Looking for some super gift ideas for your little ones this holiday season? Try some Smart Games.

our-smart-games-collectionWhat are Smart Games?

Smart Games is a company founded in Belgium that makes a super selection of games to grow your kid’s brain. The games are designed to help kids develop problem-solving skills and other basic brain functions that will help them succeed, both in school and in life.

The games come in a range of age groupings. Each game includes a series of progressively difficult challenges to solve, so that players keep learning and stay interested as they advance through the levels. While they’re designed to be single-player, they are also fun to work through with one or more friends.camelot-jr-closeup

We first encountered Smart Games when my dear friend Raiah sent Camelot Jr. to Kimmie for her fourth birthday. Kimmie fell in love with it – and at nearly seven, she still loves it (as does four-year-old Essie).

Since then, over the course of many birthdays and Christmases, we’ve built up our collection to six total and counting.

Why the mama in me loves Smart Games

  • They teach my kids something. (OK, even though my full-time classroom days ended with Kimmie’s birth, I’m still a teacher at heart.)trucky-3
  • They hold my kiddos’ attention over time. In our house, there are only two categories of toy that the girls have refused to let me “retire”: their extensive truck collection, and their Smart Games.
  • They are beautifully designed: solid wood, sturdy plastic, cute faces. These toys are made to last. And the bright colors and cool patterns and shapes are fun, too.
  • They can be used in ways outside of the set “challenges” at the heart of each game. This is especially true of the preschool-aged games:
    • Trucky 3, for example, is great for little kids to just play with – loading and unloading the pieces of cargo, driving the trucks around, etc.
    • day-and-nightSame with Day and Night and Bunny Peek-A-Boo. Essie’s solved all the problems in Bunny Peek-A-Boo many times over, but she still has fun making the wooden bunny the star of various hiding games, theatrical productions, magic tricks, etc. Ditto with the open-ended pieces of Day and Night.
  • They’re great for multiage play. We’ve gotten rid of most of our “baby” toys around the house. But when we have babies or toddlers over to visit, we just pull out the Bunny Peek-a-Boo and the empty trucks from Trucky 3, and our guests have something to play with that’s fun and safe. (And the girls will often play WITH their little friends when we pull out these toys!)
  • At roughly $10-$25 US each, Smart Games are a great value, considering how well they’re constructed and how long they’ve lasted us.
  • aqua-belleThe games come not only in a range of age levels, but also a variety of formats, from tabletop sets to more travel-friendly options (compact, magnetic, and/or pocket-sized).

And best of all:

  • Smart Games has AWESOME customer support. I once found an Aqua Belle set at a thrift store. When we tried to play it at home, we realized two of the plastic bubble tiles were missing. Went to the Smart Games website to see how to purchase replacement parts. Guess what? If it’s a game they still make, they will ship you replacement pieces for FREE. In a few days, I had my missing pieces.

Why Smart Games work for teachers

  • smart-games-at-preschoolThe logic, problem-solving, and planning aspects of solving these puzzles are especially noteworthy. When Kimmie was in pre-kindergarten, she took Trucky 3 and Camelot Jr. to a bring-your-favorite-game-from-home day at school. Most of the kids had never seen anything like them, and were clearly newbies at solving spatial puzzles. But by the end of each round, through working together, they had made visible progress in developing these harder-to-teach skills (especially logic).
  • For kids who already have a head start in these areas, Smart Games are super for teaching persistence and stamina. These are areas where Kimmie struggles more; she gets impatient when she can’t figure something out quickly. But with a bit of encouragement, she’s worked her way through puzzles that stumped her at first – and learned to persevere.
  • Solving the challenges with a friend or two at school is also great for promoting teamwork and communication.
  • Have any doubts about what your kids are learning from playing these games? Check out their website for educators, as well as the long list of awards they’ve won.

The optionsbunny-peek-a-boo

  • Smart Games exist for kids as young as two (Bunny Peek A Boo, recommended for ages 2-5). Others will keep kiddos and grownups alike busy solving the challenges for hours. I’ve been stumped on Color Code (ages 5-99) puzzles that Essie breezes through, and Kimmie and I have struggled together to solve some of the harder Camelot Jr. (ages 4-9) challenges.
  • color-codeBesides covering a range of recommended ages, Smart Games also come in a variety of formats:
    • Traditional or “original-format” games that work best on a flat surface (this is where most of ours fall).
    • “Compact” games, such as Aqua Belle (ages 6-99) and Temple Trap (ages 7-99), which are sized for easy transport in a backpack and average $15-$20 US.
    • The “pocket”-sized IQ Games series (around $10 US each), which are even smaller and more portable.
    • Magnetic games such as Brain Cheeser (ages 6-99) – also priced around $10 US, and also great for travel.
"Look, Mama - this is me!"

“Look, Mama – this is me!”

What one expert says

"And this is me when I was little."

“And this is me when I was little.”

I took out our six Smart Games this morning and spread them out on the coffee table for a photo shoot. But before I got to put them away, it was time to pick Essie up from preschool.

She found the pile and was totally engrossed in it for over three hours straight, until she got hungry for a snack.

 

We’d planned to spend the afternoon putting up Christmas decorations, but the Smart Games won out.

"And this is me when Im grown-up."

“And this is me when I’m grown-up.”

“OK, Essie, shall I go do something else?”

"And THIS is me wearing my SKIRT on my HEAD!"

“And THIS is me wearing my SKIRT on my HEAD!”

“Yes, please – I’m busy.”

But for the first half-hour or so after she started playing, she didn’t really want me to leave her alone. Because every two minutes she came to show me a new creation, made from the pieces of Day and Night.

When was the last time you had a hard time tearing YOUR kiddos away from a non-electronic toy? (Especially one they first got two years ago?)

If that isn’t a sign of toy success, then I don’t know what is.


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