By GreatSchools Staff
All ages, $20
Brain Age 2 for the Nintendo DS has proved popular with kids prepping for tests and older folks looking to make the most of what neurons and synapses they have left. As players train, they gain access to new activities, ensuring that they're always challenged. Players might be tasked with making change using dollar bills and coins, completing math exercises, or practicing addition with a Sudoku puzzle.
Bottom line: Brain Age 2 gives minds of any age a mental workout.
Waverly, the water drop, is a huggable stuffie made of eco-friendly recycled materials. The starter kit includes a storybook, a sustainability guide, and an organic canvas bag for storage. The idBids, so named because of their "itty-bitty" size, include Waverly, Scout the cloud, and Lola the flower, and can be ordered using Amazon's "frustration-free" packaging (i.e., no wire ties or plastic casings or bindings), cutting down on waste even further.
Bottom line: A stuffed toy that deserves accolades for encouraging environmental awareness and sustainability.
Ages 4 and up, $6.99
Why not Cooking Papa? Why must the young cook be a girl? Legitimate questions, but this is still a worthwhile introduction to the culinary arts. Using the tilt and touch features of the iPhone, kids can execute all manner of virtual chef maneuvers, from chopping to mixing to garnishing. They're not exactly ready for Iron Chef by the time they've mastered the dozen or so recipes, but their appetite is whetted — and they have a new appreciation for what mama or papa are doing in the kitchen.
Bottom line: Your kid can refine his kitchen techniques as a virtual chef.
By Alan Katz, illustrated by Edward Koren
Margaret K. McElderry (2008)
Ages 4-8, $17.99
If your child is a fan of humorous verse, in the vein of Jack Prelutsky's or Shel Silverstein's, crack open Oops! Alan Katz writes hilarious poetry based on the wild antics of his four children. Topics such as leaving fingerprints, fighting with siblings, and waiting for the school bus fill the pages. Featuring 100 poems, Oops! will tickle your kid’s funny bone all year long. — Danielle Marshall, Powells.com
Bottom line: Poetry with wit.
Ages 5 and up
This strategy board game has become something of a sensation, winning a Teacher's Choice Award and a Mensa Select Award. The goal is to fit all your differently shaped pieces onto the board — a task that draws on spatial reasoning and logic. Invented by a mathematician, the game draws on the stuff of geometry class, without feeling like, well, homework. In fact, elementary school kids can play long before they've officially waded into proofs and postulates; we like to think it whets the appetite for what's ahead. Suitable for adults as well as kids. Think Tetris, on a board, without the mind-destroying music.
Bottom line: Challenging and fun for adults as well as kids. Like Tetris but better.
Ages 6-8, $69.99 (includes more than 40 games; additional games sold separately for $24.99 each)
Modern-day kids grasp gadgets with an ease that’s downright impressive (especially for those of us old enough to remember struggling to program the VCR). So the Leapster Explorer from LeapFrog should be a natural for any child already familiar with portable gaming devices.
This handheld combines the kid-friendly cool factor of games, apps, and videos with a parent-approved focus on learning. What kind of learning? For starters, try geography, math, reading, science, art history, and social skills — there’s also an attached stylus for kids to practice their penmanship. Families can access educational games at LeapWorld (or buy ones with such faves as the cast of Toy Story), and parents have the option to monitor their children’s progress online.
Bottom line: The power to master the three R's (and much more) is in your child’s hands — literally.
Ages 8 and up
Though not actually "4-D," this model dinosaur includes 39 pieces for kids to play with and assemble. Unlike many toy dinosaurs, however, this one was created in consultation with an international expert on vertebrate paleontology, making it especially realistic.
Bottom line: An elaborate, educationally minded model dinosaur.
It’s 8 p.m. and your ninth grader admits he's six chapters behind on a reading assignment and has lost the book. Old-school solution: Jump in the car and drive to Barnes & Noble to hunt down a copy. Modern solution? Pause the episode of House you’re watching and download a copy from the B&N eBookstore using the Pandigital Novel ($179) so he can start reading right away. True, this is a pricey investment, but it's one the whole family can use for years to come.
Other bonuses: The seven-inch color LCD screen and built-in WiFi make reading easy and as cool as YouTube. Plus your tech-savvy scholar can also use it to research online, set alarms to get to school on time, and, when he's taking a break from all that homework, update his social networks.
Bottom line: Books, Internet, games, and apps on a 16-ounce device that fits in a backpack — for a fraction of the price of an iPad.