in early elementary grades are learning all kinds of new
skillsthey are starting to take off in reading, learning new
math skills, discovering their world in new ways, and refining
their skills in art. Plenty of products are available that are fun
enough to give as gifts, yet still manage to encourage budding
academic skills. When it comes
to toys and software, any parent will agree that there are wiser
choices than otherstoys that entertain and educate at the same
time are ideal. Often, though, some of the best gifts are toys
that inspire imagination and pretend play. So, while electronic
teaching aids can be fantastic, a set of markers or paints are priceless.
We've included topnotch software, activity sets, books, toys, and
audio products that kids will love receiving, and adults will
feel good about giving.
Here are our Top Ten picks for gifts, as well as other super gift
choices and hot trends.
This new and exciting learning game system is not only fun, but educational
as well. The Leapster Explorer is jam-packed with preset games, but also has
many downloadable features and apps to add more to the experience. This new
version of the Leapster Explorer even includes a camera that is able to
both take pictures and record videos. The
games can help your child learn everything from reading to geography, but are
also engaging so children have fun as they learn. Be aware though, the add on
games can be pricy at times. Altogether though, the Leapster Explorer is
satisfying and keeps children entertained.
This educational toy acts as a microscope with images that
appear in their full magnified glory on the television screen.
Kids will be actively searching for things to magnify -- coins,
fabric, their own skin. The toy is battery-powered, and set-up
is easy -- it plugs into the A/V jack on your TV. It's tricky
for little ones (they'll need help focusing), but great fun
How fun is a multi-level rocket ship play house? This one will set children's
imaginations to the moon! It comes with a working elevator and a number of important
figurines, such as astronauts, space vehicles, aliens, and more. Kid testers
loved it. Very cute!
Designed for children just heading out on the road to reading (beginning
readers), the Tag Reader (which looks like a pen or stylus) is a touch-sensitive
reading device that "reads" specially designed storybooks to children.
Activities that encourage word recognition, other reading skills, and general
learning experiences are also incorpororated. Currently, there are over 20 books
and games designed for the Tag Reading system, some of which are classics like
The Little Engine That Could, and others based on popular characters like
SpongeBob SquarePants. The leanring activities are leveled and automatically
adjust to a child's responses. Downloadable content is available online and
accessed using a USB key.
The Tag Reading System includes a rather generic reading book, and the other
storybooks are available separately. As such, you will need to factor the
additional expense of books into the overall price of the product. (Kids will
definitely need and want more storybooks).
We like the leveling, interactivity, and concept of this product. Downfalls
are overall price, if you factor in the purchase of additional storybooks, and
only one user can be tracked at a time (kids can share the unit, but the
leveling and reporting becomes mixed up that way).
Just Dance Kids for Wii, Xbox 360, or Playstation 3
This incredibly fun, interactive game puts the video game console
motion sensor functions to great use. The Just Dance Kids series
of video games provide hours of entertainment,
simultaneously getting kids on their feet and moving. With a
very impressive list of much loved (and child appropriate) songs
and more than 40 different choreographed dances, kids imitate
the dance moves of real children on the screen who go through
the choreography with them. It is a definite hit for parties as
well, with many different multi-player activities such as group
dance routines and dance-offs. The dances range in difficulty
and have helpful ratings to differentiate between beginner
dances and more challenging dances, which allows children to
challenge themselves and gradually move forward as they improve,
offering motivation to keep playing. However, some
find the game frustrating if they try the more difficult levels
without enough practice. Just Dance Kids is a huge hit among our
kid testers, and is ultimately a great way to get kids moving
and exercising on a day in. Our favorite of the game series is
Just Dance Kids 2, which very narrowly beats
Kids and Just Dance Kids 2014. This series is highly
Balloon Lagoon, by the makers of
Cranium, is a carnival "board game" (without the
traditional board) that is truly exciting and educational at once.
Best for kids ages 4-7, this game involves spelling simple words,
unscrambling pictures, and more, all to the sounds of the
merry-go-round musical timer. The object of the game is to collect
the most plastic balloons the quickest. The game is
battery-operated. Very fun!
Hullabaloo is a high-energy game with so many variations of
gameplay that it always stays fresh. Kids learn about shapes,
words, and colors, as well as develop listening, cooperation,
and strategic skills. The Hullabaloo itself is quite sturdy and
attractive, requiring AA batteries. It's easy to understand the
rules quickly, especially so for kids with its additional oral
Kids strategize, using their Lego blocks to block their opponents
in this intriguing family game that gets kids thinking!
It's clever and changeable (rules can be modified to suit your
kids' interests, talents, and attention spans), which keeps gameplay very fresh over
time. There are total setbacks in the game that makes it better
for kids over 7, which happens to be the manufacturers'
are wild about magnets and about free-play building. This
set combines these two kid-friendly activities. Geomag with
Panels sets contain rods (one color per set), nickel-plated magnetic spheres (that never tarnish!),
and colorful panels of different shapes for
unlimited play ideas. Kids can make unique and imaginative structures of all kinds,
including such things as spinning tops and simple shapes. It's an
educational and fun activity for kids over 3 (small parts), and
the possibilities are only limited by a child's imagination, and
the number of pieces in the set! It comes in sets with different
numbers of pieces. Although the sets with less pieces are fun, most kids will want
more pieces. We recommend the 125-piece set.
This very creative kit is great for a relaxing "quiet time"
activity. The set comes with a variety of templates that kids
populate with half-inch magnetic cubes (they're foam) to create
interesting designs. The mosaics are built on a tabletop easel.
The only down side here is that there are not enough pieces to
make more than one masterpiece at once, so it's not great for
kids who like to display their artwork but would also like to
Sets in the Lego City line are a perfect fit for this age group. Amongst
others, we like Police Station, as it really is intricate with a whole slew
of realistic details, as well as very rewarding to complete. Kids can put
criminals in jail (the set includes two prison cells and even tiny handcuffs!),
for example. There are three police vehicles included and little figurines. Need
more Lego figurines? If your child owns more than one Lego City sets, he/she
might benefit from having extra figurines. Try LEGO Community Workers Set,
which is a set of community figures from a range of occupations with appropriate
smooth wood and plastic toy cars are all the rage! Automobolox Mini's are
perfectly-sized customizable cars that come in a range of colors, shapes, and
They have detachable wheels and windows so kids can create and recreate their own
original vehicles; and they can also connect them together. The cars even come with
their own VIN number. The quality of the wood and plastic vehicles is
exceptional and the tires are real rubber. This particular set (pictured here)
comes with one blue S9, one red C9, and one green T9.
These building blocks may not look as snazzy as other building sets, but
that's one of the reasons why we love them! Kids are only limited by their
imaginations with this set of wonderfully designed and manufactured blocks.
Included in the set pictured here are 200 pieces--enough to truly inspire children of all
ages. Other sets are available, whether you want to start smaller or add to your
Not only are they more affordable, but they're also the blocks kids turn to
time and time again. Why? They're simple, well-balanced, and kids aren't limited
by colors and awkward shapes when they are building their architectural
"masterpieces". (If your kids do like colored blocks, they are also
available). Sometimes less is more.
This fun and easy art
activity is appropriate for the whole family.
The premise of
Window Art is simple, but the
results are nothing short of fabulous: slip an included
plastic sheet over one of the book's pages of templates, use
a black squirt-bottle to trace the outline of a design, then
fill with more squirtable color. Each design--whether it's a
family of colorful bugs, an ice cream sundae, or a
collection of underwater creatures--takes about 24 hours to
dry. Once set, the design becomes "clingable"--ready
to display on any window of the house. The results are
positively vibrant. Your windows (and view) will never look
The Crayola Glow Dome
offers a great way for kids to
let their imaginations run wild and experience their
drawings come to life. This rotating, glow-in-the-dark dome
lets kids see their artwork painted on the walls in neon,
glowing colors. (Kids are actually drawing on the globe or
dome itself.) As soon as the lights go out, they
experience a new creative world, that allows kids to put a
spin on their usual artwork, inspiring more excitement in their
creations. While the thrill of it might not last forever,
it's certainly a fun experience while it does last.
The Nintendo 3DS is
the latest handheld system from Nintendo (the Nintendo DS Lite mentioned below
is still a good system, but the 3DS is the latest).
It's backwards compatible with the DS, meaning it can play every DS game in
addition to the newer 3DS games.
The Nintendo 3DS boasts improved graphics,
a robust e-shop with digital downloads of full games, and some extra features.
And, of course as the name implies, it has 3D capabilities. Games specially
designed for the 3DS can be played in 3D without the need for special glasses.
The intensity of the 3D can be adjusted to taste with a slider, and it can be
completely, as some of our testers have opted to do. Note that the 3D
element is NOT recommended for children ages 7 and under, and some kids older
than 7 find it disorienting and choose not to use the feature. The Nintendo
3DS XL includes larger screens. Although this can make it slightly less
portable than the original version of the 3DS, it is far from unreasonable and
can be more appealing to younger children due to easier visibility.
The Nintendo DS Lite is a super improvement on the
DS. This lighter, brighter, and more compact edition of a
fabulous portable gaming system drew ooh's and ah's from our kid
testers. It comes in Coral Pink, Polar White, and Onyx Black. Of
course, many girls love the pink version. Like the DS, the DS
Lite features dual screens, wireless features, a touch screen,
stylus, and microphone. It's more interactive than the GameBoys
(for example, with one game, kids can blow into the unit to
create bubbles onscreen; in another (Nintendogs),
they can speak commands to their virtual puppies).
Should you buy a DSi? If the kids don't
play GameBoy games, then no. Stick with the DS Lite. If not, and you like the
idea of having a camera in the DS, then go for the DSi. Our kid testers still
play GameBoy games, and don't want to "upgrade" as a result!
NOTE: The better bet is to get the
Nintendo 3DS (immediately above) as it is backwards compatible. The 3DS can play
all DS games (not GameBoy Advance games) and boasts more features.
Playing store is a classic childhood activity that keeps children busy for
hours at a time. Pretending they are grown-ups, kids imitate both the customer
and the cashier, and playing with a realistic cash register adds an exciting and
educational element to the fantasy. Of the many toy cash registers on the market
to choose from, the Pretend & Play Cash Register is a particularly sensible
choice with its real solar-powered calculator as its keypad. The large,
attractive buttons allow even preschoolers to start feeling comfortable with the
basic workings of a calculator. As children grow, this cash register provides an
excellent introduction to the world of math and helps kids learn practical
calculator skills. Along with these skills, they also develop social and
vocabulary skills as they model real-world grown-up behavior. A scanner and
scale are also featured in this innovative toy. The coin reader identifies both
play and real coins, helping kids get comfortable with the names of
coins. Children can use
the cash register for real-world calculations. Kids can even use the register to
handle real money for a garage or lemonade sale! This toy offers hours of
pretend play and practical math lessons at the same time.
game of Bingo has been made a little zippier and more
child-friendly. Zingo! features a dispenser filled with
tiles, called a Zinger. When kids slide the dispenser, out pops
two tiles with images on them. The first child to shout out the
object (as long as it matches with a picture on their card) gets
the tile. The zingo cards are two-sidedthe yellow side makes for
a less competitive game than the red side! This is a great feature
that allows families to decide whether they want to have a more
relaxing or a competitive game.
[For more information, user
reviews, or to buy:
This Mensa-approved brain game not only exercises kids' thinking skills, it's
a whole lot of fun. The rules are simple, but the gameplay is nevertheless very
clever. Children need to strategize in order to succeed at this game--a skill
that helps them across the curriculum.
plush, interactive Furby made toy history when it
initially launched during the 1998 holiday season,
sparking phenomenal demand and a legendary buying frenzy.
An all-new evolved Furby is more technologically
advanced, allowing for enhanced interaction through voice
recognition. In addition, the toy is larger than before,
and has a fully flexible beak, expressive eyes, and
movable ears and eyebrows that allow the toy to
communicate through expressions. And, as a nod to Mom
requests, the new Furby now has an off switch so
the chatterbox toy won't break into song or story-telling
mode during the middle of the night!
The all-new Furby is driven by Hasbro's new
Emoto-Tronics, a combination of advanced robotic
technology, puppetry and realistic lifelike reactions and
movements. Advanced voice recognition allows Furby
to react based on how a child interacts with it, adding a
new level of technological sophistication. Now, the FURBY
creature can "listen" and respond based on his "mood."
With the toy, kids learn how to speak 'Furbish', Furby's
native language. Furby is currently
hitting store shelves in the U.S. with four different fur
combinations, including grey and pink, all-white, black
and white, and cream and brown, with additional fur
combinations due out later this year. Furby will
also come with a variety of eye colors, including various
shades of brown, blue and green. For more information,
user reviews, or to buy Furby: Furby Toys
Barbie Pink 3-Story Dream Townhouse
While it's not an especially original set-up, the Barbie
3-Story Dream Townhouse will certainly please pink-loving,
Barbie-loving kids! This one has a working elevator, some sounds
and lights (such as a working doorbell and flushing toilet), and
tons of accessories including furniture and kitchen doo-dads.
And, since it's designed for Barbie, it is of course scaled to
Barbie dolls' size. Keep in mind that it has to be put together
by an adult with a screwdriver, and requires some batteries, so
make sure you have these things (and the time) to avoid
disappointment once the gift is opened.
nothing quite like a toy that gets kids moving while they learn.
Hyper Dash by Wild Planet looks simple but actually includes
multiple game modes and levels to appeal to a wide variety of
children's ages and skill levels. Kids hold on to the electronic
"tagger" and listen for instructions--as simple as finding a
certain color or number or as challenging as solving a
subtraction exercise. Then it's a mad dash to find the correct
target. The game can be played outdoors or indoors in a spacious
room. Fun and educational!
Shrinky Dinks! But we weren't impressed with the Shrinky Dinks
oven that we tested. A more economical way to make shrinky
dinks--a delightfully fun art activity for kids--is to get the
book, The Shrinky Dinks Book. You may want to purchase a refill
kit at the same time (it contains 8 plastic sheets). You will have to bake the artwork in the
"big" oven, but baking is brief and accurate this way.
Excellent activity! Children trace objects onto the included
special plastic sheets (this book is brimming with great
things to trace), and then fill them in with color. Once
baked, they magically shrink and harden.
the Christmas-themed book-activity set or the original version,
children love Window Art. These books provide children with both
the inspiration and the tools to create beautiful stick-on
decorations for the window (or any glass surface, for that
Art is a fun and easy art activity the whole family can enjoy.
The premise is simple, but the results are nothing short of
fabulous: slip an included plastic sheet over one of the templates
found in the book's
pages, use a black squirt-bottle to trace the outline
of a design, then fill with more
Each designwhether it's a family of colorful bugs, an ice cream
sundae, or a collection of underwater creaturestakes about 24
hours to dry. Once set, the design becomes "clingable"ready
to display on any window of the house. The results are positively
vibrantyour windows (and view) will never look better. The Christmas edition contains
designs featuring Santa, stockings, icicles, whimsical animals,
angels, and more. They range in difficulty from basic to
Learning to tell time can be rather
complicated. A learning aid that helps make the lessons fun is
always welcome. This battery-operated toy clock
helps reinforce and teach time, both analog and digital.
Time-telling drills are included.
Many kids love building toys, and their brains love them too!
Magnext is a special magnetic construction toy that is safe,
well-built, and innovative. There are a number of different Magnext sets available, including gravity-defying cars (the
Spheron line), rollercoasters (the iCoaster set), and “special
parts” sets that allow kids to build such things as submarines,
jets, and a whole lot more.
It’s best to start with a basic or starter set and then build
upon it with a special parts set. If you know your child is
going to be especially fond of the rollercoaster set (called the
iCoaster), go for that set. It has plenty of nice features, and
actually adds cool sounds to the creative mix. There is a girls’
Magnext set also available–it’s the same system, but with pastel
colors. Recommended for kids ages 6 and up.
This book offers a uniquely educational and practical activity
for kids. Coin Count-y allows children to sort their coins, slip
them directly into the slots of the pages, and accumulate over
twenty dollars in the process. The book offers children an
educational experience as they learn to attach value to coins.
Kids sort coins into the appropriate slots, learning as they do
the difference between pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. The
book lets kids know how much they have saved when they have filled
up a page. Slots are found in the book's paths and jars, and a
"store" helps children learn how to sort coins to make enough
money to "buy" something fun.
Pair this book with a little bag of coins to get kids started,
and you have a truly unique gift.
Frozen, the incredible, heartwarming musical by
Disney/Pixar, is a major hit for people of all ages. If your
child loved the film, the Frozen dolls by Mattel are a
to be a hit as well! These dolls are great in quality, with
great attention to detail ensuring that the dolls very closely
resemble the characters in the film. There are also a wide
variety of other Frozen products such as figurines, costumes,
and plush dolls that will surely please any child that loves Frozen
as much as we do!
are hot stuff. Bakugan
Battle Brawlers is a Japanese anime TV series television
series featuring Bakugan, creatures that the battle brawlers
have the power to wield. Plenty of products are available that
allow kids to collect cards and battle with friends.
[For more information, user
reviews, or to buy
Bella Sara Trading Cards are addictive for horse-loving
girls. Bella Sara is a trading card game with an online
component. The cards are marketed toward girls and have images
of illustrated horses with positive, inspirational messages on
them. As with all collectible card games, cards can be traded or
used to play games. Each card also includes a unique activation
code which can be used to play online at the cards' website.
Fans of the series will enjoy the Holiday Tin pictured here,
which includes the special tin as well as 5 packs of cards, 4 of
which come from the four established Bella Sara sets: First
series, Second series, Ancient Lights, and Northern Lights.
are all the rage, and probably rightfully so. These collectible stuffed animals
hold a code to unlock games on the Webkinz site. Kids use the plush animal's
secret code to care for their virtual pet and play games (at a
variety of skill/age levels). Quizzes do contain educational
content. As well, as children earn "money" (KinzCash) in the
Webkinz world, they learn about saving and spending it wisely
(they buy furniture, food, and things for the pets' rooms).
Daily news, contests, and events keep the experience fresh.
KinzChat allows kids to safely chat with their friends. Be aware
that kids will definitely want more than one pet, although
owning more than one doesn't make game play much richer.
[For more information, user
reviews, or to buy Webkinz toys]
Littlest Pet Shop
adorable and most little girls love to collect them - Littlest
Pet Shop figurine sets are unquestionably cute and
unquestionably collectible. The smaller sets include two
adorable pets and little accessories. The larger sets are
playsets. Accessories include such things as a tiny hairbrush or
plushie VIP (Virtual Interactive Pet) includes a unique code for
online activation of games, activities, and more in the virtual
Littlest Pet Shop world where kids have their own home and pets
(good for a year). Littlest Pet Shop VIP's are quite adorable
with their over-sized heads and eyes.
A blast from
the past! The original Cabbage Patch doll frenzy occurred in the
early 1980's. Many parents of today's children took part in the
thrill of the dolls: each doll is entirely unique and comes with
adoption papers that include a name and a birthdate. Kids loved
them then, and they love them today. Many parents will be happy to
know that today's Cabbage Patch dolls have not been
"updated" with technology or anything of the sort.
Cabbage Patch dolls were re-released last year. This season,
they introduced Cabbage Patch Kids Babies, such as the one
at right. These adorable dolls come with a kit of baby accessories
(including a diaper), and they smell like baby powder!
Note that you
can order these dolls through Toys R Us (see link directly below
this description) by choosing a general description of the doll,
such as "Blonde Hair Girl, Pink Sweatsuit", but because
each doll is one-of-a-kind, the eyes, hair styles, and faces will
be different than those shown.
online "virtual pet" community, Neopets at
neopets.com, is so popular that a merchandise line is now
available. Even Hasbro and Thinkway Toys are producing Neopet toys. There's
plenty to do at the site, and best of all, it's free! NeoPets are
virtual pets that kids access online. Children feed their pets,
offer them toys, collect Neopoints (the Neopia currency), trade
with others in the community, play games, and more. The basic idea
is to keep your Neopets happy and healthy, but there are many
"other" things to do at the site. Kids can spend hours
at the site, and now they can play with their pets offline
with Neopets Plushies, interactive Neopets (the purple
Shoyru is pictured here), and even a board game (pictured at
Activity Kits: Butterfly Bedroom,
and Two Glasses For You to Paint
Bedroom is another kit that is best for children ages 5-7 (because
of its simplicity) who love butterflies! The kit comes with
gorgeous tuile butterflies that are ready to decorate with the
included glitter paint and rhinestones, as well as a swag. The
completed creations can be hung as a mobile or individually --
kids will be proud to decorate their bedrooms with these pretty
Also from Creativity for Kids is
a simple set that allows children to enjoy the fun and rewards of
reverse glass painting. Two Glass Plates For You to Paint
contains two glass plates (6 and 8 inches), a set of glass paints,
a fine point art brush, and illustrations and instructions to get
kids started. Kids paint designs on the back of the plates, get
their parents to bake the plates, let the plates "cure"
for six days, and voila! Beautiful and unique decorative plates
that kids can actually use for their snacks, or proudly display.
U-Command Wall-E robot is a totally fun remote-controlled
robot with eyes that light up, realistic sounds, and cool
responses. Kids have the option to program a set of orders or
simply send commands randomly. U-Command Wall-E is less than ten
inches tall. The toy didn't make it to our top toys list because
of its instability--it falls a little too often for our liking.
Otherwise, the robot is great fun. Have lots of batteries on
Fly Tech DragonFly is a remote-controlled flying insect that
kids have a fabulous (if brief) time controlling. Ideal for
indoors, its elegant design prevents it from wreaking havoc in
the household. Weather permitting, the dragonfly can soar
through the air outdoors as well. It's not so elegant in windy
weather, however, and of course not easy to control.
There is also a FlyTech Butterfly, designed to capture the
interest of girls, although the Dragonfly does also appeal to
many girls. It's prettier, but essentially the same toy with
Both toys need charging frequently. Fully charged, they last about
5-8 minutes before they need to go back onto their charger base.
This actually helps extend the appeal of the toys, simply
because kids don't have a chance to overdose on them! They are
not as fragile as they look, but still need to be handled with
care, of course.