I have the pleasure of seeing hundreds of new toys each year and even testing a sampling of them. These aren’t necessarily the hottest toys of the year – most of you know about those already. Instead, these are the toys I would give to our own kids, their friends, and my family. I’ve already purchased many of these for gift-giving this season. I’ll probably be adding a few more as the holidays draw near.
* The links to purchase items may contain affiliate codes. In addition, we have received free samples of many of these to try out. This has no bearing on the appearance of the item on the list. These are products that I feel are fun, a reasonable value, and make interesting (and often educational) gifts. I have tried to link to the most useful location to shop for the gifts, but I do recommend that you shop around for the best prices if that’s a concern.
Arts & Crafts
Eco Art Kits from Artterro – If you have a crafty kid or whimsically crafty adult to buy for, look no further than an Artterro Art kit. These come with gorgeous materials and plenty of open-ended instruction and ideas. The kits are all amazing and I couldn’t choose just one for the gift guide, but I did have some suggestions based on the personality of your recipient. For kids who are really creative and can come up with ideas on their own, I’d suggest Paint With Wool, Creativity Kit, Wire and Bead, or Canvas Storybook. For kids who are new to crafting or need more focused ideas, I’d choose the Art Dolls Kit, Bookmaking, Wool Felt Bugs, or Collage Jewelry. The kits have a starting age suggestion of 7, but younger kids will enjoy many of them with some extra help. Most of the kits retail for $19.95. Read the full Artterro Art Kit review.
Play-Doh Cookie Monster Letter Lunch – Younger kids will love this Play-Doh set involving Cookie Monster and the entire alphabet. Kids can use the letter stamps and food molds to make alphabet soup (or cookies) for their friend, Cookie Monster. They can then feed the soup to him and he’ll "eat" it all up (it ends up back in a Play-Doh canister in Cookie’s back). It’s also a nice way to help preschoolers practice their letters. Win-win on this great set. The set retails for $19.99, but can typically be found for less on vendors such as Amazon. Purchase Play-Doh Cookie Monster Letter Lunch.
Glow Crazy Distance Doodler – Crayola has been coming out with a dizzying array of products lately, but this one was a surprise hit in our home. The kit comes with two large sheets of glow paper that sticks to the wall (it can be easily removed). Kids can use the included light pen to draw designs on the paper that glow. It comes with some neat stencils, but much of the fun will be had in leaving messages or figuring out what kinds of shapes you can make with your hands or other everyday objects. Bonus points for being reusable and for taking up virtually no storage space in your home. The Glow Crazy Distance Doodler retails for $29.99, but definitely shop around for deals. Shop for the Glow Crazy Distance Doodler.
Can You See What I See?: Toyland Express – Having recently toured the Wick Studio, I am all that much more appreciative of the Can You See What I See? book series. These "picture puzzles" set kids out on a search to find objects hidden in the intricate illustrations. This lovely book tells the story of a wooden train through a set of illustrations depicting its life from new in the box, to beloved toy, to yard sale find, to restored and loved once again. Kids who still cherish their toys will truly appreciate the story. Although geared for ages 6 and up, most children will love poring over the toys in the scenes, naming different objects, and possibly even trying to create their own versions. If you have multiple kids, pick up a couple of books from the series. I’d personally recommend Treasure Ship, which has a very interesting premise. It retails for 13.99. Shop for Can You See What I See?: Toyland Express.
Barefoot Books World Atlas – As a Barefoot Books Ambassador, I’m a fan of just about everything the publisher comes out with, but I am particularly excited about the new World Atlas. The beautiful illustrations we’ve come to expect from a Barefoot Books title bring the maps to life by including people, wildlife, crops and other features indigenous to a particular area. Descriptions of each region include all of the basics (people, geography, climate), but the Atlas also helps kids understand how we are all connected and what we can do in terms of sustaining our planet. The Barefoot Books World Atlas retails at $19.99. Shop for the Barefoot Books World Atlas.
Nanoblock Castle Neuschwanstein – If you’re not familiar with Nanoblock, they are intricate building sets from Japan with blocks as small as 4mm x 4mm x 4mm. That’s SMALL, people. These are not your kids’ building blocks. Perfect for kids who have mastered their LEGO sculptures, collector adults, and those without a lot of storage space, these sets are addictive! The Neuschwanstein Castle set with 550 pieces is mid-level in terms of difficulty and takes some concentration to assemble. Luckily the set comes with extra blocks, because these little guys are easy to lose. Recommended for patient kids ages 8 and up. This set retails for $19.99, but there are smaller/easier sets for less. Check out the Nanoblock video for an overview of the blocks. Shop for Nanoblock Castle Neuschwanstein.
LEGO Master Builder Academy – LEGO Purists will appreciate this set, which is less about building a particular model and more about learning how to craft with LEGO bricks. It’s perfect for kids who can easily assemble anything placed before them, but need some encouragement to start building advanced designs of their own. The first kit is $29.99 and includes a book, exclusive minifigure, 178 bricks, and access to an online community. You can then take it to the next level by purchasing a subscription to the rest of the series for $69.99. There are five additional kits that arrive every other month. The entire series encourages kids to imagine and to turn their ideas in to LEGO sculptures. Very cool. These are geared toward ages 8 and up. Shop for LEGO Master Builder Academy.
Tegu Mobility Cars – We’re no strangers to Tegu around here. I have talked about these environmentally and socially friendly magnetic blocks on multiple occasions. But Tegu has something new, and I think it’s pretty cool. It was a tossup between the building category and the "Things That Go" category, but we decided to keep these close to their roots as a building toy. This particular set is called "Dart." It has 10 regular Tegu blocks, four wheels, and distinctive top piece. These can be used to create the car in the picture, a variation, or to integrate with another Tegu block set. What’s nice is that the price point on these is a more comfortable $38, so it’s a good way to start building your collection. Ages three and up. Shop for Tegu Mobility Cars.
Disney Princess Animators Collection – I fell in love with these adorable dolls at a Disney preview event last summer and purchased three for gifts this season. The dolls were designed by animators Mark Henn and Glen Keane and show wonderful detail. Intended to represent each of the princesses as she might have looked as a young child, the dolls are appropriate for ages 3+. Each one comes with a special stuffed "friend," as you might expect from the movie. Snow White has a bluebird, Tiana has a frog, and Rapunzel has Pascal. The dolls are 16" high and retail for a mere $24.50. Shop for Disney Princess Animators Collection Dolls.
Splish Splash – It is very difficult to find games for preschoolers that are fun to play and are balanced enough for a family to play together. Splish Splash hits the mark. The idea is that you drop a "stone" into the a "pond" full of colored wooden droplets. If any drops splash out, you can add them to the appropriate colored area on your card. A die tells you how many chances you have, or if you can take one droplet of your choice. Fill your card first and you’re the winner. While there is a small amount of strategy involved in choosing which color to pick, most of it is luck. But, unlike some games, you feel like you have some control over the outcome. We make this game "fair" by only counting stone drops that actually hit the pond (it’s easy to miss) and by having a set height from which to drop. I make it more fun by singing, "Splish! Splash! I was taking a bath…" every time someone rolls the "Splash" mark on the die. It’s the little things in life. Retails for $14.99 and makes a great gift for ages 4+. Shop for Splish Splash.
Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case – This iPhone/iPod touch case is just as much for mom and dad as it is for the baby. It can safely hold your device while baby plays or listens to music. It has grippy handles and a mirror on the back. Now, for the record, I’m not suggesting that your baby NEEDS to play with your iPhone or iPod touch, but if he or she does, this will keep it safe. Quite honestly, the baby will enjoy this even without a device inside. Regardless, it’s a cute gift to give to the Apple-obsessed new parents in your life. There are also free apps you can download for babies and toddlers from the iTunes store. This case retails for $14.99. Shop for the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case.
Things That Go
HEXBUG Nano Hive Playset – HEXBUG Nanos are another favorite toy around here. I give them for gifts all of the time. But when I saw the Hive Playset, I was even more excited. They have added elements such as see-saws, merry-go-rounds, and gates that can be placed around the Hive. This allows kids to have more control over the behaviors of their HEXBUG Nanos. It also opens up the possibility of creating hypotheses and testing the theories. Kids can put a series of gates and speculate how the HEXBUGs will behave. This particular set folds up into an enclosed set with a handle, making it perfect for on-the-go play. And, of that weren’t enough, the multi-level Hive playset also connects to the HEXBUG track you may already own (or will purchase in the future). The Hive Playset includes a rare or "mutant" HEXBUG Nano. The set retails at $34.99, but with frequently available discounts, it’s a perfectly priced set for giving. Shop for HEXBUG Nano Hive Playset .
Hot Wheels Wall Tracks – There is no doubt that you could fill your house with Hot Wheels tracks. That’s why these Wall Tracks have such appeal. Using easily removable Command Strips (which would be on my gift guide if I could find a way to make them fit) and a template, you attach the Hot Wheels Wall Tracks to a wall and watch the cars zip down the track. It’s decor for a car-obsessed kids’ room or playroom, and it keeps the Hot Wheels off the ground. This is the set my son got for his last birthday, so don’t feel like you have to begin with the Starter set which can be tricky to find. They vary in price (this one is $39.94 on Amazon), so I’d shop around, especially in your local stores. Shop for Hot Wheels Wall Tracks.
HEXBUG Nano Reindeer Christmas Ornaments – I told you we love this little guys. These rare red and green HEXBUG Nanos come with removable antlers (Warning: these WILL get lost!) and are packaged in a clear plastic ball suitable for hanging on the tree. At just $5.99, they’re adorable stocking stuffers, but they’re also handy to keep around in case you end up with surprise kid visits at your home around the holidays. They’ll keep them entertained and double as a fun little gift.
Small Nanoblock Building Sets – Yep. These are making another appearance as well. The smaller Nanoblock sets typically retail between $7 and $12 and are perfectly sized for stockings. As a bonus, they are cool enough for older kids who are traditionally hard to find stocking stuffers for. With sets that include a giant panda, Santa Claus, a grand piano, a koala, and a turtle, you’re bound to find something that will appeal to the tricky kids on your gift list.
Images are courtesy of the respective manufacturers/distributers.