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Smart Mom’s Toy Box: Ideas to Stuff Your Stockings and Brains

little girl smiling wearing a santa hat in front on chimney with stockings 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.

Stocking Stuffer Ideas

1. AmazeAmaze Maze board games

A maze that changes every time you play! Players must navigate through the maze with the attached stylus, pushing open movable gateways while avoiding traps and dead ends! An innovative twist on a classic maze puzzle, Amaze’s diabolical shifting pathways change the solution path during play! With 16 unique challenges and no pieces to lose, Amaze is the ideal travel game!

Ages: Eight to adult
Players: Single player
Features: 16 Maze Challenges and one hand-held maze with stylus

2. Backgammon (Travel)Backgammon board game

Backgammon has been building prefrontal cortices for 5,000 years, give or take a few. That’s the part of your brain responsible for critical thinking and decision making so it’s fairly important. And we’re guessing that yours could use a workout. Come to think of it, whose brain couldn’t use a good workout? Good thing there’s executive backgammon. This portable metal game case comes with magnetic pieces so you can play just about anywhere you get the urge to whip your prefrontal cortex into shape. And, at under $15, executive backgammon makes a great gift for that office holiday gift exchange you’ve been dreading.

3. Callistocallisto board game

Callisto will have everyone in your family totally enthralled from young to old! It’s an easy game to learn but requires strategic skills and a little luck to master. Players compete to place the most tiles on the board. Callisto’s brilliant design—including a board that changes surface according to the number of players present—is among one of the features that make this game so unique. While the goal is simple—be the first player to place all of his/her tiles onto the board—the shapes of the tiles and additional columns make winning quite tricky. The game plays out like a competitive puzzle and finesse and cunning are required to triumph.

– Combines simplicity with brilliant game design
– Invented by Reiner Knizia, a world-renowned and award-winning game inventor

4. I SPY (Preschool Edition)I spy board games

Drawn by vibrant, realistic pictures, little kids are on a mission to find the objects they recognize. Even better, they’re on a roll for learning! I SPY Preschool Game helps players to practice the important pre-reading skills of visual discrimination, matching, rhyming, and first reading. There is nothing like a fast-paced, fun learning game to reinforce and broaden vocabulary. An exceptional beginning reading game – children naturally try to use the pictures to help them decipher words. I SPY Preschool also helps children refine small motor skills and learn to cooperate and follow rules. Best of all… it’s fun!

  • See the words, match the pictures, and everyone wins!
  • Assists children in visual discrimination, matching, rhyming, fine motor skills, and first reading
  • There are five ways to play this preschool learning game
  • Two levels of difficulty to accommodate differing abilities
  • Includes versions for beginning and advanced players
  • Self-correcting matching game for one to four players
  • Ideal for beginning game players
  • Safe for toddlers with no small parts
  • Ages three to six

5. Lonpos Rectangular GameIq memory game

Lonpos brings you an all new experience in puzzle games. Through the refined game board you can train intelligence and logical thinking.

Lonpos includes a stable and handy box with a pressure lock which can be opened by small children. The game includes 12 colorful building blocks, a challenge book and a challenge card. Overall there are 23,782 challenges in different levels and dimensions.

Fantastic for all ages, it presents challenging problems yet is so easy to understand that supervised children from the age of three could have a try at some of the easier problems.

Lonpos is not only a game which is incredibly exciting and brings a lot of long-lasting fun, it also has fundamental functions for brain development and for developing further skills in spatial thinking, geometry, and trains the short-term memory. Different forms and colors combined with an increasing degree of difficulty helps to stimulate your brain.

6. PuzzleBlox Six-Sided Puzzlepuzzle blocks

Create six different fine art images using the 130 mini six-sided color cubes. Individual blocks measure approximately 1/2 inch each. Use the clear puzzle tray used to assemble puzzle. With each block piece one needs to discover the correct up-side to be used to create the image. Six picture cards are included as guides for assembly.

PuzzleBlox has 130 mini cubes which when assembled correctly as a 10″ x 13″ grid make a delightful fine art image. Each cube has six sides. There are six different images which can be created. This is a tricky and difficult puzzle which requires keen eyes and patience. Sounds easy, but possibly only a master puzzler will be able to complete these masterpieces. The six puzzle fine art images are: Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Dance at Bougival; Claude Monet – Water Lilies; Edgar Degas – Ballerina in Green; George Seurat – A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte; Gustav Klimt – The Kiss; Vincent Van Gogh – The Starry Night. Recommended for ages 12 to 105 years.

7. Sneaky Snacky Squirrel GameSNEAKY SNACKY SQUIRREL GAME

Your forest friends are hungry and they need your help. Spin the spinner, squeeze the matching colored acorn with your Squirrel Squeezers, and place it into your log. Be the first to fill your log with delicious acorns and you win. You could also spin “pick an acorn,” “steal an acorn,” or “lose an acorn,” so be strategic, little squirrel. Small Parts: Not for children under three years of age. For ages three and older for two to four players. Includes one set of Squirrel Squeezers, 20 colored acorns, four logs, one game spinner, and game board (doubles as packaging.). Develops matching, sorting, strategic thinking, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and pre-handwriting skills.

8. Sort It Out!Sort it Out  board game

Try the game of matching wits and building brainpower with Sort It Out! Players surprise each other with their guesses and hunches. The winner is the player who is the luckiest and smartest at putting five interesting items in their proper order. Example: Sort these things in order from fastest to slowest—a cheetah, a race horse, a bicycle, a rabbit, and a car going 60 mph. For two to four players, ages eight and up. Contents: 90 cards, tile holder, colored tiles, and instructions.

  • Try the newest game of matching wits and building brainpower.
  • Players surprise each other with their guesses and hunches.
  • The winner is the luckiest and the best at putting five interesting items in their proper order.

9. The Total Brain WorkoutThe Total Brain Workout 500 Puzzles game

In all, there are 450 puzzles for you to solve in this book. They are organized into nine chapters, each containing fifty puzzles that have a specific brain-based objective built into them. The fifty puzzles in Chapter One are designed to help activate the language areas of the brain, for example, whereas those in Chapter Two are designed to stimulate visual thinking areas. Chapters Three through Six involve logical thinking of various kinds. Chapter Six contains one of the most popular of all contemporary puzzle genres—Sudoku. Chapter Seven presents your mathematical brain with classic conundrums to solve, while Chapters Eight and Nine involve linguistic and cultural knowledge. The book ends with an answer key, so you can check your responses to all of the puzzles.

Each chapter starts off with a brief summary of what is known about a certain function or faculty (such as language or perception) and what features of the puzzles fit with the related research. This is followed by five puzzle sections, usually organized in order of difficulty (unless puzzles of a certain genre cannot be organized in this way). The reason for this is obvious: as you become familiar with the structure of a genre through easy puzzles, you can then use this knowledge to really put your brain to work!

10. What’s the Link? (Board Game)What's the Link board game

Each player has a card that features seven one-word clues. Each clue calls for a one-word answer that will complete a compound word or two-word phrase. For example, the clue may be “Black” and the answer “Jack”.

The reader reads the first clue from his card, and the other players shout out as many possible answers as they can think of in 10 seconds. The first player to guess the correct answer moves his playing piece three spaces on the board. If no one guesses the correct answer, the reader makes up a sentence to help out the guessers, such as, “Ben likes to visit Vegas to play Black ________.” A correct guess now earns both the reader and the guesser two spaces on the board. The next player becomes the reader, and play continues until one player reaches the finish line.