You know when you have a kid's birthday party to attend and you want to get something special, but you don't want to spend all day searching the Internet for the best rated toys? I am talking about the ones kids like the most, but are still an educational experience. This is the blog post you need to save for those occasions!
(Tiny Love; $19.95) This is a fun toy for active floor play with a sitting-up or crawling baby. Turn on the fabric-headed dog (Fred) or lion (Leo) and it will slowly roll a few feet and stop. Touch the accordion center of the body and it rolls some more. These bodies are made of bright-colored plastic; the tails are fabric. This "magical" motion toy invites little crawlers to follow them or use them like a roly-poly ball. Motivating your child to crawl is a lot easier with these easily touch-activated toys. These little animals do not move too quickly, so they're easier to play with than wind-up toys. To play a game of "Got It!" put the toy within easy reach and activate it with a touch. When it reaches your child, encourage him or her to send the pup back to you.
(Learning Curve International; $29.99) We've seen rolling mirrors before, but this is the best one we've seen yet. Two fat wheels hold a prism-shaped toy that spins as it rolls. The three-sided fun-house mirror has a see-through window and two mirrors. It has no electronic sounds—just the rattle of beads as they drop. It's a good rolling toy for crawling babies and it's also fun to stand it upright on one wheel and spin. Designed to invite beginners to crawl, this toy is good fun for roly-poly games that involve repetitive actions. Send this toy back and forth between you and your child, or stand it up on end and spin the triangular toy. This is no small feat for kids with physical delays.
(Infantino; $59.99) We like the textured and clear graphics on this new 36-inch by 28.5- inch play mat with a warm orange, teal, brown and green palate. Patterned cross bars allow for dangly toys that baby can gaze at and eventually reach out for and touch. It has a polka-dotted tummy time pillow and peek-a-boo surprises. We can do without some of the electronic sounds and lights on the Tiki Hut, but since baby can't turn them on, you don't need to, either. The safety mirror on this hut is somewhat distorted, but that said, this is a more attractive mat than most.
Age: Infants (newborn and up).
(Corolle; $29.99) We're always on the lookout for dolls that reflect our diversity. Among the most adorable African-American dolls this season is the huggable, soft-bodied 12-inch baby doll named Naima, from the Calin collection. Her beanbag body makes her easy to pose. Dressed in a red-and-white cotton knit outfit with a red headband, she's a bald-headed baby with big brown eyes that open and close. She does not come with the usual extras such as a pacifier, bottle or toy that would be risky with toddlers who tend to mouth their toys. This one is an adorable armful for beginning pretend play.
Age: Toddlers, preschool.
(Mega Bloks; $34.99) We are always on the lookout for a beginning musical toy. Most are over-the-top with frenetic lights and motion, or the sound quality is poor. So we were delighted with this new piano. There is a keyboard that you can set to play note for note, or you can use the music blocks that sit on top on the piano to add layers of music, sounds or beats. Our testers noted that the blocks stay on well. Other comments included: "This is a fantastic toy" and "Interesting and fun and will grow with him for quite a while I suspect." The piano comes with pre-programmed songs and can also be played with color-coding, but it's the non-coded format that is most child-friendly and empowering.
(Hasbro; $39.99) Here's a "convertible" that switches from a push toy for the littlest ones to a first ride-on for toddlers. It has a magic picker-upper that scoops up plastic blocks which also fit in a shape-sorter seat. Our young tester really enjoyed this aspect of the toy—he could make the blocks "disappear." This toy also has a "revving wheel" with a horn, direction signals and child-pleasing motor sounds. Best of all, toddlers can remove the wheel and play with it away from the truck. Our tester loves taking the wheel off and bringing it into his parents' car so he can "help" drive. He also takes his cat and stuffed animals for rides. Our parent tester also loved this toy's new companion Tonka Li'l Gas Pump (sold separately for $19.99).
(International Playthings; $29.99) Finding an anatomically correct doll is not easy—finding one that can go in the tub is even harder. Select either the boy or girl; each 13-inch doll has painted features. Both come with potty seat, a bottle, a snap-off-and-on romper and towel for drying off. New outfits are slightly different than in this photo. This doll is the perfect choice for the potty-training set.
(Step2; $149.99) Kudos to Step2 for coming up with a really fun, gender-free play setting. Our preschool and toddler siblings enjoyed playing diner (the older sister was running the place, of course!). On one side you have all the kitchen equipment of a traditional toy kitchen (sink, refrigerator and oven) with the bonus of a grill top. The other side has a place where two customers can sit—the "booth"—complete with a tabletop jukebox that plays a few tunes from the era, and a bell for service (our testers thought the bell could be louder). The diner also comes with a coffee pot, dishes, silverware and play food; our testers were big fans of the ice cream cones.
Age: Toddlers, preschool, early school years.
(Cheekeyes; $29.99) We're big on wooden blocks as basic gear for the preschool set. Adding props to blocks can spark new directions for dramatic play. We love this new line of handsomely crafted wooden dinosaurs. (The company also offers a set of farm animals, trees, a cave and a mountain.) The dinosaurs and the animals are outstanding in this category. They are very smooth—as all wooden toys should be—and are painted just on the sides. This toy set is available online only, at Oompa Toys.
Age: Preschool, early school years.
(Lego Systems Inc. $59.99) Young builders will be thrilled to have a 17-inch floating patrol boat that they assemble themselves. It has a crane that turns and moves up and down to put rafts into the water and to lower the anchor. This kit includes a 12-inch tall control station tower and a 10-inch long dock. This 444-piece set also includes four mini figures, a shark, surfboard, small boat and other accessories for dramatic play. Our testers noted that five-year-olds will need help, while older, more experienced builders will find this set too easy. Lego has also started putting all the pieces for a particular item in one bag, to make assembly easier. Most of us remember those 'Where-is-that-one-piece?' moments when confronted with a box with hundreds of pieces.
Age: Early school years (ages 5 and up).
(KidsGive $19.99 each) This is a welcome new collection of funky multi-cultural dolls with international stories and attitude! Each doll is a soft and huggable 16 inches tall and comes with an outfit that will appeal to the five-and-up crowd. Each also has a travel story of her own. For example, there's Zoe from North America; Wan Ling, who travels from China to Japan; and Pita who goes to Brazil, and more. A portion of the profits fund various children's humanitarian projects. Each doll comes with a code that takes you to the Karito Kids Web site (which includes games and covers the concept of giving). Our testers really liked how portable the dolls were. We love the commitment to diversity.
Age: Early school years.
(Sakar; $59.99) This little camcorder is pretty remarkable for what it is. It has a built-in microphone and includes a 1.5-inch preview screen and a memory expansion slot. It also comes with a lot of engaging activity centers that kids will love exploring: a story maker, puppet show, jigsaw puzzles and a photo-editing center. The hardware is compatible on an Apple Mac—but the included software can only be used on PCs. Kids can record their shows and watch them on the TV screen. For the youngest video maker, this is a magical tool that will save wear-and-tear on your regular equipment.
Age: Early school years; late school years.