The Best Educational Toys for Your Mensa Member in Training
Naturally, you want to steer your children away from screens...but unless you provide them with something fun and educational to play with, your kids are basically moths to the iPad light. So how can you ensure that fun and learning collide? From toddler ABCs to fourth-grade multiplication, here’s our guide to the very best educational toys for kids of every age.
1. Melissa & Doug Multi-Craft Weaving Loom (Ages 5 to 10)
Don’t be fooled, this soothing activity is also a ton of fun. Best of all, the fruits of your child’s labor might be a cozy scarf he’s excited to wear next winter (because he made it himself, of course).
- A calming activity that encourages concentration
- Weaving helps hone fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination
- Great for confidence—kids create something useful and feel proud
2. Winning Moves No Stress Chess (Ages 4 to 10)
Nothing provides a brain workout quite like the classic game of chess. But this chessboard comes with a couple kid-friendly features that might make all the difference when introducing or honing the skill, strategy and critical thinking required to topple a king (or stalemate your sister). Use the clue cards to guide young learners through the game with move suggestions and helpful reminders of how the pieces hop around the board. When your chess-master-in-training is ready, flip the board over for a more grown-up, cheat-free game.
- Chess has long been regarded as one of the best mental exercises around, because success relies on concentration, critical thinking and anticipation of future events
- The double-sided board can be used to handicap more advanced players and promote frustration-free learning for newbies
- The deck of cards, included for use with the beginner board, functions as a stand-in instructor and step-by-step guide to the game
3. SmartGames IQ 3-Pack (Ages 6 to 10)
Lauded by enthusiastic reviewers as an excellent alternative to screen time, this brain-teasing puzzle pack keeps little minds busy. Whether your child is twisting, fitting or linking these 3-D puzzles into place, their logic and visual reasoning skills will surely get a workout as they rearrange playing pieces around obstacle pegs. The puzzles come with 360 recommended activities of varying difficulty, so your kiddo can pick the best (age-appropriate) challenge. Bonus: These compact and portable puzzles take up hardly any space, so they’re great for travel.
- Compact puzzle boards promote problem-solving and spatial insight skills with 3-D pieces
- Puzzle trio includes 360 challenges so children can play at different degrees of difficulty
- Solo activity that helps kids stay sharp
4. IQ Builder Creative Construction STEM Engineering Toy (Ages 3 to 10)
There’s no doubt about it: STEM toys will make your kid smarter, and this building toy is great for budding engineers and problem-solvers of all ages. This building kit combines creativity and critical thinking with an early introduction to more sophisticated concepts like geometry and physics, and the flexible, easy-to-clean connecting parts are great for polishing fine motor skills. Best of all, it also includes three e-books with suggested activities and designs for builders of different skill levels.
- STEM toy that trains kids in concepts of creativity, problem-solving and fine motor skills
- Bendy bits and pieces are easy enough for young ones to connect
- E-books full of engineering inspiration will keep kids of all ages occupied
5. Merkmak Telescope for Kids (Ages 2 to 10)
Whether you set this equipment up by your living room window or in your backyard, the budding scientist in your brood will be fascinated by what they see in the sky. This bad boy boasts removable eyepieces with varying degrees of magnification (including one devoted specifically to moon gazing). A mini astronomy lesson before bedtime? We’re in.
- High-resolution lens allows for clear viewing, even in low-light settings
- High but adjustable magnification power promotes scientific exploration of both sky and land
- Tripod and telescope are lightweight and appropriately sized to suit a child’s stature
6. Carson BugView Quick-Release Bug Catching Tool (Ages 2 to 10)
Slide it, trap it...and what the hell is that thing? Everybody’s about to find out, thanks to this cool (and humane) bug catching contraption. Kids of all ages can learn so much from nature, whether they’re digging in the dirt of your backyard or enjoying a romp down a local hiking trail. The clear acrylic magnifying lens on this puppy gives a pretty sweet view of any specimen so your kiddo can learn the basics of biology.
- Shatter-proof acrylic lens captures details with 5x magnification power
- Thumb-operated sliding function is simple for children to operate, making the catch-and-release approach to exploration easy
- Encourages curiosity, inquiry and compassion in natural studies
7. Lego Classic Large Creative Brick Box Building Kit (Ages 4 to 10)
Legos are the original STEM toy. This starter set is full of small pieces, so it’s not suitable for kids who are still at risk of sampling non-food items. But once you’re past that point, the learning possibilities are endless. Tiny building blocks make for big strides in fine motor control, and they’re a fantastic material for creative engineering experiments. Your child can craft almost anything: a castle, spaceship, scooter or cityscape, to name a few. The tinkering process teaches frustration tolerance, problem-solving and concentration skills, and that’s probably why this toy has stood the test of time.
- Small Lego pieces help children develop fine motor skills
- Creativity blooms with open-ended building possibilities (bounded by logic, for extra learning)
- The bricks are small, but the storage box is built to last
8. Melissa & Doug Suspend Family Game (Ages 6 to 10)
Every day is a balancing act, but this family-friendly game-night favorite makes it a lot more fun for everyone. This award-winning activity has all the suspense of Jenga but requires a more delicate touch, as players dangle rubber-tipped strands of wire in an attempt to build an (un)steady sculpture on a wooden base. Suspend challenges the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills of children and adults. It’s also visually stimulating, because both the well-planned and botched balancing acts look a lot like beautiful art along the way.
- Crash course in fine motor control and hand-eye coordination; requires a soft touch
- Wire and rubber pieces incorporate visual and sensory appeal for a more artistic balancing challenge
9. Living Squad High-Resolution Binoculars for Kids (Ages 2 to 10)
These binoculars are the bee’s knees (and they’re effective enough that you might actually be able to look at the knees of a bee). Whether your young one is bee-watching, bird-watching or just playing a spy game (sociology) that’s making passersby feel weird, these binoculars are the real deal. They’re also easy to handle, thanks to a comfortable grip for small hands, and hard to lose, because of a bonus carabiner and neck strap. Bonus points for durability, too.
- 8x21 magnification and high-quality optics provide a clear view for studying nature up close
- Cleaning cloth, carabiner, neck strap, hand strap and an e-calendar about birds are all included
10. Crayola Light-Up Tracing Pad (Ages 5 to 10)
Pencil grip and hand control are skills that start to develop more seriously in the preschool years and continue to be refined for several years afterward. Tracing activities can help hone handwriting while making the practice feel less like homework and more like art. If you have had little success setting your child down with a sheet of handwriting paper at home, you can opt for this jazzier option: a fun LED tracing pad that builds upon all the same skills required for your child to one day sit through and succeed in a cursive lesson.
- LED tablet illuminates the included blank and tracing sheets for ease of use and confidence
- Tracing paper helps children at different skill levels work on their precision and handwriting technique
11. Melissa & Doug 48-Piece Solar System Floor Puzzle (Ages 3 to 6)
They’re not only an effective stress reliever. Jigsaw puzzles exercise both hemispheres of the brain at once, improving short-term memory and developing visual reasoning and overall cognitive function. This 48-piece floor puzzle has pieces that are big enough to encourage younger ones, with a scale large enough to interest older kids, too. Hot tip: Once complete, use this puzzle to talk about all the planets so you can incorporate a little astronomy lesson into your day.
- 48-piece puzzle
- Sturdy cardboard pieces
- Useful visual for astronomy lessons
12. Orsen Gifts LCD Writing Tablet and Doodle Board (Ages 2 to 10)
This LCD drawing tablet is so easy to use that your toddler will love it as much as your second grader. Use it to make spelling lessons more fun or just encourage your kiddo to doodle and make new art from the comfort of the couch instead of a desk. The pressure-sensitive technology produces lines of varying thickness without breaking any crayons, and the rainbow-colored writing your kid produces with ease will keep them entertained.
- Large (ten-inch) color screen for easy viewing
- Ideal for doodling, advanced writing and learning
- LCD pressure-sensitive technology creates bold, mess-free lines of varying thickness
13. ThinkFun Zingo Sight Words Early Reading Game (Ages 4 to 8)
Sounding out words is a big part of learning how to read, but at times it can be painfully S-L-O-W, especially for a squirmy kindergartener. The good news is that there’s a more exciting way to encourage literacy. Created by educators, Zingo is a rousing round of sight-word Bingo that keeps kids on their toes as they compete to find a familiar word and find it fast. (Let’s be honest, speed drills are more fun than phonics.) The game includes a Zinger (think Bingo ball machine) that dispenses sight-word playing chips in pairs. If your child can quickly find the word on his playing card, he can take the token and get one step closer to calling out, “Zingo!”
- Fast-paced, exciting game of sight-word Bingo
- Includes 24 different words, selected for frequency of use in books and speech
- Kids can play solo, with a dealer (parent) or with a group of up to six players
14. Learning Resources Alphabet Acorns Activity Set (Ages 2 to 5)
Your toddler won’t even touch those wooden ABC blocks, but thankfully, kids don’t actually need them in order to grasp the building blocks of language. These alphabet acorns promote early literacy skills through hands-on tactile and visual learning. Best of all, they’re the educational equivalent of an Easter egg. Each acorn is filled with a surprise—pop off the top to discover a tiny figure that corresponds to each letter of the alphabet, from apple to zebra. Twenty-six tiny gifts will surely please the toddler or preschooler in your life (and boost her vocabulary too).
- Full set of alphabet acorns teaches young children about letters, sounds and words [[delete period]]
- Acorns feature a removable cap and hidden figure, reinforcing early language learning with tactile and visual play
- Ideal for independent and parent-child play
15. The Learning Journey Match It! Self-Correcting Spelling Puzzles (Ages 2 to 5)
When it comes to learning how to read, confidence is half the battle, and these self-correcting puzzles create a lot of positive vibes while promoting concentration and problem-solving skills. Even if your tyke is too little to pay attention to the letters, she will still benefit from the fine motor skill exercise of fitting together these sturdy cardboard pieces. With repetition and visual learning cues, you might be surprised by how quickly she learns her letters.
- Large cardboard pieces are easy to handle and help develop fine motor skills
- Three- and four-piece word puzzles fit together for self-correcting spelling lesson
- Bold, simple images for visual learning that boosts early literacy
16. Educational Insights Kanoodle Jr. Brain Boosting Puzzle Game (Ages 4 to 7)
Kanoodle Jr. is brain food your child can actually get down with (rather than simply hurl at the wall). This compact puzzle comes with a handy manual of 60 different mind-bending activities that will force your kiddo to flex his spatial-reasoning and critical-thinking muscles...and all the challenges are age-appropriate, so the brainteaser won’t turn into a tearjerker.
- Pieces are chunky and easy to manipulate; great for sharpening fine motor skills
- Kit includes 60 challenges to develop spatial-reasoning skills
- Single-player activity
17. 24 Challenge Card Game (Ages 7 to 10)
Much like the sight-word speed drills of Zingo, the 24 Challenge card game takes a typical math lesson and makes it fun, fast and exciting. This deck of cards is coded for difficulty level (one dot is easy, two is intermediate and three is advanced), but all cards feature a very simple interface: four numbers. The goal is for your child to think her way to the sum of 24, using only the digits on the card and the basic mathematical functions of multiplication, subtraction, addition and division. This game can be played solo, like a flash-card exercise, but the real fun comes with a healthy dose of competition. Amass a point-based fortune by being the first player to tap any card with a correct formula.
- Multiple players: Mathematical speed drill encourages quick thinking through competition
- Single player: Problem-solving and basic math skills get a boost
- Simple cards help develop creative thinking; there’s more than one way to get to 24
18. Educational Insights Now You See It Now You Don’t Compost Container (Ages 2 to 10)
Can that slimy banana peel really help a beet grow? Your budding scientist wants to know, and she’ll learn a lot more about compost by witnessing the process. This science lesson is both exciting and engaging, because kids get to record real-time progress. Watch the action unfold with this clear-sided composting container that has three aerated compartments (each featuring magnified spots and a thermometer) so kids can compare and track the decomposition rates and traits of different materials.
- Three compost compartments are conducive to comparative studies
- Kids can watch decomposition in real time and track the progress
- Magnified spots enhance the transparent container for close-up study
19. Educational Insights Robot Face Race Game (Ages 4 to 10)
This matching game gets the seal of approval from Mensa, but the kid appeal is probably because it moves at lightning speed. This robot challenge is thoughtfully designed to require a high degree of visual discrimination, which encourages reading skills. The Robot Face Race requires at least two players, but one of them can be you. Place your token on one of the many artistically designed robot faces on the game board, according to the attributes chosen by the Robot Randomizer. Just try to do it at super speed or someone will beat you to it.
- Distinctions in color and physical attributes hone visual discrimination
- Competitive race component teaches concentration under pressure, an invaluable life skill
- Can be played with two or more players (and one player can be a parent)
20. Learning Resources Super Magnet Lab Kit (Ages 4 to 10)
Magnets are the closest thing we have to actual magic and, chances are, your kid is obsessed. This hands-on science kit encourages exploration while teaching the basics of opposite attraction. The Super Magnet Lab includes an activity guide for independent household experiments.
- Encourages independent exploration in the home with open-ended activities
- Teaches cause-and-effect science lessons through hands-on play
- 124-piece kit includes wands, horseshoes and more so children can discover the wonder of magnetism