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Bundles of holiday learning gifts

This holiday season why not create a group of learning gifts around a theme that will appeal to your child? Pick a theme (such as dogs, chess, space, or cars) and Parents' Choice has a bundle for you!

Alex and the Wednesday Chess Club
Alex and the Wednesday Chess Club

By Claire Green, Parents' Choice President

We asked the Parents' Choice Foundation, the nation's oldest nonprofit guide to quality children's media and toys, to recommend bundles of gifts on several themes: cars, games, space and dogs. When you pair books with DVDs, toys or software, as gifts, kids benefit from multiple opportunities to learn about subjects through a variety of media.

Bundles with books and games

When kids play games, they're doing a lot more than meets the eye. Playing games helps kids learn — to follow rules, take turns, and accept wins and losses. Playing games helps develop a child's ability to think strategically, to see patterns and to focus. These are all skills needed to succeed — on the playground, in school and eventually in the boardroom.

Here, our suggestions bundle a book about games with software, a self-contained book of games, and a few classic challenges.

Making chess fun

Alex and the Wednesday Chess Club
Ages: 4 to 8 
Author: Janet S Wong
Illustrator: Stacey Schuett
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's/Margaret K. McElderry
Hardcover price: $16.95

A charming book depicting how real kids develop into chess players, not as prodigies but as curious people who want to have fun. Adults often display ignorance at the role defeat plays in how kids engage in chess. Sadly, chess is a game too often associated with "smart people." Alex overcomes the chess stereotypes beautifully by playing when he wants to. Of course, he does get good advice from his chess coach, too. The advice? Play, play and then play some more. Along the way we learn important information about chess tournaments: They can be boring…sometimes; cheese puffs are welcome, if you bring enough for everyone. Always go to the bathroom before you play because some kids take a long time to move their pieces. Finally, most importantly, it's OK to forfeit when you're hungry. This book conveys the not unimportant message that playing competitive games need not involve a loss of self-esteem, and that sometimes, fun is more important than winning. Drego Little ©Parents' Choice

Learn to Play Chess With Fritz & Chesster
Ages: 7 and up
Publisher: Viva Media Platform: Windows
Price: $29.99

Every so often an edu-tainment program sneaks past the usual and jumps beyond the look-alikes to achieve the wonderfully unexpected. How Fritz and Chesster teach youngsters the honorable game of chess is just such an unexpected program. Charming, simply animated and cleverly designed, this cartoonish masterpiece spins a tale that initiates beginners gradually, piecemeal, into the complex steps-ahead thinking chess demands.

Unlike most chess tutorials that teach chess-board moves and strategy, this story-based instruction uses non-chess mini-arcade games and interactive tasks to prepare players. For instance, there's a fun little Sumo wrestler fight that actually shows strategic movement of the king piece, a Pac-Man-like game that teaches the moves of rooks, and a visit to Peasantville that gives insight into using pawns. The colorful character Kalaidoscope tags along and is moved ahead in explaining lessons and tactics.

At the "Intelligym," players get individualized lessons in the game itself as a Chessometer tests their readiness to go from light to medium to heavyweight brainiac bouts - and eventually take on the Black King. Practice games against friendly Chesster and helpful Kalaidoscope set the table for the big game! Don Oldenburg ©Parents' Choice

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