Few things make a mom more proud than secretly educating her kids without them even realizing it. We’re talking books, games, and toys that are so fun and entertaining, your kids won’t even notice they’re actually learning something. Sure it’s a little sneaky, but is there a mom out there who isn’t? Besides, it’s all in the name of education (we like to call it “edutainment,” a cross between education and entertainment). Who can argue with that?
From super-cute books that teach kids about important figures throughout history to classic games reinvented for today’s discerning kiddie tastes, the following books, games, and more promise to capture your kiddo’s attention AND leave them smarter, so you never have to feel guilty about saying “Yes!” to game time. Before you know it, your kids will be like little encyclopedias just spewing knowledge around the house— maybe even doing so in a second language.
Learning Toys, Apps & Games for Toddlers
Every baby needs a lovey, and this puppy is all that and more. The coolest thing about it is that you get to choose the stage (or level) to set it at, depending on the age of your baby. Just slide a switch and the first level introduces more than 100 first words, the ABC’s, and even a few colors as baby presses different areas of the pup’s snuggly bod. The second level introduces basic counting and the different parts of the human body, while the third is all about allowing toddlers to continue learning through play with singalongs and other fun games that expand their vocabulary. Even when they’re little, the puppy responds to your baby’s touch, something little ones figure out pretty quick. Once they see that their actions can make the pup do all kinds of things, they also learn the concept of cause and effect. It’s a whole lot of learning wrapped in one cute, cuddly pup.
Go ahead and let your kiddo examine everything from a rock to a cookie with this fully functioning microscope that allows them to see a whole new world thanks to two large eyepieces and a chunky knob that’s perfect for chubby little hands. Kids can adjust the knob to magnify the items up to eight times, and a handy LED light makes it easy to see what they’re doing, day or night. Some parents think it’s the perfect intro to science for preschoolers because it allows them to realize that science is all around us. One Amazon mom says, “It’s super easy to use and works perfectly; you can fit practically anything on the platform for a closer look. The little light is great too — and it can be adjusted for a sharper image or for those times when the pinecone my son is looking at is bigger than we expected.” Take note that like many battery-powered toys, this one needs batteries (three AA batteries required) in order to start the scientific research.
With the help of two smart and sassy cubs, Cody and Cora, this 12-page interactive book actually reads to your kiddos, responding to their touch as they interact with the pictures. Without you doing a thing, this book can help expand your cutie’s vocabulary and teaches a ton about the ABCs, colors, sounds, and more. One Amazon mom says the voice “not only says the words out aloud when my daughter touches the pictures in the book, it describes them. It also teaches phonics and has a music mode, too!” Your kiddo could pick up a whopping 100 words, sharpen their hand-eye coordination, and hone their picture-and-sound associations. Plus it’s easy to take anywhere, whether you’re on a long car ride or you’re out running errands and you need something to keep them entertained.
Learning Toys, Apps & Games for Bigger Kids
From the creators of ABCmouse, is an incredibly interactive online learning program for kids 8-13 years old. The kids become a student of Adventure Academy and create an avatar before exploring campus and making friends. One membership (you can purchase by month or at a discounted yearly rate) gets you three avatars, so multiple kids can play under one account. The kids will love exploring the library, taking a dip in the pool and shopping in the market. More than that, though, they can choose from tons of learning videos and games, under the subjects of math, science, social studies, reading and more. They’re interested in anatomy? Yes. Astronomy? Yes. Even typing? Yes. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also a chat, so you can (or can not) let your kids chat with other kids, or even with their friends.
As a brand new feature to the site, they’ve launched WordPlay, in partnership with Newbery Award-Winning writer Kwame Alexander. Kwame, who serves as host in the video series, teaches kids to write their own stories along with a cast of his diverse and talented friends. We’ve tried Adventure Academy out with one kid and multiple kids and this “screen-time” comes guilt-free with a side of happy for the learning it brings to the big kids who, let’s face it— are usually wasting valuable time scrolling through meaningless videos on YouTube.
Got a kid who loves science? Maybe loves to be outside, chasing butterflies? This hands-on, reusable butterfly garden comes with a pop-up mesh habitat, a flower-shaped caterpillar feeder, two cups with five baby caterpillars and the food they need to grow, plus two chrysalis stations where your kiddo can watch the miracle of metamorphosis. For those kids who aren’t yet familiar with how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, this toy comes with a quick, easy-to-use guide they can flip through on their own. Over just three weeks, your curious George (or Georgina) can watch as caterpillars morph into chrysalides, and, eventually, gorgeous Painted Lady butterflies. One family that ended up with 11 butterflies took pictures of their growth each day for comparison. Several parents recommend lining the bottom of the habitat with cardboard because apparently caterpillars are super messy (who knew?).
Do you have one of those preschoolers who never came across a puzzle they didn’t have to put together this very minute? Sort of a cross between a Memory card game and a puzzle, this game splits three- and four-letter words into pieces that have to be put back together. Each piece features one letter and part of a picture depicting the word, kind of like an extra clue, so kids can rely on visuals and letter recognition to form the words. A big bonus is that they’re self-correcting, which means the pieces only fit if they’re the right match, so it helps boost kids’ confidence while they sharpen their spelling and reading skills. Even beyond that, this particular game requires hand-eye coordination and a decent amount of concentration, so if your kiddo could use a little extra practice learning how to focus (and is there a kid out there who can’t?), it’s great for them, too. The box comes with 30 puzzles, but there’s a ton of versions of this game, so you can choose one tailored to your child’s age and stage. There’s one that focuses entirely on spelling, another on learning the ABC’s, and others on rhyming, learning when to use uppercase and when to use lowercase, and more. One Amazon mom who works in early childhood education gave it five stars!
Who wouldn’t love to swat something once in a while? Not only is this game educational, it also gives kids a chance to get a little bit physical without hurting anyone or anything (#winning), which weirdly helps release pent-energy that might otherwise be spent misbehaving. Here’s how it works: There are over 110 cards with the 220 most common sight words printed on either side. They’re color-coded, so you can zero in on the age and stage of your kiddo and focus on having them learn that batch before moving on to the next color level. Each kiddo gets a swatter as a bunch of cards with sight words are scattered on a tabletop. One person (presumably you, although players can take turns), calls out a word. The first one to swat it wins that round. Without even realizing it, they’ll pick up a ton of word recognition and hand-eye coordination. And because of the fast pace nature of the game, it’s perfect for play dates — that is, unless one of your kiddos freaks out anytime they lose, in which case you might want to make this a solo venture. Everything is laminated, so you can easily wipe the game clean or simply trust they’ll last longer than the last set of cards you gave them. If your sweetie plays solo, one Amazon dad recommends adding a timer to make the game even more fun. Depending on their age, challenge them to swat a certain number of words before the timer runs out and see what happens!
If you’re looking for some beginner reading help for your kids this fall (raises hand) Duolingo ABC is a fun way to get them started. This free English literacy app teaches children ages 3-6 the foundations for reading. Developed by the company behind the world’s most popular language-learning platform, Duolingo ABC includes over 300 fun, bite-sized lessons that teach the alphabet, phonics and sight words. The app is designed specifically for younger users to enjoy independently, with no in-app purchases of any kind. Highlights include: personalized guided handwriting lessons help teach children to write their own name, dozens of fully-illustrated short stories that give children real-time feedback while they read aloud and the app also teaches how to blend sounds together to “decode” simple words. The app’s adding first grade to the curriculum by the end of August, so this may cover a few of your kiddos ranging from 3-7 years old.
You can give your kids regular books to read (good mom!) or you can give them books with funny, adventurous stories that teach them a whole lot about history (super mom!). The best-selling kids’ book series, Ordinary People Change the World, is now the basis of a PBS series, Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum, and it’s not only adorable but educational, too. The stories follow Xavier, his sister, Yadina, and their friend Brad as they travel back in time to meet historical heroes. From Rosa Parks and Albert Einstein to Harry Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt, each episode begins with a relatable problem that most kids will recognize. To solve it, Xavier and his pals visit the Secret Museum, a bat cave-style room tucked underneath a regular museum where they can time travel to meet historical figures who hold the key. The series teaches kids that even the world’s most famous heroes feel doubt and uncertainty from time to time while inspiring children to find the heroes inside them, too. Each episode is only 11 minutes long, perfect if you need to keep them busy for a few while you whip up dinner or take a shower.
If you ever want to get your kids to learn how to be responsible with money, play Monopoly. It’s a classic game that’s been around awhile, which makes it a shoo-in for visits with the Gramps. In addition to all the real estate know-how, it teaches a slew of life skills, too. From basic math facts and counting to learning how overspending can land you in hot water, it’s got it all. The Junior version of this game is perfect for little ones, allowing them to buy properties such as a pet store, a candy store, or a video game arcade. For kids who are 8 and up, the classic version of the game now comes in a bunch of different themes, so you can easily find something your fam will be excited about. If they’re movie hounds, go for the Frozen, Toy Story, or Avengers-themed Monopoly games. If they’re into unicorns and llamas (and who isn’t right about now?), they’ve got that, too. For kids — and adults — with short attention spans, there’s even a speed version where an entire game can be played in just 10 minutes!
The goal of this game is always the same: To create a maze that will take your marble from the start position to the Target Tower. Powered by gravity, this maze will test your child’s visual perception and reasoning skills. The towers can be arranged in a variety of structures, but to win, each player has to think carefully to build a path that will carry the marble to the goal post. Without realizing it, your kiddo will pick up spatial reasoning and planning skills. It’s kind of a three-in-one game: part logic, part marble run, and part STEM toy. It contains 60 different challenges from rookie to expert, a game grid, nine towers, 1 target piece, and 3 marbles. Each challenge becomes harder and harder the more your kiddo plays. One mom said it’s a great toy for an only child who doesn’t always have a buddy to play with. There are laser and circuit versions of the game, too, in case your kids aren’t into the gravity version.
To make learning even more fun, check out our gifts and toy guide for kids of every age.