By Amy Carney Bevins
It’s the most incredible time of the year. Here is our list compiled for 2011, however these toys are great to have for your children any year.
Just walking down the aisle of the toy store can cause sensory overload. Bright lights, colorful packaging, eye-catching characters and cheery music all compete for attention and toy purchasing dollars. So how do you get past all of the hype to find toys with long term playing power? The ones that your child will turn to long after the boxes are thrown away and the last strand of tinsel has finally been vacuumed up. The ones they’ll be playing with at Valentines and, like the Energizer Bunny, will still be playing strong come Easter and beyond
All of the toys and games in this year’s list meet the criteria for being more than just a toy. They teach, foster imagination, get kids moving and bring families together. Hopefully, with the toys on this list, you won’t hear “I’m bored” for at least a week and maybe not even until sometime next year.
Many of the featured toys have also won numerous national and international awards, meaning they were a hit with kids, parents, testers and industry experts. Groups like the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, Dr. Toy, Parent’s Choice and AblePlay give awards to toys and games that meet criteria for standing out among their peers.
Here is our list of this year’s standouts.
Use these icons to help you select the right toy for your child:
Infant (0-2 years) Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years)
Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+)
Toys that will get your child moving, jumping, laughing, and running
Infant (0-2 years) Preschool (3-4 years) Scramble Bug
Cute as can be, this bug-themed push bike is pint-sized to fit toddlers up to 44 lbs. Along with bright colors and a charming buggy-appeal, Scramble Bug features caster wheels so kids can scoot in all directions, and it easily folds for portability and storage. If your kids are busy as bees, Scramble Bug will provide hours of energy-burn indoors and out.
Approximate Price – $49.99 www.quicksmartkids.com
Awards – Dr. Toy’s 10 Best Active Products and 100 Best Children’s Products, Australian International Design Award
Infant (0-2 years) Preschool (3-4 years) Busy Years Ball Drop
Balls roll down and round and round in a new twist on a childhood classic. Created with brightly-colored stackable tiers, Busy Years Ball Drop will mesmerize little ones as clear, rattling, spinning balls glide through the curves of the chute. Because the tiers come apart, children can grow from watching the balls roll, to creating the action themselves to building the ball drop chute on their own, meaning years of play for busy little fingers.
Approximate Price – $14.99 www.intplay.com
Awards – Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold and Silver Awards
Infant (0-2 years) Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Memory Match and Catch
20 colorful fish floating in the tub make learning and play scrub-a-dub fun. Little ones can use the net to catch fish with matching colors or patterns while improving their dexterity, matching skills, counting and imaginative play. In or out of the bath, these soft foam fish are sure to delight.
Approximate Price – $14.99 www.innovativekids.com
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Pin Pals Bowling Set
Stack and crash. Kids just love to knock things over. With the Pin Pals Bowling Set, kids have multiple play options from bowling to building to imaginative play. The 10 funny-faced pins stretch out the their stubby arms so kids can pile them high or spread them wide, then knock them down again and again. While designed for the preschool and elementary set, Pin Pals are fun for all ages.
Approximate Price – $24.99 www.step2.com
Awards – Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Lazer Stunt Chaser
Race, jump, launch, flip – all with extreme speed. These two-sided laser light guided R/C cars will amaze and attract kids of all ages as they flip-and-go, racing after the laser pointer light on bright, color-changing, lighted wheels. Like a cat chasing a piece of yarn, these cars race after the beam of light, making them an instant hit. The Jump and Double Loop, Cyclone and Funnel, Ring and Ramp and Crash Zone playsets all add to the incredible stunts the Lazer Stunt Chasers can perform.
Approximate Price – $39.99 www.ThinkawayToys.com
Awards – Dr. Toy Best Toy Pick, NAPPA Honors, Creative Child Preferred Choice Award, CNNMoney.com Hot Toy, Toy Insider Hot 20 List
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Rollors
Get ready to roll. Rollors is fabulous fun for the whole family. With a nod to Bocce and horseshoes, Rollors’ unique twists bring a new dimension to lawn games. While simple to play, by rolling the smoothly-sanded wooden disks closest to the target to score points, the double sided-scoring and elements of skill and luck make this a hugely popular game. Everything tucks neatly into the storage case, making Rollors perfect for the backyard, park, picnic, or vacation and the hit of any outdoor event.
Approximate Price – $35 www.rollors.net
Awards – Major Fun Award, Mr. Dad Seal of Approval, Dr. you 100 Best Products Award, Creative Child Seal of Excellence
Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Balance Benders
Not only will you strengthen your body and improve balance, you’ll exercise your laugh muscles with Balance Benders. 10 colored and numbered Balance Bender Pods can be used in an infinite number of independent and team games that get the family stretching, strengthening, and exercising bodies and minds in the exceptional gravity defying game.
Approximate Price – $11.99 www.shopwildplanet.com
Awards – National Parenting Center Seal of Approval, Parents Choice Seal of Approval, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award
Toys that will foster imagination, music, pretend play, art, and creativity
Infant (0-2 years) Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Stack+Nest Cups
Build, fill, stack, pour, again and again. The colorful, graduated Stack+Nest Cups have so many uses. Simple, clean lines and hues from dark to light open the door to multitudes of possibilities from the bath to the beach and the bedroom to the playroom. Open-ended toys like these allow creativity to take center stage.
Approximate Price – $12 www.kidoproducts.com
Awards – Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award
Infant (0-2 years) Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Rainbow Whirls Pegging Game
Bright colors, smoothly touchable shapes, infinite play options. Rainbow Whirls Pegging Game invites children to explore with its child-attracting design. Made of durable beech wood and colored with child-safe paints, Rainbow Whirls Pegging Game slips a plethora of learning into its simple, classic design. This is a toy that is destined to become a family must-have.
Approximate Price – $32 www.habausa.com
Awards – National Parenting Center Seal of Approval, Creative Child Game of the Year Award, Dr. Toy’s Best Vacation Product
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Color Me! Stickers
Is your child’s imaginary world filled with blue lions and pink and purple zebras? Bring her imagination to life with Color Me! Stickers. Made for markers or crayons, these stickers are a blank canvas for your child to color her dreams.
Approximate Price – $1.99 www.peaceablekingdom.com
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Arc-A-Teks
Arc-A-Teks are funny, engaging, building characters that take shape again and again as kids mix and match pieces and parts. Earth, Sea, and Sky Arc-A-Teks are interchangeable, creating unlimited possibilities for building and play. For clean up, everything packs neatly into the small sealable building bucket, making Arc-A-Teks a hit with kids and parents.
Approximate Price – $12.99 www.arc-a-teks.com
Awards – Creative Child Toy of the Year Award
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Play, Draw, Create
Cleverly designed for play and portability, Play, Draw, Create sets are just right for at home and on the go. Choose a truck or princess themed set featuring a write and wipe activity book, a magnetic dry erase board, five dry erase markers, and an eraser. These sets contain everything needed for “hours of imaginative play, anytime, anywhere!”
Approximate Price – $16.99 www.innovativekids.com
Awards – Tillywig Toy Award Brain Child winner
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years)
Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Football Guys (and Soccer Girls too)
It’s a football face-off right in your playroom, and everyone’s taking sides. With Football Guys, you create the action on the field, from running the touchdown to sacking the quarterback. Similar to the army men of past generations, Football Guys bring a new twist to the gridiron. Complete with two teams, a referee, a playing field, and goalposts, it’s game on. Choose from several colors and even selected college teams. Also available for more sports action, award-winning Soccer Girls, Soccer Guys, Baseball Guys, and Hockey Guys.
Approximate Price – $24.99-28.99 www.kaskeykids.com
Awards – Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award; National Parenting Center Seal of Approval; What the Stuff Toy Review Four Star Award; Mom’s Best Award; iParenting Media Award; Creative Child Toy of the Year, Top Creative Toy, Seal of Excellence and Preferred Choice; Brilliant Sky Toy of the Year Imaginative Play
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Stained-Glass Coloring Books
Armed with just a childhood staple – the marker – kids of all ages can create a kaleidoscope of colorful images when they use their imaginations and a little ink. The translucent pages of the Stained-Glass Coloring Books glow with jewel tones and rich hues when light streams through the completed images. Hours of artistic enjoyment and viewing pleasure.
Approximate Price – $7.95 www.mindware.com
Awards – Major FUN Award
Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Perplexus Rookie and Epic
Once you start, you just can’t stop. Perplexus, a spherical 3-D maze game of twists and turns, is addictive. Hold the translucent sphere in your hands and try to master maneuvering the silver marble through the maze. Along the way, you’ll activate problem solving, improve hand-eye coordination, and increase cognitive development as you seek to battle the barriers of Perplexus. For beginners, try Perplexus rookie. For those hunting a serious challenge, try conquering Perplexus Epic.
Approximate Price – $19.99-29.99 www.perplexus.net
Awards – Toy Insider’s Hot 20 List, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award, ASTRA Best Toy for Kids, Neighborhood Toy Stores of Canada Gold Star, Parent Tested Parent Approved Seal of Approval
Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Lab Mice
Eeek! The mice are on the loose and need to race to the cheese before the get caught. This “cheese-chasing brain teaser” is puzzle-wonderful. The 100 challenges range from beginner to advanced and the write and wipe boards make Lab Mice and excellent choice for home or on-the-go brain-stretching, creative, puzzle play.
Approximate Price – $17.95 www.mindware.com
Awards – Parents’ Choice Silver Award, National Association for Gifted Children Recommended, Disney FamilyFun Boredom Buster Award, Creative Child Puzzle Game of the Year
Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Pixy Cubes
Colorful, engaging, tactile – you just want to grab Pixy Cubes and play. With several game formats – from group speed challenges to solo memory tests and independent design creation, Pixy Cubes are hands-on fun in a compact, travel-friendly case.
Approximate Price – $15.99 www.blueorangegames.com
Awards – Oppenheim Gold Award, Creative Child Seal of Excellence
Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Pathwords
Letter lovers, word search wizards, puzzle players, and challenge champions will all crave Pathwords – where the “word search meets Tetris.” Search out hidden words and cover them with the correct colorful, shaped, translucent playing pieces. Sounds easy? Conceptually it is, making it accessible to beginners. Once the initial challenges lure you in though, game play ramps up, keeping you hunting just one more word.
Approximate Price – $19.99 www.thinkfun.com
Awards – Oppenheim Gold Award, Parent’s Choice Gold Award, ASTRA Best Toy for Kids, National Association for Gifted Children Honorable Mention, Creative Child Puzzle of the Year, Games Magazine Game of the Year
Spend family time together playing some of these award winning games.
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Bugged Out
Don’t be bugged by this eye-popping game of build and balance. Bugged Out is a Jenga-like game for the youngest set with colorful goggle-eyed playing pieces that are easy to stack and grasp. Play until the tower topples, then have fun all over again. Or, use the bright pieces to construct your own bug-eyed buildings. However they play, kids are sure to want more of Bugged Out.
Approximate Price – $16.99 www.intplay.com
Awards – Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Animal Upon Animal Balancing Bridge (Tier auf Tier)
It’s an animal pile up – crocodiles, giraffe, flamingos, bats and more are all trying to cross the shaky bridge at the same time. Can you stack the brightly colored animals before they tumble and crash? Roll the dice, grab an animal and stack them high before the collapse into their habitats below. The animals are also great as playtime pals.
Approximate Price – $33 www.HABAusa.com
Awards – Parents’ Choice Recommended
Preschool (3-4 years) Elementary (5-9 years) Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur
Look out! A dinosaur on the loose. This goofy guy just loves to spin and twirl, and you never know what he might run into when he gets a little dizzy. Try to move your cavemen around the game board before Dizzy comes out to play, or you might just take a tumble when Dizzy gets wound up.
Approximate Price – $14.99 www.patchproducts.com
Elementary (5-9 years) Where is Leo?
Leo the lion is lost. Can you find him? Put on your sleuth hat and use the clues to search out his hiding spot. Is he close by or will it take some looking? This charming game enchants with delightful illustrations and competitive or cooperative accessible game play.
Approximate Price – $12 www.HABAusa.com
Awards – Parents’ Choice Recommended, Major FUN Award, Mr. Dad Seal of Approval, Great Dad Recommended, Tillywig Toy & Media Best Family Fun Award
Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Fastrack
Fast, snap, rapid, zip, zing, score. Use integrated elastic bands to propel wooden disks across the colorful wooden track and slip them through the hole in the middle. Bounce them off your opponent. And SCORE! This rapid-fire game combines speed, accuracy, and luck to create a sure-fire winner.
Approximate Price – $19.99 www.blueorangegames.com
Awards – Dr. Toy Best Green Product and 10 Best Games, ASTRA Best Toy for Kids, Major Fun Award, Tillywig Sterling Fun Award, The National Parenting Center Seal of Approval
Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Swish
Exercise your mental muscles in this spatial game of “Flip, Rotate, and Stack.” It’s like Pilates for your mind. With Swish, sink every ball depicted on the translucent cards into the corresponding hoop by visualizing the turns and flips needed to make matches. Several levels of difficulty can be played at the same time, making this game a slam dunk for the entire family.
Approximate Price – $12.99 www.thinkfun.com
Awards – Parent’s Choice Silver Award, Creative Child Preferred Choice Award
Elementary (5-9 years) Preteen (10-12) Teens/Adults (13+) Wits and Wagers Family
“How many total Disney princesses are there? How many people participated in the world’s largest food fight? How many justices are on the US Supreme Court?” In this hilarious family game of guesses and conjecture, being almost right can score big, especially if you can convince others that you know best. Wits and Wagers Family is great game play for young and old alike.
Approximate Price – $19.99 www.northstargames.com
Awards – Over 20 awards including MENSA Select Award, Canadian Toy Testing Council 3 Star Award, Dr Toy Best Vacation Game and Best Picks, Major Fun Keeper Award, and The National Parenting Center Seal of Approval
Amy Carney Bevins is a freelance writer, an educator and founder/owner of Chantilly Chefs cooking classes for children and adults. She has been featured on WUSA9, NBC, MonkeySee.com, AOL Video and RobustCooking.com. Visit her website www.amycarneybevins.com to read more of her articles, view her cooking and toy videos and learn more about her cooking classes.