Active? Educational? Creative? Age-appropriate? These toys will fill the bill for holiday gift giving. Keep in mind that while the manufacturer’s website is most often listed for your reference, many have links that will allow you to find a local retailer. Always best to shop local when you can, right? Ready? Let’s take a look!
0 to 12 months
Toys that show cause and effect (such as open/shut, put in/take out, and stack/knock over) are good choices. Babies will also gravitate to high contrast and brightly colored toys, and things that will move with them as they begin to move.
Soft & Safe Baby Bowling Set
You set the dinos up, baby knocks ‘em down. You set the dinos up, baby knocks ‘em down. You set the dinos up…
lakeshorelearning.com, about $13
Early Learning Stacking & Nesting Blocks
Stack, build, and nest the 10 chunky blocks to discover early-learning concepts on every side. Made of 98% post-consumer recycled materials and with eco-friendly ink. Toy states age 2+, but our tester babies loved it.
innovativekids.com, about $20
Let’s Go Fishing Play Set
Stick the soft pole into the “fishing pond” and the hook and loop, Velcro-like rod tip snags the soft, machine-washable fish.
lakeshorelearning.com, about $30
What’s Inside? Soft Feely Box
Little ones love to put their hands inside this soft box. The soft, machine-washable box is packed with 10 different objects for kids to feel and explore—like a pretty butterfly with crinkly wings, a cute lion with a corduroy coat and more. Age birth to 3; our babies liked it a lot.
lakeshorelearning.com, about $40
Haba Speedy Horse Rattle
Wooden feet threaded on heavy cord make a delightful noise when shaken, encouraging auditory perception and clutching. Natural sustainable beech wood, painted with non-toxic water-based colors and varnishes.
amazon.com, about $14
The team at Rockabye Baby has done it again, this time transforming early Van Halen songs like And the Cradle will Rock and Jump into melodic instrumental lullabies. Yes, the cradle will rock…but softly.
Rockabyebabymusic.com, about $17
Olive definitely had her favorite toy: the fishing play set from Lakeshore Learning. She also enjoyed the “What’s Inside” plush box, also from Lakeshore.
Born just four days after Olive, Miles kept a stacking block by Innovative Kids in each hand during much of the playtime, though he also enjoyed the fishing toy—when Olive would actually let him have it.
Ages one to three
The active younger toddler (age one to two) needs toys that can keep up with them and love toys that allow them to mimic adult tasks such as cooking, vacuuming, and riding. The older toddler (two to three years) is gaining good hand coordination and loves simple puzzles, blocks for stacking, imaginative play with puppets, and basic artistic endeavors.
The assembly of this bicycle-walker was a snap. Bounce up and down to develop coordination and balance skill.
discoverystore.com, about $60
Teaching that whole objects are made up of parts, large-piece puzzles help kids begin to understand concepts such as language and math.
Love Bus, innovativekids.com, about $10; Big Knob puzzle three pack, lakeshorelearning.com, about $30
Adorable, pose-able critters made from sustainable maple wood and cloth, each is hand-painted with child-friendly water-based paint. Their heads, arms, and legs can be posed for maximum imaginative playtime fun. Available in farm, wild, prehistoric, and Australian sets.
anamalz.com, about $9 each or $20 per set
Pretend & Play Ice Cream Shop
Encouraging cooperation and interactive play, this durable plastic set comes with 18 pieces, including apron, scooper, and a bottle that “squirts” pretend chocolate syrup (actually a brown string).
learningresources.com, about $27
Smart kid he is, Kip gravitated to one of the Oppenheim and Tillywig award winning toys: the Anamalz zoo characters, made of organic maple and textiles.
Brayden liked the Barbie Camper from Mattel the best, but only because he thought it was a bus.
Eleanor concentrated on the ice cream play set, a plastic dog she grabbed from the Barbie camping set—and she loved the wood Love Bus puzzle.
Despite being younger than the toy’s suggested age range, Phoenix was captivated by the colorful VeggieTales shaker but definitely needed a partner to point out the uncovered objects.
Ages three to five
At about age three, kids begin to interact together well and also love the world of make believe, to dress up in costume, to make “music.” They can develop attachments to a stuffed animal or doll, enjoy being artistic, and will probably destroy just about anything you put in front of them if it’s not of solid construction.
Hot Wheels Wall Tracks
Take the iconic, modular track off the ground and place it on the wall, out of the way. Use Command Strips to hang the track pieces without fear of damage. Tester kids of both sexes loved being able to stand and play.
mattel.com, about $30 for the starter set
Dolls of all kinds
Beautifully crafted American Girl dolls, all with built in stories, teach about different time periods. Consider Bitty Baby for the younger set, which may be more apt to drag their doll than carry it properly. Madame Alexander dolls (left), enchanting girls since 1923, offers collectibles of every kind. The lovely outfits and fine craftsmanship make these dolls a keepsake for a lifetime. Dolls for play are also available. Also, Disney Animators’ Collection dolls depict the film characters as little girls with great hair.
americangirl.com, about $48 to $100, depending upon doll; madamealexander.com, about $20 and up into the hundreds, depending upon the doll; disneystore.com, about $25
Veggie Tales “Find it” Game
Familiar characters buried and all but “lost” in plastic pellets are sure to bring smiles when they get brought to the surface and “found.” Great for a long car trip, too.
finditgames.com, about $25
Comfy Critters, a cuddly and snuggly hooded fleece blanket that folds into a pillow and animal friend is similar to a Pillow Pet, but takes it a step further. Great for tagging along to overnights at Grandma’s house, on long road trips to keep your little one warm and toasty, and movie nights at home with the family.
mycomfycritters.com, about $25
Ever the busy bee, Makayla liked the play kitchen from Learning Resources best. We also believe she was the first of the kids to chew on the plastic chicken leg.
Gavin liked the Connect 4 game from Hasbro as well as the wall-mount Matchbox tracks and cars.
Ages five to nine
Kids are becoming aware of what is cool with their peers—and they want it (think action figures and themed dolls). They are also coordinated enough to begin having fun with junior versions of sports equipment, and hand-eye coordination is developed enough that some video games are appropriate, especially those that have quests and mystery solving involved. Board games are also very appropriate.
A strategic game of linking and blocking for two to four players, the favored video game is now tabletop. Drop and link colored blocks of the same color to earn points, while blocking your opponents from linking and scoring.
tetris.com, about $32
An homage to the iconic candy, the Gummy Lamp looks and feels like an actual Gummy Bear, just 100 times bigger and infinitely more useful. Squeeze its belly and, instead of getting your fingers sticky, a high-powered LED light switches on. A cool night light for late night trips to the bathroom because it can be carried along.
jailbreakcollective.com, about $28
All-Natural Spa Day
Get your girl exploring the natural beauty of science by learning how to make home made beauty products, like bath bombs, sugar scrubs, and face masks. Enough for four girls to mix, mold, and learn about how common household products combine into something you can’t eat—but can benefit from. Experiment cards feature science facts and beauty product recipes.
mindware.com, about $30
Designable Hair Barbie
Design your extensions at Barbie.com, load hair extensions into an inkjet printer, and print it out. Peel the extension from the paper and attach it with enclosed clips to your own hair—or Barbie’s (included).
Barbie.com/designablehair, about $32
Junior sized tools & kits
Ergonomically designed to fit a child’s grip, these sturdy tools and woodworking project kits will allow parent and child to spend time together, building something useful. The kits are rated by level with 1 belonging to beginners, up to level 3 for advanced projects. Available at Lowe’s stores.
www.red-toolbox.com, about $10 for the five piece tool set
Levi liked the “Weird & Wacky Contraption Lab.” Though it’s labeled for age eight and up, his quick mind was able to comprehend the more complex workings.
Saying, “Mom, I wish we had this at home,” Louis liked the Hot Wheels tracks and Connect 4 game best.
Ages 9 to 12
Not quite done with toys yet, tweens have developed hobbies, enjoy complex puzzles, love strategic video and board games, and still play with some dolls—especially those they can role play with. Sporting equipment, magic sets, robotic construction sets, and art continues to be of interest.
450x University Microscope
Didn’t you always want one of these when you were a kid? This easy-to-use microscope comes with 19 accessories such as slides, a Petri dish, tweezers, collecting vials and more.
lakeshorelearning.com, about $50
A Sudoku-like game with colored marbles instead of numbers, you choose a puzzle card and then set up the card with the colored balls as shown on the card. Same rules as Sudoku apply—there cannot be more than one of each color in any column.
marblesthebrainstore.com, about $35
Intention Box for Girls
A self-discovery tool that empowers girls to take action on goals and dreams, users also like the secret compartments and creative process. Parents love how it helps daughters choose positive thoughts and practice goal setting. Its beautiful details, playful graphics, and flexible use fits into a girl’s life like a trusted friend. Minnesota made.
theintentionbox.com; about $48
A math-based puzzle that will have your pint-sized puzzler happily crunching numbers, it will take focus and strategy to make the puzzle add up. Can be rearranged endlessly. Also consider IcoSoKu (more difficult) for the over 10 crowd.
recenttoysusa.com, about $22