ParentDish's 20 Top Educational Toys for Preschoolers
1. Classic Etch A Sketch (Ohio Art Co., $12.67, at Amazon.com): Although it can be a little tricky at first, your child will soon learn to love drawing with two little knobs. Even better is the fact that they can just give it a shake and start all over again.
2. K'NEX Frontier Farm Lincoln Logs (K'Nex, $35.94, at Amazon.com): This old favorite has been around longer than we have -- your grandparents probably had a set. Among the many iterations currently available is this version, which comes with 51 wooden logs and a variety of cool accessories to make building time fun.
3. LEGO Ultimate Building Set -- 405 Pieces (LEGO, $24.54, at Amazon.com): When it's time to move on from Duplo, this is a perfect next step. The 405 pieces of assorted LEGO goodness equals hours, days, even months of plastic block pleasure.
4. Leap Frog Leapster2 Learning Game System (LeapFrog, $39.97, at Amazon.com): Yeah, we know. You hate video games. They rot your brain. Well, not these games. Leapster games actually teach kids math and spelling while they pretend to jump around and punch out bad guys. Just like in real life, right?
5. Learning Resources Ten-Row Abacus (Learning Resources, $16.99, at Amazon.com): From the hi-tech Leapster2, we move on to the low-tech Abacus. This toy is actually considered by many to be the first computer, although you probably won't be able to convince your preschooler of that.
6. Smart e-Bear (Kids Preferred, $51, at Amazon.com): He's cute! He connects to your computer to download music and games! No, it's not your teenage son. It's Smart e-Bear! Imagine if you had an iPod that was really cuddly and played educational games. Just plug him into your Mac or PC via the included USB cable to pick up some nifty software that will keep your child educationally entertained for hours -- years, actually, since you can upgrade the software as your child gets older.
7. Magic School Bus Going Green Experiment Kit (The Young Scientist Club, $14.25, at Amazon.com): This fun science kit is based on the wonderful "Magic School Bus" books and videos. Recommended for ages 5 and up, the kit offers a variety of fun learning activities. One of ParentDish's Top Preschool Toys of 2009.
8. Crayola Crayon Town Large Mat Zoo Set (Wild Planet, $17.14, at Amazon.com): Crayon Town playsets take everything kids love about coloring and make it 3-D. Your preschoolers can not only color a picture, they can make that picture into a free-standing building. Another one of ParentDish's Top Preschool Toys of 2009.
9. Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers (Scholastic, $6.99, at Amazon.com): You might scoff at these seemingly simple books when you first see them. That's until you notice your children reading these books by themselves. Imagine your preschooler starting kindergarten with the ability to read. Ha! Take that, other parents! OK, time to switch to decaf.
10. Moon In My Room (Uncle Milton, $19.59, at Amazon.com): This educational toy shows children the different phases of the moon, either naturally or on demand via a kid-friendly remote control. It also makes a great night light.
11. Learning Resources 12-Inch Inflatable Globe (Learning Resources, $6.42, at Amazon.com): A globe is great for learning about geography, but your preschooler may not be ready for the real thing. This version is basically just a ball, but it's a ball with the world printed on it. Watch them run around and get tired and imagine that they are learning where Guam is while doing it.
12. Blokus Classics Game (Mattel, $22.84, at Amazon.com): Blokus is a cool strategy game that you can play with your child. It's a board game where you won't get bored (get it?).
13. Big Deck Children's Playing Cards (Fundex, $8.27, at Amazon.com): Sometimes it's good to get back to the basics. Playing cards are great because of the huge variety of games you can play with them, including the ever-popular 52 Pick-Up. Use these larger-than-normal cards for a few hands of War, Go Fish or even Blackjack -- but don't play for money, OK?
14. Jumbo Lowercase Magnetic Letters (Battat, $19.95, at Amazon.com): More stuff to stick on the fridge. This set contains only the big letters -- no worrying about lowercase.
15. Little Tikes EasyScore Basketball Set (Little Tykes, $30.57, at Amazon.com): Your preschoolers will want to Be Like Mike -- well, Kobe, maybe -- as they hit layups and dunk the ball on Gramps. Bonus: It's adjustable, so it grows with your child.
16. Wonderworld Eco-Friendly Work Bench N' Box (Wonderworld, $29.99, at Amazon.com): Mommy and Daddy's tools are fun, but aren't exactly safe for little kids. Let your preschooler pound away to her heart's content with this set. Comes complete with toy hammer, screwdriver, wrench and all the "hardware" she'll need for a solid developmental playtime.
17. Dalmatian Vet Kit (Battat, $21.50, at Amazon.com): Let's play doctor! No, not that kind of doctor. Animal doctor! And not on your real dog -- this kit includes a toy puppy that kids can tweeze, bandage and tong as much as their little hearts desire.
18. Learning Resources Jumbo Dinosaurs (Learning Resources, $21.11, at Amazon.com): It's never too early to learn that dinosaurs are awesome. This set features a variety of dinos, all large enough to avoid being swallowed by your own little T-Rex.
19. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden 27-Piece Lacing Beads in a Box (Melissa & Doug, $11.99, at Amazon.com): Some skills are trickier than they seem, and lacing is definitely one of them. This box includes 27 ginormous wooden beads and two extra-long laces.
20. Highlights Hidden Pictures 2010 (Highlights for Children, $6.95, at Amazon.com): Here's the latest and greatest edition in the Highlights for Children "Hidden Pictures" series. According to Amazon, "Teachers have found that working on them can enhance a child's attention to detail, reinforce good work habits, increase word knowledge and aid in developing self-confidence." Parents have found that kids really, really like finding hidden pictures.
(Note: Prices are accurate at the time of publication; Internet retailers change their prices frequently.)
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.