Walking into a toy store can be an overwhelming experience. On every shelf are toys that talk, flash and proclaim to be the next big thing. When it comes to buying a gift or just getting a toy for a child, you want to make sure your money is well spent. At every age level are toys that stand out from the rest when it comes to quality and their ability to entertain children.
Top Baby Toys
Babies are just learning how to use their arms and legs and starting to explore the world around them through touch, sight and sound. The best toys for this age play on those senses and are safe for baby to chew on while offering other parts to encourage discovery.
Sophie the Giraffe
Sophie the Giraffe has won numerous parenting awards and can be found in the homes of babies throughout the world. It is made from all-natural rubber and non-toxic paints and materials. The bumps on the giraffe make it ideal for teething, including relieving back molar pain. Some awards include:
- The "Best Newborn Toy for Babies 0 to 6 Months" by Practical Parenting & Pregnancy in 2011/2012
- A finalist for the "Best Newborn Toy 0-6 Months" in the 2009 Mother and Baby Awards and named the "Best Looking Toy" in November 2010's Mother and Baby.
Multiple celebrities and their babies have also been spotted with this popular toy.
Cloud B Twilight Turtle
The Cloud B Twilight Turtle soothes your baby as it projects a starry sky onto the walls. Three different colors of lights may be used with this award-winning turtle. Some of its accolades include receiving the Preferred Choice Award from Creative Child Magazine and being named an Editor's Pick by BabyTalk.
Lamaze Freddie the Firefly
Freddie the Firefly is a brightly-colored firefly who features numerous activities for babies. He comes with crinkly wings, a mirror to play peek-a-boo in and other wings full of different textures to touch and to chew on. The firefly, along with many of Lamaze's other fun animals, has won numerous awards and earned rave reviews from customers on Amazon.
With their small fingers and lack of coordination, babies have a hard time grasping traditional balls. The Oball is designed to make this easier. The lightweight ball features multiple holes perfect for helping baby grasp it. It has won multiple awards including the Parent's Choice Silver Award and, best of all, it can be used by children and adults as well. Oballs come in multiple sizes and styles.
Fisher-Price Soothe and Glow Seahorse
The Fisher-Price Soothe and Glow Seahorse, which comes in pink and blue, has been praised for its ability to soothe babies. When squeezed, its tummy glows and it plays soothing music and ocean sounds to lull your baby to sleep. It has earned a nearly five-star rating from customers at Toys 'R Us who appreciate it for being cute, cuddly and the perfect size for baby.
Toss the Taggies Ball
Best Toys for Toddlers
Toddlers are also still discovering the world around them, but they are more mobile as they do it. They are also learning appropriate ways to interact with others. Toys that allow them to role play, work on their coordination and motor skills and general learning toys are ideal at this age.
- LEGO Duplo's My First Zoo and other LEGO Duplo products are an ideal choice for boys who are just learning to build. The My First Zoo set has won distinguished awards, including earning the Oppenheim Platinum Seal and being named a Recommended Building Toy by Grandparents Magazine.
- The Ybike Pewi makes a great toy for toddlers on the go. Both a walker and a ride-on toy, it helps toddlers develop balance indoors and outdoors. It has also won awards such as the National Parenting Centre's Seal of Approval.
- My Pal Scout can be personalized to learn your toddler's name. You can also customize the songs Scout sings and cater his sayings to fit your toddler's favorite things.
- Fisher-Price's Laugh and Learn Say Please Tea Set is a way to introduce a little girl to the fun of a tea party. The toy develops sensory and fine motor skills with its fun sounds and songs.
- Hasbro's Baby Alive dolls give little girls a chance to act like a mommy by taking care of a baby doll. These dolls have won awards, such as the 2008 National Parenting Publications Award because of their interactive nature and ability to spur creative play.
- Battat B's Critter Clinic gives toddlers a chance to play veterinarian with their favorite stuffed animals. It comes with a set of keys toddlers will love to use to unlock the different cages. This toy was named one of Good Housekeeping's Best Kids Toys for 2011.
Preschoolers have a lot of energy and big imaginations. Choose toys that allow them to build on their imaginations, express their budding creativity and burn off some energy.
- Hide 'n Seek Monkey, which holds the title of one of the "Best Children's Products" from Dr. Toy, allows children to play a fun game of hide and seek. Once the monkey is hidden they use the magic wand to find him.
- The Original Colorforms Set consists of multiple brightly-colored shapes that can stick on glossy surfaces to make varied images that are easily removed. These classic toys, around for over 60 years, have won lots of awards, including being named one of "The 15 Smartest Toys for Young Geniuses" and included on the list of "All-Time 100 Greatest Toys" in Time Magazine.
- Plasma Bike is fun for preschoolers on the go. It is designed to teach preschoolers to balance and ride a bike, but it does not have pedals. The bike has won awards including the 2012 Parents' Choice Award.
- Girls with a love for animals will like the Littlest Pet Shop Collection. While all options are rated highly, preschoolers may want to start with the Littlest Pet Shop Collector's Pack, which comes with eight cute animals to play with.
- Doodle Bear is the bear kids can draw on, wash and then draw on again. This cuddly, creative toy won the Noise on Toys Award of Excellence for its quality, safety and general appeal to parents and children.
- Hasbro's FurReal Friends help preschoolers learn about the responsibility of owning a pet without having an actual pet. The Go Go My Walkin Pup was named a 2004 Girl Toy of the Year nominee by the Creativity Incorporation and the Smores Pony was named a 2007 Best Girls Toy of the Year.
Top Toys for Ages 5 to 8
Kids in early elementary school also have big imaginations and are often very creative. They are also at the ideal age for toys such as Barbie dolls and action figures, which they can use to role play or express their creativity in other ways.
- LEGOs are a classic toy for kids and the LEGO Ultimate Building Set gives them 405 LEGO blocks to start building with. The product receives rave reviews from parents, although most note your child will want to add more LEGO to his collection.
- The Nerf n-Strike Stampede ECS Gun was named the "Boy Toy of the Year" at the 2011 International Toy Fair. Boys can shoot multiple darts at once from the gun and then quickly reload another round.
- Skylander's Spyro's Adventures was named the "2012 Innovative Toy of the Year" by the Toy Industry Association. The toy combines a video game with action figure like toys which children place on a magic portal to transport them into the game.
- Fijit Friends dance along as kids listen to their favorite music. The moves of these cute toys impressed the Toy Industry Association, which named them the Girl Toy of the Year in 2012.
- Move over, Barbie! Mattel's Monster High dolls have been nominated for multiple toy industry awards. The dolls feature imperfect, Monster-like looks and also are part of a video and book series.
Best Toys for Ages 9 to 11
Kids in upper elementary school are often beyond the stage of using toys for creative play. Their focus is on toys with a purpose, which make building toys, crafts, video games and sports equipment ideal choices.
- K'NEX are an award-winning building toy for boys. Start with a basic building set or go for something a little more exciting, such as one of the Thrill Rides sets.
- LEGO Ninjago combines building with LEGOs and a ninja battling game. The Ninjago building sets have won multiple awards, including the Fire Temple being named the 2012 Activity Toy of the Year.
- Snap Circuits gives boys a chance to build and learn about science and electronics at the same time. Kids actually build working circuits, a feature that earned this toy the designation of a top toy on the 2012 ASTRA Best Toys for Kids list.
- Girls can keep their thoughts private with the Password Journal. The password even alerts girls when someone has tried to access the content of their journals.
- Alex Toys Friendship Wheel was awarded the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award. With the Friendship Wheel, girls can easily make friendship bracelets for all of their friends. The kit comes with enough supplies to make 10 bracelets in four different patterns.
- Since 1963, the Easy Bake Oven has been a favorite toy of girls. Today it comes with even more mixes, including some savory options, allowing girls to use it to cook an entire meal.
Top Toys for Ages 12 to 14
Most teens will tell you they are too old for toys, but they still like to have fun every now and then. Toys with a purpose and that connect with their personalities are important at this age. For boys, it's video games, RC vehicles, and building sets. For girls, it's kits and other products that allow them to express their creativity.
- Air Hogs Hyperactives R/C is a remote control car that can go up to 20 mph. It was nominated for a 2011 People's Play Award for its speed and ability to entertain teens and adults.
- LEGO Star Wars kits are complex LEGO building sets based on the popular LEGO Star Wars video game series. The various sets available in this collection have won numerous best toy awards.
- Syma Helicopters give teens a chance to fly while keeping their feet on the ground. These remote-controlled helicopters are less expensive than traditional model helicopters and are known for their durability.
- Ultimate Nail Studio comes with everything a tween or teen girl needs to do her nails. Girls will have fun giving themselves and their friends manicures and pedicures, then drying their nails in the nail dryer or accessorizing them with stickers and glitter.
- Orbeez Soothing Spa Set features the fun of Orbeez, small beads that magically grow when you add water, and the relaxation of a foot spa. Girls can soak, perfume and smooth their feet and hands. The spa has won National Parenting Publication Awards Honors.
Always Consider Your Child's Interests
While all of these toys are award-winners or have made it to the top of must-have lists, it does not mean your child will love them. Keep in mind a child's interests and hobbies before choosing a toy. If she is more of a tomboy, she may not enjoy a doll or jewelry-making kit. Not all boys like super heroes and guns. Paying attention to what your child likes and dislikes can save you from disappointment when what you thought would be an awesome gift falls flat.