Children learn in all kinds of ways, but one of the best is through game-playing – songs, memory games, puzzles, quizzes, and other fun activities that engage both the mind and children's endless capacity for fun. The children in your life deserve things that will help them not just pass the time and grow their imagination, but also help them gain new skills, or learn things about the world around us. Here are some of the top educational children's toys for Christmas, and what children can learn through playing with these fun – and very clever – gifts.
Older Children – A Trip Around the World
If you are buying for kids aged 7-10 who are interested in history or geography, you are in luck. A standard globe is never a bad idea, but globes come in all manifestations these days – from lighted globes to inflatable ones and interactive electronic globes. For parents with children who crave more guidance and interaction, BrainBox offers fun history games for multiple players, with sets of cards focused on British history or world history. In the games, children are given a short period of time to memorize facts on a card and then asked to recall some of those facts. There are also board games for children 7 and up that focus on the ancient Roman Empire (which features a large map of the Roman Empire on the game board itself) and other educational topics. Games can be a wonderful way to engage kids in geography and history, and give them a leg up when they cover those topics in school.
Younger Children – Electronic Games for Critical Skills
There are a whole host of electronic games out there – many of which are played on hand-held units – that teach kids counting, spatial recognition, new words, songs, and a host of other skills, but one of the most popular is LeapPad  from the company Leap Frog. LeapPad is a hand-held 'learning tablet' that comes with five learning applications including an interactive art program, and an app that teaches children educational songs. LeapPad also sells game cartridges separately and offers a whole range of downloadable learning apps; this allows parents to tailor the device to their child's needs and interests. The system is incredibly clever – parents can even enter their child's current maths sets or school spelling words into the unit as part of another game that their child already likes to play. Systems such as the LeapPad will also acclimatise children to using technology – an educational skill that will only become more critical in the years ahead.
All Children – Using Your Hands
Fostering children's ability to 'put things together' and recognize spatial patterns is an important skill that will help them in maths, science, and even English and history, depending on the activity or type of puzzle. Puzzles are as easy or difficult as you want them to be, and the completed picture can be instructive in any number of ways, from teaching children about animals to creating a place or country with your completed puzzle. Completing puzzles also offers children a sense of accomplishment, which is important to their educational and emotional development. Other 'hands-on' building activities recommended for a whole range of ages include Duplo, Meccano and Lego products (some of which come in historical themes), or even wooden blocks. These activities teach spatial awareness, and encourage kids to think creatively about how various components connect or don't connect, and even to think in non-linear, creative ways, about how to use materials.
Amandine Fontaine is a France born, well-travelled and now full time mum of two girls. Amandine loves to share her experiences of raising Aurore and Philip and sharing tips with other moms.