Smart Mom’s Toy Box 2016

20 Award-Winning, Brain-Boosting Toys Under $20

Did you know that you can help boost your child’s brain skills at home just by choosing the right toys? The trick is to find games and toys that are fun and require skills like memory, auditory and visual processing, attention, logic & reasoning, and processing speed.

We’ve put together a list of award-winning games and toys that build cognitive skills so you don’t have to worry about them spending six hours playing video games. Better still, all 20 of these are under $20!

  1. Lost Puppies ($15.49)

Work together to find all the lost puppies before nightfall.

Ages: 5-7

Cognitive skills: Logic & reasoning, attention

Awards: Creative Child Magazine Seal of Excellence

Buy Now

  1. Head Full of Numbers ($11.24)

Set the timer, roll the dice and create as many unique, correct equations as possible with the results.

Ages: 7+

Cognitive skills: mental math fluency, attention, processing speed

Awards: Great American Toy Test

Buy Now

  1. Compose Yourself by Think Fun ($14.99)

Create a world-class composition in minutes. No musical experience required!

Ages: 6+

Cognitive skills: Visual and auditory processing

Awards: 2015 Major Fun Award, 2015 Play Advances Language Award, 2105 FamilyFun Magazine Toy Fair Favorites, 2015 BSCKids Bestie Awards

Buy Now

  1. Distraction by ThinkFun ($9.99)

Memorize the numbers on the cards as the sequence of digits continues to grow. Draw and answer a Distraction card before reciting the cards’ numbers in order. The player who gets rid of their cards first wins.

Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: memory, attention

Awards: 2012 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, 2012 Parents’ Choice Recommended Game, 2012 Dr. Toy’s 10 Best Games, 2012 Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Children’s Products, 2012 Creative Child Preferred Choice Award, 2012 Major Fun Award

Buy Now

  1. Simon Swipe

Try to repeat increasingly complex patterns of tapping and swiping with this fast-paced, handheld, electronic game. There are four game options, including classic Simon, and 16 levels of play.

Ages: 8+

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

Awards: 2015 Toy of the Year (for Game of the Year), Parents’ Choice Fun Stuff Award

Buy Now

  1. Quiddler by SET Enterprises Inc. ($7.98)

Combine your hand into one or more words trying to use the highest point value letters.

Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: Sound blending, visual processing, attention, segmenting

Awards: Parents’ Council Award, Educational Clearinghouse A+ Award, MENSA Select Award, Dr. Toy’s Best Vacation Winner, Creative Child’s Preferred Choice Award, and more

Buy Now

  1. Five Crowns Junior by SET Enterprises Inc. ($10.43)

Match all five cards in your hand by either number or color to win a treasure chip. Avoid earning Robby chips or you could lose your treasure!

Ages: 5+

Cognitive skills: Visual processing, attention

Awards: Family Choice Award, Creative Child’s Travel Fun of the Year Award

Buy Now

  1. Blokus by Mattel ($16.74)

Place your pieces on the board so that they touch another piece of the same color, but only at the corners.

Ages: 7+

Cognitive skills: Strategy, logic & reasoning, visual processing, processing speed, planning

Awards: Mensa Select Award, Teacher’s Choice Award

Buy Now

  1. SET by SET Enterprises Inc. ($10.97)

Be the first to call out a set of three from the cards dealt. The one with the most sets when the cards are done wins.

Ages: 6+

Cognitive skills: Visual processing, processing speed, attention, spatial reasoning skills

Awards: Winner of over 35 Best Game Awards

Buy Now

  1. Back 2 Back by SmartGames ($10.75)

A challenging grid-based puzzle game that’s played on both sides.

Ages: 7+

Cognitive skills: Planning, visual processing, attention

Awards: Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award

Buy Now

  1. Wordplay for Kids by Game Development Group ($17.45)

Build words that fit the category and include the letters required as you race to the finish.

Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: Phonemic awareness, sound blending, visual processing, processing speed, attention

Awards: Teacher’s Choice Award

Buy Now

  1. Double Ditto ($19.99)

Read a card out loud then quickly write down two answers you think other players will also write. Compare answers and discover whose minds think alike!

Ages: 10+ (though 8- and 9-year-olds with strong reading and writing skills may also enjoy playing).

Cognitive skills: Processing speed, attention, strategy

Awards: Create Child Magazine’s 2016 Game of the Year Award

Buy Now

  1. CUBU by Funnybone Toys ($9.78)

Try to follow color numbers and color sequences to get to 100 points first.

Ages: 10+

Cognitive skills: Visual processing, processing speed, attention

Awards: Creative Child Magazine 2012 Preferred Choice, Family Review Center Best of 2012

Buy Now

  1. Stomple by Spin Master Games ($15.95)

Use strategy to stomp your opponent’s marbles before they stomp yours.

Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: Planning, strategy, visual processing

Awards: Mensa Select National Competition Winner, More Fun Award

Buy Now

  1. Tapple by USAopoly ($13.00)

Choose a category card and name a word matching the category within 10 seconds, then press the first letter of the word on the wheel. Can’t think of a word in time? You’re out! The player that collects the most cards wins!

Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: Processing speed, memory, attention

Awards: National Association for Gifted Children 2013 Toy List, Mom’s Choice Gold Award, Major Fun Award, Tillywig Toy & Media Awards’ Top Fun Award, and more

Buy Now

  1. IQ Twist by SmartGames ($9.99)

Try to fit all the twisted playing pieces on the game board for any of 100 challenges.

Ages: 6+

Cognitive skills: Logic, planning, strategy, visual processing

Awards: Best New Puzzle – Games magazine

Buy Now

  1. Apples to Apples Junior by Mattel ($17.07)

Try to convince the judge that the word you’ve chosen from your hand best matches the judge’s card.

Ages: 9+

Cognitive skills: Logic & reasoning, attention, critical thinking skills

Awards: Mensa Select prizewinner, Party Game of the Year by Games magazine, National Parenting Center’s seal of approval

Buy Now

  1. Balance Benders by Critical Thinking Press ($14.98)

Solve these quick, fun logic problems that develop deductive thinking and pre-algebra skills.

Ages: 9+

Cognitive skills: Logic & reasoning, math skills, attention

Awards: Smart Toy Product, Dr. Toy Best Smart Play, iParenting Media Award, The National Parenting Center seal of approval, Association of Educational Publishers Distinguished Achievement Finalist Award, and more

Buy Now

  1. Match It! Spelling Memory by The Learning Journey International ($10.28)

Find matching pairs that teach short spelling words, like “cat” and “frog.”

Ages: 3+

Cognitive skills: Memory, problem solving, sound blending, auditory processing, phonemic awareness

Awards: Creative Child Magazine seal of excellence

Buy Now

  1. Spot It! by Blue Orange ($9.97)

Find the symbol that each of two cards has in common. A fun, fast game for the entire family.

Ages: 3 – 12 years

Cognitive Skills: Attention, processing speed, visual perception

Awards: Winner of 15 awards

Buy Now

“Parents can also use toys, games and items they already have around the house to work on their child’s cognitive skills,” says Tanya Mitchell, co-author of “Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child” ( “Add a timer to any activity, such as sorting cards by color or suit, to work on processing speed. Place playing cards face down in a grid and have them turn cards over two at a time to try to find matches. Show them a tray full of everyday items for 30 seconds, then cover it up and ask them to write down as many as they can remember. Or just ask them to make up funny rhymes. There are plenty of free or low-cost things parents can do at home to target brain skills. For a more intense cognitive skills training, we recommend that you consider LearningRx personal brain training, which targets these foundational skills.”

Ready to head to the store (or online!) to do your holiday shopping? Take this list, or download a free Games for Skills Chart at:


*Prices based on at the time of compilation.