Complicated directions were bad news for the fourth-graders in Laura Anderson’s class at McKinley Elementary in South Holland. Anderson let the kids loose to figure out the toys and she found the kids often simply ignored the directions and played their own version of the game.
Meanwhile, in Michael Likhite’s fifth-grade classroom at Orrington Elementary in Evanston, kids were on the lookout for learning tools masquerading as toys and games. And when they found one—such as the Patriot Challenge (Patriot Challenge, $34.99) game, they weren’t pleased. According to Katie Flood, 11, the educational part of the game "should be hidden. The fun doesn’t make it seem like you’re learning all this new stuff."
Gotta have it
The Back Yard Flyer Planes (Kid Galaxy, $15.99). This foam plane with its battery-powered launcher received top ratings from every class that tried it. The kids couldn’t stop talking about it—or fighting for a turn. If you have more than one kid, you might want to spring for more than one plane.
Isolate (Educational Insights, $19.99). This board game, which asks players to move colored tiles to isolate just one, was a fourth-grade fave among the kids and a hit with the teacher, too, who liked it because it made the kids think strategically. Byron Leach, 10, thought it was just the right balance of challenging and easy to play.
LEGOs (LEGO, $19.99 for a box). Stick with the big box that kids can use to build whatever their imagination tells them to build. That was the unanimous opinion of our fourth-grade testers. "It’s fun to build things and be creative with your imagination. You could build a whole bunch of things," said Abriah Todd, 10. But it seems that any version of LEGO is a hit with kids. Anderson’s students tested the LEGO City Fire Station (LEGO, $29.99) and she said it was a free-time favorite.
The Lewis and Clark Adventure Game (Educational Insights, $29.99). Anderson suspected the kids made up their own rules to this game, rather than wade through the complex directions, but they had a blast with the beads and the board game. "You learn a lot of things; on every space you learn something," raved Marcus Freeman, 10. "They have a lot of stuff for every kind of kid." A class trip to the Museum of Science and Industry increased the appeal of Lewis and Clark for 10-year-old Romi Gally, because she learned some of the same history facts.
Pop Bottle Science (Workman Publishing, $14.95). Anderson liked this simple science kit, which uses common household items for experiments. Luz Tejeda, 10, however, complained the experiments didn’t really work.
If the kids insist
Bionicles Toa Horoika Whenua (LEGO, $8.99). More of an action figure than a building toy, this Bionicle was a favorite both in the classroom and at voting time. The kids built it once only, but they enjoyed playing with the action figure afterward. "I liked it because it shot blades out," said Aliyah Owens, 9, of South Holland.
Don’t waste your money
Disney Scene It! (Mattel, $35.99). Our testers were split on this DVD game that shows clips of Disney films and asks players to answer questions. Some of the kids said they prefer the Disney Jr. Scene It! ($24.99), and others complained the game asked only about Disney movies.
President Abraham Lincoln (Toy Presidents, $29.95). This toy created plenty of controversy among the fourth-graders that had nothing to do with Lincoln’s politics.
"It was annoying," said Jalen Austin, 10. "When you’re not playing because you have to finish your work, then you hear Abe Lincoln say, ‘Don’t give up,’ I feel like I want to assassinate him!" Anderson said Lincoln grated on her nerves, too. She didn’t think it was educational.
Julian Roden, 10, however, noted that, "It talked too much, but he’s flexible, he can do the splits."
KG Racers (Kid Galaxy, $17.99). These remote-control cars were a big hit with the younger kids, but the fourth-graders played with them only once or twice. One was broken when they opened the package and the rest looked flimsy, Anderson said.
Sleeping Queens (Gamewright, $9.99). When the fourth-graders picked up this card game they got an unpleasant surprise: It taught them subtraction.
"It was about learning, that’s why I didn’t like it," said Julian Roden, 10. Anderson said the game had the potential to be educational but it just didn’t interest the kids.
As Marcus Freeman, 10, pointed out, "Parents would like it for their kids, but I don’t think the kids would like it for themselves."
Also on the "don’t bother" list: Granny Apples (Gamewright, $11.99) and Bendos Sports Bendable Hockey Figures (Kid Galaxy, $12.99).
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