Looking for a last-minute gift for your budding Eistein?  You’ve come to the right place.

I’m not about to suggest that kids love “educational toys.”  But one thing is for sure — kids learn best when they’re having fun.

I’ve gathered a few of my most favorite gift ideas for kids–whether they like math or not.  The best part is that these gifts for sale at your local Target, bookstore or toy store, for not much cash.

Games

SET is a sneaky — and honestly fun — way for kids to learn and practice logic and set theory.  The object of the game is notice similarities in the cards, each of which has a variety of shapes that differ in number, shape, color and shading.  I promise, this is a cool way to spend some time with your kids.  (Ages 6 and up)

Yahtzee?  Yep.  There’s quite a bit of math involved, in fact.  Developing a good strategy requires a solid understanding of probability.  And being able to quickly spot a full-house, three-of-a-kind or four-of-a-kind involves spacial understanding.  Then there’s adding up the scores to find totals.  See?  Math is all over this game. (Ages 8 and up)

Toys

Kids (and grownups) can create complex and simple mazes and runs in a variety of different marble run toys, some with transparent tubes and others with brightly colored pieces.  Where’s the math?  First off, kids are playing with their spacial abilities, noticing where the marble goes when the track positions are changed.  Then there’s the experience of trial and error — which goes hand in hand with math. (4 years and up)

For the tiny set, you can’t go wrong with shapes.  Toys like shape sorters help toddlers and preschoolers learn their shapes.  You can extend the learning by encouraging other ways of sorting — like colors.  (15 months to 5 years)

Books

David Schwartz writes really wonderful math and science books that don’t smack kids over the head with their educational focus.  How Much Is a Million is one of my favorites.  Illustrated by Steven Kellog, the book demonstrates how much a million is.  (Grownups will probably learn something from this one, too!) (Ages 3 and up)

There’s no sneakier way to tap into a kid’s curiosity about math than with The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.  This classic children’s novel takes readers on a mythical journey of Milo and his “watchdog,” Tock.  The book touches on a variety of mathematic topics — from infinity to three-dimensional shapes.  Bonus: there’s an equal emphasis on language, including idioms and puns.  It’s bound to be a homerun for any young reader.  Oh, and 2011 is the 50th anniversary of this classic. (Ages 10 and up)

Do you have any great gift ideas for kids?  Share them in the comments section!

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