Finding just the right gift for someone special in your life can be a difficult task, and finding the right gift for kids can be even tougher. With interests and hobbies that can change by the day, it’s often beneficial to find gift ideas that aren’t tied in with a current fad or trend, which may become unappealing in a few weeks’ time. Because educational toys and gifts have high replay value, they’re a great idea for kids in need of a little mental stimulation.

We’ve rounded up the greatest and most popular educational toys, gifts, and mobile apps to help you in your quest for the perfect gift for the children in your life this holiday season.

Best Educational Toys for Kids

Goldieblox

In late 2013, Goldieblox was riding a wave of popularity and released a viral video that turned into controversy for the small toy maker. Despite the dustup, Goldieblox proved to be a real winner for parents who were looking for a less male-centric toy for girls interested in science and engineering. The kits themselves are engaging and thought-provoking, and each includes a story book that brings the experience to life.

In early 2014, Goldieblox won both the Toy Industry Association’s People’s Choice Award and Educational Toy of the Year Awards and has continued to make waves for its unique approach to toys for girls.

Price: $20–30 each for most of the smaller sets, $60 for the larger “Builders Survival Kit.”

Age Range: Recommended for ages 4–12, depending on the kit.

Available From: Goldieblox, Amazon

 

Rainbow Loom

We first reported on the Rainbow Loom trend in January, and the toy is expected to be a big seller again this holiday season. Winner of the Toy Industry Association’s Toy of the Year Award in 2014, kids and parents everywhere have taken to the colorful craft.

Price: $10–20 to get started, ~$10 for a few thousand extra rubber bands.

Age Range: Recommended for ages eight and up.

Available From: Rainbow Loom, Amazon  

Snap Circuit Junior

When something makes it all the way to the top of the “best seller” charts on Amazon, it’s usually worth a look. The Snap Circuit Junior tops Amazon’s list of Best Seller in Early Development Science Toys, and for good reason.

With over 1,800 user reviews and a perfect 5-star rating, Snap Circuit Junior gives students over 100 hands-on projects to work through. Projects include a working photo sensor, a siren with adjustable volume, and a flashing light, and they provide countless hours of tinkering for the curious kids in your life.

Among the countless positive reviews, one user extolls: “I bought this for my 9-year-old grandson’s birthday. He loved it and, in fact, did not play with his Game Cube or computer for days on end because he wanted to play with this. I highly recommend!” It’s hard to argue with endorsements like this!

Price: $21 on Amazon for the Snap Circuit Junior kit, ~$15–50 for other kits.

Age Range: Recommended for ages seven and up.

Available From: Amazon, Toys R Us, Walmart

Magformers

Among the highest-rated building toys available, Magformers are sets of instant-connect magnets that let students build 3D models of nearly anything that can be imagined (with enough magnets, of course).

The beginner “Rainbow” kit comes with 30 pieces in a variety of colors and shapes, and is the perfect kit for getting into Magformers. A number of other Magformer sets are available, and all sets promote the development of spatial reasoning and awareness and critical thought.

Price: $15–70, depending on which set you choose.

Age Range: Recommended for ages three and up.

Available From: Amazon, Toys R Us

Thinkfun Rush Hour

Less of a toy and more of a puzzle, Rush Hour from Thinkfun is a great way for students to develop critical thinking skills by working through over 40 “challenges” to unwind a traffic jam.

Challenges are broken up into four difficulty levels, allowing students to progress through them at their pace and giving younger students the ability to feel accomplished while still providing a challenge for older students as well. There is also an online version of Rush Hour that students can play for free.

Rush Hour was the “Toy of the Year” winner in 2009 and boasts a perfect 5-star rating on Amazon, with more than 400 reviews (requires Flash).

Price: $18–20 for the starter kit, $5–10 for additional kits or challenge cards.

Age Range: Recommended for ages three and up.

Available From: Amazon, ThinkfunToys R Us

Kindle Fire HD6

These days, you can get a pretty good little tablet for $99, and the Kindle Fire HD 6 is just about the best deal at this price point. This is especially true if your family subscribes to Amazon Prime.

While a Kindle Fire tablet may be a gift for the parent themselves, there are tons of kid-friendly apps, games, books, and videos that the parent can load on the tablet for entertainment and education. Amazon’s Kindle software allows for user profiles that let parents set screen time limits for kids.

For another $50, you can buy a kid-friendly version that includes a bumper case for added durability, a free year of “Free Time,” and a two-year no-questions-asked window in which you can replace a broken tablet.

Price: $99 for the basic version, add $50 for the kid-friendly edition.

Age Range: Recommended for ages three and up.

Available From: Amazon, Best Buy

Lego Mindstorms

We’ve mentioned Lego Mindstorms before, and we just couldn’t leave it off a list of the best educational toys for kids. While the sets can be fairly expensive at $350, the reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

Good gift for older kids getting serious about engineering or robotics.

Price: $350 for Mindstorms EV3, up to $700 for other models like the Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0.

Age Range: Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Available From: Amazon, ToyWiz

Minecraft

There is much evidence that points to the educational benefits of the open-world sandbox that is Minecraft. Less of a game and more of a creative canvas, Minecraft lets students explore their imaginations by giving them countless building tools and an adventure mode that can serve as a problem-solving exercise.

Following years of incredible popularity, Minecraft is now available for most platforms including Windows, Mac, and Linux, game consoles like Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and mobile devices like iPhone/iPad, Android and Amazon Kindle Fire, making it one of the most popular “games” of the last several years.

If you have a creative mind in your home, Minecraft may be a great tool to expand ideas and explore possibilities, without leaving toys all over the house.

Price: $6.99 for Minecraft Pocket Edition, $20 for console versions, $27 for the PC, Mac, and Linux versions.

Age Range: Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Available From: Minecraft.net, Playstation Store, Xbox Marketplace, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon App Store

Qwirkle

Qwirkle is a simple board game where players are required to match colors and shapes. Winner of the Parents’ Choice Foundation Gold Award, this game requires the development of critical thinking skills. Build lines by matching tiles of same color or symbol. It is reminiscent of Uno (matching colors or numbers) combined with Scrabble (drawing tiles and using them).

The Parents’ Choice Foundation awarded Qwerkle with the “Parent’s Choice Gold Award” in 2007, and the game remains popular today, earning 4.5 stars out of 5 on Amazon.

Price: $21 for the standard version, $13 for the travel version.

Age Range: Recommended for ages six and up.

Available From: MindWareAmazon, Walmart

Early Learning Programs by K12

If you’re shopping for a child in the Pre-K through third-grade range and are searching for something that is designed with educational value specifically in mind, you should check out the Embark12 Pre-K program and the Noodleverse Language Arts program from K12 Inc.

Embark12 is designed to provide preschool learners with a structured yet engaging way to develop foundational skills that set young learners up for a strong start when entering kindergarten.

With more than 800 online games and activities (more/offline available in the Embark12 Comprehensive package) spanning all major subjects, Embark12 gives you the ability to be actively involved in your child’s kindergarten preparation.

Noodleverse Language Arts is a program designed to help children in kindergarten through third grade become confident readers and writers.

With hundreds of interactive activities spanning phonics, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, writing, and more, Noodleverse by K12 provides students with hours of fun and engaging learning opportunities.

Price: $69 for a year of access to Embark12 Online, $99 for Embark12 Comprehensive. $49 for yearly access to one grade level of Noodleverse, or $149 for yearly access to all K–3 levels. Note: If you are enrolled in a K12 school, you already have access to Noodleverse as part of your child’s Language Arts curriculum!

Age Range: Embark12—ages three through six, Noodleverse—ages five through eight

Available From: K12 Inc.

 

We know there are many more educational toys and games available, but we couldn’t include them all. We’d love to hear your ideas as well, so please share your recommendations in the comments below, and check back with Learning Liftoff for more holiday content to bring more meaning and magic to the season.


Featured Image Credit – rok1966 / CC by 2.0

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