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Smart Mom’s Toy Box: June 2015

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.

Smart Dad’s Toy Box

Gather ’round, dads (and moms)! This month, we’ve rounded up a bunch of family-friendly games that are sure to delight, entertain, and challenge the brains of your brood. We think each of these games and activities is a perfect addition to your family’s repertoire, and the best part is, dad will love them, too.

1. DaVinci’s Trebuchet

Once upon a time, trebuchets smashed down castle walls, bringing entire kingdoms to their knees. Fast forward a few hundred years and this working replica can knock down makeshift dollhouses, office supply towers and other things your mischievous mind can think of to bring pesky siblings or annoying coworkers to their knees. Measuring 18 inches long by seven inches wide by 24 inches tall, this battling bad boy can hurl a soft modeling clay ball over 20 feet. But all in good fun—of course. Your family will learn basic principles of physics while engaging fine motor skills of the motor cortex in order to build an awesome machine.

2. Labyrinth

This timeless game of Labyrinth is all about the balancing – like yoga for your hands! The idea is that, by using only the knobs on the sides of the board to tilt towards your direction, you must guide the steel ball along the black path, through the labyrinth, to find inner peace. Along the way are many traps, but no worries if the ball falls through one – simple play for points, and add the number of that trap to your score! Use the four included mazes to play head-to-head, as a family, as a team, or in the quiet of your own mind. (And, as an added bonus, two mazes feature brainy facts, so you can learn state capitals or periodic elements at the same time!) The hippocampus, important for memory storage and recall, as well as visual processing centers are activated while navigating the Labyrinth.

3. The GeekBox

These puzzles may not have many pieces, but don’t get too smug as you take them apart, thoroughly convinced that you can reassemble them during the commercials of your favorite Star Trek (the original series) episode. Because if that televised geekfest has taught you anything, it’s that looks can be deceiving. And assembling these handsome little fellas is much harder than it looks. To succeed, you’ll need a hefty dose of memory, visual perception, and strategic thinking skills. The payoff is a smarter brain and a computertop decoration that’s both beautiful and brilliant. One of those rare puzzles that engages the hippocampus, frontal, and parietal lobes, the GeekBox makes for a total mental workout.

4. Tic Tac Two

A World War II soldier created Tic Tac Two as a way to help him and his comrades pass the time in a foxhole. It’s like Tic Tac Toe, only better for your brain, which is no surprise for a game created by a member of the Greatest Generation. What makes Tic Tac Two better? For starters, this solid wood strategy game has 25 spaces instead of nine. But the real fun (and brain workout) begins when players pick up the smaller grid of nine spaces and move it around the larger board to either win the game or block their opponent. Play this addictive game over and over and you’ll never see the same strategy twice! A constantly shifting perspective requires a nimble brain and agile prefontal cortex as you adjust strategy to the evolving game board.

5. Inside³_Mortal

INSIDE³ is a unique puzzle that is sure to shake, rattle, and roll your noggin to new brainy heights. Guide the small marble through the dark and twisty labyrinth full of false paths and other sneaky traps to throw you off your game. On each of these two faces, the player finds a map indicating the course that needs to be taken in order to direct the marble towards its destination. The map is composed of 7 plots representing the successive layers that must be crossed. Luckily, we carry six different difficulty levels of INSIDE³ so there’ll always be the perfect place to get you started, no matter what your experience is in tricky, dexterity and memory driven puzzles. Give INSIDE³ a crack, but don’t blame is if you can’t put it down! The Mortal level is the most difficult. You cannot take apart the cube to find the marble and there are no maps. Good luck!

6. Tummple

Deep down we’ve all got little bit of architect and carpenter in us. There’s this innate desire to build and create. In some of us, there’s also a desire to see our friends fail and watch that glimmer of hope in their eyes disappear only to find their plans have been ruined. Of that course that’s only a small percentage of people. Luckily, Tummple is just the game for people like you! Part Jenga, part Suspend, players must role a dice to determine what type of piece to stack on the structure being assembled by the rest of the players. Make it fall over and you must keep those bricks. Be the player with the least amount of bricks at the end to win. This suspenseful and engaging game is great for those looking to brush up on their physics and spatial reasoning skills. And the wooden block design is beautiful and durable as well, guaranteed to fall and be drenched by the tears of your opponents numerous times. Develop fine motor skills as you stack different geometric shapes higher and higher without knocking them down.