With Bratz Girlz and Wall-E robots flying off the shelves, it's hard to know which toys will still hold kids' interest long after the wrapping paper is gone. The Parent's Choice Foundation, a nonprofit that evaluates toys and media aimed at children, says you don't have to spend a lot of money to make an impression. Here are the organization's top 10 value games:
Animal Soup Game (Briarpatch), $19.99, ages 5 and up. In this colorful board game, players race each other to match cartoon-style animals to what they see on the board. No reading skills are necessary, but kids get the chance to exercise their memory muscles and ability to follow directions.
I Spy Memory Game, 15th Anniversary Silver Tin Edition (Briarpatch), $24.99, ages 4 and up. Based on the I Spy books, this card game lets players match images and solve riddles. "As fresh and fun today as it was 15 years ago," says Parents' Choice.
Hyper Jump (Wild Planet Entertainment), $29.99, ages 6 and up. Players get a workout as they jump in response to this toy's directions. As it calls out numbers or colors, players put their feet on the corresponding spot. Kids can race each other (and their parents) or beat their own personal bests.
On the Dot (Gamewright), $12.99, ages 10 and up. To play this card game, kids match up dots on the cards with a pattern. They figure out how to flip, overlap, and turn cards to make it work, while playing alone or with others.
Chocolate Fix (ThinkFun), $16.99, ages 8 and up. In this game, chocolate isn't just chocolate. It's a way to practice abstract thought, reasoning, and other intellectual skills. Players follow clues from a puzzle book that challenge their logical deduction skills while they manipulate the pieces of chocolate to satisfy the puzzle—just don't eat them. Says Parents' Choice: "Beginner games provide a quick road to a satisfying solution, but advanced games require that special flash of insight that comes from mulling the clues over and over until a clear line of thought breaks through. Too many kids go through life without being asked to think clearly."
SmartMoves (Fablevision), $29.95, ages 8 and up. These puzzles—on a DVD—challenge kids to create patterns with body movements. Dubbed "calisthenics for the brain" by the company that sells it, Parents' Choice says it's the perfect antidote to a world filled with media that is "too loud, too fast, and too much."
Bucket Blast (Lolo Co.), $29.95, ages 6 and up. This game gives kids all the fun of a water balloon fight with a bit more structure. Buckets, beanbags, cones, blindfolds, and straps let kids work together while figuring out how to get the right bag in the right bucket—in some cases, while the bucket is attached to the back of another player. There are 15 different games to play, five of which involve water.
Games to Go (ALEX), $29.99, ages 5 and up. This enormous board game lets kids play outsized versions of checkers, backgammon, Snakes and Ladders, tic-tac-toe, Mancala, and other well-known games. It's waterproof, so perfect for the beach or pool, and it comes with a zippered mesh bag to hold all the pieces, including a large die.
Scholastic Treasury (New Video), $99.95, ages 3 to 8. Even with its relatively steep price tag, this collection of DVDs gives buyers their money's worth with over 900 minutes of viewing time. It includes versions of 100 children's books, including There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and Where the Wild Things Are, and features celebrities from Cyndi Lauper to John Lithgow. Parents who want their kids to be active participants in the tale can make use of the "read along" feature.
Cat in the Hat—I Can Do That! (I Can Do That! Games), $19.99, ages 4 to 8. This multiproduct game lets kids bring Dr. Seuss to life. Kids learn to balance boats on their stomachs, jump while holding fish under their chins, and follow the other whimsical directions of the 33 activity cards.