Reviewed for First Grade, 2008

Lego City Coast Guard Patrol Boat and Tower

With 444 pieces, this baby will keep your kid scrambling around the rug for hours. And because it comes with three separate models to build, rather than one large behemoth, it's easy to convince a child to put down the pieces and save some for later. Where to start-- the cargo ship, the patrol tower, or the dock? Regardless, cool details like an on-board crane, and fun touches like a surfer pursued by a Lego shark, leave plenty of opportunity for pretend play, once the building is done. Whether your child is designing a homemade slip, or dropping anchor when sailing is done, she'll get tons of practice working the small hand muscles she needs to build in order to learn to write effectively, in addition to flexing the imagination every parent wants to cultivate. Added bonus? Legos teach kids to think in three dimensions, which helps hone their spatial reasoning skills, laying the groundwork for later math. (Lego, $59.99)