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Rochester Central Lutheran School


Two boys playing in classroom
Robin Kaufmann


Play is critical to a child’s intellectual, emotional, and social development. This comes as no surprise to today’s parents, but in the digital age, a profusion of exciting electronic toy and game options could mean that old-fashioned, knowledge-generating, skill-building, memory-making toys and games are left on the store shelves. Still, table-top toys and board games are particularly effective tools for child development. One only needs to peruse popular or academic press to find child development literature that advocates the benefits of “gaming” the old-fashioned way. Play––and board games, in particular––are widely acknowledged for contributing to a child’s…

… intellectual development. By some accounts, playing board games twice a week increases a child’s intellectual functioning (particularly “brain speed”) by as much as 30 percent. Board games are widely understood to help develop focus, increase logical reasoning, facilitate problem solving skills, and generate new knowledge or sharpen existing understanding.

… emotional development. A decent amount of psycho/social research supports the idea that games reduce stress and encourage healthy emotions and behaviors, generally. If you love a child who struggles with anxiety or who manages warranted or undue stress, you might imagine how this is so. A good board game can serve to divert anxiety-ridden thoughts at the same time that it works to develop the emotional management skills and confidence that a child needs for long-term emotional health.

… social development. Cooperation and healthy competition are inherent to game playing, so the impact here is obvious. What is also true is that games offer an opportunity­­––between children, between parent and child––to practice communicating, sharing, and taking turns. Even more, they provide the opportunity for bonding and memory-making.

Given the good that play can do, we hope you’ll make traditional games and play a part of your child’s Christmas this year. RCLS teachers–– experts at play, themselves–– assembled this list of favorites. Most are board games, though we’ve included some skill-building toys and electronic options, too. Some are included on the list with descriptions, but they are all teacher-approved Christmas gifts for your child. Put one or more under your tree this year and play away.


Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game

Hi Ho Cherry-O


Sequence for Kids

Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game

With a four-year-old of her own, Mrs. Frey knows and loves this game for the Preschool/Prekindergarten crowd. It’s a best-selling game that reinforces color learning and helps to develop matching skills, strategic thinking, turn-taking, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills.

Magna Tiles


These are sized just right for early childhood and designed to hold a child’s interest and attention. Magna-Tiles help develop a child’s fine motor skills as he/she stacks, makes patterns or 3-D shapes, and builds more complex creations. A manipulative particularly valuable for spatial problem-solving tasks, logical thinking, and math reasoning, this toy will promote imaginative play and creativity.


Small building blocks



Just in case any of you don’t have Legos in the house, teachers want you to know the value of this toy. Classic Legos are great for every age, and there are kits appropriate for every development stage.

Magna Doodle

Magna Doodle

If you’ve been in Mrs. Andersen’s or Mrs. Bartsh’s classrooms, you know that kindergartners are busy learning how to hold a writing instrument and how to form letters and numbers. These teachers provide writing practice in the classroom with various media––salt trays, shaving cream, clay, and more–– but the Magna Doodle provides a fun (non-messy) opportunity for writing practice at home.


The RCLS Kindergarten classroom is brimming with tools (read: toys) for designing and building all sorts of structures. Zoob is unlike most other building sets in that the pieces include gears, axels, and joints that snap together. Rotating, spinning, and extendable pieces allow children to play with their creations after they are built.

Perler Beads


Zingo is a popular, bestselling game that will improve language and pre-reading skills. Modeled after Bingo, Zingo requires children to match pictures and words at a fast pace.

Perler Beads

Children ages 6 and up enjoy this inexpensive craft item that allows them to create any number of projects. A Perler peg board must be purchased to accompany the hollow, multi-colored bead kits. This is fine-motor practice at its most fun, and the beads provide sorting, counting, and patterning practice, as well––perfect kindergarten-level learning fun. A warm iron will bond the beads together to preserve creations.

1st -2nd Grades





Hedbanz Jr.

Rush Hour Jr.



This is a strategy game for the whole family, one of only a few games that can genuinely engage across all ages. This game will encourage planning and spatial reasoning as each played piece must touch at least one other piece of the same color, but only at the corners.

Race to the Treasure

Players build a path with their team as they work to collect 3 keys on a race to beat the game’s ogre to the treasure. This cooperative board game facilitates teamwork and camaraderie.

Race to the Treasure game


Another building system that allows creators to build models that actually move, K’nex kits include rods and connectors to make interactive toys such as trucks, airplanes, buildings, bridges, and more. Again, strategic planning, spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills all get a workout with this quality toy.

3rd-5th Grades



Teachers think this traditional option a great game for reinforcing math concepts such as place value and advanced addition and subtraction. As a game that has stood the test of time, Monopoly is surely a good investment, don’t you think?

Marble Maze

Marble Run

While this is a toy appropriate for younger children, too, 3rd and 4th graders love this building kit that teaches as it entertains. Problem-solving and  3-dimensional thinking are required as children build a marble track (and add motorized components, in some kits) and then delight as they watch their marbles go.

Boogie Board

Mrs. Wooten thinks this is the best invention for writing since, well—paper. Technically an electronic medium, the Boogie Board can make spelling and math practice fun. Kids can write an entire spelling list or fill the screen with multiple practices of the same word, then erase the screen with the push of a button. Write, draw, and start over again with this technology tool that promotes traditional handwriting and drawing.

Boogie Board

Mad Libs

Mad Libs are still around to give the 8-12-year-old crowd lots of fun and practice with the parts of speech and the English language. And, if I may, what is not fun about that?


RCLS teachers are working to encourage students to write, write, write. A journal is a great stocking stuffer and will create the occasion for your child to put pen to paper. Add a personalized or particular writing instrument and maybe some writing prompts and your child is sure to be inspired to write.

6th-8th Grades

Ticket to Ride


Art supplies

Students at this age are beginning to develop some technical skill. Give them proper tools to use in their creative endeavors. Try General’s charcoal pencils, Prismacolor watercolors, and Academy acrylics for quality (but not outrageously expensive) materials. (You could certainly look for professional brands for the serious art student.) Load up on canvases, drawing or watercolor papers, and quality brushes to keep your artist stocked with tools and supplies.

Lego Architecture Sets or Lego Ideas Sets 

These are not your 6-year-olds’ Legos. There are amazingly beautiful and complex kit options out there to compel your preteen to keep on building.

Pandemic Board Game

This is a cooperative board game in which players work together to treat infections across the world while they gather resources for cures. Sounds like a good Med City game, right?



Codenames is a word game that happens to be all the rage right now. According to the game’s maker, “Two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their codenames. The teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first.” This game is engaging for the whole family.

Unlock!  Escape Adventures

This is an escape-room-style game played with cards and an accompanying phone app. Note that each is a single-use game; once players “escape” (solve the puzzles), the game is done. (But you could pass it on.)

Electronic Options

It is the 21st century, after all, and there are some fantastic digital toy options on the market for your budding programmer, so we won’t ignore these entirely. Check out these tools, which receive Mr. Nelson’s stamp of approval for products that facilitate creation with technology.

Dash Robot

Dash Robot “offers an open-ended learning platform that makes tech knowledge simple and accessible.”

Dash Robot

Parrot Mini Drone

Children can pilot and code this drone.

Lego EV3 robot

Build a robot, then bring him to life with what Lego deems an “intuitive and icon-based programming interface.”

Monoprice Select Mini Pro 3D printer

3D printing at home…why not? The future is now, as they say.


Game on, RCLS; happy playing!