2009 Holiday Gift Guide - Best educational toys

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Here’s a sampling of educational toys that could put smiles on the faces of the youngsters on your gift list.

*Uncle Milton’s Star Wars Science: Darth Vader Robotic Arm (ages 8 and older, $30) lets young medical droids explore the workings of a robotic arm. Once it’s built from 45 snap-to-assemble parts, the arm sits on a nifty display stand and can be operated.

Don’t miss reading the product’s enclosed learning guide and manual for information on Anakin Skywalker’s prosthetic arm and how robotics turned the dying Anakin into the fearsome Darth Vader. There even is a page of information on bionics that are used in medicine.

*Your toddlers can pedal their way to early school skills with the VTech Ride & Learn Giraffe Bike (ages 18 to 36 months, $49.99). Children develop motor coordination and pre-K learning concepts as they pedal along with the built-in bouncing and racing fun.

A display screen sits between the handlebars, where it is easy to see, and the activity selector is easy to operate. Children can choose from five learning areas, including racing animal friends by pedaling as fast they can, riding through the ABCs and numbers, pedaling through an on-screen environment to find animal friends, and picking a music activity that has animal friends dancing along on-screen.

*This holiday season, eeBoo stands out with a variety of excellent learning toys.

Early number, color, pattern and animal identification skills are learned playing with the eeBoo Wildlife Tot Tower (ages 2 and older, $22), a 2009 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award winner. Ten sturdy blocks printed with friendly animals and numbers using classically styled illustrations will be as much fun to build with as to look at and talk about.

The slightly older child can acquire animal-identification and early spelling skills with eeBoo’s Animal Spelling Puzzle (ages 3 and older, $14.95). Ten sturdy three-piece puzzles spell common animal names such as cow, hen, ant and dog. Mix up the tiles and find the tail, body and head that match, and the animal’s name will be in order. Featuring eeBoo’s beautiful heritage-inspired illustrations, this product is made of 90 percent post-consumer recycled material.

The message of conscientious, responsible community behavior is one best learned early. The eeBoo Good Citizenship Flash Cards (ages 5 and older, $12) set features 48 two-sided, oversized, gently illustrated cards that give real-world examples of good manners, kindness and the golden rule, such as a card that reads, “When you find a wallet …” on one side, and “… Find the owner and return it” on the other.

The first side of the card sparks a conversation, while the flip side shows one response to the scenario. Parent cards help by highlighting ways the eeBoo Good Citizenship Flash Cards can be used.

Also available are the eeBoo Respect the Earth Flash Cards and Good Manners Flash Cards. Cards come packaged in a sliding storage box.

*At the core of the Uberstix Everyone Builds system by Patch (ages 8 and older, $11 and up) are flexible building sticks that can be combined with “recyclable” items around the house such as fast-food restaurant spoons or plastic bottles to create a wide variety of items.

When finished, the uberPult ($18.34) is a working catapult that can become a sturdy, low-range flinging device with a few modifications, while the uberBird ($13.22) features moving wings on a pigeon that resembles a Klingon warship.

*An electronic version of the Amish dice math game, Learning Resource’s Number Knockout (ages 7 and older, $39.99) helps children master addition and subtraction facts by playing against an opponent or by themselves. Players roll the dice and add or subtract those numbers to be the first to find combinations that equal the numbers 1 through 10.

*Why did the red hippo cross the river? Because he was following the red camel! In AnimaLogic by Fat Brain Toys (Ages 5 and older, $24.95) children are challenged to move 16 animals across the river. There are four animals - lion, hippo, giraffe and camel - and each comes in four colors - yellow, blue, green and red. If a player moves a red hippo off the board, the next player must move either a hippo of another color or another red animal. Each game features 60 full-color puzzle boards that can be played with the 16 wood-block animals.

*A board game for the younger set, Learning Resources’ Count & Seek Pet House (ages 4 and older, $19.25) has players using beginning addition and subtraction skills as they move their pet pawn around the house. The game offers lots of replay value with four challenge levels that keep things fun as players vie to be the first to complete their pet’s card, collecting things lying around the house.

*The VTech Bugsby Reading System (ages 3 to 7, $29.99) is an interactive reading system with a cute-as-a-bug bookworm mascot. Insert a book cartridge in the pen and “Touch” technology brings the book to life. Pre-readers can choose to have the story read to them, and as their reading skills grow, they can read, touching individual words they may not recognize. Each Bugsby Reading System comes with the pen and one book and cartridge. Additional books are available ($9.99 to $14.99).

*VTech’s Skippy the Smart Pup (ages 18 months and older, $29.99) is a remote-controlled pup that your little one handles with a cute, dog-bone-shaped remote. It allows for some early “cause and reaction” learning while the toddler practices vocabulary-building skills. Skippy the Smart Pup teaches body parts and new words along with fun songs while following your toddler and the infrared remote.

*Teaching phonics, letters, numbers and early word skills and introducing youngsters to computer and mouse skills, the Fisher-Price Color Flash Laptop (ages 3 to 7, $29.99) is a sturdy and colorful laptop toy. A color-changing screen has children learning while playing games, traversing mazes, creating music and playing with sounds. A silicon keyboard and mouse and the sturdy plastic case keep this toy safe during even the most demanding toddler play.

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