Toys are us. We love to play with all things fun, creative, motorized, imaginative, movable . . . and then some. We tested a trove of toys and games for the young and young-at-heart and found the best if the best. Keep in mind the prices are suggested retail prices; they will be less at toy stores or online. Have fun!
Break out the sleeping bags and leave the lights on. It’s a sleepover party and we’re staying up late. Aimed for girls, there’s no reason boys can’t get into the fun of Sleepover Party Game by Endless Games. It’s much better than detailing drama in a dairy. Spin the spinner and attempt to complete one of more than 200 challenges. Be the “Human Mirror” and copy everything another player does. Take part in the “Funny Sound Competition” and make the most ridiculous noise you can. (Farts included.) Are you capable of licking your own elbow? Being silly and having fun is the name of the game, so be prepared to sing, laugh, perform, and make a general fool of yourself. $19.99. endlessgames.com
Listen. Hear that strummin’? That’s the next Woody Guthrie or Jimi Hendrix or Paul McCartney. It’s possible if Santa delivers one of the eight Vilac guitars, crafted by a company of high-quality, award-winning toys since 1911. There’s a style to match every future rock star’s personality. Imagine: Some of the picks include punk rock princess pink; acoustic or electric-bodied red; American or Union Jack pride; Hawaiian; and color-checked Harlequin. Each painted wooden guitar (with non-toxic finish) is designed to suit small hands and is safe for boys and girls three years and older. Tots will unknowingly strengthen their fine motor skills and interest in competitive play while having a blast strumming his/her six-string alongside a musical parent or sibling. $39 each. bonjourpetit.com
Mattel wasn’t horsing around when they developed Barbie Saddle ’n Ride Horse and Doll. Just like a real equestrian, Barbie can jump onto Tawny’s saddle and then begins to ride in one swift motion. And yes, Barbie’s decked out in stable-ready fashions. $49.99. mattel.com. Girls will also love K’nex’s crowd pleasing Mighty Makers Fun on the Ferris Wheel. The set comes with characters and story-based content to drive creativity and imaginative play in addition to building core STEM skills. The Ferris Wheel comes with a crank and is fully operable. The instructions detail three different mechanical engineering themed builds. Go ’round and ’round with Emily and her bear, Cocoa. $34.99. knex.com
We like to think of them as an ideal toy company, for every boy and girl on your gift list, even if they are the Parker brothers. They are the fine folk behind Blue Orange Games. We wondered about the colorful name. As they say: “The name Blue Orange Games was inspired by a surrealist poem by Paul Éluard, titled ‘The Earth is Blue Like an Orange.’ This poem helped us view things from a different perspective. The same way Éluard looked at the Earth and saw an orange, we can look at a game and see beyond the simple material object in order to appreciate the greater value behind it. We also feel the name Blue Orange Games is in line with our vision of a happy and harmonious planet, which we further by following eco-friendly practices. Éluard’s poem speaks to our mission of unifying people with games and inspiring “down to earth” moments in families.” You got to love a company that is committed to planting two trees for each one used to create our wooden games. Check them at blueorangegames.com.
Our faves are many. The Super Genius Collection will have you saying “goodbye” to dull flash card learning. Super Genius is a new educational collection that brings the power of play to the learning process of reading and math. Designed for kids ages 5 and older, Super Genius is a matching game that was developed hand-in-hand with learning professionals. Match words to their images, addition equations to their sums and multiplication equations to their products. Engaged kids will have fun while they inadvertently practice problem-solving and linguistic skills. $12.99 each.
We give Thumbs Up! thumbs up. The goal is to be the first to stack different colored rings on your thumb, based on the order shown on a challenge card. The challenge cards require each player to focus on the order of numbers and match their colors. Different variations of play make this a great party game that’s as fun for little ones as it is for the big ones. $14.99
Teens and adults will blink and wink with Wink. The mission is to collect points by covertly winking at your secret partner without being detected by the other players. Your secret partner is determined by whether or not you have the matching card he/she is looking for. $14.99
We gobbled up Gobblet Gobblers, a fun game of strategy that tested our memory and appetite for laughs. Cartoonish wooden characters bring pizzazz to this tic-tac-toe style game: Just line up three of your Gobblers in a row to win. But watch out! These Gobblers are hungry for fun…and other Gobblers. Awash in cheerful colors, this board game is made to be treasured. Gobblet Gobblers is the best first strategy game for kids to challenge their parents. $28.99
Launched in January 2015, Bonjour Petit is an online retailer whose French/American team is dedicated to bringing the finest toys from Europe to the United States. And they do. They sell a line of terrific shadow puppets that will allow kids ages three to 12 to use their imagination to make up stories to fit the nighttime scenes. The sturdy cutout images stick on top wooden sticks. The toughest task is which set to choose . . . there are dinosaur nights, circus nights, circus nights, hero nights and more. An included guide to “shadowgraphy” will teach both you and your child how to shape hands into seven different animals or use the shadow flashlight for instant fun. The collection also features a backdrop theatre curtain that can be used to take any blank wall from ordinary to extraordinary. Dim the lights and let the show begin! $18.50-$21. bonjourpetit.com
Hair we are to tell you about stylish and fun ways for girls (and boys) to keep their long hair out of their faces and spread holiday cheer at the same time. Logo-Loops offers nifty cotton/Lycra hair loops with seasonal themes in words and artwork. Imagine: “Santa Whale,” featuring a blue whale with a jaunty Santa cap; the green lettering on the “Santa’s Helper” loop is complimented by two red elf shoes! A singing reindeer will get many a smile since he’s promising “fa la la la.” No matter which loop you choose (and at a great stocking stuffer price of just $13.99) the sentiment is the same–happy holidays! logo-loops.com
Imagine combining origami with Legos, and the concept behind Paper Punk’s paper building blocks emerges. From what we’ve seen, the young (and young-at-heart) can’t wait to get their hands on Paper Punk kits. them. In a matter of minutes, SpongeBob, Snow Gal/Snow Guy or Ape appears in their 3D stand-up spotlight. The creations are transformed from flat pre-cut paper to a 3D illustrated masterpiece. With no scissors or glue needed, Paper Punk leaves no mess. What it does leave is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment as kids use their emerging STEM knowledge to become architects, artists and engineers. Just think: No cell phones, no tablets, no laptops in sight! Their final design is a tangible piece of art to be admired! Various prices, starting at $9.95. paperpunk.com
Gifts for boys. Gifts for girls. What about gender neutral play? One new company is inspiring girls and boys by giving them tools to literally build their own stories. Build & Imagine, makers of colorfully illustrated magnetic building sets called StoryWalls, offers play sets empowering children to build customized scenes that spark storytelling. The themed play sets include illustrated magnetic panels that you construct any way you like, magnetic dress-up characters, and dozens of magnetic costumes and props. There are five sets; new this year are Fairytale Theatre and Pet Portrait Studio. Kids construct magnetic panels using STEM skills like spatial reasoning and problem solving, and then make up storylines that heighten their language skills. Fairytale Theater has more than 50 costumes and props to spark imaginative play, and Pet Portrait Studio includes four wooden dress-up pets in addition to the two wooden people. Pet Portrait Studio ($49.99); Fairytale Theatre ($34.99). buildandimagine.com
Just how great are Peripops? Baby Maternity magazine gave Peripop its 2015 Top Choice of the Year prize. The National Parenting Center awarded Peripop its Fall 2015 Seal of Approval. And parents and wee ones love them. Peripops has been called many things–blankets, companions, cushions, play mats, room organizers, backrests–but above all a source of comfort and fun for infants and older.
These multi-use buddies come in four friendly characters–Foxey, Pandy, Tiggy and Beary. Each animal lays flat, with paws outstretched, making a comfy and colorful (with different patterns on the reverse) blanket or play mat. A zippered opening allows Peripop to become plump by simply stuffing him with old clothing and/or plush toys. Cuddling and playtime is where the wild things are. $69.99 each. Sign up at their website and receive a coupon for 10% off a purchase. loveoribel.com
We’ve decided that the science of a perfect present for curious boys and girls is any of the four new 2015 products from The Young Scientists Club. Kids can learn about light composition using rainbow glasses, learn about reflections by creating a kaleidoscope and practice recycling by creating their own paper. All the tools you’ll need for an in-house experiment are packed into each whimsical kit. Our fave: The Magic School Bus Science Explosion, highlighting the age-old baking soda and vinegar “explosion” that children have been using for science fair volcanoes for decades. These kits are fun; perhaps “wahoo” as Magic School Bus’ Ms. Frizzle says. $19.99 and $29.99. theyoungscientistsclub.com
Its name is Ozobot, a one-inch robot that appeals to kids. Its color-based coding language introduces young minds to concepts that are vital to their success in the 21st century. Parents love Ozobot as it supplements the school day with STEM-infused play at home. The teeny ozobot moves by following lines that you have drawn either on a piece of paper or on a screen, and you can customize what they do by changing the
colors of the lines. Playing with Ozobot allows children as young as six to make independent decisions via random logic, get visual feedback with multicolor LED lighting and “dress” their robot with various protective skins. It’s intelligent gameplay, the type of toy that will benefit children with cutting-edge skills. Each Ozobot Starter Pack (robot available in Cool Blue or Lava Red) contains more than 20 activities for the enchanting one-inch programmable robot to perform. $49.99. Visit ozobot.com for free web-based and printable games, challenges and lesson plans.
Fisher-Price beings out the beasts in all the little people with Little People Big Animal Zoo, perfect for toddlers. They can interact with the zoo playset, the zookeeper, friend Mia, a really big elephant (with articulated movement and three activation points for music and silly sounds), a monkey (who rocks back and forth on the teeter-totter tree top), food and fence connector. 2 AAA batteries required, not included. $39.99. mattel.com
Proof there are child prodigies: The idea for Snappets was born while Zachary Opaskar attended the University of Cincinnati in a paper toy class. He always knew the concept for Snappets would be a success, as did his professor–Zak received an “A” on the project. Fast forward to 2011 and multiple careers later; Zak was holiday shopping and came upon a clever and well-designed static paper toy. He knew his were better since Snappets moved and made, generating a loud “SNAP” when used. After revisiting his original design and refining it to its current incarnation, the template for a new and improved Snappet was born. It took three years and a successful Kickstarter campaign (134% funded!) but Zak has turned that original class project into a real product. There are Dinosaur Snappets (n packs of four or eight, in full color or colorable); Presidential Campaign 2016; even custom Snappets for non-profits and businesses can be ordered. Zak has made another great move: Dragon Master Foundation and Snappets have partnered to design and fabricate Dragon Snappets to help create awareness and raise funding for pediatric brain cancer research. Prices start at $9.99. snappets.biz
Hungry for something different? Reserve Sub Shop. This is a delicious strategic card-based game of competitive sandwich construction . . . use eight ingredients to build 11 unique sandwiches to fill the picky and particular orders of nine crazed customers. Players place the ingredient cards onto the real tablecloth game board; when an order is completed, ring the kitchen service bell (a real, restaurant-quality stainless steel bell), shout “Order up!” and collect a tip. Easy? When you think you’ve got the game down, try the advanced rules and add in the action cards. This a food fight without any real food or real fighting. Bon appetite! $14.99. brybelly.com
This is no longer your grandmother’s View-Master. Mattel’s new View-Master Virtual Reality offers an easy-to-use and affordable platform that will empower users to take dynamic field trips where they can explore famous places, landmarks, nature and planets in 360-degree “photospheres.” Download one of the free View-Master apps, pair it with an android Smartphone, and kids will immediately find themselves immersed in an imaginative and interactive learning environment. $29.99. View-Master Experience Packs $14.99 each. mattel.com
Want to get your child a car? And why not? Let us steer you to the award-winning Modarri Cars from Thoughtfull Toys. Modarri has nine cars and four accessories (designed by a team of three dads!) from which to choose. The cars can be configured and reconfigured in a variety of ways. Buy more than one model, and kids can swap elements of the chassis, hood, seat pan, seats, fenders, frame and wheels. The cars come with a real suspension and patented steering, which makes it really fun to steer through the tightest loops and hairpin turns using only your thumb and index finger. Ready, set, go!
$19.95 each. modarri.com
Nuture a child’s imagination without ever having to box him or her in. Kids love to play pretend, and Props in a Box encourages children to embark on wild adventures in the land of make believe. There are four sets (including The Fisherman & the Astronaut and The Doctor & the Farmer); each combines two gender neutral character costumes, more than 10 accessories and stage props made with felt as well as a whimsical backdrop that also doubles as a great room decor. $74.99 each. propsinabox.com
Lights, camera, action! Admit it: You have photos on your phone. With Camera Roll, it’s time to show off those photos. Do you have a snapshot from a birthday party? How about a picture from your vacation? Can you find a hot photo or one of those oops photos? Maybe you’ll find a reason to show off that photo of a sunset you shot three years ago. You have 30 seconds to find the photo that best fits the description on the card. Will you have the winning camera roll? $19.99. endlessgames.com
Playtime is even more entertaining with Thomas’ sleek design, fun sounds and cheeky phrases, as well as plenty of jaw-dropping tricks. Use the included remote to make Thomas spin in reverse, pop a wheelie or do his biggest trick ever, a back-flip! Thomas & Friends Turbo Flip Thomas is also equipped with a unique light-up track projector feature that makes him look like he is really racing, taking train play to groundbreaking new levels. This one’s on the right track. $54.99. mattel.com
Who says girls aren’t interested in building toys? Santa never said it. Maybe that’s why he can deliver Magformers Magnetic Inspire, a set that will inspire her to start that career in construction or architecture. Girls (and boys, no sexism please) will love the array of pink, purple, minty green and baby triangles and squares constructed from high-quality ABS plastic construction. The neodymium magnet encapsulated shapes turn two-dimensional shapes into three-dimensional works of art. Everyone can start with the construction template, but who knows how magnetic future designs will be? Magformers stimulate sensory ability, construction ability, curiosity, mathematical thinking and reasoning power in children as young as five. $49.99. magformers.com
Every generation has an imagination, so undoubtedly that’s a good reason the toys from Imagination Generation are so popular. Small in size but large in creativity, Story Time Dice has been named one of Dr. Toy’s Best 10 Games of 2015. No wonder. Roll the dice–chunky polyhedrals in a fun variety of shapes (six, eight, 10, 12, even 20-sided)–and play one of the four games. Try pitting 12 heroes against 10 villains in six settings or use 20 tools and eight vehicles to overcome six obstacles and claim the same of prizes. Can you create an adventure in which a lost diver thwarts a robot in a haunted house using music and a time warp to collect a valuable treasure? Imagine: Just seven dice creates four million combinations and unlimited stories to tell!
You might think you’re losing your marbles with the Wall Coaster Extreme Stunt Kit. And that’s a good thing. The coaster sticks to a wall with a piece of re-usable and re-positional wall-safe coaster tacky putty-like material. Once more than seven feet of track (in three different sizes) is up, launch a lightweight marble and the fun begins: Change-Ups, Zig-Zags, Crazy Circles and the Catcher moves the action along while showing off the basic laws of physics and gravity. The coaster also helps develop planning, strategy, spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination and motor skills. In other words, it’s entertaining and educational! From the minds of babes . . . the coaster was invented by a 12-year-old marble run aficionado. $24.99. brybelly.com. Two coaster cars equal double the trouble with K’NEX’s Double Doom Roller Coaster Building Set. Build with 964 K’NEX pieces including classic rods, classic connectors, and track that build a model over 3 feet high! With the motorized chain life, your 2 coaster cars will go on a twisting and turning ride. For more fun, download instructions for a 2nd coaster. Requires 2 “AA” batteries (not included). $74.99. knex.com
As seen on TV! As seen in examiner’s Gift Guide 2015! Colorama is coloring book for adults that comes with six dual color pencils. No coloring out of the lines since Colorama offers more than 100 intricate designs. Coloring is known for its therapeutic effects; forget the Xanax and use your imagination to shift your focus away from those daily worries. $12.99. coloramabooks.com
Yellow Scope was founded by two female scientists who wanted to get “real science into the hands of girls.” Their motto: CHANGE HER WORLD, ONE AFTERNOON AT A TIME. They do this by developing science experiment kits just for girls. Their kits are made to engage both the scientific and creative minds of girls, who will learn about key concepts in chemistry: chemical reactions, molecular motion, and the effect of temperature. Each kit contains more than 20 items, including real lab equipment and enough chemical reagents for hours of experimental fun. The Foundation Chemistry Kit: Beakers and Bubbles is a science kit like no other. The lab notebook outlines 19 different fun and surprising experiments, and is also a sketch pad, a reference guide, a doodle book and an instruction manual. It’s a place for girls to learn, experiment, wonder, design and create. The kit includes safety goggles, three beakers, thermometer, timer, stirring rod, candle, citric acid, sodium bicarbonate, three colored dyes, mini pencil with eraser, chalk cloth, chalk, lab mat, colored pencils, pencil sharpener, collectible chemistry badge. $44. yellow-scope.com
Kenneth Hodkinson became known as “Mr. Wordly Wise,” the vocabulary guru whose textbook series is taught in more than 10,000 school systems and is responsible for educating tens of millions of Americans. Wow. Spelled backwards, it’s still wow. When he noticed that his young granddaughter was ready to read but was not yet old enough for kindergarten, he developed The Reading Game, a game and storybook combination that puts fun into learning how to read and helps beginners who may be struggling with reading. The Reading Game memory card word game teaches Dolch and High Frequency Sight words and builds confidence in reading by enabling the child to read his/her own book after playing the game. In addition to helping preschool and kindergarten students learn to read, it is also extremely effective in helping kids who are struggling with reading up through the fourth grade. $34.95. thereadinggame.com
A gift that helps a cause. Bravo!The nonprofit Operation ResCUTE has packaged a book and plush pal in a cage-like gift box that will open their eyes to the many four-legged friends locked away in cages, longing for a loving home. This is not ordinary doggie: The book tells the real-life tale (tail?) of Jingles, a homeless puppy that was found in New York City and who got to live happily ever after. (Jingles is the first in the Operation ResCUTE series.) With the purchase of this boxed set, they become a ResCUTER . . .100% of the profits are donated 11 animal shelters toward helping their dogs get adopted. The illustrated book is written from the dog’s point of view, in her own voice. After reading the storybook, kids will want to share the importance of being a ResCUTER, a solution to shelter dog adoption. $29.99. operationrescute.com
Hello, Dolly! We came across three terrific dolls for kids to cherish and relish. Exclusive to Walgreens in Career Barbie Exclusive Nurse ($12.99), a perfect companion to someone’s Barbie bevy. Doctor’s orders? Note the great price! Springfield Dolls has a line of new dolls, exclusively sold at budget friendly prices, exclusively at Jo-Ann Fabric Stores. With big brown eyes and long brown hair and a hot pink nightgown, Paige is such a 18-inch cutie! Each doll is soft and huggable with movable arms and legs, making dressing and undressing easy. We brings us to an added bonus: Trendy tops, pants, skirts and even gowns reflect the fashion tastes of Springfield’s fashionistas are also budget friendly at Jo-Ann (the stores, not the website) $21.99 (doll); $14.99 (outfits). springfielddolls.com. American Girl has given birth to a new beauty: Imaginative Maryellen Larkin has hazel eyes that open and close, and her long strawberry-blond hair is worn in a high ponytail with sideswept bangs. She comes in an authentic 1950s outfit. There’s a striped dress with a sweetheart neckline, tailored bows and a full skirt; an aqua lacy-knit shrug monogrammed with her initial; Black Mary Jane shoes and an aqua ribbon bow on a ponytail holder for her hair. It’s so easy to hold and hug Maryellen’s 18-inch body. Plus, she comes with “The One and Only: A Maryellen Classic 1” book. $115. americangirl.com
A ghoulishly grand gift! The Monster High ghouls are heading to Boo York City in their first musical, where they meet their new “beast” friend Astronova, who is out of this world Literally. The newest ghoul has her own playset Monster High Boo York: Boo York Floatation Station that offers suspenseful play and display. There’s a neat interactive light show that flashes to the beat of girls’ own music, extending the fun into room décor. $49.99. mattel.com
Lionel continues to be on the right track. This year, the iconic model train company has introduced an all-new toy line for preschoolers called Imagineering by Lionel. The sets not only serve as an introduction to Lionel trains, but promises wee ones countless hours of non-powered fun. The collection includes Crayola Imagination Express; Batman vs the Joker Set; John Deere Farm Adventure Set; and Polar Express featuring Santa’s Toy Factory. Each set includes a detailed train that’s powered by kids, six feet of quick connect track that’s easy for little hands and a functioning accessory that works along with the set. All aboard! $49.99 each. lionelstore.com
They call themselves Fashion Angels, and their products are sent from heaven! The Milwaukee-based company is committed to creating high-quality activity of tween girls’ lifestyle and activity products. There are activity kits, fashion sketch books, DIY crafts, licensed products, fashion accessories, room decor and natural beauty care. Ives up to its name: Grab used plastic bags and get upcycling. The wonders that can be created! The Weaving Loom Kit allows users to design and make scarves, shawls, even ponchos. Just add imaginations. The American Girl Crafting Kit has all essentials items to create and design jewelry and other craft projects for you and your doll. Prices vary. fashionangels.com
Kids need to be babied at times, so we introduce the first and only bathtub activity table for toddlers. Little wonder it was named one of 100 Best Children’s Products for 2015. The Tubby Table ($39.99) promises the bedtime bath ritual (and the dry bathroom floor) will never be the same. Measuring 14” x 17” to fit in virtually any size bathtub, the Tubby Table is ideal for preschoolers ages 18 months and older. It has a specially designed table surface that keeps the soapy water in the bath, not splashing onto the tiled floor. Whether bathing solo or with a sibling, this playful tub toy has an adjustable pedestal to raise the table up or down, depending on the height of the child/children. As tots play, they are developing fine motor skills while sitting up in a sudsy tub. When bathtime is done, Tubby Table folds up for easy storage. Move over Mr. and Mrs. Rubber Duckies: There’s a new way to get kids squeaky clean . . . without the squeaks or squawks! $39.99. TubbyTableToys.com