Every year, it seems like kids start making their Christmas lists earlier and earlier. And while we as parents love to see their little faces light up as they rip open their presents Christmas morning, we also strive to get a little more bang for our gift-giving buck—because nothing’s better than an awesome, super-fun Christmas present than an awesome, super-fun Christmas present that are also educational.
Here’s our list of the top educational toys that are so entertaining your kids won’t even realize they’re learning.
The secret to raising money-smart kids is giving them hands-on experience with cash when they’re young. This life-like set features actual-size bills, along with plastic coins, credit cards and a solar-powered calculator cash register to double-check those math skills.
Magformers Rainbow 30 Piece Set ($43.96)
No more building-block frustration! Thanks to the unique magnetic design of Magformers, every piece automatically connects to any other, making play as easy—or as complicated—as the builder’s imagination. This is the perfect starter kit for a Magformer newbie, and there’s an added bonus: Those magnets make cleaning and storing a literal snap—everything sticks together!
Gravity Maze by Think Fun ($23.99)
Every kids loves a good ol’ marble roll game, but this gravity-powered maze requires deft reasoning and logic skills to ensure that the marble rolls from the top tower to the desired target. And with 60 challenges spread over four levels (beginner to advanced), there’s enough fun for the whole family.
Often, keeping a preschooler busy can seem like an exercise in futility. But with the huge box of goodies, you’re sure to keep boredom at bay for at least a few hours. Recommended for ages 3 and up, the My Giant Busy Box features 16 fun design projects, including paper bag puppets, dough animals and sticker art.
Osmo Gaming System ($64.99)
Finally, you can feel good about your kids spending hours on their iPads. With the Osmo gaming system, tablets are transformed into fully capable learning labs with educational activities that extend play beyond the screen. This system includes four games—Words, a game in which players use physical tiles to guess and spell hidden words; Masterpiece, which turns any picture into easily drawable artwork; Tangram, a visual and spacial puzzle game using physical pieces and Newton, an engineering game with more than 60 levels.
Take your kids’ building blocks to the next level with the Gears! Gears! Gears! set from Learning Resources. This beginner set features 96 pieces, including 48 multi-colored gears, 8 interlocking square base plates, 19 square pillars 8 pillar extenders and 12 six-way axles. The fun (and learning) is limitless as kids use reasoning, problem solving and physics to create designs that actually move. An activity book is also included.
VTech Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker ($29.00)
Yes—even the little ones can learn while they play! This top rated walker will help babies 9 months and older learn to stand and balance while also entertaining them with 5 piano keys that play music, 2 colorful spinning rollers, 3 shape sorters and 3 light-up buttons for early motor skill development.
Wonder Workshop Dot Robotics Kit ($49.99)
Introduce your child to coding in a fun, exciting way with the Dot Robotics Kit. Using the Blockly and Wonder apps (available on Apple and Android), kids can code Dot to become a lively alarm-bot, a blinking nightlight or a flying spaceship. With lights, sounds, sensors, accelerometer, microphone and a robot brain, Dot can be any gadget or game a kid can imagine.
Uncle Milton Moon in My Room ($19.99)
Instead of sticking glow-in-the-dark stars to your kid’s bedroom ceiling, why not make an even greater astronomic impact with an authentically detailed 3D model of the moon. A remote-controlled (or automatic) function showcases all 12 phases of the moon, while an mp3 download (code included) provides a guided our of the lunar landscape.
Makey Makey ($49.95)
If you’re raising a budding inventor, Makey Makey is the game that is sure to take his creativity to the next level. Using simple alligator clips, kids (and adults!) can turn literally anything (yes, anything!) into a computer touchpad. Why play a video game with a store-bought controller when you can create one out of gym socks. Or toilet paper. Or graham crackers.
ALEX Toys Giant Step & Play Piano ($51.17)
Your kids are way too young to remember the iconic scene from the movie Big, in which Tom Hanks danced along a floor-model piano at New York’s famous (and now closed) FAO Schwarz toy store, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make some foot-tapping music of their own. This giant piano teaches music appreciation and encourages physical movement all in one.
VTech Touch and Learn Activity Desk ($39.96)
Make your preschooler feel like the big kids with his very own learning desk. This thing is LOADED with educational tools and activities, including an interactive desktop and four double-sided cards that introduce numbers, letters, animals, music, people and more; an easel and chalkboard on the underside of the desk; and an LED screen that demos how to write letters and numbers step by step.
You can buy one toy to help your child practice shape recognition and another to teach him how to tell time—or you can get both in this high-quality wooden shape sorting clock. There’s a different shape at each number on the clock’s face to help with counting, sorting and shaping, while older kids can use the moveable hands (marked “hour” and “minute”) plus additional markings at quarter past, half past and quarter till to learn clock reading skills.
With the National Parenting Center-Seal of Approval this electronic science kit will keep budding engineers (and everyone else age 8 and older!) entertained for hours with everything needed to design real, working electrical circuits. And at just over $20 for more than 100 projects (including a flashing light and an adjustable-volume siren), it’s an absolute steal.
The Reading Game ($34.95)
For many Americans, teaching their children to read is one of the most difficult tasks they will ever face as parents, but Kenneth Hodkinson, author of the Wordly Wise textbook series, has a solution. The Reading Game is a memory card word game that teaches preschoolers and struggling readers Dolch and high frequency sight words in a fun, interactive way. And once the game is complete, players will be able to read their own storybook.