Proof that you can have fun - and learn - at the same time

Melissa and Doug Puzzle

Melissa and Doug Puzzle

These colorful, handcrafted puzzles are industry – and kid – favorites, says Becky Pfeil of Timeless Toys in Homer. “Young children behave in a methodical manner,” says Pfeil. “They love doing things like lining cars up in a row. Puzzles feed into that need to put things in order and strengthen math skills.” For kids 2 and up.

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Skwish by Manhattan Toy

Babies love these atom-shaped toys because they can be squished (hence the name) and popped back into shape, teaching cause-and-effect. Plus, says Marie Raven of Over the Rainbow Toys in Anchorage, they are endlessly entertaining for small hands and eyes. For ages 0+.

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Quack Quack

Quack Quack by Blue Orange

Games can be teaching tools, too. Pat Jensen, owner of Anchorage stores Kiddywinks and Northwind Kites and Games, says that families love playing this “game of quick observation” together. Kids learn to match animal sounds with pictures. For ages 3 and up.

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Wimmer Ferguson Infant Stim-Mobile by Manhattan Toy

Baby toys used to be uniformly colorful. Then a group of researchers learned that babies responded better to high-contrast black and white toys, and the Stim-Mobile was born. Lynn Boots of Junior Towne in Anchorage says it helps babies learn to recognize shapes and colors. For ages 0+.

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Wooden Balance Bike

Wooden Balance Bike by Skuut

Kids pedal this wooden bike ‘Fred Flintstone’ style, using their feet, learning to ride a bike without falling and gaining confidence. Patrice Bressler of Classic Toys says this toy is often requested by physical therapists who work with children. For ages 2-5.

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Gymini Total Playground

Gymini Total Playground Kick & Play

This activity gym is not only a portable baby-entertainer, it’s a multi-sensory experience that exposes your baby to entrancing fabrics, textures and shapes – broadening their world and inspiring gurgles of happiness. Lynn Boots of Junior Towne says it’s a hot seller. For ages 0+.

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Funny Face Mirror

Funny Face Mirror by Skip Hop

Haley Welsome of the Anchorage children’s and maternity boutique Spoiled is a fan of this cute mirror. Peek-happy babies love to recognize their own reflection – and a silly face – in the mirror. Soft, squishable textures and contrasting patterns provide extra sensory learning. For ages 0+.

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Mozart Magic Cube

Mozart Magic Cube by Munchkin

The Mozart Magic Cube teaches young composers how sounds combine to create eight Mozart masterpieces. With the touch of a button, instruments can be added or subtracted and lights flash along with the music. Plus, the benefits of early exposure to music are well-documented. (See story “Music to Their Ears” on page 16.) For all ages.

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Teddy Wear

Teddy Wear by K’s Kids

Kids learn to zip, buckle, Velcro and tie shoelaces – and help a teddy bear get dressed at the same time. Patrice Bressler of Classic Toys says it’s a fun, useful toy for teaching those all-important dressing skills. For ages 3 and up.

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Magna-Tiles by Valtech

Children learn about geometric shapes and symmetry by building three-dimensional objects with these colorful magnetic tiles. For ages 3 and up.

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Five Little Monkeys

Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

Inspired by the best-selling children's book,“Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” is a simple-to-learn game that introduces children to counting and strategy in the midst of a lot of giggly fun. Pat Jensen of Northwind Kites and Games and Kiddywinks says it’s actually fun for the whole family. For ages 3 and up.

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Baby Walker

Baby Walker by Plan Toy

Would-be walkers are invited to their feet by this toy. Kids love to gather blocks in the cart and push – when they’re not creating block skyscrapers. For ages 10 months and up.

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A Wasilla couple pioneered the I-Qube in the 1980s as a toy to encourage development “as soon as the baby’s eyes open.” The high-contrast black-and-white patterns help baby focus and identify shapes. For ages 0+.

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Play & Learn Snail

Play & Learn Snail by Discovery Toys

Real-live snails may be a big sluggish, but this plush one is a “feast of sights, sounds, textures and removable shapes.” Babies exploring the toy hear squeaks, rattles and whistles – keeping them focused and learning, says Discovery Toys local rep Taunia Schulke. For ages 9 months to toddler.

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Geometric Sorting Board

Geometric Sorting-Board by Plan Toys

Kids love taking things apart and putting them back together, and this toy capitalizes on that. This open-ended toy challenges toddlers to find which shape fits best on each set of pegs, say staffers at Just Imagine Toys in Wasilla. It’s great for sorting, small motor skills and shape recognition. For ages 24 months to 6 years.

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