7 Educational Toys That Aren’t Lame

Thanksgiving is next week. I KNOW.

The holidays are always crazy. Even before kids it was a whirlwind. Now I have the added pressure of being the Steward of Wholesome Holiday Memories to helpless young mammals.

Once you’re an official Steward adult expectations like bringing sides and desserts to family gatherings beckon. You may even be called upon to (gasp!) host. You will be expected to have a perfected recipe and be able describe it; an opinion on local infrastructure and sports teams. For you are an adult now. The proof is clinging to your leg, screeching.

Between keeping the house up, school events, making the seasonal food, holiday activities, decorating, shopping, wrapping gifts, thinking of shenanigans for that damned criminal elf (I refuse), work, and figuring out how to pay for everything, there’s little time to research gifts.

I’ve scoured the web for educational toys that aren’t lame so you don’t have to. These seven toys teach useful principles in fun, unusual ways.

presents under the tree
Ish Mom Christmas 2017


2-8 years

All feelings are OK!” chirps the indefatigably cheerful lady in the Moodsters promotional video, “you just have to get to know them!

Moodsters helps children “get to know” their feelings by providing basic emotional vocabulary and simple coping skills. This is an award winning, first-of-its-kind toy line that includes activity books with plushes and themed books. The Moodsters line is a fun way to teach toddlers and preschoolers emotional intelligence.
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In Meet The Moodsters each character (Anger, Happiness, Sadness, Love, and Fear) is introduced; a Moodster Meter that readers can “rate” their mood with is included. The book A Time To Be Kind has a mirror so that young readers can see the different emotions on their face. The Scary Sleepover teaches children constructive ways of dealing with fear, particularly those surrounding the dark. This book comes with a flashlight with five character projections for soothing shadow games at bed time.

No product in the Moodster line has less than a 4.5/5 star rating on Amazon. Parents, teachers, social workers, doctors, and other professionals left positive reviews. Those involved with special-needs children found Moodsters profoundly helpful. One parent reported having a “Moodsters basket” that would be used whenever her child was having a meltdown.

Leap Frog Learn and Groove Music Table

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The Leap Frog Music Table is an activity center that introduces songs/instruments and teaches shapes, colors, letters, tone, and rhythm. This can all be done at the touch of an exploratory little hand, encouraging fine motor skills. Walking around the table and dancing to the music encourages gross motor skills. The table has detachable legs so it can be a floor activity as well.

We got this for Big A last Christmas and he loooooves it.  There’s so much this thing can do: opening and closing, pushing and pulling, buttons to press, pages to flip. It’s bilingual (Spanish), for goodness sake. There are 70+ songs, tunes, and learning responses that create endless possibilities of combinations.

I love that the Leap Frog Learn and Groove Music Table not only teaches through song, it reinforces every day concepts like on/off, open/close, and turning pages.

The Leap Frog Music Table received a 4.7/5 star rating on Amazon. Most parents loved this product and reported it got use with multiple children. The detachable legs were universally loved. Some reported that it helped strengthen their children’s legs, as they’d stand to play with the table. A few complained that the newer model was not as sturdy as the older one.

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The time Santa asked a fetal Little A what he wanted for Christmas

Kids Active Sitting Stool by Ergo Ergo

3 years-Adult

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ir?t=ishmom 20&language=en US&l=li3&o=1&a=B074SY45ZBThis isn’t exactly a toy. If your child is a fidgeter, this may be more of a gift for you.

The Kids Active Sitting Stool fosters active sitting, or, as the Ergo Ergo website claims, sitting “as nature intended.” The copy goes on to say that the stool wakes up the body, engages core muscles, keeps the spine supple, improves circulation and encourages easy breathing. Now, I don’t know about all that. But the advantages of active sitting, especially when dealing with a scattered/active individual, isn’t bunk.

The Ergo Ergo Kids Active Sitting Stool is a unique accordion-pleated stool that the sitter can bounce around on; more durable than an exercise ball. This stool has won a shit ton of awards, most of them prestigious sounding, with words like “Einstein,” “Dean’s List,” and “Good Design” in them.

There were no reviews for this product, however, a similar product did well. Reviewers liked the way it helped young users focus. Any complaints involved durability, and by all accounts, the Kids Active Sitting Stool is the sturdiest of the bunch.

These stools are made for adults as well!

Osmo Genius Kit App Based Toy

5-10 years

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ir?t=ishmom 20&language=en US&l=li3&o=1&a=B071FN6KXKI was strict about Big A not getting screen time for his first two years. When I finally put him in front of Thomas the Train and mopped my floor sans interruption, boy, did I get it.

(For the record, let it be known that I have abandoned the no screens before age two rule for Little A. I’m hooked on the tantrum-stopping power of well-executed YouTube videos where Big A is concerned and I am never, ever going back.)

Screens are seductive tools, a necessary evil. Parents need a moment of peace. Kids need to be familiar with tablets for school use. And if you can’t get the tablet away from your kids anyway, why not install an app that encourages them to be as interactive with it as possible?

Each game in the Osmo Genius Kit reacts to physical action-arranging, tangrams, zooming numbers and words around, even free hand drawing. The kit includes Tangram, Numbers, Masterpiece, Words, and Newton Units with over 500 puzzles and activities. The app fosters interaction as the user must respond to the instructions of the onscreen character and complete real life movements. The Genius Kit encourages spatial and visual problem solving as well as teaching math and reading concepts.

This product received a 4.5/5 star rating on Amazon. Customers loved the ease of the app-for the adults installing it and the children playing with it. Many parents reported worrying a little less about their child’s screen time with the Osmo Genius Kit app based toy. A few cautioned that the included base was not compatible with older IPads.

Another thing I love about this product is that there are no ads, no in-app purchases and absolutely no way your kid can rack up a huge, hidden bill.

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Silly Sentences by DK Games

4-7 years

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ir?t=ishmom 20&language=en US&l=li3&o=1&a=0789454726Silly Sentences is a word game in which 1-4 players arrange wacky sentences. With 124 color-coded (and illustrated!) cards, the hilarious sentence construction possibilities are endless.

This product earns a special place in my heart for its’ focus on reading skills and playful bonding. This game is a great way to learn grammar and colors (“I’m looking for the green adjective”). Silly Sentences furthers the idea that playing with words is fun. It’s a great opportunity for the family to bond through laughter.

Silly Sentences earned a 4.3/5 star rating on Amazon. Users wrote that their children enjoyed the game long after they were skilled enough to add words of their own. The sturdy material of the cards was often noted. Homeschooling parents especially loved this product and bought multiple copies to use in their home classrooms. Educators also used this game to teach ESL students.

Klutz Lego Chain Reactions Book

7-15 years

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ir?t=ishmom 20&language=en US&l=li3&o=1&a=0545703301The Klutz Lego Chain Reactions Book is a wonderfully clear 78 page manual detailing ideas, instructions, and inspiration for ten Lego Machines. Each machine is awesome alone: they can spin, swing, pivot, roll, lift, or drop. Put them together and they create amazing chain reactions!

This product was a joint effort created between educators and 11-year-olds. The machines range from easy to advanced. Kids can use the Lego blocks they already have to create some crazy contraptions a la Rube Goldberg.

The Lego Chain Reactions Book received a 4.1/5 star rating on Amazon. Though the book comes with 33 original Lego pieces for the chain reaction machines, most parents complained that they didn’t have enough basic 4×2 Lego blocks on hand to complete the machines. Most were happy with the substitution ideas the book provided, however.

Those that had an already Lego-obsessed child with a plethora of Legos to match loved this activity book. They reported that it made playing with Legos and talking about science stuff fun.

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Big A enjoying last Christmas’ Melissa and Doug music set and puzzle

Melissa and Doug Dress Up Costumes

2-8 years (check measurements)

Melissa and Doug, one of my favorite toy companies, offer a variety of delightfully imaginative products. We own several Melissa and Doug cars, a cleaning set, some puzzles, and a music set.

Melissa and Doug have a whole range of dress-up costumes that do not disappoint. Your little one can be a scientist, police person, fire fighter, waiter, hairdresser, mermaid, pirate, pilot, astronaut, construction worker, knight, princess, spy, vet…I’m sure there’s more. These costumes foster the important (and often overlooked in the traditional school system) work of imaginative play.

These products earned a 4.7/5 star rating on Amazon. Customers raved about the quality of the fabric and the included costume accessories for the price.

Ish Mom 2018 List of Educational Toys That Aren’t Lame

I hope this list gives you one less thing to think about this holiday season. Isn’t lessening decision fatigue the best gift of all? Share this article and start your gift giving early!

How much holiday shopping do you have done? Are you the organized holiday type or are you feeling like a bunny in the yuletide headlights? Let me know in the comments below!

Check out a bonus sensory toy here!



Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.

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