As you know I get excited about great toys that teach! Here are some that I have awarded with our PAL Award as well as new findings that I think would be lasting fun and educational for our kids. Several of these are on my list to give to the grandchildren ages 1-11.

LeapStart by LeapFrog. This popular kids’ interactive learning system has now expanded its content to be applicable through first grade subjects. LeapStart comes with a Preschool to First Grade Sampler Book, introducing parents and kids to all the possible learning activities to teach reading, math, problem solving and life skills. Press the magic stylus to the page and the activity comes alive with questions, naming, comments and descriptions. Books (sold separately) range from Preschool “Alphabet Adventures’ to “Kindergarten Amazing Animals” and the new “Learn to Read” series, which I’ve ordered for the twins getting ready for kindergarten. Scarlet Skunk wants to get to her picnic in the treehouse but needs to read 5 words, taking her through a river, mushroom patch and flowers on the way! Kids can opt to hear the whole page read, or just the word, hear the sound of a letter, or letter name.

Q Wunder App by EQtainment. My 4 1/2 year-old grandson wanted to keep “playing” this engaging group of videos, songs and cartoons that help kids understand important EQ concepts like empathy, point of view, flexibility, patience, helping, friendship, motivation, problem solving, focus, know yourself, grit, emotions, responsibility and manners. Kids can’t get enough of learning alongside little monkey Q, “I love this!”  Best of all, we found ourselves applying the lesson’s practical applications soon after. While waiting for me to set up a game, my friend said, “Waiting is boring!” to which I replied, “Let’s practice a little patience like Q.” So we started singing a song with hand movements, just like Sofia taught us!  What a fun way to raise our children’s awareness of their emotions, building social skills and practicing better behavior. Q Wunder app.

Bluebee Pal Parker by Kayle Concepts. Want to play and learn with a soft, cuddly monkey who can read along with your child?  Parker is the perfect learning pal.  Connect Bluebee Pals to a Bluetooth enabled phone, tablet or laptop from Apple to Android and they become a cuddly learning friend, adding a physical (think sensory plush), visual and auditory dimension to learningKids were fascinated by our pairing Parker with a reading from Winnie the Pooh’s Heffalump, with realistic mouth movements and a soothing story being told. My first grade teacher friend shared that Bluebee Pals are her kids’ first choice during their “Smart Time” each morning. She uses them to pair with educational apps and stories to be read so the students can read along. Bluebee Pals can read a story, converse by phone or lead a sing-along, making learning fun. 

Meccano Micronoid by Spinmaster. Robots are hot this season with the R added in STREAM. Meet Micronoid “Switch” and “Basher,” two of the Micronoid robot gang who were easily assembled by my 12 and 10 year-old friends, anxious to start playing with them. The three mode functions along with programming options keep play interesting, silly, entertaining and challenging. These robots love to dance to the beat of your music and even coordinate when in close proximity. The autonomous mode is just that, Switch and Bash did their own thing including giggling, babbling, dancing, sneezing and singing, all intriguing to 8 year-olds and up.  Customize their walking and turning sequence and record what you want them to say in their robot voice. These robots can draw children in for some language learning play as kids ask questions, learn some early coding,  record appropriate conversation related to movements, engage in pretend play, and sharpen listening skills.

littleBits Droid Inventor Kit. I’m a fan of littleBits, the easy-to-use color-coded, magnetic and reusable, “electronic building blocks empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small.” I just ordered this kit for my grandson who loves legos and building creatively, is crazy about Star Wars and is in love with droids. Kids build with 6 bits, droid parts and customizable stickers and then use the free droid app to take it on 16+ missions. I’ll let you know what my builder thinks but littleBits are already a go-to project in his house.

Kano Computer Kit. With all the emphasis on toys and games that teach coding, why not go right to the source and learn by building your own computer? I saw this kit recommended on the New York Times Holiday Gift Guide today and with just a little research see that it has gotten great reviews. Kids can learn how to code art, music, apps, games and more.