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Smart Mom’s Toy Box: December 2014

Brain training experts Ken Gibson and Tanya Mitchell have created a list of toys, games, and activities that support healthy cognitive development. “We want to give parents practical tips they can use to make savvy buying decisions,” Gibson explains. “Science continues to provide insights into how plastic our brains really are, and there’s absolutely no reason not to use that characteristic to help our kids experience more success in school and in life.”

“A parent whose child has Attention Deficit Disorder, for example, can purchase toys that improve attention,” explains Mitchell. “Likewise, a child who struggles with reading can benefit from games that practice sound-blending and segmenting.” Gibson is the founder of national brain training franchise LearningRx, and the coauthor 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 stimulate the brain in ways that support core cognitive skills.
  • Parents can help their kids get smarter at any age.
  • Brain research shows that the brain continues to grow throughout life.
  • Children who are already good learners will do even better in school with stronger cognitive skills.
  • Parents should take 30 minutes three times per week to focus on developing strong cognitive skills in their children.
  • One way to strengthen cognitive skills is to use fun, game-like activities.
  • How important are strong cognitive skills? Research shows that 88% of all reading struggles are the result of a single weak cognitive skill.

25 Games under $20

For parents in search of toys that are both fun and educational,LearningRx has put together “The Smart Mom’s Toy Box.” The toys have all been selected by Dr. Toy (Stevanne Auerbach) for inclusion in her Magic Toy Box (, and every toy is under $20. Her Magic Toy Box is a collection of handpicked educational, development, and skill-building products that have made one of her four annual award programs, including Best Vacation Toys, Best Green Toys, Best Classic Toy, and Best Toys for that year.

The Smart Mom’s Toy Box
25 Brain-Building Toys Under $20

If you’re reading this, there’s probably still hope that you haven’t taken out a second mortgage to pay for your children’s Rapunzel-esque Christmas wish lists. Good for you! That means there’s still hope that you can experience the perfect trifecta of gift-giving (fun, educational, and cheap!) with this list of fun but brain-boosting toys—all under $20!

All 25 toys were taken from Dr. Toy’s (Stevanne Auerbach) Magic Toy Box (, a collection of handpicked educational, development, and skill-building products that have made one of her four annual award programs (Best Vacation Toys, Best Green Toys, Best Classic Toys, and Best Toys for that year).

The toys below help strengthen a variety of cognitive skills—like memory, auditory and visual processing, attention, processing speed, and logic & reasoning—which are the essential tools needed to learn, memorize, process, and recall information.

1. Balance Benders by Fun Physics Toys ($9.99)
Solve these quick, fun logic problems that develop deductive thinking and pre-algebra skills.
Ages: 9+
Cognitive skills: logic & reasoning, math skills, attention

2.Basic 001 by LaQ USA ($7.50)
Build 3D models with this kit of 85 pieces containing all seven types of pieces and connectors.
Ages: 5+
Cognitive skills: visual processing, planning

3. Math Dice Jr. by Fun Physics Toys ($8)
Roll the 12-sided die to get your target number, then roll the five 6-sided scoring dice. Add and/or subtract the scoring dice to match the target number. For every scoring die used, you move a point toward the finish line.
Ages: 3+
Cognitive skills: math computations, planning, visual processing, attention

4. Meet the Phonics—Blends Coloring Book by Preschool Prep Company ($4.95)
Using characters, this book comes from an award-winning series (25+ national awards) that teaches phonics to early learners.
Ages: 15 months+
Cognitive skills: phonemic awareness, sound blending, visual processing, attention

5. Superstructs Custom Kit by WABA Fun, LLC ($10)
Create a personalized building set by choosing from eight different models and creating a personal message for the recipient on the cover of the box.
Ages: 3+
Cognitive skills: visual processing, planning, logic & reasoning, attention

6. Magnetic Chess by TravelKiddy ($6.99)
Use strategy and planning to take down your opponent’s king. Magnetic to use in the car.
Ages: 6+
Cognitive skills: visual processing, strategy, planning, attention, logic & reasoning

7. Classic Peg Game by Toy Smith ($2.99)
Jump pegs, removing them as you go, with a goal to get down to just one remaining peg.
Ages: 8+
Cognitive skills: logic & reasoning, planning, strategy, attention

8. Chef Pop de Pop by Gamewright ($16.99)
Shake the shaker and count up the popcorn on the dice. Collect your cards to see if the total matches any of the flavors.
Ages: 6+
Cognitive skills: visual processing, attention, math computations

9. Feelings by Little Pim ($9.99)
Learn to describe your feelings in three languages: Spanish, French, and English.
Ages: 6 months+
Cognitive skills: Auditory processing, sound blending, phonemic awareness, language development

10. Dr. Funster’s Think-a-Minutes by Fun Physics Toys ($7.99)
Enjoy this collection of thinking puzzles and games.
Ages: 9+
Cognitive skills: language development, writing, visual processing, spatial relations, math skills, logic & reasoning

11. Clubs by North Star Games ($13.99)
Get rid of all your cards as fast as possible while taking tricks with clubs in them to gather points. Comes with 60 cards with the four classic suits but no face cards.
Ages: 8+
Cognitive skills: planning, logic & reasoning, attention, memory, strategy

12. Clumsy Thief by Melon Rind ($13.99)
A fast-paced card game requiring a mix of strategy, addition skills, and luck!
Ages: 8+
Cognitive skills: strategy, planning, math computations, attention

13. Distraction by ThinkFun ($11.20)
Memorize the numbers on the cards as the sequence of digits continues to grow. Draw a Distraction card and you must answer a question before reciting the cards’ numbers in order. Get it wrong and you must collect all the cards. The player who gets rid of their cards first wins.
Ages: 8+
Cognitive skills: memory, attention

14. Match It! Spelling Memory by The Learning Journey International ($11.99)
Find matching pairs that teach short spelling words, like “cat” and “frog.”
Ages: 3+
Cognitive skills: memory, problem solving, sound blending, auditory processing, phonemic awareness

15. Multiplication Master Electronic Flash Card by Learning Resources ($13.44)
Show off your multiplication skills with this electronic handheld flash card game. Batteries not included.
Ages: 7+
Cognitive skills: Math computations, processing speed, attention, memory, visual processing

16. Show Me the Kwan by Griddly Games ($16.99)
Roll the dice and be the first to choose the letter that matches the category for that round. Then earn points as you call out words where either the first, second, or last letter corresponds to the letter that was rolled.
Ages: 8+
Cognitive skills: auditory & visual processing, attention, processing speed

17. Spot It! by UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation ($13.95)
Find the symbol that each of two cards has in common. A fun, fast game for the entire family.
Ages: 24m – 14 years
Cognitive Skills: attention, processing speed, visual processing

18. The Big Fat Tomato Game by Gamewright ($13.92)
Harvest tomatoes and stockpile them for “Market Time” but be prepared to defend them from a variety of intruders!
Ages: 10+
Cognitive skills: strategy, numerical fluency, math computations, attention, visual processing, memory

19. Helicopter Kit by Laser Pegs Ventures, LLC ($19.99)
Build any of six models or your own creations with these kits that light up with LED technology.
Ages: 5+
Cognitive skills: visual processing, planning, attention

20. Alaska Scramble Squares by b. dazzle ($8.95)
Billed as “Easy to Play, but Hard to Solve!,” these award-winning, nine-piece brain teaser puzzles come in 150 styles.
Ages: 4+
Cognitive skills: critical thinking, memory, attention, visual processing

21. Po Rum Bo by X Plus Products, Inc. ($19.99)
Practice addition and multiplication in this educational card game as you accumulate points by attempting to place all 52 cards on the 81-square game board.
Ages: 8+
Cognitive skills: Math computation skills, strategy, planning, visual processing

22. Smarty Pants Puzzles by Fun Physics Toys ($11.99)
Read the puzzle and analyze the picture looking for evidence to help you answer the questions.
Ages: 8+
Cognitive skills: reading comprehension, critical thinking, visual processing, deductive reasoning

23. Match It—Sequencing by The Learning Journey International ($11.99)
Which came first, the chicken or the egg … or the chick? This sequencing game includes 20 sets of puzzle cards to help young children understand the order of life cycles and events.
Ages: 3+
Cognitive skills: sequential reasoning, logic, visual processing

24. Super Solar Recycler by OWI Robotics ($19.95)
This eco-friendly toy kit encourages recycling (CD-ROMs, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, etc.) while harnessing the power of solar energy!
Ages: 8+
Cognitive skills: planning, strategy, logic & reasoning, visual processing

25. Ghost Blitz 2 by Lion Rampant Imports ($19.95)
The game of mental and manual dexterity.
Ages: 8+
Cognitive skills: visual processing, attention, memory, language skills

“Thanks to neuroplasticity, we now know that the brain can change, adapt and grow at any age,” explains Tanya Mitchell, co-author of “Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child” ( “The fastest and most effective way to strengthen your cognitive skills is through one-on-one brain training, which produces measurable and permanent results. But on a smaller scale, parents can help strengthen their children’s brain skills by choosing games and activities that use these skills.”

Ready to head to the store (or online!) to do your holiday shopping? Take this list, or download a free Games for Skills Chart at: