Got a kid to buy for and no clue what to get? Steven Aarons is your guy. As owner of Barstons Child’s Play, which has stores in Chevy Chase, Arlington, McLean and Rockville, Aarons gets as excited as any child about toys.
“We believe in a lot of open-ended play,” Aarons says, and his choices for this year’s shoppers reflect that. Let’s start with the dragon that breathes steam. Yep, Hearthsong’s Steam Breathing Dragon ($40) breathes hours of imaginative play with all that hot air.
Not the animal of choice for the wee folk in your house? How about a Tumbling Hedgehog ($40) from Thames and Kosmos? This cute-faced critter is a programmable pet that reacts to sounds and handclaps.
For kids who would like a toy that’s even more active, Aarons recommends B4 Adventure’s Cosmic Mini Golf ($120-$160) — basically a “make-your-own miniature golf course” that comes in a variety of course lengths.
Other toys that make Aarons’ list include BRIO’s Wooden Pinball Game ($50) and a Gumball Machine Maker ($40), also from Thames and Kosmos, which is exactly what it sounds like and also somewhat “like a marble run but with gumballs.”
Many parents are familiar with Our Generation Dolls, the reasonably priced cousin of American Girl dolls and a line known for its range of accessories. The popular sleepover set, for example, even has its own full deck of doll-sized cards. New this year, the line is offering a Grill to Go Food Truck ($120), which is expected to ride the popularity of the line’s ice cream truck.
LEGO’s IDEAS series offers a Tree House ($200) with leaves that can be changed out with the seasons. And speaking of being green, Bio Buddi, a Duplo-compatible set of bricks, is made from plant-based materials, which make for a “better long-term” toy, Aarons says. (Set prices start at $20.)
Toy shoppers can expect to see some of the familiar this year as well — “Star Wars,” “Frozen” and that boy wizard, Harry Potter, remain popular, as do Pokémon, fidgets and games, Aarons says.
This recommendation comes from aMuse Toys, which has stores in Baltimore, and we love it: Yellow Scope Science Kits ($50). These award-winning kits, created by moms and scientists for creative girls interested in STEM, include Foundation Chemistry, Paper Chromatography and Acids, Bases and pH. Their newest kit, DNA and Traits, comes with lab equipment, a notebook and outlines for many activities that explore DNA. The founders at Yellow Scope are passionate about educating and inspiring girls, and their science-based gifts will enthrall any curious mind.
Got a puzzle lover to buy for? Check out Blue Orange’s Tumble Maze ($28), a logic game that involves creating a maze to get a marble through a series of tracks to a finishing point. “We can’t stop playing it,” says Flora Stelzer, co-owner of Shananigans Toy Shop in Baltimore. “There are so many levels to get through, so we’re always entertained.” With 40 levels that increase in complexity, this gravity-powered puzzle engages children and parents alike, challenging even the brainiest.
Kathleen Donahue, owner of Labyrinth Games & Puzzles in Washington, D.C., is a big fan of Little Likes Kids, a brand of memory games and puzzles created by Takoma Park mother Kemi Tignor
“It’s so hard to find puzzles that have diversity,” Donahue says. “The art for these puzzles is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s super inclusive. I really love it.” A favorite is the Sweetgrass Head
Basket Memory Game ($17), but the line also has Santa puzzles that feature an African-American Santa ($14).
Shashibo Shape-Shifting Box ($20) is a seemingly simple toy that offers any child endless ways to play. A magnetic puzzle cube that can be used as a creative medium or just a quiet fidget toy, the box is available in four mesmerizing patterns and can be transformed into more than 70 shapes.
And you heard it here first: Archery is back! Featuring foam-tip arrowheads, Two Bros Bows Archery Set ($53) is a safe alternative to traditional bows and arrows for kids with a wild sense of adventure. We think this set has the potential to be a new child (and parent!) favorite.
Fashion-forward babies will look extra adorable in unique threads from Emerson & Friends Baby Apparel ($22 per onesie). This apparel line features witty slogans and soft fabrics. Another good one for the littlest ones on your list: Indestructibles Baby Books ($6), which are rip-proof, chew-proof, nontoxic and 100 percent washable. They offer original stories based on classic nursery rhymes.
Happy shopping, parents!
With reporting from Molly Szymanski