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Fun Toys That Teach

[TOUT_IMAGE "/touts/0506_SHOPPING_cat_stack.jpg" "150" "200" "My Cat Stacker" "right"][REDORANGE_TEXT_BOLD {My Cat Stacker}]
A charming take on the classic stacking toy, this fabric-covered kitty's a great way to encourage hand-eye coordination, sequencing (Which one goes on first?), and sorting. Some of the rings have a surprise  -- a squeaky paw, a crinkly center -- for a lesson in cause and effect. ($30; Pint Size Productions, 800-544-9183) 18 months and up




[TOUT_IMAGE "/touts/0506_SHOPPING_play_center.jpg" "150" "200" "Track & Play Center" "left"][REDORANGE_TEXT_BOLD {Track & Play Center}]
The black-and-white patterns and bold colors on this crib activity center are ideal for grabbing a young baby's gaze. She'll also be drawn in by the mirror and the slowly moving smiley face. As she grows, she'll find that batting at the roller bar will set off soft lights, gentle music, and a "momlike" voice speaking soothing phrases to keep her comforted. ($25; Fisher-Price, fisher-price.com[TOUT_IMAGE "/touts/0506_SHOPPING_monkey.jpg" "150" "200" "Magnetix Jr. Magnimals: Monkey" "right"][REDORANGE_TEXT_BOLD {Magnetix Jr. Magnimals: Monkey}]
This little simian isn't just adorable -- he's also made up of eight magnetic parts that even preschoolers can put together with ease. They'll see how magnets work and develop their visual-spatial skills (Where does the arm go?) as they construct their own plastic pet. ($8; Mega Bloks, megabloks.com[TOUT_IMAGE "/touts/0506_SHOPPING_puzzles.jpg" "150" "200" "My Touchable Puzzles: In the Garden" "left"][REDORANGE_TEXT_BOLD {My Touchable Puzzles: In the Garden}]
With their textured foam pieces that beg to be touched, these toddler-friendly puzzles make problem-solving fun, not frustrating. Your child will love figuring out how they all fit together to form a rainbow, a birdhouse, and more. ($16 for a set of four puzzles; ALEX Little Hands, alextoys.com[TOUT_IMAGE "/touts/0506_SHOPPING_heximania.jpg" "150" "200" "Heximania" "right"][REDORANGE_TEXT_BOLD {Heximania}]
It's Scrabble for the grade-school set. The game begins with an "A" in the middle of the board. Players take turns placing a letter down and counting how many words they can spell (adding an "M" makes "ma" and "am," for example). More words equals more points. ($25; Educational Insights, educationalinsights.com

More Toys

[TOUT_IMAGE "/touts/0506_SHOPPING_catapillar.jpg" "150" "200" "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" "left"][REDORANGE_TEXT_BOLD {Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar}]
Watch your baby learn about object permanence as he explores the ten pockets to discover that the squeaking apple, rattling cupcake, and other plush tethered treats are still there, even if he can't see them. ($30; Small World Toys, smallworldtoys.com[TOUT_IMAGE "/touts/0506_SHOPPING_magnets.jpg" "150" "200" "ABC 123 Magnets" "right"][REDORANGE_TEXT_BOLD {ABC 123 Magnets}]
This kit's a creative twist on the usual alphabet magnets: Your child can color in the letters and numbers first, then use them to spell out his name and add up sums on the fridge. ($15; ALEX, alextoys.com[TOUT_IMAGE "/touts/0506_SHOPPING_count.jpg" "150" "200" "Count Across" "left"][REDORANGE_TEXT_BOLD {Count Across}]
Need proof that math can be a blast? Try this numbers game. Roll the dice, then add or multiply the digits together and place a game piece down on the resulting answer. The first player to land four pieces in a row wins. ($15; Cadaco, cadaco.com[TOUT_IMAGE "/touts/0506_SHOPPING_spices.jpg" "150" "200" "Spice Rack" "right"][REDORANGE_TEXT_BOLD {Spice Rack}]
A kid can cook up hours of pretend play with this wooden set, especially with the realistic sounds the spices make when she shakes them. But she'll be color matching and size sorting, too, when she removes and replaces the tops to the colorful "containers." ($15; Melissa & Doug, 800-284-3948) Buy It!

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