By GreatSchools Staff
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.
By J. K. Rowling , narrated by Jim Dale
Veteran Broadway actor Jim Dale created more than 200 voices to portray all the characters in the seven, unabridged audio versions of J. K. Rowlings's Harry Potter series. That adds up to a whooping 117 hours and four minutes of reading time! Dale won a Grammy for his priceless portrayal of Hermoine Granger, Hagrid, Rita Skeeter, Voldemort, and so many other wizards and muggles. Dale even made the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the most voices for an audiobook. Listen and be dazzled.
Bottom line: Don't miss these 100-plus hours of a fantasy phenomenon.
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.
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.
By Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellison
Ages: 9 and up
"I have no idea what’s going on but I’m not insane . . . So if you’re going to come along, you’re going to have to believe this stuff too." So declares Prue, the gutsy 12-year-old heroine of this adventure fantasy, the first in a projected trilogy. It's not hard to believe the richly imagined world conjured here in a Portland, Oregon forest known to locals as the Impassable Wilderness. When a flock of crows snatch Prue’s baby brother, she and goofy classmate Curtis must venture into that fearsome Wilderness to rescue him. There they encounter a world where animals talk, plants feel, postmen carry double-barreled rifles, and a terrible power struggle is taking place. Two other pleasures of the book: Ellison's elegant illustrations and Meloy's vocabulary-stretching language.
Bottom line: Wildwood is a great read for fans of such classic fantasies as The Chronicles of Narnia or Alice in Wonderland.
Ages: 7 and up
Got an iPad and a kid who likes to draw on it? Turn digital finger painting into a stunning art experience with the Nomad Compose , a brush designed for "painting" with pixels. It works with whatever painting or drawing app you like and feels as if you are working with a brush on paper. It's a remarkable sensation. The brush is 7" long and comes with two interchangeable tips: each tip creates completely different textures on the page...er, screen.
Bottom line: A paintbrush for the digital age that makes creating art on a tablet both futuristic and inspiring.
Ages: 9 and up
Future Farm provides everything your future farmer needs to build her own mini garden: tweezers and pipettes, mask and gloves, sand and water purification supplies — all you need to buy are the seeds. The kit teaches the science of hydroponics – the plants are cultivated without soil — as well as lessons on growing, feeding, watering, and propagating plants.
We have a single caveat: The kit, which smartly conveys lessons about caring for the earth, is made almost entirely of plastic, which sends a confusing message about environmental stewardship.
Bottom line: Your child can grow a cornucopia of miniature crops, right in her bedroom!