Great learning gifts for your second grader

Fun and learning go hand-in-hand with these 7 terrific toys, games, and books.

By GreatSchools Staff

Everything On It

By Shel Silverstein

Ages: 6 and up

Here's why we love Shel Silverstein:

“There are kids underneath my bed,"
Cried little baby monster Fred.
Momma monster smiled. "Oh, Fred,
There's no such things as kids," she said.

Want another reason? Check out the cover illustration, where the hot dog that comes with "everything on it" is piled high with umbrellas, a bicycle wheel, chairs, a nightstand, a trombone, hats, and a python. Silverstein’s family members and long-time editor culled through the trove of unpublished poems and drawings he left behind after his 1999 death to assemble this collection. It offers the same mix of whimsy, wit, and wisdom found in Silverstein’s classics, Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Bottom line: Everything On It demands to be read aloud — delighting children and adults equally.

Kitchen Science

Ages: 6-11

Kitchen Science teaches: early chemistry, math (measurement), cause and effect

What do you do with a fork, tomato, and lightbulb? This is no joke — it's a science experiment!

Aspiring Madame Curies and Dmitri Mendeleevs (not a science history buff? Mendeleev developed the first periodic table) will unleash magic and mystery with this science-in-a-box that incites kids to muck up the kitchen, all in the name of chemistry.

Along with creating electricity (see above: tomato, fork, and lightbulb), your young chemist can claim that she is, in fact, a rocket scientist after launching her own rocket. Unlike some DIY junior science kits, this one is smartly put together: its creators understand what an elementary schooler actually can do and wants to do. However, like most science kits, parents must provide plenty of ingredients — and of course be on hand to oversee measuring and to make sure the science lab, a.k.a kitchen, doesn't end up a complete disaster zone.

Bottom line: Pure amusement, with plenty of learning tucked into every experiment.


Ages: 6-8

A science toy that requires kids to design and build an ecosystem for an ant colony, then trap several dozen live ants and their pupa, isn’t for faint-of-heart, hands-off parents. But if you are willing to invest the time, this is no ordinary toy.

Designed by former entomologist Peter Smith, Ant-o-Sphere from Wild Science offers a flexible kit of multiple pods in transparent red and clear plastic, connected by tubes that mimic ant colonies in nature. This toy encourages real scientific learning. Kids can test, observe, and draw conclusions —  important skills typically absent in project-oriented science toys, where the outcome is a foregone conclusion. For instance, the kit encourages kids to create their own pod design and see how it changes ant behavior. By the same token, children can learn about the eating habits of ants by offering them different kinds of food.

Bottom line: Bring science to life with this interactive and engaging kit.

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.


Monopoly Collection

Ages: 6 and up

Monopoly was a staple of family game night when we were kids. But this console game version goes far beyond the cardboard and plastic set we played. In Monopoly Collection (Wii), it’s as if you and your family have been shrunk to game-piece size so you can move right in to live in Park Place, spend a night in jail, and construct your tenements from the ground up. And there is no need to buy another board to change the setting: Just choose from a menu that offers everything from the classic city-setting to jungle, arctic, or future.

Bottom line
: A classic game parents already love, animated and brought to life to the delight of younger (and older) folks. Family game night will no longer be plagued by lost plastic pieces and you will, for a change, be the one familiar with the rules of play.

The Flint Heart

By Katherine Paterson and John Paterson; illustrated by John Rocco

Ages: 7 and up

Originally published in 1910, this fairy tale now appears in a new abridged version that has been updated for a modern audience. The story centers on the Flint Heart, a Stone Age talisman that hardens the hearts of its wearers, making them cruel and power-hungry. Lost for 5,000 years, the charm "starts bubbling away with wickedness" when it is unearthed by a kindly farmer. The moment he pockets it, the farmer turns mean — he snarls and shouts and hits his oldest son, Charlie. To rid their father of the evil charm, Charlie and his sister turn for help to a cast of magical creatures, including pixies and, bizarrely, a hot water bottle. The illustrations have a modern animated look (yes, a film is in the works), but the writing retains that wonderfully arch tone of Victorian classics like Winnie-the-Pooh.

Bottom line: The Flint Heart is a wonderfully wacky yarn made for reading aloud, one chapter at a time.


Ages: 8 and up

Dweebies is a strategic, delightfully designed card game in which each player tries to collect the most cards. Kids will start to learn probability as they try to determine if another player will scoop up a row of cards before they do, based on how many of each card type is included in the deck. Up to six people can play, and in this game, the more the merrier.

Bottom line: Cute cartoon characters and simple rules create a fun and unpredictable game.