By Eva Whalen
‘Tis the season to give, and whether gifting for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chanukah, or for December-born angels, this roundup of superb toys and games will answer the age-old question: what exactly do kids like? Organized by 5 years-and-under and 5 years-and-up, this roster has something for everyone.
For the wee ones:
The USA-made K’Nex construction toys (and Kid K’Nex Country Friends for toddlers) come in 400-piece tubs, 535-piece tubs, and more – and you can choose from Model Speed Machines, Thrill Rides Series, Swing Ride, and the Serpent’s Spiral Coaster. Peruse them all at www.K’Nex.com.
The Parents-brand Garden Counting Puzzle is crafted of sturdy wood with chunky pieces that fit just right into little hands. “The toy does less – the child does more” is a solid philosophy for brain-building toys. Toddlers can learn to count to five and recognize numbers while solving the eye-catching puzzle. Find it at www.parents.com.
Boca Beth offers a CD titled My First Songs in Spanish along with maracas for little hands to get any party started. This combo ensures cold-weather frivolity and introduce un poco Espanol! Visit www.BocaBeth.com. And Christmas Lullabies to Create Memories by Paige Stroman is a lovely way to drift off to sleep pre-and post-holiday. Find it at www.extreme-dreams.net.
The Baby Brain Box for developing babies engages all five senses and fosters communication, which in turn primes baby for learning and interaction in general. This is a fabulous investment in your baby’s future; visit www.babybrainbox.com. The preschool game Learn With Lako is a fun way to introduce gaming and the concept that learning is fun to the cookies and milk set. Available at www.learnwithlako.com and www.amazon.com. Munchkin’s Peek-A-Boo Bear and the Mozart Magic Cube are two delightful gift ideas from a brand that makes learning an adventure. The Mozart Magic Cube appeals to baby’s love of music and the interactive Peek-A-Boo Bear is a lovable gift. Find both at www.munchkin.com. And the Jump ‘N’ Jam Jungle will focus much of your little one’s boundless energy into constructive play, creating an outlet for that universal urge to stomp. Order it at www.LearningResources.com.
Kids of all ages adore Ugly Dolls, so why not place an Ugly Doll T-Shirt in a gift box for a special someone? Available in sizes S-XL, they feature a wide array of doll favorites that will delight boys and girls and parents. See? Everyone’s happy. Order at www.uglydolls.com.
Kids can color their own stocking or pillowcase, thanks to the Color Me Company. These American-made products spark creativity and create keepsakes for decades to come. Find them at www.colormecompany.com. And Tangram Puzzles from www.dowlingmagnets.com make great stocking stuffers for children ages 3 and up. Magnets will always fascinate children!
For kids, ages 5-10 years:
Playmobil’s award-winning Roman Arena offers hours of imaginative, dramatic play with chariots and victorious gladiators. This new Playmobil theme is inspiring, and the arena’s generous size and sturdy construction will ensure enduring pleasure. Find the Roman Arena and much more at www.playmobil.com.
Budding photographers can capture memories with the new Disney Pix Micro digital camera, which holds 40 photos and is as easy to use as it is to love. This pocket-sized treasure comes with photo editing software and is geared for kids 5 years and older. Buy it at www.digiblue.com, and choose a princess or pirate model.
Fledgling music makers will swoon over Woodstock Percussion’s Calypso Steel Drum, created in Trinidad and Tobago. Well-crafted with 9-notes and a range from middle C up one octave to high C (plus high D), this steel drum also includes a wooden stand, a pair of sticks and an instructional song book so your child will be ready to jam on the spot. Find it at www.amazon.com, www.toys2wish4.com and www.wonderbrains.com. Another great beat-making holiday gift is the Toca Freestyle Rope-Tuned Djembe drum, available at www.zzounds.com. Pair it with any other instrument or play it alone and you have a party!
Milton Bradley’s whimsical, fast-paced No Brainer! Game is ideal for children and teenagers alike, which means the family gaming table will be thrilling for everyone (including parents). Available at www.Hasbro.com, along with a plethora of other fantastic games and toys.
Zen Design Group’s SEE Toys make parents see green: as in Safety, Ecology and Economy. Earth-friendly and powered with cranks fueled by kid-energy, this line’s roster is inventive, innovative and enjoyable. Choose your favorite at www.seetoys.com.
The Discovery Store offers an array of fun, educational toys for kids, including Italian games made of bamboo and good old-fashioned medieval building blocks. Naturally, the store also offers telescopes, moon boxes, light-up globes, robots, ant farms and far more than any kid can imagine. Peruse the myriad and exciting offerings at www.discoverystore.com.
How could any child resist the charms of a curious meerkat? It goes without saying that Season One of Meerkat Manor from Animal Planet is a necessity for animal-loving kids. Find it at www.animal.discovery.com and www.amazon.com. The Christmas Classics DVD Set is a gift that will be used every year and includes Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Visit www.amazon.com. And Warner Premier presents its first holiday title: A Dennis The Menace Christmas. As Dennis wreaks havoc, your kids will be entranced with this hilarious offering, which is suitable for the entire family. Order it at www.warnervideo.com.
Wii Ratatouille captivates kids with enthralling twists, turns, suspense, humor and action. Let an endearing Parisian mouse delight your little ones with unforgettable Wii interaction. Snap it up quickly at www.PlayTHQ.com.
Two notable book series that kids will love to read are: Adventures of Riley – South Pole Penguins and Polar Bear Puzzle books from Eaglemont Press, endorsed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF and the Smithsonian Institute, and Punk Farm on Tour by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. These are charming books with fresh graphics that parents will relish reading to wee ones. Order Riley books at www.adventuresofriley.com and Punk Farm at www.randomhouse.com/kids. Families who love pets will appreciate that Target Stores teamed up with Purina and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) to create a family reading kit for kids – with treats for pets and kids alike! Find it at www.target.com.
Any young superhero would, of course, love a Marvel Legends or Mr. Fantastic action figure with his own car. Whoo-hoo! Find these guys at www.amazon.com. Another mind-engaging offering is Fractiles-7, a magnetic tiling toy which garnered a Parent’s Choice Silver Honor Award and can be found at www.fractiles.com. There’s a travel version for holiday sojourners, too.
Valley of the Pharaohs and Dread Pirate are just two of the beautifully-crafted, American-made games offered by Front Porch Classics — a company with integrity that brings to mind the thoughtful games of past eras. Try to pick a favorite game at www.frontporchclassics.com, which will be difficult because they’re all fantastic. The Last Word Game by the Award-winning Buffalo Games company is another game destined to endure through the decades and forge great memories. Fun for all age levels with an exciting pace, this game will be played repeatedly at all holidays. Find it at www.buffalogames.com.
Although they are not technically toys, the Crazy 8 hoodies, shirts and pants for boys and girls will create just as much excitement in a gift box. Shop the wares at www.crazy8.com and find styles and sizes that fit your taste, fashion sense and budget.
Snowballs make perfect stocking stuffers, especially when they’re filled with chocolate truffle cream. Find them and other old-world candies such as peppermint bark and cinnamon licorice reindeer at www.route29napa.com.
In an era where toys are sometimes found to be potentially toxic, dangerous or shoddily-made, we’re proud to recommend these products that will provoke thought, enjoyment, interaction and creativity. In addition, they’re made to last and they’re produced by people with integrity. Happy Holidays!