Great learning gifts for your first grader

Give fun and learning all in one with any of these 6 favorite toys, games, and books.

By GreatSchools Staff

The Jewel Fish of Kranak

By Graeme Base

Ages: 5 and up

In ancient Egypt, two greedy and not-so-smart thieves, Ibis and Jackal, have been caught stealing in the town market. The Cat Pharaoh offers to pardon the two friends if they will journey up the Nile and retrieve a precious jeweled fish sculpture taken by the Crocodile Prince, but she warns the pair not to steal and not to let the fish get wet. Needless to say, the two ignore the warnings and disaster follows.  Base's drawings are sumptuous and the book is packed with Egyptian lore. But the real treat is the puzzle he's built into the story with Hieroglyphic tablets and an ingenious mechanical device on the back cover that holds the final key.

Bottom line: The Jewel Fish of Kranak is the ideal book for young puzzle-lovers.


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.


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.


Ages: 4 and up

Sorry! (known as "the game of sweet revenge") has been a favorite since Parker Brothers brought it to the U.S. from England in the 1930s. Sorry! is simple enough for young children to play and exciting enough to keep older kids coming back for more, making it a perfect choice for family game night. Although the basic concept of Sorry! is deceptively simple — you move plastic pieces in a linear sequence around the board — a series of rules about where you can move, and when a player can "bump" another out of place, quickly turns the game into a rollicking race. In the process, kids learn lessons on strategic thinking and hone basic math skills; the feature requiring players to move pieces backwards helps kids learn negative number concepts as well, according to Jeffrey Hinebaugh, author of A Board Game Education.

Bottom line: Teaches strategic thinking, math skills, problem solving, cooperation, concentration — and good manners, too!

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.


Set game


Ages 6 and up

Even some of the best toys out there become a snooze for parents eventually. Not so with SET, an addictive and challenging matching game in which players pick out patterns involving symbols, numbers, and colors. An excellent brain stretcher, good for long stretches of quiet fun, and an equally good time for grownups as well as kids.

The bottom line: You can't beat this addictive yet challenging game for ages 6 and up.