15 toys and products to inspire gifted children

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toys for gifted childrenFrom the moment you took her home from the hospital, you thought your daughter was extra special, perhaps even brilliant and talented. But is she "gifted?"

To be considered "gifted," a child must show "the potential to perform at high levels of accomplishment when compared to same-age peers," said Jane Clarenbach, director of public education at the National Association for Gifted Children.

That means she reaches milestones ahead of her peers, has an extensive vocabulary, has an excellent memory, is relentlessly curious and doesn't stop asking questions, among other traits. She may also develop a particular passion or talent, said Paula Motte, senior editor at BabyCenter.com, the go-to global resource for moms.

Some talents are easy to detect. Others are more hidden. For example, a passion for sorting could mean she is a visual-spatial learner who may have a future in science, architecture, engineering or mechanics, explains Motte. (For more information, go to Babycenter.com's section on giftedness.)

Whether your child is gifted with obvious or hidden talents, here are 15 products and toys that will challenge and inspire kids from ages 3 to 8.

Artistic touch
If your son's artwork could be mistaken for a Jackson Pollock or Pablo Picasso, nurture that talent by taking him to your local museum. In New York City, for example, the Museum of Modern Art offers a free tour for 4-year-olds called "Tours for Fours" every weekend. Children (and their parents) explore a theme and make their own renditions of major works of art.

Unable to get to a museum? Check out "Gallery Ghost" by Anna Nilson (Birdcage Press, $17.95). In this art world's version of Where's Waldo, your son must figure out how 24 masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art have been transformed by artist ghosts. As he tries to figure out who did what and how often, he also learns the history of each painter.

Stock up on paints, chalks, watercolors and paper. Jade's ToyBox offers a great Mini Pint-sized Picasso kit for $59 that comes with essentials like Picasso inspired sponges, rock shaped crayons and triangular colored ecopencils from Faber-Castell. Splurge on the $175 version and get even more supplies, including colored dough, magnetic chalkboard paint and puppets. Even cooler, the box itself can become a piece of art, thanks to cutout designs from artist Christopher Bonnette. A thoughtful parent's guide gives you even more ideas about how to incorporate art and green living into your child's life.

Fashionable aspirations
Project Runway regulars are going to love Bandai's Harumika line. Designing an outfit is as easy as a click. Select a fabric swatch or remnant and lock it into place by pushing it into the mannequin's slits with the stylus design tool. Customize with stickers, ribbons or whatever your child can dream up.

After your mini Donna Karan has a runway worthy look, she can photograph it and upload the image to the Harumika website to share with other designers. She can also host a show or open a store and have her designs rated. A starter kit (mannequin, stylus tool, three fabric swatches, and accessories like reusable stickers) runs $9.99.

If your daughter prefers knitting, ALEX has a cool kit that not only teaches your fashionista the basics of knitting items like a scarf and leg warmers for a doll but also provides enough yarn for her to make her own creations.

"It is unbelievable for fine motor skills, dexterity and creativity," said Keri Dempsey, chief operating officer of ebeanstalk.com, a website that specializes in toys that foster child development.

ALEX's Knitwear Design costs $26.95.

Designing tendencies
Got a future Frank Lloyd Wright on your hands? Fill his fingers with Magna-Tiles by Valtech! Co. These colorful magnetized tiles tune up fine motor skills because of their flat design and can be used to build anything from a small house to a truck. At $49.50 for 32 pieces, they can be pricier than others but are so well constructed that magnets won't present a choking hazard and can be used with Magna-Tiles from different sets.

Then there is the classic: Legos. The design possibilities for these colorful plastic stacking blocks are infinite. Buy a box of blocks and let your child's imagination run wild. Purchase kits like the $44.99 Apple Tree House Creator to build up to three different types of dwellings.

"The LEGO Creator line features step-by-step building instructions, helping children learn about following instructions," said Julie Stern, LEGO Systems' brand relations manager. "However, the authentic details and specialty LEGO pieces allow children to use their own imaginations once they've built all of the directed-models and explore self-directed building!"

Cosmopolitan flare
Indiana Jones wannabes will want to sign up for Little Passports. Each month, Sofia and Sam will send a care package filled with games, stickers, and souvenirs from a different country. Embark on a three-month, six-month or yearlong trip and "travel" to places like Brazil, Japan, France, Mexico and Egypt. A subscription starts at $10.95 per month.

American Idol dreams
Is your kid the type who sings "Memory" one minute and the Black Eyed Peas' "Meet Me Halfway" the next? Encourage that musical talent with Boomwhackers, brightly colored plastic tubes that sound a different note depending on their length. They're lightweight, durable and easy to use. Simply bang the tubes on the ground to create music.

Or turn your iPhone into a keyboard by downloading Thereminator. Move fingers across what looks like a math grid and eerie sci-fi music is produced. While your little Mozart is making music, they're also learning about control, pitch, tone and speed.

Sitting pretty -- in the director's chair
For the kid with stars in his eyes, LEGO partnered with movie companies and directors such as George Lucas to make wildly detailed movie sets to play with. While Star Wars remains a huge seller, LEGO just released five scenes from Prince of Persia, the upcoming Disney movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Prices range from $10.99 to $79.99.

Moviemaking has also become as easy as the push of a button, thanks to the Flip. These lightweight, hand-sized video camcorders ($149.99-$279.99) are perfect for capturing your child's next blockbuster.

Discovering science
Tired of your daughter raiding the pantry for her little experiments? Well, get your little Madame Curie a Magic Crystal Oasis kit. She'll come to understand the chemistry and physics behind growing crystal gardens and islands. For $29.95, she gets a set of goggles and enough dye and chemicals (Epsom salt, water glass and monoammonium phosphate) to perform up to 12 experiments and activities.

Although all teachers can't be Ms. Frizzle and take their students on a magical journey, your young scientist can still learn from her, thanks to these Magic School Bus kits ($19.95) based on the bestselling books and TV series. Your child can run experiments and get immersed in topics including rainbows, germs, flight and how to be green. "It makes science exciting," says ebeanstalk's Keri Dempsey.

Mathematically inclined
Just one more reason to have iPhone envy: Math Cards. This multiple-choice game challenges your resident math whiz with double-digit addition and subtraction. He'll receive a percentage score as he answers each set of 25 questions.
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