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7 Toys for the Smart Mom's Toy Box Building your child's brain skills without breaking your budget

By Wendy Burt-Thomas
Who says you have to refinance your house to buy those expensive "educational" toys? If you're looking for fun ways to build your child's brain skills without blowing your budget, take the advice of childhood development experts and focus on the LEARNING SKILLS that toys develop.

"Even the simplest toys – when used properly – can help develop complex brain skills," explains Dr. Ken Gibson, author of "Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in your Child." "Cognitive skills, like attention, auditory and visual processing, memory and processing speed, are essential tools that help kids become better learners. Research now shows that learning skills can be taught – and therefore improved. Brain training – like in these games that parents can play with their kids - does for the mind what exercise does for the body."

Here are a few simple and inexpensive games currently on the market that can help develop crucial cognitive skills:

1. Slamwich ($6.98)

How it's played: Colorful bread-shaped cards are dealt evenly to players sitting in a circle. Players take turns flipping their top card onto the center pile. If two matching cards (such as two pickle cards) are thrown down in a row, that's a Double Decker. The first player to slap the pile when they see a Double Decker keeps all the cards in the pile. If two of the same cards (such as two bacon cards) are separated by one other card (such a peanut butter card), that's a "Slamwich." As with the Double Decker, the first player to slap a Slamwich gets all the cards in the pile. There are also Muncher Cards and Thief Cards to help players gain cards. (Winner of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal award and a Parent's Choice Approval award.)

Ages: 6 and up.

Cognitive skills: Sustained attention, memory, visual processing, processing speed

2. Jax Doodle Dice Game ($9.99)

How it's played: Players roll dice and then rearrange the designs on the dice to try to match a doodle on one of six colored cards. The first player to collect one card of each color wins.

Ages: 6 and up

Cognitive skills: Visual processing, planning, problem solving, analysis skills

3. Shape by Shape ($11.99)

How it's played: Players match red and yellow puzzle tiles to images on one of 60 challenge cards.

Ages: 8 and up

Cognitive skills: Conceptual thinking, spatial relationships, visual planning, analysis skills

4. Logic Links ($10)

How it's played: Players follow a series of clues to learn where to place colored chips to solve one of 166 puzzles. Ages: various level options

Cognitive skills: Sequential thinking, deductive reasoning, visual processing, logic

5. Rhyming Bingo ($9.99)

How it's played: Players place chips on pictures of items that rhyme with the caller's word.

Ages: 4 – 7

Cognitive skills: Rhyming, sound blending and segmenting, auditory processing

6. Ninety-Nine or Bust ($19.99)

How it's played: Using tokens and a special deck of cards with varying values, players try to play their cards without the total going over 99.

Ages: 7 and up

Cognitive skills: Math computations, analysis skills, planning, numerical fluency, attention

7. Squint Junior ($16.99)

How it's played: Players use a number of simple shape cards to build pictures shown on any of 168 Squint Junior cards. Includes an hourglass timer.

Ages: 8 and up

Cognitive skills: Conceptual thinking, spatial relationships, visual planning, analysis skills, processing speed

Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Training for national brain-training franchise LearningRx encourages parents to look for games that are appropriate for their child's age, as well as any cognitive weaknesses of which they're aware.

"A parent whose child has Attention Deficit Disorder, for example, would want to shop for toys that improve one or more of the three types of attention; sustained, divided and selective," explains Mitchell. "Likewise, a child who struggles with reading would benefit from games that practice sound blending and segmenting. In addition, parents can use a stopwatch with some of these games – like Shape by Shape – to work on strengthening processing speed."

For a free list of more than 30 games and the skills they strengthen, visit

Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer with more than 1,000 published pieces. Her third book, "The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters" (landing articles, agents and book deals) and often writes for LearningRx, the brain-training company, with learning centers all over the United States.
You can find out more about Ms. Burt Thomas at her web site: or by contacting her at:

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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