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Smart Mom’s Toy Box: 10 Games Under $20

Nationally renowned brain training experts Dr. Ken Gibson and Tanya Mitchell have created a free list to help parents shop for toys, games, and brain activities that will help improve learning skills in their home. (See the bottom of the page for a list of cognitive skills and their descriptions.) “Our hope is that parents will shop wisely for toys this year, purchasing toys that can help develop the cognitive skills that make learning possible—like auditory and visual processing, memory, logic and reasoning, processing speed, and attention,”says Gibson. “Research now shows that learning skills can be taught—and therefore improved. Brain skills training does for the mind what physical exercise does for the body.”

A parent whose child has Attention Deficit Disorder, for example, would want to shop for toys that improve attention,” explains Mitchell. “Likewise, a child who struggles with reading would benefit from games that practice sound blending and segmenting.”

Dr. Gibson is founder of the national brain training franchise LearningRx, and co-author of “Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child” with Mitchell.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • A smart toy box will focus on all major learning skills.
  • Parents can help their kids and teens (and adults) get smarter at any age.
  • Brain research shows that the brain continues to grow throughout life.
  • Parents should help prepare a good learner for school by developing learning skills.
  • Parents should take 30 minutes, 3 times per week to work on developing these skills.
  • The best way to strengthen learning skills is to use fun, game-like activities.
  • Studies show that reading problems can be prevented.

1. Block by Block, Brick by Brick, Shape by Shape, or Square by Square

Block by Block $11.35 ** from Amazon.com

(or $6.50 from other Amazon sellers)

Brick by Brick $10.27 from Amazon.com

(or $8.00 from other Amazon sellers)

Shape by Shape for $12.26 from Amazon.com

(or $11.99 from other Amazon sellers)

Square by Square for $11.21 from Amazon.com

(or $6.50 from other Amazon sellers)

Learning skills Block by Block utilizes:

Deductive Reasoning, Discrimination, Logic and Reasoning, Manipulation, Memory, Pattern Recognition, Planning, Problem Solving, Sustained Attention, Visual Processing, Working Memory

2. Blokus To GoBoard Game: Blokus!

$14.99 from Amazon.com (or $9.00 from other Amazon sellers)

Learning skills Blokus utilizes:

Logic and Reasoning, Planning, Problem Solving, Sequential Processing, Visual Processing

3. Buzz Word JuniorBoard Game: Buzz Word

$13.99 from Amazon.com

Learning skills Buzz Word Junior utilizes:

Auditory Processing, Blending, Analysis, Comprehension, Deductive Reasoning, Inductive Reasoning, Logic and Reasoning, Problem Solving, Processing Speed, Sequential Processing, Short-Term Memory

4. Connect Four Travel Size: Wooden Strategy GameBoard Game: Connect 4

On sale for $9.95 from BrilliantPuzzles.com

Learning skills Connect Four utilizes:

Divided Attention, Executive Processing, Logic and Reasoning, Planning, Problem Solving, Sequential Processing

5. Gordion’s KnotBoard Game: Gordion's Knot

$9.78 from Amazon.com

($7.31 from other Amazon sellers)

Learning skills Gordion’s Knot utilizes:

Deductive Reasoning, Logic and Reasoning, Long-Term Memory, Planning, Problem Solving, Procedural Memory, Short-Term Memory, Visual Manipulation, Visual Processing

6. Raging RapidsBoard Game: Raging Rapids

$8.09 from Amazon.com (or $5.99 from other Amazon sellers)

Learning skills Raging Rapids utilizes:

Deductive Reasoning, Discrimination, Logic and Reasoning, Manipulation, Memory, Pattern Recognition, Planning, Problem Solving, Sustained Attention, Visual Processing, Working Memory

7. Scruble CubeBoard Game: Scruble Cube

$19.04 from Amazon.com

(or $18.00 from other Amazon sellers)

Learning skills Scruble Cube utilizes:

Deductive reasoning, Logic and Reasoning, Long-Term Memory, Planning, Problem Solving, Procedural Memory, Short-Term Memory, Visual Manipulation, Visual Processing

8. Skip BoBoard Game: Skip Bo

Skip Bo (card game) for $7.96 from Amazon.com (or $2.49 from other Amazon sellers)

Skip Bo Breakers (tile game) for $12.11 from Amazon.com (or $8.99 from other Amazon sellers)

Learning skills Skip Bo utilizes:

Divided Attention, Executive Processing, Numerical Concept, Numerical Fluency, Planning, Processing Speed, Selective Attention, Sequential Processing, Short-Term Memory, Sustained Attention, Visual Processing

9. Visual BrainstormsBrain Storm Card games

$10.65 from Amazon.com (or $7.95 from other Amazon sellers)

Learning skills Visual Brainstorms utilizes:

Comprehension, Deductive Reasoning, Executive Functioning, Inductive Reasoning, Logic and Reasoning, Math Computations, Mental Math, Problem Solving, Sequential Processing, Simultaneous Processing, Visual Processing, Working Memory

10. Wooden Jewel-Shaped Brain Teaser PuzzleWOODEN JEWEL-SHAPED BRAIN TEASER PUZZLE

$9.95 each from BrilliantPuzzles.com

Learning skills the Jewel-Shaped Puzzle utilizes:

Deductive Reasoning, Logic and Reasoning, Long-Term Memory, Planning, Problem Solving, Procedural Memory, Short-Term Memory, Visual Manipulation, Visual Processing

** Prices may not be the same as listed once you click through to Amazon. They change their prices frequently.

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Definitions of Major Learning Skills

Algebraic Concept: to understand how symbols can relate to one another and to the quantities that they represent.

Auditory Recognition of Equivalence: to discriminate numerical and fractional equivalency in quantities or symbolic representation that one hears.

Auditory Processing: to hear and process sounds. Helps one hear the difference, order and number of sounds in words faster; basic skill needed to learn to read and spell; helps with speech defects.

Auditory Discrimination: to hear differences in sounds such as loudness, pitch, duration, and phoneme.

Auditory Segmenting: to break apart a word into its separate sounds.

Auditory Blending: to blend individual sounds to form words.

Auditory Analysis: to determine the number, sequence, and which sounds are within a word.

Auditory-Visual Association: to be able to link a sound with an image.

Combinatorics: a branch of modern mathematics that studies the ways in which numbers and other mathematical objects can be combined.

Comprehension: to understand words and concepts.

Deductive Reasoning (Deduction): inference in which the conclusion about particulars follows necessarily from general or universal premises.

Denominator: part of a fraction that designates how many parts make up the whole—the bottom number.

Divided Attention: to attend to and handle two or more tasks at one time such as taking notes while listening and carrying totals while adding the next column without making errors. Required for handling tasks quickly or complete tasks with complexity.

Executive Functioning: a constellation of several complex, inter-related mental operations or constructs, including the allocation of attentional resources, working memory, planning, problem solving, response inhibition, self-monitoring and regulation, and the maintenance of mental sets.

Inductive Reasoning (Induction): to make generalized conclusions from particular instances.

Integers: whole numbers (not fractional).

Iterative Memory: to remember a series of periodically repeating steps.

Logic and Reasoning: to reason, plan, and think.

Long-Term Memory: to store information and fluently retrieve it later in the process of thinking.

Math Computations: to do math calculations such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.

Mental Math: computations that are done mentally.

Numerator: part of a fraction that designates how many parts of the whole the fraction represents—the top number.

Numerical Concept: to understand the meaning of numbers and their relationship with other numbers and quantities.

Numerical Fluency: to quickly, efficiently, and accurately apply relationships between number concepts.

Pattern Recognition: to be able to recognize that a series of steps is repeating periodically.

Planning: to prioritize information and organize processes into a logical, sequential order.

Polyominoes: figures that are formed by joining identical squares along their edges.

Problem Solving: to organize information, define the goal of inquiry, plan a series of sequential steps and apply the steps accurately to satisfy the goal of inquiry.

Procedural Memory: to remember a sequence of steps and the step in which you are currently operating.

Processing Speed: the speed at which the brain handles and processes information. Makes reading faster and less tiring; makes one more aware of his or her surrounding environment; helps with sports such as basketball, football, and soccer and activities such as driving.

Product: the number resulting from the multiplication together of two or more numbers.

Saccadic Fixation: to move the eyes accurately and quickly from one point to another.

Selective Attention: to stay on task even when action is present.

Sensory-Motor Integration: to have sensory skills work well with motor skills – i.e. eye-hand coordination.

Sequential Processing: to process chunks of information received one after another.

Short-Term Memory: ability to apprehend and hold information in immediate awareness and use it within a few seconds.

Simultaneous Processing: to process chunks of information received all at once.

Sum: the result of adding numbers.

Sustained Attention: to be able to stay on task over a period of time.

Topology: the study of properties of a figure that remain unaltered when the figure is distorted. It is sometimes referred to as “rubber sheet geometry.”

Visual Processing: to receive and process information and make use of visual images. Helps one create mental pictures faster and more vividly; helps one understand and “see” word math problems and read maps; improves reading comprehension skills.

Visual Discrimination: to see differences in size, color, shape, distance, and orientation of objects

Visual Manipulation: to flip, rotate, move, change color, etc. of objects and images in one’s mind

Visual Memory: to be able to create and retain a visual image after the visual stimulus has been removed.

Visual Recognition of Equivalence: to discriminate numerical and fractional equivalency in quantities or symbolic representations that one sees.

Visualization: to create mental images or pictures.

Visual Processing: the ability to accurately create, maintain, and analyze a visual representation or picture mentally. Helps one understand and “see” math word problems and read maps; improves the ability to accurately perform mental math and computations; improves reading and comprehension skills.

Visual Span: helps one see more and wider in a single look. Improves side vision. Enables faster reading and better, faster decisions in sports.

Working Memory: to retain information while processing or using it.