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By: Chris Clement
Kids have known for a long time that the best, most effective way to learn is through play. And parents have known for a long time that some of the best learning comes from great educational toys. Educational toys can spark the imagination, fuel creativity, and feed the mind. Here's a list of what's hot among kids and parents everywhere. (NOTE: Not all the toys mentioned below are new this year. Some classics have been around a while, and their popularity never seems to go out of style.)

Educational toys for the younger tots

Babies' brains grow and develop more in the first two years of life than at any other time. So, it's only fitting that babies have a wide range of educational toys to help stimulate that growth. We've come a long way form the traditional "busy box" with a few buttons to push. Babies now have play mats that rev up their senses, drums that teach the alphabet and even a laptop computer all their very own.

Edushape Play and Sound Mat - This 40 inch square textured foam mat is more than just a soft place for baby to land. It's got music at the push of a button. There's a safety peek-a-boo mirror for the fairest of them all. The 9 pieces can be rearranged like a puzzle, so it never has to be the same. The fact that it is made of nine 12"X12" pieces makes it easy to store and easy to carry. Simply pack it into its carrying case and away you go! Edushape sells other mats, too, for older tots, so this is one baby toy that can grow with your child. Ages 6 months and up.

LeapFrog's Learn and Groove Alphabet Drum - Winner of the 2006 Greatest Product Award from iParenting, the LeapFrog Learn and Groove Alphabet Drum is still delighting babies and preschoolers everywhere! Tap the drum and one of three modes kicks into gear. The alphabet mode lights up the drum's LED top with the letters of the alphabet, while a voice chip names the letters. (There are two language modes available - English and Spanish.) The Dance Along mode plays music for baby boogying. Every time the drum is tapped, music plays and the voice chip gives out a command like "Clap your hands." In Music Mode, the drum's lights and music respond to the child's playing on the drum. At first, your baby may only be concerned with hitting the drum, but soon he'll be dancing the night away! Ages 6 months to 3 years.

Baby's Learning Laptop from V-Tech - With its own mouse, colorful keyboard and catchy tunes, this little laptop is a surefire hit with the high-tech tot. It teaches shapes, feelings and common objects, using a light up screen and gentle voice chip. Little ones not yet mouse-savvy can still enjoy the music and sounds it makes as they bang away on the keyboard's large keys. Ages 6 months to 3 years.

Educational Toys for Preschoolers

It seems there are two lines of thought when it comes to preschool educational toys - new and fancy, usually electronic, or a bit more old-fashioned. Either way, preschoolers can learn and play the day away with the following offerings.

Fisher Price Smart Cycle - It's a video game system. It's a piece of exercise equipment. It's a whole lot of fun! Fisher Price's Smart Cycle is an electronic stationary bike that hooks to your television set. The little tykes get on and ride, all the while playing games to learn letters, numbers, colors, shapes, animals and more. There are even arcade style games, played with a joystick, for taking those well deserved pit stops. Fisher Price packages the cycle with a set of games that feature road adventures. The child gets on the bike, pedaling and steering through the various road courses the games have to offer. There's Math Mountain, Shape Lake, Number Fields, Letter Creek and more places to visit. There are several children's televisions show themed cartridges that can be purchased individually, like Dora's Jungle Safari and SpongeBob's Ocean Adventure, to increase and extend the learning fun. Ages 3 - 6

Melissa and Doug wooden toys - The Melissa and Doug Company seem to have the preschool wooden toy business about sewn up. They make everything from wooden "paper" dolls that come with magnetic clothing to dress them up, to doll houses, to wooden food sets, to make imaginative play come alive in a durable kind of way. Their wooden toys are sturdy, brightly decorated, and built to last the punishment preschool play can dish out. Perennial favorites include the doll house; the castle complete with king, queen, knights and a drawbridge; a various kitchen and food related sets that allow tiny chefs to practice their culinary skills; and the wooden dress up figures. They claim to be only for Ages 3 - 8, but many a grown-up will find themselves entangled in a Saturday afternoon tea party, or a Friday night castle raid.

Educational toy companies offer a wide range of opportunities for worthwhile play experiences, to meet all sorts of budgets. So, whether you need a special toy for a special little person's birthday, or you just want to be the coolest parent on the block with the smartest 4 year old ever, educational toys are sure to offer something to fit the bill.About Author:Excellent4kids.com has the very best child care equipment and supplies in the industry, at the very best value and with the very best intent for our children in mind. They don't just sell the products for your early childhood centers, they sell a commitment to customer satisfaction with each and every order. Visit online today.
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