The Best Thinking Toys

Trying to find that perfect toy that your kids will love and play with for a long time can be challenging. When it comes to gift giving, I try to buy high-quality, unique, mind-expanding toys. As an educator and natural-minded mother, I appreciate toy stores that can unlock imagination, open children’s minds to explore and can make learning fun.

Three of my favorite toy stores in the Kansas City are are Fat Brain Toys, Lakeshore and The Learning Tree. Here are some toys from these stores that my children can’t put down!

IMAG0171I was so excited when Lakeshore came to Kansas and opened up their Merriam location. This place is an educator’s dream! They have a great selection of teaching supplies, curriculum, teaching toys, books and learning toys.We love Lakeshore’s Color Discovery Boxes. The four colored boxes contain soft items that match the corresponding box’s color. This is a great toy to teach the names of colors, animals and fruit.

My two-year-old loves to dump the box’s contents and put the colored boxes in different places in the room. She then runs the items to the box that matches the item’s color and puts it in. Since we are working on developing her speech, we practice saying the name of the color and item as she places them in the box.

The boxes come in a clear, zipped bag so it is easy to put away or use when traveling. When we go to people’s houses (that don’t have toys), this is the one toy she always chooses to bring. Here is a 20% off coupon code for Lakeshore that you can use online or in store (valid until 12/31/14).

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Fat Brain Toys, located in Overland Park’s Prairie Fire, has a vast selection of high-quality toys. They have some of my favorite building toys, such as Magnatiles, Magformers and Smartmax. When I was recently at their store last month I discovered a new building toy, Twig, that can’t wait to get my son. It’s made from natural wood and helps develop visual spatial awareness as well as problem solving as you interchange the pieces together. I also love Legos and K’nex because they allow children to make impressive creations and can even lead to learning about machines and robotics.

A great toy that all my children can play with is called Squigz, which are squishy suckers that connect to each other and other hard surfaces. They are flexible, great for fine motor skills and are made from nontoxic, silicone rubber. I love that they can play with them on the table, in the bathtub, on the floor, highchair, etc. They also make a larger version, called pipSquigz for babies. For my 7 month old daughter, we love Tobbles (great balancing staking toy). Her siblings love staking them up, and she gets to knock them down. We also love to play with kinetic sand because it is moldable, never dries out and comes in vibrant colors.

My 4 year old son loves board games, and at these stores you can find great ones that make learning fun! My favorite is Zingo, which is a fast paced version of bingo that uses picture/words. They also sell a sight word and number version of Zingo as well.

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My son also loves the game Don’t Let the Bugs Fall. This is where players roll the die to select a color, then pull a matching bug block from the tower & place it on top, without knocking the other bugs. A letter sequencing puzzle that both my son and students love to play with is from Lakeshore. These puzzles have a few different variations, both for upper and lower case.

The Learning Tree is another great family-owned, local business we love. They have a wonderful selection of books, toys and games. My favorite toys from there are Green Toys, which are made from 100% recycled milk jugs. While my kids love the toy trucks and boats, my little one loves to play with the Stacker. My son loves to make pictures with various shapes and pattern blocks so he is always asking to play Beginning Pattern Blocks. This game is great at helping to learn pattern recognition, which builds the basic fundamentals of mathematics as well as shape and color differences, hand/eye coordination and fine motors skills. Building with blocks is a great way for children to unlock their imaginations and develop problem solving and physical skills! My younger girls love The Learning Tree’s ImagiBricks Giant Building Blocks set and Fantasia Castle Blocks.

As you’re out doing your last-minute, holiday toy shopping, remember: the best toys focus on what the child can do, rather what the toy can do.

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