By GreatSchools Staff
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.
Ages: 4 and up
Got a kid deep in a brachiosaur phase? He or she will drool over this collection of 30-minute episodes in which charismatic zoologist Nigel Marven travels through time to tour seven prehistoric eras. The digital effects are surprisingly decent, and the science is compelling enough for novices and aspiring paleontologists alike.
Bottom line: There are a lot of dinosaur DVDs out there, but Chased by Dinosaurs is one of the best.
By Jackie Davis, iIllustrated by David Soman
Everybody's busy: Lulu's older brother won't let her tag along because she is too little, and Mom and Dad don't have time. What's a girl to do? Enter Lulu's alter ego: Ladybug Girl. Complete with wings and a ladybug polka dot skirt, Ladybug Girl and her faithful sidekick, the family basset hound that is never too busy, go off on their own adventures saving the yard from danger. With wonderful illustrations accompanying the hilarious text, Ladybug Girl is an all-time favorite picture book and a riotous read.
Made of sturdy beech wood and plastic, these colorful, snap-together toy cars are designed with kids' development in mind. Children can flex those gross and fine motor muscles while boosting their problem-solving skills by taking apart the Automoblox Minis and reassembling the pieces to create many new combinations. Even the red, green, and blue wheels snap off, though they might be prone to getting lost. While Automoblox fall on the expensive side of toy cars, they're built to last — and promote learning.
Bottom line: These high-quality toy cars will help kids' brains go vroom.
Tempted to buy your young child a Nintendo DS 3D to help you survive long car rides? LeapFrog has a smart alternative: the LeapPad2 learning tablet offers engaging games and apps that entertain while teaching reading, math, and art. Kids can snap pictures with the camera, watch educational movies, draw on the touch screen, take care of virtual pets, and even create music. This tablet will even read a story and teach the listener to sound out words. As your child’s reading skills improve, the LeapPad automatically advances the challenge. The kids will be happily learning in the back seat, so you can focus on the road. (Last year's version, the LeapPad Explorer, won our 2011 Golden Apple Wild Card Award.)
Bottom line: A touch screen tablet that makes gaming a learning experience — without hogging your entire holiday gift fund.
By Kevin Henkes, read by Katherine Kellgren
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.
Ages: 4 and up
It turns out that not every game has to result in winners and losers. In Hoot Owl Hoot kids work together to figure out how to get the owl back to its nest before the sun rises. Each player gets three cards and moves an owl token toward its nest based on the color on the card. If the player draws a sun card, the sun moves one step closer to sunrise. The goal is to get all of the owls (as many as six) back to the nest before the sun token hits full sunrise, so sometimes planning is involved — like deciding which owl will get closest to the nest with a particular card. Aside from building self-esteem and cooperative skills. Hoot Owl Hoot introduces kids to the idea of strategy, problem solving, and turn taking. No reading required, so even the youngest family members can join in.
Bottom line: A simple, fun game that uses team play to bring out the best in everyone.
Ages: 3 and up
Count your Chickens, another cooperative-play game from the folks who make Hoot Owl Hoot, uses a spinner to move chickens to the coop. The goal is to get 40 chickens in the coop before the game is over. Of course, there are obstacles along the way, this time in the form of wily foxes that steal chickens from the coop. If you don't get all 40 chickens in the coop, just try again! Another bonus is that games from Peaceable Kingdom are environmentally conscious and use minimal packaging and paper (the instructions are printed on the box, for instance).
Bottom line: A cooperative game that's simple to learn, but with enough interest to keep kids coming back.