The best toy
Toys are one of the best parts of childhood, allowing kids to learn, explore their imaginations, and just have fun. Toys can run the gamut from simple stuffed animals to complex electronics and anything in between. What was popular a few years ago probably won't be the hot toy these days, though. Finding just the right toy requires a bit of work and understanding about what's available on the market now. That's why we've created a buying guide to help you make the best decision. Our top pick is the Sphero Star Wars Robot, which encourages interactive play for the child alone or with multiple members of the family.
Considerations when choosing toys
We've collected a few categories of toys you should consider before purchasing one:
Group play vs. solo play
Some toys, such as board games, are made for more than one person to play. Others are made for one person, such as a handheld video game. However, the majority of toys can be played with alone or with multiple people.
Free play vs. structured play
A free play toy doesn't have any rules, allowing the child to use his or her imagination. A structured play toy has rules that must be followed. Both types of toys have their advantages.
Electronic vs. non-electronic
Many modern toys involve some sort of power source, allowing the toy to provide visual and audio feedback. Others have no electronic component, such as a basic doll or a basketball. Again, both types have advantages.
Indoor vs. outdoor
Some toys are only able to be used indoors because they cannot become wet or dirty, such as electronics or board games. Other toys demand use outdoors, such as sports equipment.
Once you've determined the overall categories you'd like to see in a toy, there are some types of toys you can consider:
Toys that involve game-playing can be board games, card games, sports games, or video games. Games are a versatile type of toy because they often can be played alone, with others, indoors, or outdoors.
Figurines are popular toys for many children. Some won't have a high price point, resulting in a budget-friendly gift. Figurines can include dolls, stuffed animals, and action figures. They're available in almost any size, and some will provide electronic feedback.
Building types of toys can be fun for one or multiple people. Some building toys have instructions to follow to create a certain shape or item. Others allow for imaginative building, where there are no set guidelines. Building toys aimed at older kids can even involve creating working electronics.
Some toys are made to allow children to mimic real life. Kids can use these toys to pretend they are adults, trying out different professions, or they can act out scenes from their lives at school or on the playground.
Kids' toys that double as vehicles include tricycles, bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and electric riders. Some of these toys help the child exercise, while others are made only for riding. These toys can be dangerous if not used properly, so always follow age-appropriate guidelines.
Another reason toys make a great gift is because there is such a wide range of potential price points. Some toys are as inexpensive as $1 or $2, while others can cost $500 or more. You can always find a toy to fit in a budget.
Q. What is a STEM toy?
A. STEM is short for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. So, a STEM toy will draw from one or more of these categories.
Q. How do I find age-appropriate toys?
A. Many toys will have a recommended age range printed on the box. This is a good starting point most of the time.
Toys we recommend
Our take: Fun toy that you can use to keep the whole family engaged ... even the family pet.
What we like: Includes both the toy hardware and an app for interactive play. Multiple settings are available to keep play time fresh.
What we dislike: Design would be better if there was a speaker on the actual robot toy, rather than just using the smartphone speaker.
Best bang for your buck: Anki's Overdrive Starter Kit
Our take: For those who love little toy cars, this toy is the next step forward, merging technology with toy cars.
What we like: Allows players to build their own "battle" tracks, keeping the game fresh. Multiple ages will have fun with this toy.
What we dislike: Some of the cars will lose their grip on the track if you generate too much speed.
Our take: Kid-sized tractor has multiple power settings, ensuring the child can drive it safely and stay in control.
What we like: Toy made for outdoor play, encouraging kids to put down their screens. Includes a trailer for towing small items.
What we dislike: Some questions regarding build quality. Needs plenty of open space to use it properly.
Kyle Schurman is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.