Gift Guide:  Picks for Preschoolers

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Preschoolers can be the easiest to shop for--they are wide-eyed and enthusiastic about almost any new toy they unwrap. But if parents want that initial excitement to last beyond Christmas morning, it is wise to shop around. When it comes to toys and software, any parent will agree that there are wiser choices than others--toys that entertain and educate at the same time are ideal. Often, though, some of the best gifts are toys that inspire imagination and encourage So, while electronic teaching aids can be fantastic, tubs of paints and wooden blocks are priceless.

 ABCs and 123s

There are some truly outstanding products available that help acquaint kids with the building blocks of reading and math.

Top Pick LeapFrog has raised the bar in the electronic learning toy department. Its fantastic LeapPad series is case in point. In many ways, this electronic pad plays like an electronic storybook software program, with the added convenience of portability. Kids use a touch-sensitive pen to interact with special books they place on the pad. This toy is supported by a large--and growing--library of books available that teach early reading, math, music, and science skills. [Buy LeapPad at for approximately $50 US]

Top Pick A very portable and exciting toy that teaches lowercase letters, letter sounds, and simple spelling is also by LeapFrog--Leap's Phonics Pond. This electronic toy features each letter of the alphabet atop lily pads, and six modes determine how a child plays with the toy. For electronic learning in almost any room of the house (not just the computer room) and on the go, this toy is hard to beat. Leap's Phonics Pond will help teach your little ones the alphabet--and some of the cool words it can make. [Buy Leap's Phonics Pond at for approximately $20 US]

Older preschoolers who are ready to write letters and numbers will benefit from, and enjoy, both the Phonics Writing Desk, which teaches the letters of the alphabet, letter sounds, and three-letter words, and the Count and Learn Number Desk, which features the numbers 1 through 20, addition, and subtraction. Each desk has an erasable writing screen that is similar in function to a Magnadoodle, and an attached pen. Children are shown the numbers and letters on a small LCD screen, and are asked to copy them by writing directly on the toy's writing screen. Many preschoolers will not be ready for the higher levels on these toys, but when set to the beginning levels, these toys have a lot to teach. [Buy Count and Learn Math Desk or Phonics Writing Desk at for approximately $30 US each]

There's something satisfying about wooden puzzles. With the ABC Puzzle: Upper & Lower Case, kids refine motor skills as they learn the alphabet. While there are plenty of alphabet puzzles on the market, this one is especially educational. It features letter pairs--both upper and lower case wooden letters--that fit into the puzzle tray. As well, this puzzle is of the "see-inside" variety. Pictures of objects that start with each letter are "hiding" behind, which opens up opportunities for caregivers to reinforce letter sounds with little learners. [Buy ABC Puzzle: Upper & Lower Case at for approximately $15 US] 


 Software Games that are Sure to Please

Top Pick
Thomas & Friends Railway Adventures CD-ROM Playset is a very cute program! The colorful playset fits atop most Windows keyboards, and preschoolers use it to steer Thomas along virtual railway tracks onscreen. The playset features a working throttle, switch, and whistle, as well as a large Thomas button. There are four fun activities to play that involve kids with filling "work orders". [Buy Thomas and Friends Railway Adventures... at]

Top Pick Fisher Price Little People Discovery Airport is a wonderful choice for younger preschoolers. Kids get to help place pets into their carriers, sort luggage, and more. This is a surprisingly fun game with gorgeous screens. See our screenshot gallery for a closer look at this excellent program, as well as our full review. [Buy Fisher-Price Little People Airport at for approximately $20 US]

Older preschoolers will get a big kick out of the latest Clifford the Big Red Dog program. Clifford Learning Activities takes kids on a mission--to help make the lovable dog a star in a magazine. [Buy Clifford the Big Red Dog Learning... at for approximately $19.99 US]

Alphabet is an unusual, visually and musically interesting program. It presents a playful and inspired way for kids to interact with the letters of the alphabet. The program is artistic and off the beaten track--parents will love it as much as their kids. [Buy Alphabet at for approximately $19.99 US]


Books & Music

A book with the title The Most Incredible Outrageous Packed-to-the-Gills Bulging-at-the Seams Sticker Book You've Ever Seen has a lot to live up to. Fortunately, it does just that. More than 450 stickers are included, and can be used on the pages of the book in a variety of ways. Kids love stickers--the more the better. Naturally, they'll love this "packed-to-the gills" sticker book, and will  be busy with it for hours. [Buy The Most Incredible, Outrageous,... at for approximately $9-11 US]

Top Pick Both the first and second Ralph's World recordings are absolutely fantastic for the preschool set (and beyond!). The whole family will adore the winning songs in either of the titles: Ralph's World and Ralph's World: At the Bottom of the Sea.  

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy:  Ralph's World or At the Bottom of the Sea at]

Top Pick Delight your preschoolers with a refreshing musical recording that features rousing, kid-friendly chants from across the globe. Katherine Dines' Hunk-ta-Bunk-ta Chants is as fun as it sounds. Kids--and their parents--will be tickled. [See our review. Buy Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta CHANTS at]



Top Pick An ideal video for getting kids settled at night is The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Most parents are familiar with the book by Eric Carle. This lovely video features that classic as well as other stories from the author. This title is quiet and sweet, yet eye-catching. The musical interpretations of the stories are just as exceptional as the animations. This video comes complete with gentle and effective lessons about the days of the week, counting, and early science. But it does even better when it tugs at children's imagination and delivers subtle messages about the beauty of the world. Young preschoolers will enjoy this video, and parents can take the learning a step further by reading the books away from the television. [Buy Very Hungry Caterpiller at]



Preschoolers will get a present in the mail 8 times a year with a gift subscription to the wonderful magazine, Preschool Playroom. Featuring favorite characters like Spot, Maisy, Bear in the Big Blue House, and Blue, this magazine will delight little learners with activities and write-in workbook pages. Preschoolers will feel extra special receiving mail that's just for them, throughout the year. [Sign up for a subscription to Preschool Playroom at] 


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November 2001; Updated August 2002                                                                Comments? Email us.

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