The Best Toys for Learning

-- the underpinnings for reading and writing. A craft or construction kit involves fine motor skills and building dexterity, along with the ability to read and follow directions, working in a step-by-step sequence and staying with a task that is less than instantaneous."

As a guideline, Oppenheim identified the following six categories for playthings that enhance learning. Plus, check out recommendations for specific toys that top Oppenheim's recent award lists:

1. Building toys: Legos, Tinker Toys and blocks for younger kids, and more complex building projects (like Knex or Rokenbok) for older children. "Building toys for each age group are among the best playthings for developing children's spatial reasoning as well as their ability to stick with a task. The younger the child, the more open-ended the building material should be," says Oppenheim.

One to check out: Lego Duplo Block-o-Dile by Lego Systems, Inc.; Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, 2005

2. Art supplies. "Art exploration introduces children to the science of how colors work together, and allows for creative and nonverbal self-expression."

One to check out: Finger Painting Party, by Alex; Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award, 2005

3. Props for play-acting and role-playing: "These are the food for imagination and language development."

One to check out: Pretend & Play Doctor Set by Learning Resources; Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, 2004

4. Board games that involve matching, counting and turn-taking.

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