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Smart Mom’s Toy Box: It’s All In the Words

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 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.”

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. Brain Age 2Nintendo DS Brain Age game

$19.87 (or $12.99 and up from other Amazon sellers) or $19.99 for Brain Age 1

New Activities! The title is a series of mini-games designed to give your brain a workout. The 17 new, engaging activities are all designed to help work your brain and increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. Whether you’re playing simple songs on a piano keyboard or monitoring the photo finish of a foot race, you’ll love your new mental workout!

Keep training! When you start a new game, you will take a series of tests and get a score that shows how old your brain is. This number is called your Brain Age. With daily training over weeks and months, you can improve your mental acuity and lower your Brain Age. Progress is charted in graph form.

Expanded multi-player game! You can keep up to four saved files on one game card. Sharing a game allows you to compete in a picture-drawing quiz or a word challenge with family and friends. You can also use DS Download Play to send a demo to friends or compete with up to 16 players in one of four fun modes.

2. LexogonLexogon  board game

$29.95 from the makers of Lexogon

Discover Lexogon™ and Lexogon One™ — the word games where everyone plays all the time and you think about words in a great new way.

The challenge – find a word that uses the clue letters in order – but arranged in the special way required by your color category, (maybe all clue letters together, maybe the first letter first and the last letter last, or one of the other variations.)

Roll the die, move to your square, get a clue that matches the square’s color, find a word that fits the color’s Category Rule in the time allowed and you’re on your way. Be the first to find words for all the categories and you’ve won.

You move around the board finding words. There’s risk, luck and strategy involved: you can be challenged, you can lose a turn or credit for a category,
you can send someone back to start, you can “zap” or be “zapped” by another player – it all depends on the roll of the die, the cards and your way with words.

Lexogon™ and Lexogon One™ stretch your brain, memory, and mettle. They make you think, laugh and want to play again.

3. Haunted AlphabetThe Haunted Alphabet board game

FREE online game

Can you spell “goosebumps”? The Haunted Alphabet is a fun kindergarten or preschool game that’s great for helping kids to recognize the letters of the alphabet.

4. PairsinpearsPAIRSINPEARS vocabulary game

$14.95 (or $10.95 and up from other Amazon sellers)

Fresh fun comes in pears. Race to make pairs of connecting words in matching patterns. A great way for children to develop memory and cognitive skills while learning the alphabet, pattern recognition, vowels, vocabulary, rhyming, and more. Advanced players can use semi-palindromes and palindromes to win extra points. The pear-shaped pouch contains four full alphabet sets in four distinct patterns.

5. PerquackeyPerquackey word game

$9.99 from Amazon

Race against time with this fast-paced, action packed word game. Throw the dice, and make word after word. Perquackey is the fast-paced word game that has everyone going quackey. Use skill and luck to beat your opponents in this classic word game.

Each player throws the lettered dice trying to form word after word until their time is up. Perquackey comes with 13 dice, a dice cup and a sand timer.

6. Phonemic Awareness Game Setboard games

$52.95 from Amazon which includes:

Three interactive, age-appropriate games, a 64-page teacher resource book that reinforces strong phonemic awareness skills, plus a CD filled with fun activities and songs for grades kindergarten through third grade. Reinforce strong phonemic awareness skills with these fun games and activities.

7. Sound Sequence

FREE online game

In Sound Sequence, you will listen to quick sequences of two sounds, and then identify the sounds using the corresponding arrows. As you progress through the task, the sounds occur more and more rapidly. The duration of the sounds themselves do not change, but the amount of silence between them (sometimes called the inter-stimulus interval, or ISI) gradually becomes shorter, challenging your brain to process and identify the sounds more quickly. Your results give an indication of your brain’s rate processing capability by showing the shortest ISI at which you were able to identify the sounds correctly. The ability to process auditory information within milliseconds is critical for accurate speech perception, and therefore, for the development of language skills. Language skills, in turn, are critical factors in behavior, socialization and learning to read.

The human nervous system is capable of perceiving and processing information at a very fast rate. Our senses of sight, hearing, and touch do an excellent job of integrating rapidly-changing data from the outside world. In particular, the ability to process auditory information within milliseconds is critical for accurate speech perception and reading ability.

8. Squarewordssquare words board games

FREE online game

Can you see the word in the square? Letters are in order, start at any single square, and flow in horizontal or vertical direction. It’s much more challenging than it sounds at first.

9. Stay Afloatstay afloat computer game

FREE online game

Funbrain will show you a word. The player will guess a letter. If that letter is in the word, it will appear. If the letter is not in the word, one object is placed in the boat. You must guess the words before all the objects are loaded and the boat sinks! It’s a fun version of Hangman with the following options:

Harry Potter

Science words: Cells, Geology, Animals (Easy), Animals (Hard), Climate, Rainforest

Tough science words: Dinosaurs, Endangered Animals, Organic Chemistry, Physicists, Physics Terms

Geography words: General Geography, World Cities, Countries (easy), Countries (medium), Countries (hard), Countries of Asia (medium), Countries of Africa (medium), Countries of the Americas

Sports stars: NBA Stars, WNBA Stars, NBA All Time Top 50, Baseball Players, Football Stars

History words: World War II

Music words: Composers, Composers 2, Musical Instruments, Studio Recording

10. Word Puzzle WheelWord puzzle wheel computer game

FREE online game

It’s just like Wheel of Fortune…but without the pressure of a live television audience! Spin the wheel, choose letters, earn virtual money, and solve the word puzzle. Sorry, host Pat Sajak won’t be visiting your home, but you can play a fun word challenge and stay inside away from the chilly autumn winds.

11. You’ve Been SentencedYou've Been Sentenced! Board Game

$20.18 from Amazon

Just deal 10 cards each and have some zany laugh-out-loud fun making sentences. With the deck of 540 pentagon-shaped cards with over 2500 words plus Wild Cards there are billions of possible combinations. You will probably never see the same sentence twice in a lifetime. English can be a very funny language. Grades three and older. This sentence-building game uses unique five-sided cards with multiple conjugations of a base word. With a hand of 10 cards, players try to score the most points per round by constructing the longest, grammatically correct, and sensible sentence. Any player can object to another player’s sentence, on either grammatical grounds, or the fact that the sentence just doesn’t make sense. The defending player and the objecting player get to argue their points to the rest of the players, who form a jury. Half the fun is trying to defend, explain, and justify a completely ridiculous sentence to the other players. First player to reach 200 points wins.

** BONUS GAME you can make at home

Wooden letter blocks12. Alphabet Blocks or Scrabble Tiles

Help develop analysis skills by using alphabet blocks to make up nonsense words starting with two to three blocks (or tiles). Pick a vowel and a consonant and create a nonsense word, then have the child remove one of the blocks and add a new one while verbally trying to figure out what the new nonsense word sounds like. Great consonant sounds to start with are /b/ as in cab, /m/ as in ram, /t/ as in cat, /k/ as in duck, /p/ as in cup. Start with four basic vowel sounds, /e/ as in Ed, /i/ as in it, /o/ as in on and /u/ as in up. What it builds: Phonemic awareness through sound blending and segmenting. And, because this exercise is about sounds, not letter knowledge, parents should work with basic sounds and not use letter names, which can be confusing.