Puzzles are also ways to increase verbal skills like spelling, vocabulary, and even trivia with pencil and paper word puzzles like word finds, crosswords, and cryptograms, and board game word puzzles like Scrabble and Boggle. Word games can also help with logic when you play games like fill-ins.
Blocks are an excellent way to help develop spatial reasoning. Not only will good spatial reasoning increase your child’s ability to pack more clothes into the same size suitcase and finally fit all of their toys in their toy chest, it will help their scores on some types of tests. Wooden blocks are great for young kids. LEGOs are great as the kids grow. As far as I can tell (not having older boys myself), LEGOs can be popular all the way into the preteen years as the kids graduate from free-form building to kits, to very elaborate construction with the architecture kits.
Obviously everyone remembers model cars and aircraft. Not only does model building help with small motor skills, it can help kids learn some historical perspective as they compare old bi-wing aircraft to modern jets.
It’s not blocks, but it is building. Paper folding like origami can really help kids develop their 3-d visualization. When they have made their 500th crane and are really beginning to wonder how far paper can go, let them have the scissors and introduce them to paper models.
The next time your teen has a project for history, math, or science (earth science, satellites and rockets, space, ), you can point him or her to the various places to find paper models they can build. More than one science fair project has been done on the aerodynamics of paper airplanes!
No need to wait for gift-giving to experiment with paper models. Have the kids help make decorations for the house. Cutting a folded up coffee filter into a snowflake allows them to see how patterns can repeat. Paper can be used to make ornaments like this ball (and this one), star–these instructions help you cut the perfect shape (or this delicate-looking star), dove. Use these polyhedra models as Christmas ornaments.
Find cute ways to make paper into gifts as a calendar, a pop-up calendar, photo cubes, or fortune telling dice (like the Magic 8 Ball, just without the ball). Perhaps older kids would like to make paper toys to give to their siblings or create their own gift boxes for tiny trinkets.
There are so many great books. Non-fiction is the obvious choice for educational gift-giving. Along with great non-fiction books that everyone expects to be given for education, don’t forget biographies.
Classics are enjoyable for the human truths they demonstrate. There are classics for every age. Especially for teens, are the more outwardly educational classics with special footnotes specifically for SAT words.