Toy Talk®  with Nikki Bush showcases and endorses educational games and toys every child should have during their formative years as well as games for family fun and connection. Nikki Bush, Human Potential and Parenting Expert, has been helping parents to buy with confidence since 2004. This is her running list of weekly recommendations for 2021.

CLASSIC CHESS MASTERS By RGS Group

It’s cool to play the classic strategy game of chess. The award-winning TV series, The Queen’s Gambit, has given the game fresh appeal. Chess used to be the game for adult nerds and academic children who didn’t play sport, but this is not so today. Many primary schools now offer chess as an extramural activity and a broad cross-section of children attend from as early as Grade R (age 6). Chess is a game that can continue for a lifetime.

Classic Chess Masters is a must for every family. It’s a high quality tournament size chess set at an excellent price. The chunky plastic chess pieces are nicely weighted and have felt-lined bases for smooth movement on the board. The hinged (single fold) board has a linen backing for durability and it comes with excellent, clear, large print instructions that will teach you how to play the game (English and Afrikaans). The tallest piece – the King, measures 9cm in height and all pieces are classical Staunton style e.g. the bishop is distinguished by a mitre and the knight carved as a stallion’s head – all very traditionally Victorian!

Chess is about strategic thinking – both the big picture and each small step to outsmart your competitor. It requires patience, forwards and backwards thinking, defence and attack and being responsive – the board is always changing with each player’s move.

Age: 6+

Players: 2

Skills: strategy, visual memory, spatial planning, direction, problem solving, higher order thinking, logic

Price: R199

Stockist: Westpack, Takealot, Makro, Game, PNA, RGS Group

LEARN TO COUNT By Smart Play

Learn to Count is a comprehensive learning tool for school readiness. With all the learning gaps that have appeared during the coronavirus pandemic with young children missing out on interactive foundation phase learning in the classroom, this is also the ideal product to bridge those gaps because it helps children to learn how to count with real objects (concrete learning), pictures of objects (semi-concrete) and dots and numbers (abstract learning). Your child will learn to sort by colour and size using the colour stacking rings and graduated wooden pegs. Essential maths vocabulary will be developed and anchored in memory by playing with concepts such as counting, size, position (eg. above, below) and grouping (of colour and number). Number and quantity can be discovered and understood in a playful way with the double-sided instruction tiles and colour stacking rings.

Learn to Count features a wooden baseboard, 10 graduated wooden pegs, 55 colour stacking rings, 20 double-sided wooden tiles and instructions in both Afrikaans and English.

Age: 4+

Players: 1

Skills: Eye-hand coordination, spatial planning, position, number sense, quantity, colour matching, critical thinking, reasoning, matching and visual discrimination (similarities and differences)

Price: R270

Stockist: Westpack, Takealot, Makro, Game, PNA, RGS Group

WATCH THIS FACE By Eeboo

Watch This Face is two products in one which I just love. It’s an emotional literacy game that consists of 24 two-piece puzzles. While your child is recognising and matching facial expressions to the physical and emotional situations, they are also learning the skills that come with puzzle building. Get your child to name the emotion and create the same look on their face to match the puzzle piece. It might trigger a memory of a time they felt the same way which could be a good conversation starter. On the puzzle building side, sorting and matching are important pre-reading and pre-writing skills that your child needs to develop together with the fine motor co-ordination and spatial planning skills to piece them together. This is a multi-purpose product that will be useful for many years.

Age: 3-5 years old

Players: 1

Price: R295

Stockist: www.timelesstoys.co.za

Awards: Oppenheim Gold Award

EMOTIBLOCKS by Miniland

Emotiblocks is a multi-award-winning educational learning toy that can help younger children or children with special needs become familiar with basic emotions such as: sad, angry, surprised, happy, bored and scared. This character building set has chunky interchangeable pieces enabling children to freely create likeable characters representing different emotions. Build characters with six different expressions, two skin tones, three hair colours as well as boy and girl hairstyle options so that children can create characters they can identify with while valuing diversity, tolerance and inclusion.

The blocks come with a set of six double-sided flash cards. On the one side is a picture of a real child expressing an emotion with the accompanying word (in six languages). On the flipside of the card are pictures of three different Emotiblocks. The child must choose the Emotiblock that matches the emotion in the picture. Use this product to encourage your child to choose a character that reflects how they are feeling, how you are feeling or how others are feeling.

In addition to being an emotional intelligence toy, Emotiblocks are also good for sorting, building, mixing and matching and pretend play activities. This multi-purpose set is compatible with entire Miniland Superblocks range. Download the free Play Miniland app and extend your experience with digital resources.

Age: 2 – 7 years

Number of players: 1 or more

Skills: Identifying emotions of self and others, Construction, Fine motor control, Eye-hand coordination, Sorting, Matching, Proprioception, Creativity, Analysis (taking apart), Synthesis (putting together)

Awards: 2015 Best Toy Award of the Spanish Association of Toy Manufacturers in the Games category

Dr. Toy’s 100 Best: selected among the 100 Best Children’s products of 2015

Dr. Toy’s 10 Best Games: selected among the 10 Best Children’s games of 2015

Parent’s Choice Awards 2015: selected among the Best Products of 2015, in the Toys category

Approx price: R389.00

Stockists: Takealot and www.oliveandcharlie.co.za

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HOW TO PLAY:

 

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LLAMA by Amigo Games

This is a fast, fun card game filled with strategy and decisions and a unique scoring token system. It follows an UNO-type play pattern with a difference. Try to get rid of all your cards – if you can’t then you get to pick up another card or quit. Cards are numbered 1 – 6 and then there are the Llama cards. Play your cards to match the card in the middle of the table in the discard pile, or in ascending order, eg. a 5 on a 5 or a 6 after a 5. Play your Llama cards only after a six has been played and the game then resets to number 1 again. During a round you can strategically quit if it helps your score. This doesn’t mean you are out of the game, you just freeze your position in the round. As soon as someone plays their last card the round is over and everyone counts up and receives a black token worth 10 penalty points for a Llama card and white tokens worth 1 penalty point for any other card in their hand. Eg. 3 white tokens for the number 3. As soon as one player hits 40 penalty points the game ends. Everyone counts up and the player with the lowest number of points is the winner. A small and well-packaged for travel. Nominated for the 2019 Spiel des Jahres.

Skills:

  • Number sequencing
  • Matching
  • Problem solving
  • Strategy
  • More than
  • Less than
  • Decision making

Players: 2 – 6 people

Ages: 8 years to adult

Price: R224.99

Stockists: Loot, Raru and Takealot

TAKE 5 by Amigo Games

Take 5 is an unusual card game for up to 10 players and also comes with two complete game options. The rules are simple and the game is fast and packed with action and chances. The object of the game is to score the fewest penalty points. Each player is dealt 10 cards and then four cards are dealt face up and laid out on the table in a vertical column to create the playing grid. In each round players turn over one of their cards. The player with the lowest value card on the table adds it to the grid and then the rest of the players follow. There are two rules that determine which row you can add your card to: the card must be of a higher value than the card at the end of one of the rows (ascending order) AND closest in value to it too (least difference). For example: if you are playing a 44 it is higher in value than the 12, 37 and 45 on the table, but closest in value to the 43 so that is where it must be played. A row is full when it has five cards. The player who plays a sixth card leaves that card to start a new row and picks up the other five cards creating a Bull Pile and acquiring penalty points printed on each bullhead. Play continues until one player has 66 penalty points. The winner of the game is the player with the lowest number of penalty points. For a shorter or longer game you can set a different number of penalty points as the goal. To get to 66 takes about 20 minutes.

There is a second game in the box with its own deck of cards called Take a Number. It’s more advanced than Take 5, more suitable if you have fewer players and makes this an amazing value for money game that will hit the mark for any family.

SKILLS:

Number recognition

Mental arithmetic

More than or less than

Subtraction

Sequencing (ascending and descending)

Critical thinking

Problem solving

Decision making

Strategy

Price: R374.99

Available: Loot, Raru, Takealot

Ages: 8+

Number of players: 2 – 10

HOW TO PLAY:
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HOW TO PLAY:
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FRUIT PUNCH by Amigo Games

Fruit Punch is one of the world’s top selling card games with 11-million sold. Be quick, be fast. In this competitive game spot five of the same type of fruit and be the first to bop the banana! Players inspect the cards flipped face up by each player, at the same time, looking for matching fruit and mentally doing the addition to find a total of five of the same fruit. Quick reflexes are required as players compete to bop the banana first leading to much fun and hilarity. The winner of each round collects all the cards that are face up on the table. The winner of the game is the person with the most cards at the end of the game. Don’t accidentally bop the banana or you will lose a card. If a player runs out of cards, they are not out of the game, they can continue to watch for a match and bop the banana, with the possibility of getting back into the game.

Skills: Counting, addition, mental arithmetic, pattern recognition, increase processing speed, eye-hand co-ordination, fine motor control

Age: 5 to adult

Players: 2-6

Price: R274.99

Stockists: Loot, Raru, Takealot

REUSABLE COLOUR-IN PLACEMATS by Hey Doodle

When you next visit a restaurant with your kids, be prepared with a great activity to keep them busy while you are waiting for your meal to arrive. Look no further than Hey Doodle’s fabulous illustrated food grade silicone mats that come with 9 non-toxic marker pens in a convenient travel pouch. Wipe clean with a damp cloth and re-use. You can use a sanitiser too! Each activity mat has detailed illustrations, letters or numbers, words for incidental reading and things to seek and find. Choose from four different designs:

Toot Toot Honk – transport from A to Z

Into the Wild – animals from A to Z

Dinoroar – numbers from 1 t0 10

Sugar and Spice – numbers from 1 to 10

Reusable, no mess and quietly engaged kids – it’s a win for everyone! The mats are lightweight, non-slip and easy to fold and store in the travel pouch.

Skills: Eye-hand coordination, fine motor control, letter and number recognition, figure-ground perception, building vocabulary

Age: 4-8 years

Approx price: R399 (one matt, nine colour markers and pouch)

Stockists: Timeless Toys

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Pop IT!

Pop IT!, the sensory bubble popping, toy has arrived. It’s the latest fidget toy craze to sweep the world. Pop IT! is a softer, safer, silicone version of bubble wrap that does not have to be thrown away after one use…and who doesn’t love popping bubble wrap? In the same way, Pop IT! provides sensory feedback and satisfaction with less noise than bubble wrap so it doesn’t irritate others close by or children who have sensitivity to sound. Pop IT! is a calming toy that will fascinate your child while stimulating fine motor skills and eye-hand co-ordination. Fabulous for keeping kids busy in the car or at restaurants, Pop IT! is non-toxic, reusable and washable. Sanitise as required. I keep one on my desk and destress through play while I’m taking phone calls.

Turn Pop IT! into a game called Last One Loses where children take turns to pop one or multiple bubbles in a row to try and outthink the opposition to leave the last bubble to pop. Easy to learn, a lifetime to master. Check out the Youtube video below. This toy is recommended by occupational therapist and psychologists. Once you pop you can’t stop! Comes in different shapes and colours.

Skills: Eye-hand co-ordination, fine motor control, proprioception, pattern recognition, sensopathic play

Age: 3 – 99 years

Approx price: Standard shapes and colours approx. R149, Rainbow colours R179, special shapes R199

Stockists: Lilliputs in Rosebank, Dooby Scoo and Star Dot Toys in Cape Town and will be in most large toy retailers soon

Enquiries: www.popit.co.za or info@popit.co.za

MAGFORMERS TOWN SETS & MAG BUDDIES RANGE by Magformers

Magformers is a high quality magnetic construction toy range. Now you can collect five brand new town sets (hospital, mart, bank, ice cream shop and city bus) and connect them all to make a multi-faceted town. My recommendation is that the City Bus set is a must and then your child can add the town sets to that – just check out the Youtube video below to see exactly why I say this. The combination will enable your child to enjoy the traditional play patterns of a dolls house combined with a vehicle track – but magnetically! Expand imagination and play possibilities with the addition of characters called Mag Buddies including Max and Maggy, Milo the dog and a Minibot! The Mag Buddies come with Magformers magnetic pieces and figurines, making them the perfect collectible for boys and girls. Fully compatible with all Magformers sets.

Skills: 2D to 3D building, fine motor control, eye-hand co-ordination, spatial planning, imaginative play

Age: 3+ years

Price: Mag Buddies approx. R99.99 each and Town sets approx. R599.99 – R749.99 depending on the set

Stockists: Toy Kingdom

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CLACK by Amigo Games

How quickly can you spot and collect yellow stars, red lightning bolts and blue footprints and where are they? This is a magnetic game that clacks when you stack. Throw the shape and colour dice together. Everyone races to spot the match on the magnetic discs spread out on the table. After grabbing the first matching disc, players use its magnetic clack to build the rest of their matching stack. When there are no more matches, throw the dice again and repeat the process until no discs remain. The player with the most discs is the winner. Keeping score is easy—just line up the stacks to see whose tower is tallest. There’s one catch though – players may only use one hand to stack their magnetic discs. A 10 minute game for 2 – 6 players. Few rules. Easy to learn. Competitive, active and social. Play slower for younger players to find their confidence.

Skills: Visual perception skills, matching, visual processing speed, fine motor control, problem solving, competition

Age: 5 years to adult

Stockists: Raru, Loot from R366.00

HAPPY SALMON by North Star Games

Happy Salmon is the simple, fast-paced action card game that comes in a salmon shaped zipped pouch that is easy to take anywhere. Packed to the gills with high-fivin’, fin-flappin’ fun.

Picture cards instruct players to do the Classic “High 5”, the unifying “Pound It” (knuckle to knuckle), the frantic “Switcheroo” (switch places) and the delightful “Happy Salmon” (forearms alongside each other and flap your hand like a salmon tail) which will have everyone in hysterics.

During the game, at the same time, everyone calls out the action shown on their top card. When two players have a match, they celebrate by performing that action together, then discard their top card. Keep doing this. The first player to discard all their cards wins!

Easy to learn, quick to play with up to six players. Packaged in a fun Salmon shaped travel pouch.

Skills: Memory skills, processing speed, eye-hand co-ordination

Age: 8 years +

Stockists: Toy Kingdom, Takealot and Loot

Price: Approx R299.99

TOWER KIDS by Tower

These educational bundles of creative fun from Tower include foam and metallic mosaics, sequins, scratch art, foil art and sand art. While keeping children entertained making fabulous pictures and greeting cards, these activity packs will also stimulate fine-motor control, eye-hand coordination, spatial planning, matching and problem solving skills. These are all essential foundations for numeracy and literacy. You child will be strengthening their eyes for reading and their grip for writing while having fun learning through play. These bundles are incredible value for money. Keep a stock of them in your surprise cupboard for rainy days or when you need to keep your children occupied while you work from home.

Skills: Development of fine motor skills

Age: 3 years +

Stockists: Takealot from R109.00

Snap Ships by Play Monster

A snap together space-themed construction system. A number of different models and sizes from small to extra-large in the collection including Lance, Scythe, Sabre, Gladius, Locust, Sawfly, Scarab and Scorpion. Each model can be built three ways by following the well-illustrated instruction booklet or download the augmented reality app for additional builds and to transport your Snap Ship into your lounge or bedroom. Models come with decorative wings, fins and engines and working shooters. TOTY award winner in 2021.

Skills: Fine motor co-ordination, spatial planning, problem solving and fantasy play

Ages: 8 years and up

Stockists: Toy Kingdom

Price: Approx R279.99 to just over R1 000 depending on size of model

Youtube:

Snap Ships At These Galactic Outposts – YouTube

HOW TO PLAY:
HOW TO PLAY:

Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza by Blue Orange games

Keep these 5 crazy words in mind and in this particular order – taco, cat, goat, cheese, pizza. As each player turns over a card and places it in the centre everyone shouts the appropriate word. In amongst all the picture cards are pictures of a taco, cat, goat, cheese and a pizza. When any of these cards are played at the same time as the same word is called, players race to slap their hand on the centre pile. The last player to do so takes all the cards. The first player to get rid of all their cards is the winner. You’ve to to pay attention and be fast. This is a quick an addictive family game that takes just 10 minutes or so per round, for 2 – 8 players. Comes with extra cards and rules for more competitive play. Well-packaged in a handy tuck box to take with you wherever you go.

Skills: Increase processing speed and develop visual perception

Age: 10 years – adult

Stockists: Toy Kingdom, C.N.A. and Takealot

Price: Approx R199.99

Imagimags Magnetic Building Tile Set by Imagimags

Imagimags are colourful perspex magnetic building tiles, some of the largest available on the market. This high quality product with embedded safety magnets was designed by a South African teacher turned home-school mom. It includes a well-illustrated 26-page STEAM instruction/ideas booklet and has two vehicle base sets to avoid sibling squabbles. Six figurines and four bases extend the play value of this durable value-for money set. It’s one of those colourful, entertaining and educational products that you will pass on from generation to generation. It has 36 solid squares, 12 square frames, 6 square windows, 12 tall Isosceles triangles, 12 equilateral triangles, 12 Isosceles triangles, 6 small rectangles, 2 vehicles and 6 figurines.

Skills: Fine motor control, spatial planning, problem solving, together and apart, sorting and matching, understanding forces and magnetism

Age: 3 years +

Stockists: Timeless Toys for R1799.00