Settling into School: The Best New Educational Toys for 2015



As we slip into the final week of September, kids are beginning to settle into the new school year. And, with their study routines falling back in place, it’s time to introduce ways to enhance what your child is learning at school.

CTV Morning Live (Aug 13, 2015)

Rogers Daytime (Sept 29, 2015)

Tiggly Learning Systems (preschool, Tiggly)

Gorgeous visuals and a gentle soundtrack provide a relaxing, engaged learning environment further enhanced by the included chunky touchscreen-sensitive 'toys'. We love the open-ended design of the games, as much as having the privacy and independence of a screen mentor without sacrificing the hands-on play that is so important for early learning.

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All Ready for First Grade Readiness Kit (5+, Learning Resources, Inc.)

A great school-like activity for kids excited to feel like they're already there. And as a bonus, they have the opportunity to review basic letter and number skills that kids these days seem to know even before they start school.

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Just Add Milk: Science + Art Kit (5+, Griddly Games Inc.)

A terrific kit that combines the science of milk with a bit of artistic creativity. Projects explore things like surface tension, and our favourite - using the clumping properties of the casein in milk to make glue or a plastic-like molding compound.

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LightUp (5+, LightUp, Inc.)

A simple, elegant way for kids to get their first taste of circuitry. Each module piece features built-in electric components so that building a circuit is as simple as connecting the outer magnets. The pieces are all marked with the name of the component as well as how it would appear in a circuit diagram. The beauty of the kit comes from how it interacts with the complimentary mobile app which contains step by step instructions and guides that require no additional outside knowledge to follow. There is also an augmented reality feature which allows the app to show not only the flow of electricity in your circuit but also any problems with how you have it set up.

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Super Genius (5+ to 8+, Blue Orange Games)

Same basic play appeal as the classic Spot It! Games, but with a new educational theme. We love that words in the literacy sets are carefully chosen as simple phonetic words that appear frequently in children’s literature. And the math sets have the inherent flexibility to use combined decks so parents can create a range of simple math games that match numbers to numbers, numbers to equations, or even equations to equations, as well as adjusting the challenge to simple addition and/or multiplication skills.

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Compose Yourself™ (6+, ThinkFun Inc.)

Even kids with little or no musical background can have a quality musical experience as they play creatively with musical phrasings, then listen to an orchestra perform their composition. Cleverly designed with mix and match note sequences practically any combination sounds great, including our randomly picked combinations. Complete with a host of useful features, this is certainly one of our favourite toys this year, and perhaps the best musical activity we've ever come across.

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Osmo iPad Gaming System Starter Kit (6+, Tangible Play Inc.)

A superbly designed electronic interface to enhance and make classic hands-on brain builders so much easier to puzzle out independently. Apps featuring Tangrams, word games, a sketching aid, and the new numbers set, as well as our favourite, the pinball-styled Newton puzzles, make this iPad compatible tool a great way to exercise brain muscles.

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Nancy B's Science Club™ Stir-It-Up Chemistry Lab & Kitchen Experiments Journal (8+, Educational Insights, Inc.)

This attractive set of lab equipment gave our testers an extra dose of enthusiasm for these science projects. Parents loved that these simple, easy-to-do activities provided good demonstrations of basic science principles.

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Maze Racers (8+, Foxmind Games)

An incredibly flexible build-your-own maze toy that accommodates a wide range of age and skill levels, as well as both quick and longer play sessions. The basic race scenario has each player creating a maze, then swapping mazes to solve each others' challenge. But kids may also choose to play solo or quietly side by side with a friend.

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KEVA Brain Builders (8+, Mindware, Inc.)

A fabulous building toy that uses simple wooden planks to introduce basic engineering-style multi-view plans. Our testing kids loved trying to guess what they were building as they pieced the project together plank by plank.

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Houdini (8+, ThinkFun Inc.)

There's an easy solution to the first puzzle, and yet it took most of us here a good while to 'see' it. The puzzle pieces offer a variety puzzle solving options, some of which require a bit of outside-the-box thinking. But perhaps our favourite feature is the rope clasps that allow the puzzler to set up his own challenges without revealing any hints for the solution.

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Code Master™ Programming Logic Game (8+, ThinkFun Inc.)

Perfect for kids who dream of making the next big video game. Players learn to 'think like a computer' as they move their avatar through a series of puzzles that reflect core constructs in computer programming and are designed to inspire an intuitive understanding of the logic behind programming languages.

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Speedy Words (8+, Foxmind Games)

Cards have letters on one side and a category icon on the other. Flipping the top card of the draw pile reveals both a new category (on the backside of the next card), as well as three coloured letters on the flipped card. Your task is to quickly name something in the category - animal, country, famous person, etc. - that starts with that letter. Quick playing, fun and very portable.

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Makey Makey An Invention Kit for Everyone (8+, JoyLabz)

A banana piano... a play dough game controller... Makey Makey turns almost anything into a keyboard for your computer. Elegant is its simplicity and limitless in its possibilities, this is an inspiring introduction to the vast potential of electronics. It's also a great way to teach kids what will and will not conduct electricity.

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Groovy Lab in a Box (8+, Academics in a Box)

Each kit offers a rich and highly detailed exploration of STEM concepts with a series of hands-on activities that can take several weeks to complete. Definitely requires the help of an adult mentor, and is best suited to home schoolers or kids who want a more intense science experience than their school offers. We love that the kits are offered as either a subscription service (you receive one a month), or you can purchase specific kits individually.

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