It is rare when I say a toy or game for everyone, but this is as close as it gets. Thus, as soon as your child is able to communicate with you, show problem-solving abilities, and has seen a bit of the world, it’s time to play a game of Disruptus. That could be as early as age seven.

Best mental gymnastics toy


Laser Maze — ages 8 and up — ThinkFun — $29.99

This puzzle requires kids to make executive decisions and plan their next move. As the puzzles increase in difficulty, they are encouraged to think things through and visualize the next steps in advance. I like watching my child solve these problems with his eyes. If I look closely, I can see his eyes darting around. Some kids will draw an imaginary line from one mirror to another mirror and some kids will talk themselves through to work out the solution.

Child development specialist Jonathan Lauter, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says Laser Maze encourages children to think several steps ahead. It sets the stage for planning and organization—all through play. And the laser light show only offers more built-in motivation.

Best artful play


Tobbles Neo — ages 6 months and up — Fat Brain Toys — $26.95

Children love to knock these artful play toys down as soon as their parents set them up. Most toys for this stage are often huge and take up much space in the home, leaving parents feeling overwhelmed. Tobbles Neo solves this problem, and it also grows up with your children. Babies will play with it differently as they grow and build their skills.

When your baby knocks it down after you build it for her, she is learning about gravity and cause-and-effect. When she starts to stack them on her own, she’ll be building the muscles and coordination skills eventually needed to write letters and numbers.

Best build-upon toy


Q-BA MAZE 2.0 Mega Stunt Set — ages 6 and up — Mindware — $87.98

With the introduction of the Q-BA Maze 2.0 Mega Stunt Set and add-on pieces such as “zoom” and “bounce,” one of my favorite building toys has now sharpened its teeth. The stunt set gives you the ability to harness the wonder of Rube Goldberg mazes in a 3D pixel-like format. The action (and fun) comes in various places in your structure, rarely going in just one direction.

Best toy for future designers


Design Tiles — ages 5 and up — eeBoo — $19.95

I was fascinated by the movie Thinking in Pictures, starring Claire Danes. Not long after, I discovered that my son thought in pictures, too. But I don’t think I really experienced the way in which he thinks visually until I played with Design Tiles. It’s kind of amazing to think in pictures and much faster to think when words are not in your head.

Thinking visually helps kids make sense of the world in a whole new way—figuring out what to wear, how to furnish and decorate their rooms, how to design class projects. Design Tiles allows you to make sense of that process, all without saying a word.

Best game for history geeks


Timeline: Inventions — ages 8 and up — Asmodee — $14.99

My family is full of big-time history geeks, and we love this game, made in France. We haven’t fully reviewed this yet, but please know that we love it so much that we just bought sister games Timeline: Historical Events and Cardline: Animals. (There are more).

To play the game, you don’t have to know when the friction match was invented (1827), but can you figure out if it was invented before or after the invention of the diving suit (1679)? Such questions make it a joy to watch your child use current knowledge of history to figure out the things he doesn’t know. “Well, I don’t know when the telegraph was invented, but it has to have been before the telephone…”  You’ll also get them thinking about inventions that are ancient (wheel: 3500 BC) and not-so-ancient (compact disc: 1979). 

The Quartz holiday gift guide

Connect to the internet of things

Pro tools for the extremely mobile

Booze and other ways to get in the spirit

Playful toys for thoughtful kids

More installments coming this week

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