Fun Toys That Educate Inspire and Comfort

by Marilyn Roca Enriquez in


Each year the Toy Fair at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City presents the opportunity for toy makers and distributors to up their game and prove that they belong in this highly competitive marketplace. OutlooK-12 visited this year’s fair to find products that imparted true educational value and also could be beneficial to some Hispanic students who may not have the strongest English-language skills. We were very encouraged by what we saw. 

The products we were most impressed with ran the gamut of games, dolls and construction toys as well as one that is sure to develop geography skills.

Worry Eaters

A doll with a zipper might be the easiest way to calm a small child’s fears thanks to the plush characters known as Worry Eaters, soft huggable dolls that lives up to their name. Distributed by the Haywire Group, Worry Eaters, known as Sorgen-fressers in Germany, have a hang tag that explains to tots as young as three years old that if they write their concern on paper – or draw it if too young to write – and toss it into the plush’s zippered mouth, their Worry Eater will hold on to that fear for them, so they can get a good night’s sleep. In the morning, their fears usually don’t look so large after all.

Worry Eaters

Coming in eight different personalities with names like Polli, Flamm and twins Bill and Betti, we think Worry Eaters is the perfect tool for guidance counselors trying to persuade reluctant students to open up about their problems and fears. It can also open dialogue possibilities between parent and child. The National Parenting Center agrees. In 2015, they awarded Worry Eaters the National Parenting Center Seal of Approval stating in their product review, “Worry Eaters serve a very useful and helpful purpose in a very subtle way while being fun and amusing at the same time.  Kids are often plagued with worries and can’t or don’t know how to express them.  Worry Eaters are an excellent tool parents can use to help understand what their kids are feeling and what is worrying them. To add to the appeal, Worry Eaters are super soft, lightweight, easy to take on-the-go and gender-neutral.  Recommended Age: three and up.” All Worry Eaters are washable, either by hand or on machine gentle cycle.

OCHO Building Sets  

One of the most popular categories of toys that many parents choose for their children are construction or building toys. Kids love them because of the possibility of making things with their own little hands and showing their mom or dad what they have made. Parents are delighted to discover that a toy can educate and boost the creativity level of their children. After sampling toys of all kinds at the Toy Fair, we found that Incredibly Interconnectable Toys’ latest innovative building sets, KnuckleStrutz® and OCHO, are educational toys that encourage creativity, imagination and STEM learning in ways that no other construction toy can. 

OCHO is the perfect learning construction set for younger builders. The uncomplicated nature of OCHO pieces and connections makes the toy the ideal choice for children ages three and up. The pieces easily stack, crisscross or even slide through each other. The octagonal geometry of OCHO allows connection in eight (OCHO) different angles. These easily mastered, simple connections give children the opportunity to build whatever they can visualize without the need of instructions. However, inspirations are included to build amazing models that children of all ages will enjoy. OCHO teaches dozens of valuable learning skills including Geometry, Problem Solving, Pattern Recognition, Sorting & Classification, Action & Reaction, Colors & Textures, Creative Thinking and Memory, as well as many others.

KnuckleStrutz

KnuckleStrutz

KnuckleStrutz is an educational toy that encourages and builds on the existing creativity and imagination in a child. Growing up with the individual, it can be enjoyed as a basic toy for younger builders then advance to a complex engineering system for more advanced players as mathematic and physics skills expand. The fun and sophistication of KnuckleStrutz goes way beyond traditional block toys. Each KnuckleStrutz piece can be connected to the next in a huge variety of ways, making solid, bendable, spinning and even morphing joints. The unique design of the pieces allows completed KnuckleStrutz creations to move, collapse and expand all while still connected. KnuckleStrutz has several model building toy sets, but for the ultimate educational experience, nothing compares to the Geometry Construction Set. It's made of interlocking geometric shapes and with the morphing power of KnuckleStrutz joints, these building toys can transform while all of the pieces are still connected. 

Creative construction toys are a great way to gauge a child's way of thinking about space, size and critical thinking. They figure out how things fit and how to make things happen.

Construction toys are utilized by schools, doctors and parents to see where a child’s problem-solving abilities lie. This is particularly important to assess what help, if any, a child will need with mental development issues.  As a child grows, these toys can be used to gauge a child's interaction with others when working in a group environment. This helps to find and correct any behavioral issues early on as well. KnuckleStrutz and OCHO offers versatile and unrivaled building toy products for specific age ranges to accommodate a child at every stage of development. 

Key to the Front Door

The next product that impressed us was created by an even more impressive Amarillo College professor named Deb Avara. Her board game, Key to the Front Door, tackles one of the most important life lessons for adults and students alike – financial literacy. Her inspiration came from her own life. Although she was well-educated, she (like many others) didn’t know enough about money management and long term planning. “My mom taught me to save and pay bills on time and save and stick to a budget and save and don’t buy things you can’t afford and save. But she never taught me about compound interest – because she didn’t know either,” Deb explained. “And that upset me. I had run several successful businesses; I prepared taxes for 13 years, even taught tax school. I considered myself pretty money savvy. So I figured – if I didn’t know this – my students probably didn’t know this either.” 

Key to the front door

And that realization inspired Key to the Front Door. An award-winning educational reality money game, Key to the Front Door is suitable for ages eight and above. This board games is perfect for home, ESL, G&T, life skills, transition classes for special ed and helps meet the financial literacy requirements for schools. The goal of the game is to furnish an apartment all while paying bills, saving for emergency, college/retirement and vacation, maintaining a budget, make wise shopping/buying decisions choosing wants vs needs and much more. The game comes in English and can be ordered in translation packs of English/Spanish, English/Chinese, English/French and English/Vietnamese. 

Hugg-A-Planet

Next, for an out of this world and in this world learning tool, there’s Hugg-A-Planet, one of the few toys shared by presidents, governors, senators, congressmen, many other world, business and religious leaders.  It’s a positively huggable soft plush 12-inch globe with more than 600 labeled locales. It’s embraced by many movie, television and music celebrities. In fact, since September 11, 2009, Hugg-A-Planet planets have been orbiting earth aboard the Interna-tional Space Station traveling seven km per/sec. Circles once every 90 min, 5,860 orbits per year. So far they have traveled over 850 million miles and orbited around the Earth 18,500 times! 
Geography can seem like a remote and dull subject for students. A plush toy like Hugg-A-Planet, which can also be tossed around like a ball, makes geography come alive for children. It’s been shown that children as young as two can start learning geography. For pre-schooler on up to eight th grade, children are exposed to the media always mentioning geography in the news, or they can find references while reading books and magazines or even listening to music. Different than a heavy metal globe on a stand, Hugg-A-Planet can always be in arms' reach for easy reference. Often this becomes an opportunity for the parent, grandparent and child to interact; where is that place or where does grandma live or even planning vacations. Hugg-A-Planet’s product line includes other planets, the moon and a soft pillow map of the United States. 

Hugg-A-Planet also comes with a subtle message. Its creators say it, “helps children learn about caring for Planet Earth. When you Hugg-A-Planet, you just hugged seven billlon+ people.”

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SCS Direct’s Tall Tales: The Game of Infinite Storytelling

One of the reason that creative writing is so difficult for many students goes beyond written English proficiency. Many students have not been trained to exercise their imagination and think outside the box when it comes to creating a story and find creative writing intimidating. We are on technology overload as well, which can stifle creativity. To that end SCS Direct Inc. has launched Tall Tales: The Game of Infinite Storytelling. Tall Tales, brings back the classic magic of imagination through electronic-free fun. 

Playing Tall Tales is simple– players choose a story card for their setting, draw random story elements from the bag and create an ever-changing original tale. Some of the 24 - story card settings include: a quirky game show, a colorful ocean, a fun theme park and a crazy circus. The story bag contains a wide range of 3-D pieces including: a treasure chest, a baby, a unicorn and a rocket ship. 

Tall Tales can be a great tool for teachers. They can put together groups of students who work as a unit to come up with a story that they can write and share with the rest of the class.  It is also a fun family activity. This creative, non-competitive game is suitable for all ages. For students who are in ESL programs and have to improve their language skills, this game allows them to stretch their imagination and creativity while practicing their verbal skills in a stressfree setting. Tall Tales comes from SCS Direct Inc. which is a consumer products company that develops best of breed products across the toy, baby, housewares, home improvement, personal care and outdoor living categories.