You've probably noticed that practically every toy these days will claim to have educational value. If you can pick the thing up, then the marketing blurb will boast about how it promotes hand/eye co-ordination. Just once I'd love to read some marketing blurb that said "Look it's only a piece of plastic tat, but the kids like it".
But still like every other parent, I do consider it a win/win if the toys my children play with also teach them something. Playing, after all, is just about the best way to learn. If you have fun whilst you're learning, you're more likely to remember.
So here's a selection of some of the best educational toys around right now. I've tried to steer clear of the obvious stuff because you'll probably already know about that. These are the hidden gems:
Pop Cap Games
This is a range of computer games suitable from age 6 and designed to increase mental skills. You can buy them for the PC or download them directly from the site on to your home computer or phone. And with so many young kids having their own mobile phones these days, this would make a cool virtual stocking filler. My favourite is Bookworm Adventures, which you can download as a free trial here. It somehow achieves the impossible goal of making spellings fun - your children will find themselves learning to spell and developing their vocabulary in a much more dynamic way than they ever would pondering word lists..
The best way to describe this game (pictured above) is that it's similar to dominoes, except you match up words, not dots. Like all the best games, it's fairly simple in concept, and players simply have to bring their minds and imaginations. Minimalist packaging makes it a good game to travel with. Suitable for age 8 and up and available here.
Science Museum toys
Have you ever been to the gift shop at the Science Museum in London? What a haven of cool stuff. And now you don't even have to travel that far, as Sainsburys and Boots are both stocking some of the range as part of their 3 for 2 offers.
This site is a haven for educational toys, but then that's to be expected as the company was started by an ex-teacher. I like this Hickory Dickory Clock for teaching younger children to tell the time, he's got a face with more character than Gordon Ramsay.
New Scotland Yard Forensics Kit
Children seem to love detective kits, and this one is the most comprehensive I've seen. Though if anyone feels like murdering their in-laws over Christmas, there'll be no escape for the culprit. A really cool gift for older children to sharpen their analysis and concentration skills.