Toys for thinking
World Activity Mat
North American Bear Co., $75, ages infant+ Shop >>
This soft, briefcase-esque tote unzips to show a soft world map mat, with labeled continents and a plush animal representative for each. Babies and older kids can roll around on the mat as they match each animal to its continent with Velcro. Neisha B. of Audubon, NJ, says that her daughter, 4, and son, 1, are able to enjoy the toy together.
“I can teach my daughter about the continents that each animal originates from while teaching my son about the names of each animal,” she says. “My daughter loves telling her brother all about the different animals, and being able to zip all the animals back up safely to ‘sleep,’ and my son holds each animal up and proudly places it back in its ‘home’ on each continent.”
K’NEX, $70, ages 9+ Shop >>
If your kid is patient, loves to build and is up for a challenge (and you feel the same), this 4-ft. dueling roller coaster with more than 1,250 pieces is a great product. “I would only recommend this to parents that are willing to commit their own time to help,” says James M. of Philadelphia, who helped his son, age 9, complete the project. “He had to be patient, and set endpoints for each day’s work and come back to continue the next day,” he says. “He learned geometry, especially the strength of triangles as support in building.”
On the downside, the track is top heavy, and as the cars race, sometimes pieces disconnect and must be reassembled. He also said the instructions are hard to follow at times. “My son wished there were words to go with the diagrams,” says James. “It is challenging to build, but the end result is really cool.”
Let's Go Fishing Playset
Lakeshore Learning, $30, 12 mos. - 3 yrs. Shop >>
Dana Y. of Washington, DC recommends this mini-fishing toy for parents with young children. Her daughter is 2. "My daughter found it to be a review of her colors, but the fishing pole concept was new to her and helped develop her hand eye coordination," says Dana. "She was fascinated with the Velcro."