Sunday, February 26, 2012

Toys to Promote Skills: Gender Neutral Edition

Last week, I wrote a guest post for Mommy Shorts about pink, purple, and princess toys that still promote important skills for future math and science success. The great toys featured in that post aren't the only toys we have that promote those skills, though. Pumpkin loves pink, purple, and princesses, but she has always been interested in other, toys, too. I thought I'd follow up the "girl toys" post with a list of some of our favorite "gender neutral" toys that promote skills that set kids up for future success in math and science.

1. Blocks. Lots and lots of blocks.

As I wrote in that guest post, building toys are great for stretching spatial reasoning skills, and also for instilling a love and "feel" for building things. Everyone knows about LEGO and Duplo, and we have lots of that. But there is more to building toys than LEGO.

We started both kids on blocks early. Petunia, though, has benefited from some things we figured out a bit late with Pumpkin- namely, that a kid's motor skills have a big impact on how well building things goes. Therefore, Petunia has had a wider range of blocks than Pumpkin did, as we looked for blocks that she could use from an early age.

Petunia was able to build with the Fisher-Price Little People Builders Stack 'n Learn Alphabet Blocks much, much earlier than she could build with Duplo. The downside is that she outgrew the blocks by the time she was two. These are definitely for young toddlers.

The big Megabloks were another type of block Petunia mastered before she could handle Duplo. They've also had more staying power. Petunia and Pumpkin both still play with these, and will also build with these blocks together, which is pretty cool to watch. Until Petunia knocks over Pumpkin's tower, or they both want the same piece at the same time....

Nesting blocks are also really good for toddlers. One day, you'll look over and see that your "baby" has figured out how to stack them properly, and you'll realize she's starting to figure out some basic things about the size of objects. Lots of companies make blocks like this. We have a set of sturdy cardboard ABC Building Blocks, which we got second hand when Pumpkin was about two and have not destroyed yet.

Both of my kids really love playing blocks with the pieces from the Zimbbos game.

I'm sure the game is fun to play, too, but we've never tried it. The blocks are explicitly intended to use for building pyramids, including inverted pyramids, so they are great building toys.

2. Take Apart Toys

Taking something apart and putting it back together is a great way to practice spatial skills and logic. Our favorite toy in this category is the Battat Take Apart Airplane

It comes with a little "drill" to use on the big plastic screws that hold it together. Pumpkin and Petunia both like playing with it. Petunia definitely needs some help reassembling it, but she can mostly disassemble it on her own.

3. Puzzles

Pumpkin took to puzzles early and without much effort on our part. Petunia has been slower to show an interest, and we definitely had to work a bit more at it. We put in the effort, though, because puzzles are great toys for spatial reasoning and logic skills.  Petunia first warmed up to puzzles wiht the Melissa & Doug Pets Sound Puzzle.
She also really liked the mix-and-match puzzles from Melissa and Doug, Fish Colors Mix N Match Peg Puzzle. She will still stop and "fix" the puzzle if someone puts the fishes back together the "wrong" way- i.e., not matching. Incidentally, we had bought that puzzle for Pumpkin, back when she had outgrown the simple peg puzzles but wasn't quite ready for a jigsaw puzzle.

Petunia hasn't transitioned directly to small jigsaw puzzles the way Pumpkin did, but she really enjoys doing floor puzzles with a grown up right now. Her favorite is this jungle numbers floor puzzle.
Pumpkin still really likes puzzles. She has also started to enjoy tangrams. My mom brought some over for her once, and since they were leftover from her years as a teacher, they were probably similar to these. We'll have to get some for her soon.

4. Logic Games

I've got nothing against Candyland (although I will confess to being fairly bored with it after playing it roughly 4237 times since Pumpkin got it), but I love games that stretch logic skills.  Our favorite in this department is the Gobblet Gobblers game we bought Pumpkin for Christmas.

It is like three-dimensional tic-tac-toe. It is easy enough for a four year old, but challenging enough that the adults sometimes actually lose. And it is fun!

Do you have any other games/toys to suggest? Add them in the comments!


  1. "Wammy", which seems to be marketed mainly at girls, is a fabulous building type game. Each flexible piece is exactly the same, (but come in several colours) but fit together in many different ways. All three of my kids love it (including my son).
    We have lots of strange items made of it, floating around our home, especially spheres of different sizes and complexities.

    Rush Hour, and Rush Hour Jr and great strategy games (sliding tile games) to play solo. They are a bit like the "blue block" app, but with real pieces, and it is an ice-cream van that you have to free from a traffic jam that you set up following the diagram on the cards.

  2. We found "Guess Zoo" - a rip off of Guess Who that uses animals - to be very good. And because the "people" are animals, no reading of names is required for the final "are you ...?"
    Our son has speech delays and is reluctant to talk, especially in sentences, so this game has been very useful in forcing him to speak to play, as he really likes the game. As well as visual-matching questions like "does your animal have brown fur?" we also ask things like "does your animal swim in water?", and although he mostly asks questions he has heard as ask, he sometimes comes up with some very creative and funny ones on his own.
    Green, purple & orange colour scheme (for the holders and the backs of cards etc) keep it gender neutral too.
    I don't know how widely available it is as I am sure it is a rip off so not made by the same company as the real Guess Who. It's made by Funville Games which is apparently from the UK, I found it in K-Mart in Australia.

  3. ooh, this is a great list, and of those, all we have are puzzles. T is really into 24 piece puzzles now, which is very cool to watch.

    I can't for the life of me get her terribly interested in Duplos, Fisher Price Peek A Blocks, or the really nice Plan Toys wood building blocks :( though rumor has it she does build things with blocks at daycare.

  4. Quercetti georello kaleido gears, 55 pieces

    these are mesmerizing. I could play with them for hours

  5. "Quercetti georello kaleido gears" in fact, DC did spend hours playing with them this weekend. This weekend seemed mainly focused on what the speed does to the colors and patterns on the gears. Previous explorations have been focused on the meshing and rotations.

    Pixel blocks are a favorite in our house. They're little one-piece lego-like blocks that attach on the sides as well as top and bottom.

    We agree on tangrams. Scholastic sells some that are magnetic (and go with a book that has a metal back) which made them easier to deal with for small fingers.

    When DC was little we had an awesome alphabet puzzle given to us by a neighbor. I'll have to see if I can find a link on amazon when I get home tonight.


  7. Meccano, but watch the age. My 7 year old still needs help with the 4 year old stuff, but has no difficlty with the Lego 8-12 year stuff.

    Oh and the Quercetti stuff is fantastic, I agree. We have the Farm series.

  8. "Quercetti georello kaleido gears" - I'm intrigued, and will have to check them out, thanks!

    DS really likes this app game called Stack the States.

  9. the milliner7:20 PM

    In addition to the usual building blocks (lego, megablocks, plan toys wood blocks) DS loved these blocks / puzzles when he was younger:

    Now @3.5 he's starting to get into Zolo building sets.

    He has a particular interest in balance right now and these sets definitely provide more of a challenge that way. He loves the different shaped pieces and I can definitely see that the unusual shapes stimulate his imagination in terms of what he will build out of them.

    DS is a puzzle maniac. He started out with some Djeco peg puzzles and a Melissa & Doug sound puzzle that he got as a gift. (Though I must admit we took the batteries out of the sound puzzle early on. Just couldn't take it.)

    This puzzle:

    (and other large size floor puzzles) were favorites for a long time.

    DS got this interesting Smart Games 2 layer puzzle from DH's company for Xmas:

    It's still a bit challenging for him to do the two layers (and understand the logic behind it), but I think when it clicks for him, he'll end up loving it.

  10. Love these suggestions! Now that Evan is getting into an age where he actually plays with toys the way they were designed to, we're looking for more options. That plane looks fun!


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