Here is an excerpt from my recent newspaper article on holidays gifts for kids. In the spirit of shopping local I have focused on ones available at most small town toy stores:
Trends in education are having an impact on the toys that families will see on the shelves this holiday season. While perennial favorites like crafts, trains and board games continue to be readily available, the bulk of the new toys released and selling briskly this year seem to have a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) focus.
The toy company Mechanical Science offers a number of elaborate building kits. Kids ages 6-14 use a multidimensional construction system to build structures and machines. Models include an oil drill, a flying eagle, a crane, a pulley, levers and more ($50).
Marble mazes have come a long ways since the 1980s. The Q-Ba-Maze 2.0 line offers kids ages five and uo the chance to create marble maze sculptures in the form of animals, geometric shapes, and other designs ($17-$28). Also for sale in town is the Gravity Maze by ThinkFun. The colorful Falling Marble Logic Game is aimed at ages 8 to adult and it comes with cards with 60 different challenges from beginner to expert ($30).
Especially for Girls
I wrote about the hot new “girl power” toy company GoldieBlox last year but it merits another mention. The current line extension, geared at girls ages 4-9 explores a different engineering concept in each set (belt drive, zip line, dunk tank) but makes it so fun that kids don’t realize how much they are learning as they play ($20-$30).
Perhaps even more popular with young girls today, however, is Roominate for ages 6-12. These colorful kits feature DIY wired dollhouse building sets are aimed at getting girls excited about STEM. Through hands-on building and circuits, Roominate brings together creativity and engineering ($30-$60).
I am a sucker for brain games and Brain Baffler’s IQ Collection offers several different mind exercising and mind bending challenges for kids ages 8 and up. Our local store sells the Periscope and Orbite challenges ($10-$13).
Along the same lines, Mindbending Toys is offering at least six all-new editions of Speed Puzzles, Brain Trickery, Lateral Thinking Puzzles and Optical Illusions ($9).
There is new toy category called Baby Lit. I got a huge kick out of the Little Miss Austen and Little Miss Bronte series available at our local toy store. The novels are simplified for young children and some contain cut out wood figures in period dress. Other toddler titles include Sense and Sensibility, Anna Karenina, Romeo & Juliet, Moby Dick and a dozen more ($8 and up).
Flashcards and Early Learning Toys
It is a whole new era in flashcards. There are three different hand-held electronic flashcards made by Learning Resources – one for counting and colors, one for money skills and one for telling time ($18).
Learning Resources offers some fun gift “games in a can” called Cracker Stackers geared at reinforcing early learning. The Picture Alphabet game is geared at ages four and up, the Sight Words game is for ages five and up and the Opposites game is for ages five and up.
French and Spanish bingo sets by Eeboo can sneak in some foreign language practice. The store also offers license plate bingo cards, number fluency cards and a few other fun car games ($12-15).
If your child is more interested in low-tech building projects, the Adventure Station Whittling Kit is a terrific option. Kids learn how to handcraft items out of real wood and a single kit can result in a LED lighthouse, a sailing ship or several other projects ($30).
Many stories are now offering wood building kits. Our local store is offering a wood birdhouse, dump truck and a bulldozer (for ages eight and up) from the company RED Toolbox ($13-$45).
Robots and Programming Toys
While most programming games require screen time, ThinkFund’s Robot Turtles is billed as a game for little programmers. The board game introduces basic coding concepts to preschoolers, ages four and up ($25).
Most toys stores offer a few building kits – one of which combines gyroscopes and robots. This award-winning Gyrobot by Thames & Kosmos kit has 102 pieces and seven different projects inside. The same company also offers kits for ages eight and up to build a air-driven hovercraft and other remote controlled machines ($50).
Elenco offers a series of Snap Circuits kits that will be fun for any kids ages eight and up who love hands-on electronic building projects. Kids can build a real, working motion detector, a flying saucer, a strobe light, a robot and more. Our local store had a wide selection of choices when I visited ($30-$80).
Fun for the Whole Family
I love the retro feel of the new Matchbox Trivia games: Quick Fire Quiz, Great Debate, Devilish Dilemmas and After-Dinner Quiz. The Great Debate offers 80 debatable subject cards for all ages in clever matchbox packaging ($6).
Long time favorite strategy board game The Settlers of Catan is having a resurgence. According to the Wall Street Journal, Settlers has become so popular in Silicon Valley that it’s now being used as an icebreaker at some business meetings. The game, and its many game expansion packs, are a great option when the entire family wants to play one game together ($40).
While all of these toys were available locally in Sonoma, if you want or need to shop online, try Fat Brain Toys or Educational Insights for other ideas of educational toys for all ages.