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Smart Mom’s Toy Box: Games to Stop the Summer Brain Drain

Nationally renowned brain training experts Ken Gibson and Tanya Mitchell have created a free list to help parents shop for toys, games, and brain activities that will help improve their children’s learning skills. (See the list of cognitive skills and their descriptions below.)“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 & 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.”

Gibson is the founder of national brain training franchise LearningRx, and the 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 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 three 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. Astrojax Saturn Blue Diamondastrojax board game

Invented by a physicist interested in gravity, Astrojax Blue Diamond is a cross between a yo-yo and juggling, with an LED light show thrown in for emphasis. This easy-to-use toy has three LED balls connected to a neon string that rotate rhythmically with controlled and concise body movements. A flick of the wrist will turn the lighted balls into an impressive show in the dark. But, Astrojax Blue Diamond isn’t all just fun and games. Playing with it engages the visual and motor centers of your brain and can help improve concentration. Plus, it looks totally cool.*

Brain Health Expert Says: “Requiring adept motor coordination, Astrojax engages visual and motor centers in your brain. A creative way to improve concentration while having fun. ”

Astrojax Plusastro Jax

With nonstop phones ringing, status updates waiting and chat boxes blinking, staying focused can be…..oh sorry, what were we saying? Focus. Challenge. Right. If you’d like to regain a little focus while having fun, we recommend Astrojax Plus. A cross between a yo-yo and juggling, Astrojax Plus features three balls that rotate rhythmically with subtle body motions. This dynamic toy enhances concentration as you perform swing and rebound tricks by bouncing the balls off your body, the floors and walls. Perfect for beginner and experienced players alike, Astrojax Plus uses your brain’s visual and motor centers.

2. ColorKuColorKu board game

ColorKu is a Sudoku-like game with colored marbles—instead of numbers—that exercises all four lobes of your brain in one fell swoop. In other words, it’s kind of like those “miraculous” machines they advertise on late-night infomercials claiming to exercise your entire body with one simple move. Except in the case of ColorKu, it’s true. And you can get the aforementioned quadruple-lobe workout without the annoying spokesman and “Just 17 easy payments of $42.95 each!” Yep, for under 35 bucks, you can get a beautiful solid wood game board, countless fun game nights and one great brain workout.

Brain Specialist Says: “Rely on a large network of brain areas in all four lobes as you recognize the patterns of the colors.”

3. EternasETERNAS game

We’re always on the lookout for gifts that cool and clever dads will covet. We knew we’d found one the second we spotted Eternas. This three-dimensional, two-player strategy game challenges players to be the first to get four of their colored beads in a row horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Sounds easy enough. But the circular shape allows for borderless play, which ups the strategy quotient and makes the game more fun. This handsome, crafted-from-hardwood game was made to be left out on the coffee table, where it’ll always be ready to beckon your brain to come out and play.

Brain Health Expert Says: “The frontal lobe, which governs critical thinking and decision making, will be activated when you play this game.”

4. GobbletGobble tic tac toe game

Tic-tac-toe is all fine and dandy. But where’s the ability to move your pieces around the board? Where’s the fun of gobbling up your opponent’s smaller piece? Where’s the handsome wood storage box? They’re all in Gobblet, an award-winning game of strategy for the whole family. This four-in-a-row game adds complex layers and multiple levels of learning that will have your frontal cortex buzzing as you use your memory and forward thinking skills to gobble up your opponent. As an added bonus, you can up your feel-good quotient knowing that the makers of Gobblet plant two trees for every one tree used to produce their games.

Brain Health Expert Says: “The hippocampus, the memory center of the brain, is engaged when you plan future moves and recall rules to complete this game.”

5. High Rise Dominoesdominoes

High Rise is the first vertical domino game. Players must match the dominoes while creating a high-rise building. The taller the building, the more points rewarded for each domino played. Wild dominoes and special spacers make the game strategic and captivating. The spinning game board allows every player to see the board from their position.

Brain Specialist Says: “Uses planning to strategically place the dominoes, working the frontal cortex. Placing the pieces also requires a coordination workout.”

6. IQ Brain TrainIG brain Train game

Puzzles can give your brain a workout, but you have to work your whole brain. Which means just word puzzles or math puzzles, for example, would be like the guy at the gym with the arms of Schwarzenegger and the legs of a chicken because he neglected his lower body. Trust us, you don’t want this to happen to your brain. That’s where IQ Brain Train comes in. Packed with 108 brain training puzzles, these handy cards mix up your brain workout and keep your neurons hopping as you switch from ordering tasks to number choosing to spatial reasoning and more. Play solo or with friends.

Brain Specialist Says: “A great tool to test plasticity. By switching between ordering tasks, you improve your brain’s ability to switch between everyday issues.”

7. On the DotOn the dots

On the Dot hits the perfect brain spot. You know the one—where brain building and ridiculous amounts of fun meet. Play solitaire or against others as you try to arrange four transparent squares so they perfectly match the patterns shown on the dots card. Playing On the Dot will sharpen your problem solving skills and crank up your hand-eye coordination, which research shows actually helps kids learn to read. Don’t look now, but you just might have the world’s next reading whiz and table tennis champ on your hands.

Brain Specialist Says: “Improve visual perception and spatial reasoning while making new connections among neurons and strengthening old connections in the parietal and frontal lobes.”

8. PajagglePajaggle game

Despite all our complex emotions and sophisticated neurotransmissions, humans can be truly simple creatures at times. As proven by the same smug sense of satisfaction people get from plugging a thick puzzle piece into a snug-fitting socket of Pajaggle. This fun twist on a traditional puzzle challenges players to assemble Pajaggle as fast as they can. Time yourself or test your speed against other players. But don’t let the seemingly simple spirograph-like pieces fool you. With so many similar shapes, Pajaggle is sure to give your visual perception skills a serious workout.

Brain Health Expert Says: “As you match the mostly circular but slightly varying pieces to the correct slots on the board, visual and spatial processing centers in the brain are activated. Your hand-eye coordination is also tested as you race to assemble the pieces in the fastest time possible.”

9. PigzUp!pigzup board game

PigzUp! is another fun, good-for-your-brain game from Blue Orange Games. With each turn, players ages four and up flip over their top card to reveal a number and color. When two cards match, players race to stack up wooden piggies according to the number on the card with the right color on top. The first player to build a stable pile of piggies discards their card and wins the round. PigzUp! builds counting and color recognition skills. Better yet, it boosts hand-eye coordination, which experts say helps kids learn to read. That means with regular play, your little ones could be reading the Three Little Pigs faster than you can say “PigzUp!”

Brain Health Expert Says: “As you stack the pieces of this game by following instructions, you’ll activate motor coordination and decision making centers in your brain. ” -Neurologist

10. Stomplestompel board game

First off, the game Stomple uses marbles. So naturally, we were inclined to like it. But on top of making good use of our namesake, Stomple is also fun to play, looks sharp and does a heck of a job of exercising the cerebellum. The object of this simple abstract strategy game is to outwit your opponents by stomping their marbles before they stomp yours. The player with the last stomper on the board wins the game and takes home the utterly invaluable prize of enhanced critical thinking skills and a beefier frontal cortex. Trust us on this one, that’s much better than taking home a ribbon or a trophy.

Brain Health Expert Says: “Stomple tests your logic & reasoning abilities as you study the current state of the game and as you think ahead to plan future moves.”

11. TiltBoard Game: Tilt

You have about 100 billion neurons hopping around in your brain. And it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re getting antsy and could use a workout. Good thing there’s Tilt, a clever logic maze that will boost your strategic thinking skills, enhance your sequencing abilities and have your neurons sweating like they’re at a power boot camp class. Just pick a challenge card ranging from beginner to expert and arrange your pieces. Then tilt the game board to slide the green pieces through the center exit hole and claim sweet single-player-game victory. Trust us, your neurons will feel the burn.

Brain Health Expert Says: “You’ll use critical thinking and logic to solve this game. Thinking ahead about subsequent moves as you make current moves will actively engage the prefrontal cortex, which governs higher order functions such as focus, attention, and decision making. ”

* Games descriptions and brain health expert quotes come from Marbles: The Brain Store.