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By Roberta Munoz
Educational toys may get more high-tech every year, but some of the standouts at the Toy Industry Association Toy Fair 2014 were the more traditional, tangible science and math toys. Want to plug into learning without sacrificing the family fun? Here are a few of the coolest learning tools that were on display at Toy Fair 2014.
Math is a blast! That’s the motto of this cute math and science game. The idea is simple. Set up the game parts, including a standard science fair-type vinegar volcano, print out custom math facts cards via the website, put the measuring cups in place, and you’re ready to go. Right answers move measuring cups forward while collecting baking soda. The first player to reach the volcano gets to add this magic ingredient and make the volcano explode. A big plus of this game is the ability to create custom game cards with math facts and problems to solve. Just be ready for a pretty complex and time-consuming setup, along with a lot of moving parts. All in all, a great new game that packs a big educational “bang.”
(Young Scientists Club; $29.99; ages 5+)
Addition Splat! and Subtraction Splat!
Addition Splat! and Subtraction Splat! are two simple, but solid, card games for basic math practice. Every player starts with six cards, each with an equation. The game leader holds “calling cards” that contain answers. Read the calling cards out loud to the group and kids match problems to their answers. One of the big attractions is that this game is designed for group play, which reinforces learning. It’s also ideal for a small-group or quiet time classroom activity since it has few bells and whistles to distract students who are working on other tasks. The math problems map to Common Core standards.
(EduPress; $14.99; 2nd grade and up)
“Every Girl an Engineer” is the motto of Roominate—a truly innovative activity kit that aims to encourage girls to innovate and build. Unlike many traditional construction sets that feature big machines, giant towers, or robots of mass destruction, Roominate kits start small and stay flexible. Aspiring engineers use colorful blocks to create a house or any other human-scale structure they choose—and it doesn’t stop there. Young architects can wire up the place and add moving parts. The kits are designed to make young female inventors feel welcome—but without limits. Kids are constrained only by their imaginations. Roominate is a really exciting addition to the world of construction and open-ended creativity toys.
(Roominate Toys; $29.99 for the basic kit; ages 7+)
Smarty Blocks is a new educational offering this year, a multi-faceted block and card game that reinforces simple math, early literacy, shapes, colors, and pattern recognition skills. It comes with two levels, one for readers and one for pre-literate kids, adding a nice bit of built-in flexibility. And the design is great—all of the parts are attractive, colorful, and highly engaging. The only caveat here is that sometimes the product seems to be trying a little too hard. The game-makers claim to have every possible foundation skill covered, yet Smarty Blocks is recommended for a really wide age group. The activities seem more suitable for very young children, especially the preschool set.
(Fat Brain Toy Co.; $28.95; ages 3+)
Sushi Go! is the new card game from the makers of Rory’s Story Cubes and SlamWich—simple games that are blissfully tech-free and age-flexible. Designed for family playtime, Sushi Go! reinforces learning basics like logic, counting, and strategic thinking. Like the previous offerings, it has great, non-cartoony graphics with pictures of smiling sashimi and whimsical wasabi. The rules are pretty simple and reflexes get a good workout—players must quickly combine cards and create sets to gather points and become sushi masters. The biggest attraction of this game is also its biggest drawback. The game is designed for mixed-age groups and family play and it’s definitely engaging enough for parents to play with the little ones—but older siblings might think it’s a little babyish or get bored.
(Gamewright; $12.00; ages 7+)
No, it’s not a science or math toy, but the new version of the Ubooly reading app has great potential as an early literacy tool. Last year’s original product allowed parents to download the app, insert their smartphone into the fuzzy toy body, and start talking to a cute interactive Ubooly face. The effect was pretty awesome and the plush toy body made Ubooly very appealing to tiny tots. The new version comes with an app, a physical book, and a tag “activator” that hooks onto the book. This setup lets Ubooly read to your child with a touch. The addition of the book puts the focus much more on reading rather than just the techie wow factor. This toy is still in beta and will come out later this year.
(Ubooly; ages 4 to 9)