Top 15 Brain Building Educational Toys for Under $15

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Smart Mom's Toy Box

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Parenting is all about compromises. Your daughter wants candy for breakfast, so you settle on toaster waffles with only one layer of blue frosting. Your son doesn't want to clean his room, so you agree to a viable path to the hamper if you promise not to look under his bed.

Christmas is no exception to the rule of compromise. Your kids want fun toys, but you don’t want to blow your entire budget on junk that’ll either rot their brains or fall apart before the wrapping paper is taking over your living room floor.  Luckily, there are plenty of great toys for little ones that help develop complex learning skills, like memory, logic & reasoning, processing speed, attention, and auditory and visual processing. Best of all, these brain training games can help strengthen the cognitive skills needed to make learning easier – and they're all under $15!

Just skim through the list and look for skill sets based on your child’s age and abilities.  Do you have a seven-year-old with ADHD?  Look for toys that strengthen selective, divided and sustained attention.  Teaching your kindergartner to read?  Select toys that strengthen phonemic awareness (letter sounds) through rhyming, segmenting and sound blending.

We now know that the brain is plastic, and since IQ is simply a measurement of cognitive skills, we can raise IQ by strengthening cognitive skills at ANY age. Toys that build and strengthen learning skills are like home exercises for your child's brain.  Here are some of the best brain-building games under $15:

1.  Rhyming Words Dominoes by Trend Enterprises ($5.95 on - Teach rhyming words with these domino-like cards. Includes 56 double-sided cards with words and pictures.  Ages: 4+

Cognitive skills: sound segmenting, rhyming, auditory processing

2.  Geometric-Shaped Magnet Set with Board by Trademark Global ($6.99 on - Create a simple design then have your child replicate it. The magnet board is great for car trips.  Ages: 3+

Cognitive skills: logic & reasoning, visual processing, attention

3.  Simon Electronic Carabiner by Basic Fun ($12.99 on - This small, portable version of the original classic includes a carabiner clip to attach to a belt loop or purse.  Ages: 7+

Cognitive skills: auditory processing, visual processing, attention, memory, processing speed

4.  Shape and Color Sorter by Patch Products ($11.89 on - Includes a sorting pegboard, five wooden pegs and 25 shapes in various colors.  Ages: 2+

Cognitive skills: visual processing, logic & reasoning, attention

5.  60-Second Jumbo Timer by Learning Resources ($13.23 on - Use this colorful timer with any activity or game to add the element of speed to any game – even solitaire and simple memory games played alone.  Ages: 2+

Cognitive skills: processing speed

6.  Minute Math Electronic Flash Card by Learning Resources ($11.99 on - This handheld gadget builds number fact fluency in timed and untimed modes with three levels of difficulty. Gives positive, corrective feedback (both visual and auditory).  Ages: 6+

Cognitive skills: visual processing, auditory processing, math computations, processing speed

7.  Rattled by Educational Insights ($13.74 on - Just shake and then use the letters that appear to create words. Use individually or with teams.  Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: sound blending, sound segmenting, attention, processing speed

8.  Spot It! By Blue Orange ($11.99 on - Find the symbol that each of two cards has in common. A fun, fast game for the entire family.  Ages: 7+

Cognitive skills: attention, processing speed, visual processing

9.  Sport Stacking Game – Stacks Cups by Flying Cup ($14.50 at Walmart Stores) - Stack in sequences as fast as you can. Compete against your own time or against friends.  Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: planning, processing speed, visual processing

10.  Travel Battleship Fun on the Run by Hasbro ($8.99 on - This classic tactical combat game is now perfect for car trips!  Ages: 7+

Cognitive skills: logic & reasoning, planning, problem solving

11.  LED Light Rubik’s Cube by OEM ($10.74 on - The classic ‘80s brain twister now comes in a light-up version.  Ages: 3+

Cognitive skills: planning, visual processing, problem solving, working memory

12.  Sequence for Kids by Jax Ltd. ($12.05 on - Play a card from your hand, place a chip on a character and aim for four in a row!  Ages: 4+

Cognitive skills: logic & reasoning, planning, problem solving, sequential processing, visual processing, working memory

13.  4 in a Row by Pressman Toy ($6.42 on - Be the first player to get four color disks in a row and you win!  Ages: 6+

Cognitive skills: attention, logic & reasoning, executive processing, planning, sequential processing, problem solving

14.  Bop-It Bounce by Hasbro ($14.73 on - Follow the electronic commands to bounce at different skill levels – alone or against friends.  Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: auditory processing, planning, processing speed, attention

15.  Mancala for Kids by Pressman Toy ($11.99 on - With animal shapes instead of stones, this version of the centuries-old classic is still a gem.  Ages: 6+

Cognitive skills: logic & reasoning, numerical concept, numerical fluency, planning, problem solving

Cognitive skills are the learning skills used to attend to and retain information, to process, analyze and store facts and feelings, and to create mental pictures, read words and understand concepts. When cognitive skills are strong, academic learning is fast, easy, efficient and even fun. Toys that work these skills are a step in the right direction to create strong learners.

Take this list with you when you head to the store (or online!) to do your holiday shopping. And who knows? If strengthening cognitive skills is this fun, maybe you can convince your kids that picking up wrapping paper is a game. Or maybe not.


Dr. Ken Gibson, is the co-author of Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child and founder of LearningRx, a national brain training franchise with 83 centers across the nation. 

I'm a former 7th grade Science teacher turned stay-at-home mom that lives in Houston, Texas. I am married to my college sweetheart and have a beautiful daughter named Riley, who definitely keeps me on my toes! I am also involved in starting a small business which would both manufacture and sell an invention that I've patented, called Toothpaste 2 Go. I love interacting with my readers and hope to learn as much about you as you learn about me!

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