Toy joy!

What does it take to put on Minnesota Parent’s annual Toy Test

All you need is two hours, 125 toys, 15 kids and two dozen critical parents and grandparents!

You mix them all together and it’s easy to see what stands out and what fizzles. Parents fill out questionnaires with their gut reactions, listing pros, cons and whether they’d be interested in buying said toys — or not. (Then they spend the next four hours cleaning up!)

After the big shebang (which includes snacks and hydration for all), we then send home some of the toys — and games and crafts — for more thoughtful, less frenzied inspection to see what really entertains for hours (versus minutes) and what can withstand wear and tear. 

That’s what we did this year — all made possible by local and national vendors. 

Thank you, toy stores!  

And, oh man, was it fun to see what manufacturers have come up with in the past year for engaging not just children, but also parents and grandparents. (One adult tester wore out the batteries on one toy before the test even started because it was so awesome!)

During our research, we found super-engaging, cute, educational items for all ages designed to encourage development, creative play, critical thinking, physical activity, learning (STEM and STEAM toys galore) and even silliness. 

Even though families really don’t need that many toys (certainly not as many as we buy), I take toys very seriously for two reasons: 

Parent/child connections: I’m not a natural imaginative player. At all. I remember watching a fellow parent as she “played dinosaurs” with her son. She trotted out all sorts of make-believe story lines and could reportedly go “for hours.” 

That isn’t me. I need something that’s fun for the kid in me — LEGOs, puzzles, games of skills and chance! And, indeed, toys that do things and teach things have helped my son and me connect and get silly.

If you’re truly excited about a toy, follow that bliss!   

Wonder: Toys, especially during the holidays, inspire such a sense of excitement and wonder for kids. Just the anticipation of getting a new toy can be incredibly exhilarating for a child. I just adore watching little ones’ eyes light up when they’ve just learned they’ll be opening a present. They can’t help but guess: Mom, is it this? Oooh, is it that? Are you going to tell me? 

And what will Santa put under the tree and in the stockings this year? It’s almost too much to bear! 

Of course, you really don’t have to spend a lot on toys. 

It’s a known fact that a parent — or even a set of parents — is always, always, always the best toy ever.

But check out our top picks. We hope they’ll bring you joy!