mother and her daughters feeding the birds
K-12

Gifts for the Gifted — Experiences

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) on every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

Way back in 2015, one of my Gifts for the Gifted recommendations was “Time with You.” It bears repeating that whether you are a teacher or a parent the young people you care for, in most cases, really desire your attention more than material objects. This is why I often recommend games that can be played with the family or in small groups in the classroom. Since this post is coming to you so close to Christmas, though, I wanted to let you know of a few possibilities that won’t require package delivery or fighting store crowds. There are some ideas in that post from six years ago, but I have some others you might want to consider:

  • Listen to audiobooks together. You can get a subscription to Audible, or one of the others listed in this article. Or you can check them out for free from a school or local library. I use the free Overdrive app to check out mine.
  • Work on puzzles together — maybe even while listening to your audiobook! (I got this idea from Nick Offerman, who said that he and his wife, Megan Mullally, do this all of the time.) You can do physical jigsaw puzzles, or free virtual ones like these. When my daughter got to be about 8 years old, we started doing puzzles together in my Games Magazine (there is a children’s section), and we still work on some together whenever she is home from college.
  • Travel the world without leaving the house or dealing with pesky luggage requirements. I haven’t tried this yet, but I am eyeing a few of the packages for us for on the Family Friendly page of Amazon Explore, like getting up close with the animals at the Toucan Rescue Ranch in Costa Rica or visiting the fortune-telling chicks of Dei Gratia Farm. And, teachers don’t forget about the virtual field trips you can do with Flipgrid!
  • Geocache! I can’t tell you the number of hours of fun I’ve had with my family and with my students doing this free activity. (The activity is free but you may need to invest in some equipment if you are a teacher, as you need working GPS.) Here is a way to get started. If you are a teacher who needs to stay on campus with your students, a scavenger hunt or an escape room activity can also be great and adapted to be high or low-tech.

I hope these ideas help, and that everyone has a great semester break! I will be back in the new year!

Books, K-12

Gifts for the Gifted — Aaron Slater, Illustrator

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) on every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

Aaron Slater, Illustrator is yet another fantastic book from the writer/illustrator team of Andrea Beaty and David Roberts. Ada Twist, Scientist (don’t forget you can now watch this series on Netflix!) was a recommendation I made on my 2016 list, and I could really have included all of the succeeding books from this duo in lists since then, but I didn’t want it to look like I was playing favorites 😉 I think that I find Aaron Slater particularly special because the main character is dyslexic, and I have taught so many amazing children with dyslexia throughout the years. At the end of the book, it’s explained that the typeface is a font called, “Dyslexie,” which was designed for people with dyslexia, and the “Illustrator’s Note” explains that David Roberts, too, experiences problems with reading and spelling. Another thing I applaud about this book is that Aaron Slater’s problems don’t immediately get rectified even once he encounters a teacher who recognizes his struggle. I also love that Andrea Beaty named her character after artist Aaron Douglas, who was an African American who contributed largely to the Harlem Renaissance.

As you may know, I am trying to support independent stores as much as I can now on my blog. You can purchase Aaron Slater, Illustrator from Black Pearl Books in Austin, a Black-owned bookstore. Here are some more Black-owned independent bookstores. You can also go to Bookshop.org to search for independent stores.

Book cover of Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty
assorted colored gift boxes
Games, K-12

Gifts for the Gifted — Notable Mentions

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) on every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

There were quite a few products I bookmarked this year that I have not had a chance to review. There’s no reason to keep them a secret; I just don’t want you to be under the impression that I’ve tried them and I am recommending them. In the interest of giving you enough time to purchase them if you do intend to receive them by the 25th, I thought I would share that list with you. Here you go:

  • Storytime Chess – A 2021 People’s Choice Toy of the Year Award Winner, this one is pricey, but seems to have a lot of great reviews. It’s currently on sale on their website ($49.99)
  • Mason’s Planets Handmade Sidewalk Chalk, A Benefit for Autism Research – $42 may seem like a lot for sidewalk chalk, but the pieces are gorgeous and I love that $2 from every sale goes to benefit the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Autism Research.
  • Parchie Watch – These $50 analog watches are designed for kids 6+, and can be worn while swimming. Order by Dec. 12 to get it by the 24th.
  • Van Gogh Masking Tape – These are sadly out-of-stock, but something you may want to keep in mind for future gifts. Browse the Kawaii Pen Shop site for all kinds of adorable washi tapes, pens, and other accessories.
  • One in a Chameleon – This is a visual/spatial puzzle for ages 8+ that can be played as a solitaire game or in small groups. Only $14.99.
  • The Adventure Challenge: Family Edition – I actually bought the “Friends” edition for my college-age daughter. These books have scratch-off challenges that you can do, and leave space to put pictures of you completing the challenge. Perfect if you have an Instax or similar camera or photo printer. (You can also bundle in a camera with your order if you want.) The Family Edition is ideally for families of 4-8 members with kids in the 4-15 age range. $44.99
  • Parks Board Game – I wouldn’t want this in the classroom because it probably takes awhile to play and has lots of pieces. It looks like a great game for a family that loves board games and the outdoors. With beautifully illustrated cards and sustainable wooden pieces, I can see that it would be a joy to play, and apparently many critics agree as it has won quite a few awards. At $49.00, it’s an investment but has potential for endless hours of fun.

If you happen to have any of the above, I would love to hear what you think of it. Either email me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com or comment below!

3-12, Games

Gifts for the Gifted – Brain Connect

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) on every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

Remember those plastic sliding puzzles you would get as party favors or in cereal boxes or for wedding gifts back in the old days?

Just me?

Okay. They looked like this.

Adobe Stock Image

And you had to slide the tiles to get the numbers in order. Or maybe they had a picture that was all mixed up and you were supposed put the picture back together by, again, sliding the tiles.

Or, you could just pop out the tiles like I did and press them back in…

Just me again?

I think I’ve made it pretty clear on this blog that spatial activities never came very easily to me, so it’s probably not a surprise that I didn’t really like those puzzles. But I’m all for cultivating a growth mindset and challenging myself now that I’m older. So, I went ahead and ordered Brain Connect even though it wasn’t in my preferred game category (word games). I thought, and I was right, that it would tick some of the boxes on my Gifts for the Gifted criteria list.

First of all, Brain Connect is definitely not your mother’s or grandmother’s sliding puzzle. There are four puzzle boards included in the game, and each one has small tabs beside each row and column. The tabs are kind of like off and on switches. You keep them so that the red color shows except for the places where your path should join. Those you make green. So, you’re basically trying to connect the green squares by sliding the tiles in the middle to make a continuous path.

There are two recommended play variations in the set. The first one is to exchange a board with another person, have them randomly switch two tabs to green, give it back to the original player, and race to see who finishes first. The second is to use the cards in the box by flipping one over and having all players slide the same two tabs over so that they are racing to complete the same challenge. Of course, it won’t be exactly the same since their tiles will probably have begun in different places and there are potentially several answers for some of the challenges. You earn cards based on the place you achieve (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) each time. To win a multi-player game, collect 10 cards first.

You could also play the game solo if you happen to like that kind of entertainment.

Brain Connect is a good game to put in a classroom center, or to give your kids in the back seat of the car. Parents can play against children fairly, and you can give harder cards (the ones with wheels on them) to make it a bit more difficult for spatially gifted players. Durability-wise, it’s fairly easy to carry 4 boards around (maybe not the cards) without losing them. It would be nice if there was a bag, though, since the box takes up more space. The boards seem pretty impervious to normal mistreatment, like dropping them accidentally. But I wouldn’t rule out young hooligans like me who are tempted to pull the tiles out instead of sliding them.

Brain Connect is made by Blue Orange Games. As I am trying to support independent toy stores this year, here is a link so you can purchase Brain Connect from Kidding Around in NYC. However, you have some other options with Blue Orange. Go to their Shop page, and you can try to locate a store near you, or buy the game through their Shopatron page and “your order is automatically offered to local stores in your area that participate in the program.”

3-12, Creative Thinking, Games, spatial reasoning

Gifts for the Gifted – Asymbol

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) on every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

When I first ran across this game, I vacillated about whether or not to include it because you can only purchase it, as far as I know, through one of the company’s independent consultants or from their website. But I kept going back to the page I bookmarked and thinking that Asymbol really is exactly the kind of game I would want in my classroom or for my family to play.

Asymbol comes from a company called, “Simply Fun.” Founded in 2008, Simply Fun is dedicated to creating quality educational games. Asymbol has already won several awards, including the “Creative Play of the Year Award for 2021” from Creative Child.

Image from Simply Fun

As with last week’s Gift for the Gifted, Just One, the concept of Asymbol is fairly simple. There are 47 quality wood game pieces that are spread in the middle of 3-6 players. Each player gets a “Pass Token” that can be used once during the game if they don’t want to assemble one of the words on the card they draw. Cards are shuffled, and players take turns picking a card, choosing a word or phrase from the card, and using whatever wooden pieces they want to try to assemble something that will help the others guess the secret word or phrase. A scorepad is provided, and the correct guesser and the assembler get points. If no one guesses correctly, the assembler can choose to end their turn. (Their is no time limit.) Play is continued for the number of rounds determined before the beginning of the game.

This game champions spatial reasoning and creativity, both of which are hugely important. If you’ve ever had students try to use a digital program like Tinkercad to design 3D figures, you can see how playing this game can be helpful. It’s similar to Pictionary, but has the constraint of only allowing you to use the shapes provided.

Though the game is for ages 8 and up, I think any child who can read could easily play this. One thing that is nice about Simply Fun is that there are individual tabs on the product page to inform educators and parents of the educational skills targeted by the game, and even how the game may or may not work for autistic children. (For example, autistic children who are sensitive about keeping things in a particular order or sequence might not benefit from this game, but it would be good for students who like to construct or build things.)

47 wooden pieces are a lot to keep track of, but there is a nice cloth bag to keep the pieces in, and they are large enough that they won’t be easily lost. The cards and box are durable as well. You could try making your own cards with curriculum vocabulary to extend the game into other subjects. Or, for those of you with 3d printers, you could even add some pieces to the pile. Different age groups can definitely play together, so it does make a good family game.

Asymbol definitely ticks a lot of the boxes for a great classroom center or home entertainment!

3-12, Games, Language Arts

Gifts for the Gifted — Just One

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) on every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

This game is definitely going to become a family favorite — and I have a feeling you will love adding it to your classroom as well. It is deceptively simple, but tons of fun, with potential to extend it into core curriculum. And, though it is technically for 3-7 players, you could find ways to add more players or make teams. The best part is that this is a cooperative game, so you want to help each other do well.

In Just One, each player gets a dry erase “easel” (nice quality plastic) and marker with eraser. The active player selects a card from a stack of 13 and puts it on the front of the easel without looking at it. That player picks a number, which will be the word that the other players will try to help the active player guess. They each write a clue on their easels, and then comes the tricky part! They compare easels while the active player’s eyes are closed. Any identical clues are disqualified and must be erased. When only the unique clues remain, the active player can look and try to guess the word. Only one guess is allowed. If the guess is correct, set the card aside to be counted at the end of the game. If the guess is wrong, that card and the next card are removed from the game. Play continues until all 13 cards are either won or removed, and then you count the successful guesses. A rubric on the instruction booklet gives you a rating such as, 9-10, “Wow, not bad at all!”

Obviously, the more clues that can be given to the guesser, the better. This is why a bigger group of players is beneficial, and also where some mental strategy and personality perception comes into play. You don’t want to write the same word as someone else and both get cancelled out, so creativity and empathy are both strengths in this game.

As I said, this game could be a good way to review curriculum vocabulary, and even have students author some of their own cards. You could set it up in a center, play in groups, or play whole-class in teams. The only constraint to this game is that players need to be able to read and write, which is probably the reason for the 8+ age recommendation on the box.

As you may have read in my other gift posts this year, I am making a concentrated effort to link to independent stores for your purchases. Just One can be purchased at Kidding Around, an independent toy store in New York City.