Christmas 2014: Top 10 educational toys
With that in mind, this Christmas, we wanted to highlight a selection of toys that might help children develop their numeracy and literacy skills.
All the toys below offer hours of fun as well as educational benefits for the little ones – a refreshing antidote to the plastic, flashing, branded toys parents have become accustomed to.
Lego City Mobile Police Unit – £29.99
You can pick almost any Lego set and children will be happy - indeed, they've been playing with Lego bricks since 1932, when the Kirk Kristiansen family launched the product in Billund, Denmark. Building things with LEGO bricks is long believed to be of educational benefit - the LEGO website even has a section for teachers.
This year, we've gone for the City Mobile Police Unit as something of an antidote to the ubiquitous Lego movie tie-ins that include Lord of the Rings and Star Wars playsets. We're also a fan of Lego that is not aimed directly at boys or girls, and the City range fits that bill, as does its 'Bricks & More' range.
LeapTV – £119.99
Leapfrog has a history of producing modern toys powered by technology that offer educational elements as well as fun. It also produces the popular LeapPad series of tablet computers for children (as well as the LeapBand, see below), all using apps designed to improve children's numeracy and literacy skills – as well as games of course.
It calls LeapTV an educational video gaming system that combines "activity and movement with the best-in-class educational curriculum". It may be expensive, but with an educational range of content that also features the likes of Disney's Sofia the First and Marvel's Spiderman, it should delight the kids.
Calafant – cardboard land of fantasies – £19.99 - £24.99
Calafant models are made of high quality cardboard, making them easy to assemble without glue or tools. This cuts out mess for adults, and allows children to paint and decorate the models themselves – aiding imagination and construction skills at the same time. Even better, there are around 50 different models to choose from. The manufacturers maintain that Calafant assists creativity and motor skills.
Multiplication Master – £14 - £19
With this small electronic game, children must answer as many multiplication questions as possible within a minute, and then can then check their score. It features two skill levels as well as an untimed practice mode, and is suitable for children aged 7-11 years.
Cra-Z-Knitx Ultimate Designer Knitting Station – £29.99
You might not think it, but knitting is a technical skill that can help cognitive development. It teaches children the sense that something worthwhile often takes time and effort – the perfect antidote to the instant gratification experienced by many kids. It also aids concentration and it's fun for children to make something useful with their own hands.
Meccano – £19.99 (RRP)
The Multimodels 10 Set includes over 260 parts that will help children build 10 different models. It is a winner in the 2014 Slow Toy Awards, run by the Slow Toy Movement (slowtoymovement.com), founded by Thierry Bourret in 2011. It showcases toys that "inspire children, will stand the test of time and offer true play value".
Times Tables vinyl wall chart – £3.99
OK, you might not endear yourself to a loved one with this present, but you can't go wrong with a huge wall chart displaying times tables for numbers 1 to 12 – perhaps more of a stocking filler than a main present.
The Human Body – £32.99
This kit, produced by Clementoni in association with the Science Museum, allows you to build a realistic model, complete with organs and skin. Your children will learn all about biology plus it will help their construction skills – and if they have to count the number of bones in the human body it could also aid their maths skills.
TEGU 24-piece magnetic wooden block set – £55
These beautiful wooden blocks add a magnetic element to traditional building blocks, allowing children to effectively play with gravity. This allows them to build all manner of things, such as a lion, a race car, a fortress, an ice cream stand, a space station and more.
LeapBand – £29.99
The second product from the Leapfrog range, this 'smart watch' is more of an activity tracker, offering 50 different games and activities that encourage children to be more active, using virtual pets that help guide them.
For example, many games reward children with 'gems', and the more they exercise or the more tasks they perform, the more gems they can collect. Parents can get involved in the real world by rewarding children for collecting the gems, thereby encouraging their kids to exercise more. Healthy bodies equal healthy minds!
The LeapBand also has a digital and analogue watch and is water resistant.