Great learning gifts for your kindergartner

Educate and entertain with these top 8 toys, games, and books for the holidays.

By GreatSchools Staff

Marble Run Vortis

Ages: 4-10

The magic of gravity and colored plastic are put to good use with this elaborate multifaceted marble run. Though kids will no doubt love playing with it, the real learning comes from putting it together and making it work. It's a great way for kids to learn engineering fundamentals around cause-and-effect relationships and interconnections.

Be forewarned, though. For parents hoping for some leisure time, this toy may not satisfy, since you'll likely have to help put it together, depending on your child's age and determination.

Bottom line: The perfect family project that makes a big impression on little minds.


Tag Reader: Learn to Write and Draw

Ages: 3-7

Give your child a leg-up on writing with this interactive writing and drawing kit, which includes a colorful activity book, worksheets, and interactive stickers. The activity book follows the adventures of Dot and Dash, as they search for a band to play at the Doodleburg Fun Fair. The workbooks and stickers provide additional activities and exercises. (Note: To use this kit, you need LeapFrog's Tag Reader, an interactive stylus that's not included.)

Two caveats: The Tag Reader requires grown-up support, at least in the beginning, to download software and help the child get started. And the kit includes a disappointing number of stories.

Bottom line: An engaging introduction to writing and drawing for little ones.


Duplo Play with Numbers

Ages: 3-5

This set of oversize Legos (perfect for younger hands) comes with a unique figurine — a friendly dalmatian puppy — and, more important for little learners, a colorful collection of illustrated counting blocks. Each block in Duplo Play with Numbers features a visual representation of that number, whether it's three ice cream cones, four birds, or 10 bees. Truly the building blocks of early math skills.

Bottom line: These extra-large Legos are perfect for kids working on their 1-2-3's.


By Kevin Henkes, read by Katherine Kellgren

Ages: 4-6

This sweet book celebrates the short but magical time when a child invents her own (imaginary) best friend out of whole cloth. Recommended by Denise Schmidt, children and teen’s collection librarian at the San Francisco Public Library, this audio version of Jessica successfully brings the picture book to life. Katherine Kellgren — a popular audiobook reader — does a beautiful job with the different young voices and the soft narration. Terrific background music and inventive sound effects enhance the story for little listeners with short attention spans.

Bottom line: Lovely and timeless tale delivered flawlessly by a mega award-winning reader.

Once Upon a Monster

Ages: 4-8

This is Sesame Street like it never was when we were kids. Instead of parking it on the couch and sitting while Elmo and his buddies have all the fun, Once Upon a Monster (Xbox 360 Kinect) invites your tot to stand up and move, which we know is good for the body and brain. Your child isn't watching TV, he's playing: Jumping, swinging his arms, strumming virtual instruments, dancing, and helping an endearing group of monsters do everything from get dressed to run through the forest, throw a birthday party, and more. Elmo can’t go it alone! He needs your child to keep the action moving. And you can drop in to play along whenever you like. After a half hour romping with this high-energy, educational Muppet team, your child will need a nap.

Bottom Line: TV is so sedentary. Get kids up off the couch and engaged in this story featuring Elmo and Cookie Monster as they tour a book about monsters.

Chess, Checkers, and Chinese Checkers

Ages: 6 and up

These old favorites are a great way to while away the hours on a rainy afternoon. Kids love chess (and checkers, its simpler cousin) because they offer the competitive challenge of trying to outwit an opponent one on one. (Chinese checkers is a good alternative when you have more than two people eager to play.) Of course, there’s a serious side to these games, too: they require deep concentration and strategic thinking, providing one of the best brain workouts around. Today many states, including New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Massachusetts, have introduced checkers and chess into the school curriculum.

Bottom line: Players pick up problem solving, reasoning, critical thinking, and strategic planning skills while they hop, skip, and checkmate their way across the board.

Spot It

Ages: 6 and up

Spot It puts a unique twist on matching games. Each of the 55 round cards has a symbol on it that matches exactly one symbol on every other card. The object is to be the first one to find the most matches from the cards you are dealt. Matching pictures on cards — how hard can that be? Harder than you think (sometimes the size of the symbols change), and it's all a matter of speed. You can play with up to eight people, and since there’s no reading involved, even kindergartners can get into the action. The game also includes instructions for four additional games. Packaged in a small tin and requiring little space to play, it’s the perfect travel game for the whole family.

Bottom line: This fast-paced game is great to take on the road and will grow with your kids.


The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories

By Dr. Seuss, read by Neil Patrick Harris, Anjelica Huston, and others

Ages: 4-8

Dr. Seuss’ lyrical, tongue-twisting stories deserve to be narrated by golden-tongued talent. The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, an audio collection of early original works, pulls out all the stops, boasting an all-star lineup that includes Hollywood heavy hitters such as Neil Patrick Harris, Anjelica Huston, William H. Macy, and Joan Cusack. "This is a fantastic choice for kids who are just learning to read," says Jeanne Lamb, coordinator for the youth collections at the New York Public Library. "They can relax, hear the flow of a wonderful story, and then make the connections to the page."

Bottom line: The pitch-perfect gift for the Seuss-obsessed kid.