Educating your kids, the fun way!
Before we start, it's vital to point out that you start educating your children from the moment they are born. Each time you talk to them, sing to them, show them a book or take them for a walk, pointing out the trees or birds, you are helping to expand their knowledge. Toys, particularly ones that claim to be "educational" should not be used as substitutes for talking and reading (books and building blocks are brilliant for pre-schoolers). Your child needs you to interact with him, not just a fancy toy, and many educational ones don't require much human interaction.
Having said that, some electronic educational toys are well worth a look - if you can handle all that beeping! Some help with colour recognition, others with telling the time or learning letters. Here are some that we tried out, and which impressed us.
Top Toy: Fridge Phonics, LeapFrog, age: 2+ Years, RRP: £14.99
This is a very good toy for a pre-schooler who is keen to learn his or her letters. Our three-year-old tester was entranced, and his parents were pretty impressed too!
The game works via magnetic letters which talk and sing when children place them into the reader. The letters can be used to spell out words on the fridge, but also put into the reader which tells you the sound, and sings songs as well. The reader also sings the alphabet, and even pronounces Z correctly (not as the American "zee"). Good fun, and educational without feeling pushy.
This sequencing game is another example of how LeapFrog are getting its electronic educational toys right. It's great fun - children need to twist and spin components to put songs and patterns in the right order - but at the same time, it develops fine motor skills, helps with learning how to put things in order and makes them concentrate. It has three different levels and even offers children the possibility of playing against each other, which is an interactive bonus!
Note that our three-year-old tester found it a bit bamboozling initially, but soon caught on and was thrilled as he managed to do it, and keep improving. Even the five and two six-year-olds were fans, so this one would work for slightly older children too.
Barbie Diamond Castle Laptop, Oregon Scientific, age: 3+, £19.99
This brand new pre-school laptop was a huge hit with our three and four year old girl testers (their male friend was not quite as impressed; perhaps all that pink put him off!). It's very nicely sized (perfect for little hands) and has eight activities which are all intended to aid learning and development. Yes, it's a little bit cheesy, but any Barbie loving girl will enjoy it, and I do think it has educational value, with some very good games (especially the sequencing ones).
3 and a half out of 5
This is a really lovely way to introduce Thomas fans to telling the time, and it's a very clear, clever way to do it too - with the minutes and hours very nicely laid out.
It's all a simple concept, but for little ones, the magic is in seeing the The Fat Controller and of course, Thomas (who comes out on the hour).
A good way to make telling the time fun, and definitely not like hard work!
3 and a half out of 5
Number Fun Farm mat, Learning Resouces, age: 3+, £29.99 (inc VAT)
This gorgeous colourful mat was an immediate hit with our two testers, aged 2 and 3. It's recommended for 3+, but would happily entertain those younger as well.
It's expensive, but possibly worth it as a special present, although be warned that it is not voiced with a British accent!
The mat helps with number recognition, counting and also games such as recognising an animal sound and pressing the appropriate animal picture. It's wipe-clean, good quality and a different, engaging toy.
This talking photo album is great fun. It not only holds eight photos, but allows loved ones (that auntie who lives a long way away for example) to record an accompanying message. The messages play when the pages are turned - so teaching baby cause and effect. It's also appealing because it's very bright, and has crinkly tabs and mirrors (something babies love)
Educationally, it's intended to help babies and toddlers learn to recognize faces and voices, as well as develop hand-eye coordination. Our baby tester did enjoy it, but I think it's as much one for the parents as the little ones.
My First Clock, V Tech, age: 3-6 years, £14.99
This was devoured eagerly by our tester (aged 3 and a half) who was delighted to find that the clock didn't just tell the time, but included a virtual friend called Chirpy who "helps you learn."
The clock is cleverly designed. Children can move the hands around and it will tell you what time it is, or it mentions a time and the child can put the hands in the right place. It even entertained our five-year-old tester, who had been having some problems with learning time concepts.
The clock also offers an alarm setting for birthdays and celebrations, and was doing rather well with the testers until the sound simply cut out. It's hard to know if this was as one-off or not, but it certainly didn't go down well with the children. Hopefully it wouldn't happen again...
2 and a half out of 5