For the past six months, our office has been full to bursting with more toys and gadgets than you can shake a stick at, as we worked to pick 15 fail-safe gifts for each grade level, from preschool through high school. It was like coming to work in Santa’s workshop! Our selection team (of editors, parents, teachers, and kids) road-tested every item. I watched an editor float by my office in a pair of butterfly wings and saw a kid zoom down the hall on the world’s coolest scooter. It’s been lots of fun around here, but the best part is I now have a fool-proof shopping list when it’s time to shell out for my kids, nieces, and nephews.
So, a little background: To make the list, products had to be really fun but also have some physical, developmental, or educational benefit. This year, with the economy still looming, we decided to find three great gifts for each grade that each cost less than ten bucks. Here’s a taste of a few of our favorites for kids in preschool and kindergarten. If you want a peak at the whole thing, check out the widget (better yet…steal it!) or amble on over to www.education.com for a look-see.
My Little Helper Toolbox
Preschoolers tend to be fix-it fans by nature, and most love to take things apart and put them back together. All that practice is good for fine motor skills, which strengthen hands for writing. This little toolkit in its retro metal box gives preschoolers the chance to lug their own set of tools around, just like mom and dad. When a screw needs tightening or a nail needs hammering, your child can squat beside you and go at it. Kit comes with six small rubber tools—two with wood handles. (Schylling, $6.49)
Big puppets can be cumbersome for small hands. These little guys are a breeze for preschoolers to manipulate. Almost every finger puppet in the line, from hedgehog to emperor penguin, costs less than $10, and more than a dozen sell for less than five bucks. Our favorite, the mini field mouse; looks so much like the real thing you'll do a double take as your preschooler sets it scurrying across his lap. Hours of free-form imaginative play at a bargain price. (Folkmanis, $2.50- $10)
Ducks in a Row
Along the lines of tic-tac-toe, but a bit more involved and quirky, this game works logic and spatial reasoning skills, while it teaches kids to think ahead. Like checkers, players move one square at a time—up and down, side to side, or diagonally. But unlike checkers, the object here is to get four pieces lined up in a row, before your opponent beats you to it! Nice and compact, this one's a natural travel companion. (ThinkFun, $8.99)
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