ParentDish's 20 Top Educational Toys for Tweens
1. Snap Circuits SC-300 (Elenco, $43, at Amazon.com): Snap Circuits gets your tween started down the road to discovering the joys of how electronics work. This kit includes plans to make a working doorbell, radio and hundreds of other great projects.
2. Nintendo DSi (Nintendo, $149.99, at Amazon.com): Think video games do nothing but melt your child's mind? Well, some do. But the Nintendo DSi also can be a terrific creative outlet. With two cameras, a microphone and built-in photo- and sound-editing software, your tween actually can learn something while drawing moustaches on pictures of family members. And once you buy them a DSi, you can pick up ...
3. Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day! (Nintendo, $19.49, at Amazon.com): Again, we know that some video games rot your brain. This one, however, does not. Brain Age 2 is Nintendo's follow-up to the huge-selling Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!
4. ThinkFun Gordians Knot (ThinkFun, $10.01, at Amazon.com): Video games are fun, but sometimes it's good to turn off the electronics and hunker down with something that doesn't require batteries. This is a puzzle with only six pieces, but that doesn't make it easy to solve.
5. Air Hogs R/C Havoc Heli (SpinMaster, $54.99, at Amazon.com): Yes, your tween can use the Air Hogs R/C Havoc Heli to conduct bombing runs on siblings playing in the front yard. But while they do that, they are learning about aerodynamics and problem solving. Really. They are.
6. Cadaco Spectacular Magic Show (Cadaco, $18.11, at Amazon.com): Puppet shows are fine, but everyone knows the real money is in magic. Well, OK, maybe not money. But it is fun to learn how magicians do all those tricks. And hey, some magicians figure out a way to make a living doing it -- look at Criss Angel.
7. Carrom 510.01 Balance Board (Carrom, $45.99, at Amazon.com): Balance is an extremely important physical ability that not everyone has. Even if your tween is a future Olympian, he could probably benefit from an occasional workout on this board.
8. In Other Words Magnetic Poetry (Magnetic Poetry, $15.29, at Amazon.com): Tweens want to grow up, but maybe they're not quite ready to give up all of their little kid pleasures. Let them have some time in front of the fridge with a set of poetry magnets.
9. Stratego (Milton Bradley, $16.96, at Amazon.com): The classic board game is kind of a cross between chess and Dungeons and Dragons. Although it looks simple at first, winning actually requires a tremendous amount of planning. Or, to use a better word -- strategy.
10. Coby SNAPP Cam3000 (Coby, $32, at Amazon.com): Got a tween who loves movies? Why not let her make some of her own? The Coby SNAPP Cam3000 is easy to use and inexpensive enough that you won't be quite as upset if she eventually breaks it.
11. Celestron 21041 60mm PowerSeeker Telescope (Celestron, $48.37, at Amazon.com): Get your tweens gazing at stars that they won't find on TMZ. The PowerSeeker is a starter telescope; see if they like this one before you shell out the big bucks for a better model.
12. Carnivorous Terrarium with Live Plants (Hirt's Gardens, $29.99, at Amazon.com): Taking care of plants teaches responsibility as well as botany. This terrarium includes three carnivorous -- as in meat-eating -- plants. Feed me, Seymour!
13. Uncle Milton Star Theater Pro (Uncle Milton, $107.95, at Amazon.com): The planetarium is great, but you can't go there every day. With the Uncle Milton Star Theater Pro, your tweens can learn about astronomy whenever they want to, right in the comfort of your home.
14. Mastermind (Pressman Toys, $13.87, at Amazon.com): One player makes a code. The other player has 10 tries to figure it out. If he can't, the game explodes in a ball of flame. OK, there are no flames. But this challenging board game classic is sure to light a fire in your child's brain.
15. WowWee FlyTech Bladestar Flying Helicopter (WowWee, $22.79, at Amazon.com): Just putting the FlyTech Bladestar together will teach tweens a few things. Once the thing is in the air, they'll need to maneuver it around the couch, birds, family members -- all valuable things to learn, if you think about it.
16. Jenga (Milton Bradley, $29.60, at Amazon.com): Think of Jenga like this -- the stacking blocks your child loved as a toddler, but a thousand times harder. Build the tower, then slowly remove one piece at a time, trying not to cause the whole thing to topple over.
17. LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 (LEGO, $279.00, at Amazon.com): Here's the progression: Duplo, LEGO, LEGO Mindstorms, world domination. Maybe a college degree before that last one. Mindstorms is like LEGO to the billionth power. This toy will make you want to be a kid again.
18. Ucreate Games & Artimation (Mattel, $14.98, at Amazon.com): Wahh! I'm bored! I've played all my video games 100 times! So why not make your own? The Ucreate Games & Artimation actually lets your child do just that.
19. Erector Motorized Racing Car & More (Erector, $59.98, at Amazon.com): The plastic Erector set you had in grade school? Pshaw. It's time to enter the big leagues. With 643 pieces. METAL pieces. Bring it on.
20. My First Lab Ultimate Microscope (C&A Scientific, $84.46, at Amazon.com): Don't let the name fool you. This is a real microscope that kids can use to look at all sort of things up close. Includes a light powered by a rechargeable battery.
(Note: Prices are accurate at the time of publication; Internet retailers change their prices frequently.)
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.