All the toys!

We’re on TV! This year KARE 11 hosted — and filmed! — our 2019 toy test at the TV station’s Golden Valley studios.
Be sure to tune in to KARE 11 Sunrise with Gia Vang from 6–7 a.m. Nov. 4–12 to see interviews with parents and kids and tons of testing action, too!

Looking for our top-rated board games? (They're here!) Stocking stuffers? (Here!) 

Check out local toy stores here!


Oombeeball

Oombeeball

$24.99 • 6 months and up

Why we love it: Parents and kids alike were drawn to this colorful, soft-surface nesting toy. It includes four balls with different textures, all connected by sturdy, short tethers — so you’ll never have to go looking for missing pieces. 

Where to buy: ABC & Toy ZoneKiddywampusLegacy ToysMischief Toys


Babu Rocker

Babu Stacker

$24.95 • 6 months and up

Why we love it: Moms and dads in our toy test loved the look and feel of Babu’s wooden stacking tower. Unlike typical stacking towers, this one features angled pieces for an extra challenge — and a variety of different build options. Kids also loved the matching rainbow rocker.

Where to buyLegacy Toys


Poke-a-Dot

Poke-A-Dot Books

$15.99 • 1 and up

Why we love it: These super-sturdy themed board books were a slam-dunk hit at our toy test thanks to raised buttons on every page that make a satisfying “pop” when you push them. It’s all the fun of bubble wrap, but with a much better sound and endless popping. 

Parents said: “Super fun!” “Good price.” “Captured baby’s attention and held it.”

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneHub HobbyKiddywampusLegacy Toys


Magicube

Magicube

$149.99 • 1 and up

Why we love it: Unlike any other magnetic building toy on the market, each of these cubes magnetically connects to every other cube on ANY side without repelling from any other side. So kids can build to their hearts’ content without guessing which side will connect. Our testers loved this set of 64, of course, but parents were universally bummed by the price. We recommend calling in the grandparents on this one — or start the kids out on the 24- or 8-block sets to see if they love them first.

Where to buyLegacy Toys


Primo Scooter

Primo Scooter

$149.99 • Ages 1–5

Why we love it: When we picked up this Vespa-esque rider from Ambosstoys, we were skeptical. Would it be all form and no function? Quite the opposite! This baby offered a smooth ride and cornered like a champ even in the busy, tight spaces of our toy test. It was by far the most popular ride-on toy and parents didn’t blink at the price.

Good to know: It comes in orange, pink, blue, yellow and mint green colors.  

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneHub HobbyLegacy Toys


Whirly Squigz

Whirly Squigz

$21.99 • 1 and up

Why we love it: It’s a set of fidget silicone spinners — for the baby and toddler set — complete with suction cups, so you can pop one of these in front of Baby on her highchair tray while you’re finishing up dinner prep. Stick the other ones to a car window, the side of the bathtub, the floor — you name it.

Bonus: They’re approved as safe to use as teethers, too!

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneHub HobbyKiddywampusLegacy ToysMischief Toys


Kitty Camper Van

Kitty Camper Van

$39.99 • 1 and up

Why we love it: Our kids couldn’t keep their hands off this self-propelled, push-and-go motor van. This set includes two figures, two suitcases (that go in a roof rack) and a dog. (There are no kitties, just FYI.) Kids loved opening all the storage compartments and the roof, which flips open to reveal a furnished interior and a play area.

Where to buy: The Owl and the OctopusKiddywampus


My First Animal Train

My First Animal Train

$36.99 • 1 1/2 and up

Why we love it: This 22-piece SmartMax set, which is part of a series, includes a conductor, an elephant and a lion, along with magnetic bars and spheres to help kids build their own moving train. Our kid testers found it easy to use, while parents liked the imaginative, open-ended building possibilities.

Where to buyHub HobbyThe Owl and the OctopusKiddywampusLegacy Toys


Scoot and Ride

Scoot and Ride Highwaykick 1

$120 • Ages 1–5

Why we love it: Want easy adaptability? This 2-in-1 kickboard can be modified — in a few seconds with no tools — to be a rider with a seat or as a stand-up traditional scooter. It also allows parents to set the wheels to pivot and turn or to stay straight when kids are first learning to roll. Our test kids, including ages 1 to 5, loved it; and parents found converting it to be simple and intuitive. Win! 

Where to buyThe Owl and the Octopus


Woodland Friends Cabbage Patch

Woodland Friends

$12.99 • Age 11/2 and up

Why we love it: Cabbage Patch Kids are back! And our testers especially loved them, including a new collectible line called Woodland Friends, featuring baby/critters that are just 9 inches tall — and only $12.99 each — including a deer, mouse, bunny, chipmunk, frog and fox.

Where to buyLegacy Toys


Slide & Splash Seals

Slide & Splash Seals

$19.99 • 2 and up

Why we love it: These beyond-adorable seals on wheels stole our hearts. And our kids couldn’t get enough of them either — inside the tub and out, thanks to strong suction cups that stuck easily to other household surfaces and even the original box.

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneLegacy Toys


Timber Tots Treehouse

Timber Tots Treehouse

$50 • 2 and up

Why we love it: Press the button at the top of the tree and — pop! — this classic toy opens up to reveal a cozy little home, complete with furniture, fold-down stairs, an elevator in the tree trunk, a shrub with a secret hiding spot, a swing and adorable little woodland creatures. There’s even a little red car that seats two. If you grew up with this one, you’ll love it as much as your kids.

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneHub HobbyKiddywampusLegacy ToysMischief ToysThe Owl and the Octopus


Lift and Load Warehouse

Lift & Load Warehouse

$99.99 • 3 and up

Why we love it: Kids. Love. Trains. And they were drawn like moths to a flame by this 32-piece Brio set, which includes a four-level elevator, stackable bridges, high-speed curves, a rail worker and a forklift. 

Good to know: Most kids needed more than a little help from their parents to get the tracks to fit together.

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneHub HobbyThe Owl and the Octopus


AirFortInflatable Tent Discovery

Inflatable Tents

$19.97–$49.99 • 3 and up

Why we love it: We tested the AirFort ($49.99, top) and Discovery Kids’ Inflatable Play Tent ($19.97, bottom) — and they were both huge hits. Both inflated in 30 seconds with the aid of a standard 20-inch box fan (not included). Genius! And they each pack down into a small sack.

Good to know: Neither tent has a door — which would interfere with consistent inflation — but the AirFort has a window. The AirFort seemed a bit sturdier and stayed level with the ground, while the play tent version floated a few inches off the ground in some places.

Parents said: “It’s amazing!” “It’s like a parachute at home.” “Easy set up and take down. Fun.”

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneHub HobbyKiddywampusLegacy ToysMischief Toys (AirFort) and Walmart (Inflatable Play Tent)


Dino Advent Calendar

Dino Advent Calendar

$34.99 • 3 and up

Why we love it: It’s a toy-based advent calendar. What a healthy alternative from the beloved figurine company Schleich. Instead of candy, it includes a variety of cool dinosaur toys for every day of December leading up to Christmas. When a dino-loving kid found this box during the toy test, he promptly opened all 24 paper doors to unearth a scene of prehistoric proportions.

Bonus: Schleich’s other calendar themes include Farm World and Horse Club. Playmobil, meanwhile, offers Christmas Post Office and Santa’s Workshop advent calendars, too.  

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneLegacy Toys


Bugzzle

Bugzzle

$19.99 • 3 and up

Why we love it: Like tangrams, but cuter and curvier, this 18-piece set lets kids pick one of 40 challenge cards and then arrange, flip and position the semi-circular double-sided puzzle pieces into the bug-shaped tray to match the picture, laying the groundwork for learning colors, fractions and even early math.

Where to buyABC & Toy Zone


Balance Board

Balance Board

$39.99 • 3 and up

Why we love it: The Double Maze Board from Playzone Fit requires children (up to 150 pounds) to balance first and then tilt and wobble the board to move a little ball through mazes at their feet. An attachment adds height for kids who want an extra challenge.

Parents said: “This would be fun to play with in the driveway.” “Loved the challenge! Fun.”

Where to buyABC & Toy Zone


OEKAKI MAGIC DRAWING BOARD

Oekaki Magic Drawing Board

$70 • 3 and up

Why we love it: This heirloom-quality magnetic drawing set includes a wooden pen and stamps that let kids create on a background that really does feel like magic when it reveals four different colors. Our test kids couldn’t get enough of the drawing and erasing action, made possible by a little black cat slider. Parents marveled at the quality of the woodwork and the convenient storage bag.

Where to buy: Kinoko Kids


ROCK ‘N’ GEM SURPRISE

Rock ‘n’ Gem Surprise

$19.99 • 3 and up

Why we love it: Lovers of rocks and geodes will adore this set of faceted, plain brown stones, which crack open to reveal colorful matching gems. Parents gave thumbs up to the no-mess, reusable “experiment” this set allows, complete with a chisel and hammer to encourage hand-eye coordination. 

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneLegacy Toys


Slackline

Slackline

$249.99 • 3 and up

Why we love it: Our kids loved walking along Playzone Fit’s Quad Box Slackline System, which was well-made and stable. We set up just one of the four sides, but it could be set up in a variety configurations. Unlike a tree-to-tree slackline system, kids don’t have to wait their turn thanks to this system’s four corner blocks.

Good to know: Set up takes time, strength and focus. Don’t start this one at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneLegacy Toys


Bear Colors Counting Clock

Bear Colors Wooden Clock

$22 • 3 and up

Why we love it: Encourage independent time telling — plus color matching and counting — with this eco-friendly clock, which can be hung on a wall with a small bracket on the reverse.

Where to buy: Pacifier


COUNTING CHAMELEON

Counting Chameleon 

$26.50 • 3 and up

Why we love it: Made of sustainably harvested wood, this whimsical gem is bilingual and double-sided, featuring written-out numbers on one side and numerals on the other. 

Bonus: Its tray is nice for storage, travel or even display.

Where to buy: PacifierThe Owl and the Octopus


mad mattr quantum toolbox

Mad Mattr Quantum Toolbox

$29.99 • 3 and up

Why we love it: If you haven’t tried Mad Mattr dough, you can give it a try at most local toy stores, which have samples out on display. Its granular texture reminded us of Kinetic Sand, but its moldability and smooth feel brought back memories of PlayDoh. This kit helped kids shape the material into bricks and shapes to build structures. 

Kids said: “It’s feels good!” “It’s super satisfying.”

Where to buyLegacy ToysThe Owl and the Octopus


Dinosaur Floor Puzzle

Dinosaur Floor Puzzle

$15.95 • 3 and up

Why we love it: This 3-foot-long, 51-piece puzzle is shaped like a T-rex and some of the pieces are shaped like other dinosaurs, including a pterodactyl and a stegosaurus, which engaged our kids as much as the puzzle itself.
Where to buyLegacy Toys


Turbo Twister

Turbo Twister

$24.99 • 3 and up

Why we love it: Our kids loved the action of this durable remote-control car. It never got stuck, thanks to its intuitive controls, small stature and 360-degree axel flips. Parents loved the price and battery life. Kids liked the bright LED lights and its default speed: Fast!

Where to buyKiddywampusLegacy ToysMischief ToysThe Owl and the Octopus


Light-up Ice Hoop

Light-Up Ice Hoop

$19.99 • 4 and up

Why we love it: Kids of all ages gave this movement-activated LED hoop tons of attention during our test. It comes in straight pieces and assembles easily.  

Where to buy: Party City


Sparkle Marble Run

Sparkle Marble Run

$34.95 • 4 and up

Why we love it: Every kid at the test seemed into this toy, which came with 20 green cat’s-eye marbles. Really, you can’t go wrong with any 100-plus-piece marble track for inspiring strategic thinking and problem solving. We liked this one’s extras, including starting chutes and a catch basin that actually holds more than few marbles. 

Where to buy: MindWare.com


Precious Ponies Playset

Precious Ponies Playset

$39.99 • 3 and up

Why we love it: Horses are hot, thanks to the Spirit Riding Free series on Netflix. Our kids were drawn to the ponies in this set, designed for make-believe play with horse stalls, a feeding trough, fencing and more.

Where to buy: Lakeshore Learning


Christmas Bakery

Christmas Bakery

$49.99 • 4 and up

Why we love it: Playmobil: The Movie sets will abound this season after the summer release of the film. But this cute and quaint set is timeless. It would be just the thing to break out once a year as part of a toy-rotation plan. It even includes miniature working cookie cutters.

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneLegacy ToysThe Owl and the Octopus


Hubelino

Hubelino

$54.99 • 4 and up

Why we love it: These DUPLO-compatible blocks blew our minds. Why hasn’t anyone come up with this before? Brick-style pieces that include marble-track components for endless creativity? Yes, please!

Good to know: Engineering a marble run this way takes planning and lots of trial and error.

Where to buyThe Owl and the Octopus


Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace

$139.99 • 4 and up

Why we love it: Our test kids flocked to this Frozen-inspired ice castle from Playmobil, which includes LED lights to illuminate the palace from below and tons of cute details, including a staircase with ice steps, furniture for every room, different outfits for the characters and more. 

Bonus: Our testers also loved the less expensive items from this Magic series, including a Crystal Diamond Hideout ($64.99) and a friendly Yeti set ($24.99).

Good to know: Assembly on this one isn’t for the faint of heart — or for wine-buzzed parents. Plan to spend about an hour on it.

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneKiddywampusLegacy ToysThe Owl and the Octopus


Z Ax

Z Ax

$9.99 • 4 and up

Why we love it: "Bring the excitement of axe throwing home in a fun and safe way!" urged the makers of the Zing Air Hyperstrike Z Ax. And sure enough, this soft foam creation threw just like a real axe (with a little practice) — and stuck easily to picture windows and walls, thanks to foam suction cups. Thunk!

Where to buyLegacy Toys


Botzees

Botzees

$99.99 • 4 and up

Why we love it: Yes, it’s another build-your-own robot. But this one relies on an AR (augmented reality) app to do the controlling. We liked the DUPLO-style building blocks (130 pieces) and the USB charging option, too. Our 11-year-old tester liked the app’s 30 interactive AR challenges involving sequencing, looping and conditional coding.

Where to buy: Walmart


Gear-Bot

Gear-Bot

$49.99 • 4 and up

Why we love it: Our home tester, age 11, spent over an hour with this remote-control buddy. First he assembled it with a variety of working gears, then when it didn’t work quite right, he did some troubleshooting. Finally, he drove it around and found it to be sturdy and responsive. 

Parents said: “So cool! It’s extremely easy to drive because you can see which side’s wheels are moving — because that side’s gears spin. When both wheels are rolling, all the gears spin at the same time. Endlessly creative, organically instructive. Good for multiple ages for sure.”

Where to buyLakeshore Learning


Shimmer Stars

Shimmer Stars

$19.99 • 4 and up

Why we love it: It’s hard to innovate in the realm of plush toys, but these creatures were winners — and lots of kids wanted to take them home — thanks to special wands that allow kids to attach sparkly “shimmers” to the animals’ fur as well as their own hair. Shimmers, which stayed in place best in hair that was tied back, attached easily and combed right out. 

Where to buyTarget


Wonderhood Grand Hotel

Wonderhood Grand Hotel

$49.95 • 4 and up

Why we love it: Three of our home testers, ages 4 to 6, kept coming back to this creative building set, which includes 24 glossy plastic building panels (5 inches square, washable and double-sided), plus a three-story elevator, two figurines and design challenges.

Parents said: “There are different types of panels — walls, floors/ceilings and doorways/windows. Kids get to decide where everything should go, so the conversations about where to put the bathroom or the hotel pool, for example, were pretty interesting.”

Good to know: Operating the elevator is a bit a clunky and can shake whole hotel. On the other hand, the structure is lightweight and therefore easy to disassemble.

Where to buyLegacy Toys (Galleria Edina Only)


NASCAR Crash Racers

NASCAR Crash Racers

$29.97 • 5 and up

Why we love it: Remember Micro Chargers — the awesome, quick-charge mini race cars that disappeared from the market a few years back? These are the next generation. This set comes with two cars, two quick-charge charging bases, 9 feet of track and tons of obstacles. Simply hold the car to the charger for a few seconds and it’s powered up and ready to drive — on or off the track. 

Good to know: Cars fly off the track and crash easily, but that’s kind of the point. Also, the track set-up is a bit flimsy, so it’s recommended that you tape it down.

Parents said: “So fast. Fun to play with! Great price.” 

Where to buy: Walmart


Cozy Dozy

Cozy Dozy

$29.99 • 5 and up

Why we love it: Cozy Dozy Little Live Pets come in cardboard baby carrier packaging and act like real live babies, including 25 different sounds and reactions. This little guy giggled when he was tickled on his tummy, and even closed his eyes and went to sleep when he was swaddled and tucked in with a paci. 

Where to buy: Target


Geosmart Moon Lander

GeoSmart Moon Lander

$55.99 • 5 and up

Why we love it: Beautifully made, colorful pieces make up this remote-control toy, which was a magnet for our younger test kids, who found it easy to build and operate, despite the chaos of the toy test. It can be made into myriad designs and includes “all-terrain” tracks instead of wheels.

Kids said: “Awesome and really creative.”

Parents said: “I love that it can go even before being fully built!”

Where to buyThe Owl and the Octopus


Foam Alive

Foam Alive ‘Ice Cream’

$19.99 • 5 and up

Why we love it: Highly sensory and super addictive, Foam Alive should be on every holiday gift list this year. Due to its constantly moving, “melting” nature, this bizarre material worked perfectly in the new Make ‘N’ Melt Ice Cream Kit, which allows kids to shape the living foam into cones and then watch it melt off the sides like real ice cream. Don’t want the kit? You can get the foam — which doesn’t dry out and vacuums up easily — for $4.99–$9.99.

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneHub HobbyKiddywampusThe Owl and the OctopusLegacy Toys


Tumbling Hedgehog

Tumbling Hedgehog

$39.95 • 10 and up

Why we love it: “This is amazing!” said our 11-year-old home tester, who spent about two hours building this robotic creature, which responded dutifully to claps, by rolling on its back, getting back up and then doing more tricks. 

Parents said: “A great project for younger kids, too — with guidance.”

Where to buyABC & Toy ZoneHub HobbyKiddywampusLegacy ToysMischief ToysThe Owl and the Octopus


UGears

UGears Mechanical Models

$36 • 14 and up

Why we love it: This steam-punk-inspired 3D assembly kit does it all: It’s a puzzle; it’s art; it’s an educational toy. One of many models from UGears, this bike features a rubber band motor that makes the motorcycle ride as far as 10 feet in one winding.

Where to buy: Science Museum of Minnesota’s Explore Store 


Sarah Jackson is the editor of Minnesota Parent and a six-time toy test orchestrator and home tester with her son, Sam, age 11.