addition to the
line, released this year, allows kids to put together basic computer
circuits and control lights, buzzers and displays. Kids can also learn
to write programs to control the devices they build. The kit includes a
detailed, 100-page experiment guide. (Science, Art and More)

Our picks

WonderLetters. [WonderChess, LLC, ages 6 and up, $24.99. Buy online or find retailers at www.wonderchess.com]
Kids practice their literacy skills in this crossword game developed by
a local company. "WonderLetters," a unique and small-child-friendly
feature of the game, are pieces that can be filled with small prizes
for the player who captures them.

Around the World. [Around the World, LLC, ages 8 and up, $26.99. Available at www.aroundtheworldgames.com]
With colorful, bold graphics, "Around the World" introduces kids to
global geography, people, cultures and languages. As they travel around
the game board, players must answer questions in each of those
categories to fill up their Global Scorecard and win the game.

Yo! I Know -- Brain Building Quizzes.
[World Almanac Books, ages 7-14, $9.99] The first in an upcoming series
of quiz books for kids -- offered by the folks who publish the
top-selling "The World Almanac for Kids" -- teases kids' brains with
questions about history, sports, weather, space, language and a host of
other topics. The slender, spiral-bound book is a good size for travel,
and its interactive format and graphics-rich layout is designed to
appeal to elementary-age kids.

Up on Denali: Alaska's Wild Mountain.
[Sasquatch Books, ages 6-10, $16.95] Layered, richly detailed
illustrations of flora and fauna illuminate a study of Alaska's largest
mountain, Denali, by Alaskan author/illustrator duo Shelley Gill and
Shannon Cartwright. The book is suitable for kids in a broad age range,
as part of the text can be read as a story for younger kids, while
older kids can delve into more complex information. Younger children
will also enjoy naming the dozens of animals depicted on almost every
page, or looking for the raven that appears -- in one form or another
-- throughout the book.

Give the gift of membership

Science/Animals

  • Burke Museum of Natural History. A natural for budding fossil hunters and dino bone enthusiasts. 206-616-6057, www.washington.edu/burkemuseum
  • Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center.
    Find out all about our region's connection to maritime industries via
    displays, exhibits and hands-on activities. 206-374-4000, www.ody.org
  • Pacific Science Center. Permanent and special science exhibits, plus planetarium, IMAX films and tots' play area. 206-443-2924, www.pacsci.org
  • Seattle Aquarium. View tropical and Pacific Northwest fish and marine mammals, birds and invertebrates. 206-386-4300, www.seattleaquarium.org
  • Woodland Park Zoo. The zoo's latest addition, Zoomazium, is an indoor playspace with a natural history component. 206-615-1024, www.zoo.org

Children's museums

Our gift gurus

  • Teaching Toys and Books
    2624 N. Proctor St., Tacoma
    253-759-9853
  • Science Art and More
    6417 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle
    206- 524-3795
    www.scienceartandmore.com
  • White Horse Toys
    Gilman Village
    317 N.W. Gilman Blvd., Ste. 13, Issaquah
    425-391-1498
    www.whitehorsetoys.com

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