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Screen-Free Games and Toys That Boost Brain Skills: A Holiday Gift Guide

Screen-Free Games and Toys That Boost Brain Skills: A Holiday Gift Guide

Make your list and check it twice with this holiday gift guide of toys that boost brain skills! Keep this list handy as you shop for your child this holiday season.

Parents, as you’re making your holiday shopping list (and checking it twice) this year, don’t forget to include a few toys that will help your kids exercise their brain skills while they play.

In our screen-filled world, it’s important to choose toys that encourage your kids to spend some time away from screens...while also having fun and learning! Look for toys, games, kits, and crafts that help promote skills like critical thinking, problem solving, logic, memory, and more.

Not sure which toys would fit the bill? You’re in luck — we’ve compiled a list of toys that boost brain skills for you to keep in mind as you shop for your child this holiday season.

How Learning Toys Can Help Support Cognitive Skills

Learning toys are those that promote creativity, use of logic, problem solving, collaboration with others, experimentation, and other skills that aid in learning. Many learning toys are referred to as STEM toys because they help develop skills that would be useful in science, technology, engineering, and math. But the reality is, these toys can support all types of learning.

Toys don’t need to be officially labeled as “educational” toys to provide these benefits. There are plenty of toys and games out there that can help build cognitive skills that don’t fall under that category (as you’ll see in our list below). Sometimes good-old-fashioned fun can offer the biggest learning boost of them all!

What To Look For in a Good Learning Toy

Before we get to our list of toys, let’s take a quick peek at the qualities to look for in games and toys that boost brain skills. Ideally, these toys should be:

  • Open-ended. This means that a toy can be played with in a variety of ways. Maybe it can be disassembled and reassembled, or it has more than one solution, or it just generally nudges kids toward creativity and exploration. Toys like this help to give kids a deeper understanding of rules, patterns, logic, and how things work.
  • Accessible. An ideal learning toy doesn’t require extensive adult help or supervision. It also doesn’t force kids to follow overly-specific instructions. Instead, a toy should encourage kids to experiment, explore, and discover through their own trial and error.
  • Replayable. Learning toys and games should, ideally, be able to be enjoyed by kids of many ages — such as games that offer different modes or difficulty levels or toys that allow for increasingly complex interactions as a player ages or builds skills. Look for toys that can grow with your child or that kids of multiple ages can play with together.
  • Fun. This one is obvious. No matter how educational a toy may be, if your child doesn’t think a toy or game is fun, they won’t play with it. The fun factor is difficult to quantify, but you know what your children like and what will motivate them to play and learn. Opt for toys and games that will give your child joy in addition to helping them learn.

12 Screen-Free Games and Toys That Boost Brain Skills

The following toys and games can help your child strengthen their cognitive skills while having a whole lot of fun.

1. Jigsaw Puzzles. An oldie but a goodie, jigsaw puzzles help kids develop their logic, reasoning, visualization, and attention skills. They are available in a wide range of sizes, shapes, designs, and difficulty levels — from simple ones with only a handful of pieces to more advanced puzzles with thousands of pieces.

2. Battleship. This game stretches kids’ strategy, logic, and memory skills. It can also help familiarize them with how grids and coordinates work.

3. Simon. This electronic (yet screen-free) memory game strengthens children’s attention, short-term memory, and visual and sequential processing skills.

4. Speed Stack Cups. In this game, kids quickly stack plastic cups in specific patterns while measuring and recording their best times. It’s a simple game that helps build speed, planning, and hand-eye coordination.

5. Spot It! This fun and fast card game helps boost visual perception, mental processing, and memory. It also comes in a portable tin, making it perfect for car trips, waiting rooms, or other on-the-go uses.

6. Three Little Piggies. In this puzzle game, kids have to position the three little pigs’ houses in different arrangements to keep them safe from the big bad wolf. It teaches spatial awareness, pattern recognition, and problem solving.

7. Robot Turtles. This game teaches kids the principles of programming through using symbol- and color-based cards to move turtles through a maze to reach a prize. In addition to learning the basics of coding, kids strengthen problem solving and critical thinking skills.

8. MagFormers Magnetic Toys. These magnetic shapes allow kids to build freeform structures while learning the basic concepts of geometry and engineering. Playing with MagFormers also strengthens reasoning and sensory ability, as well as curiosity, creativity, and imagination.

9. Gears! Gears! Gears! This game involves snapping colorful gears together (along with axles and extenders) to create complex, movable structures. As they play, kids learn reasoning and problem solving skills while also boosting their fine motor skills.

10. LittleBits are modular circuits that snap together using magnets. Color-coordinated for their types (power sources, inputs, outputs, and wires), littlebits teach kids the basics of electronic circuitry. Kids can play with littlebits on their own or use them to add motion, sound, or programming to their other toys.

11. SnapCircuits is another tool for kids to explore the fundamentals of circuit design. Basic components (power sources, switches, resistors, capacitors, and wires) snap together on a flat surface, where kids can create various types of working circuits. They can even create bigger projects like radios, alarms, and doorbells.

12. Seedling Craft Kits. Craft kits offer kids fun ways to discover how different materials work together. Ready-to-go kids like these from Seedling are a great way to get kids started. They can strengthen their cutting and sewing skills while making their own dolls, tote bags, superhero capes, and more. Great for hand-eye coordination as well as planning and visualization.

This is only a sampling of the many games and toys available that can help your kids boost their cognitive skills in fun, creative ways. Looking for more ideas? Check out our toy reviews or this list from Smart Mom’s Toybox.

And if you want to explore cognitive skills training for your children beyond toys and games, LearningRx can help. Contact us to learn more about how brain training with LearningRx can improve your child’s learning.