I love seeing my kids’ glee on Christmas morning as they open their presents—but I love it even more when I see them continuing to play with their gifts months later. A lot of educational toys and stocking stuffers tend to be one-hit wonders: gizmos that are fun to play with for a day or two, but that don’t have much long-lasting value.
Not so with this list! These are the math-y toys and stocking stuffers that have stood the test of time with my own kids. Merry Christmas!
For your preschooler
This cash register and play money set is wonderful for pretend play for the preschool and early elementary years.
Feed the Kitty is a simple dice game with some gentle number skills built in. Similar to Hi-Ho-Cherry-Oh, but way less painful, because this game actually ends! This was my daughter’s favorite game when she was four.
Mighty Mind is a great toy for building preschool and kindergarten spatial skills. It consists of a set of plastic tiles and puzzle cards. To complete each puzzle, children fit the tiles onto the outlines on the cards. The beginning puzzles are very easy, and then they gently increase in difficulty until children are solving very challenging puzzles.
My kids loved to play simple card games like Go Fish when they were preschoolers, but they had trouble keeping all the cards fanned out in their hands. This little gizmo made card games much less frustrating.
For your elementary-age child
A solitaire-style set of logic puzzles featuring wooden animals–a very sweet introduction to logic. Perfect for 5- and 6-year-olds to work on with an adult, or for a 7- or 8-year-old to play independently.
Another solitaire-style set of logic puzzles, this time featuring cars. More advanced than Animalogic, best for children 8 and up.
Our Travel Tango set always comes out on road trips. It’s a small, compact set of spatial challenges, with magnetic pieces so that nothing gets lost.
This book is under the tree this year for my seven-year-old daughter. She’s messed around a bit with Scratch, but this book looks like it will help her expand her horizons and try some different projects. (Haven’t heard of Scratch? It’s a easy-to-use, FREE website where children can learn to program. Learn more here.)
Fun and educational games for the whole family
I played Cribbage a lot with my parents growing up, and it makes me happy to continue the tradition with my own kids. The rules are somewhat complex, but easy to follow once you understand them, so make sure you allow some time to read the instructions before your first game. Math-wise, it provides a lot of practice with adding single-digit numbers. It also exposes kids to the ideas of combinatorics: what’s the best 4-card hand that I can make out of these 6 cards?
The classic dice game, for 2 or more players. Great for some sneaky multiplication and addition practice on days when a regular math lesson isn’t happening. Works well as a whole family game as long as you give the younger members of the family some help with the math.
This is one of my family’s favorite games! I especially appreciate how it’s a game that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. The rules are simple, so it’s easy for younger kids to play, but it provides enough challenge to be interesting to adults and older kids.
Mastermind is a two-person logic game. One person creates a secret “code” out of colored pegs, and then gives the other players clues as to how to solve it. A great quick game, best for kids 8 and up.
Another favorite family game, with rules easy enough for younger children but enough strategy to make it enjoyable for older folks. Qwirkle is a 2-5 player game, but it works fine with more than 5 players as well.
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