We’ll first get this out of the way: There will be toys this holiday season. While pandemic-related supply chain issues are real and could impact just about every aspect of shopping this season, there will be plenty of toys for our children.
Given that, the Very Best Toys List of 2021 is, as always, a joyous list. In here, we offer up toys that encourage children to explore and parents to play with children. If the parent would have fun with — or at least appreciate — a toy, it’s a darn good sign that this is a great toy. That is how we choose this list. We look at the toy, play with the toy, and see if it’s something that bears repeat playing, brings us closer to our kids, or beeps and shrieks and has us wanting to flee.
The 2021 list does have one significant difference: We offer alternatives for just about every toy here. This is not because we doubt our list — it’s because we doubt the supply chain. Empty shelves will be rampant, the experts tell us, and so parents will have to be a little less choosey, a little less set on the One Toy to Rule Them All, and ready to enjoy alternatives. But don’t worry too much. Manufacturers put out plenty of new toys this year that hit that sweet spot of innovation and good design that will be fun to play with now, tomorrow, and whenever it’s safe to have friends and family over.
The Best New Toys for Infants
My First Acrobats by SmartMax
SmartMax introduced this clever set to bring fine motor skill-building to the pre-K crowd. The six blocks and three balls snap together magnetically (or magically, to your tot) to erect shapes that loosely resemble carnival tents and circus performers. It’s fun enough to free-associate with the odd-shaped pieces, but the real challenge is building to spec. The kit includes 24 cards that show finished projects, and your kid can rack up confidence by translating each image into a real-life sculpture.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Try the Lego Duplo Amusement Park. The chunky blocks are much easier to handle than standard Lego pieces, and the set has plenty of things to spin, drive, and slide.
Baby Tadeuz by Wiwiurka
Bespoke baby furniture isn’t particularly hard to find, but aesthetic appeal tends to come at the cost of functionality. Not so with the Baby Tadeuz. Made from sturdy birch and pine, it’ll be your kid’s first snack table and drawing desk, and when playtime rolls around, you can flip it over to reveal a twee-size jungle gym. The rods allow little hands to grip and climb, and the hollowed-out dome forms a perfect tunnel underneath.
Sold out? Don’t panic! If your desk doesn’t transform into a jungle gym, it should at least help keep the place tidy. This Delta Children Peppa Pig version does just that, thanks to the storage bin stashed beneath the seat.
Little Steps by Lily & River
The day your kid discovers the floor is lava is the day the books, couch cushions, and record collection all risk becoming safe zones scattered about the living room. Get ahead of that while encouraging motor development with this set of six hardwood discs. The non-slip backing holds each 8-inch landing pad firmly on wood or tile, and when the lava-floor cools off again, you can stack the disks away for tidy storage.
Sold out? Don’t panic! A dedicated Endless Games the Floor Is Lava! kit doesn’t leave much room for the floor to become quicksand or an alligator pit. But what it loses in creative play it makes up for with fun features: The set includes 25 colored foam landing pads and a spinner that tells you which one to jump to next.
Animated Kissy the Penguin by Gund
With standard stuffed animals, the relationship is notably one-sided. But for early development, interaction is more rewarding. That’s why Gund makes animals that play back. When you squeeze Kissy’s right foot, she flaps her wings to the tune of “Frère Jacques,” and when you squeeze her left foot, she pulls her wings to her beak and blows a kiss. Once your toddler catches on, they might start blowing kisses back. Gund’s other animatronic animals include Clappy the clapping monkey and Sleepy the owl, whose droopy eyelids encourage sleep time.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Think of the Hallmark Recordable Stuffed Rabbit as a stuffed voicemail machine — remember those? You can record a 30-second message in your voice, and your kid can play it back anytime by squeezing the bunny’s foot.
Customizable Wooden Photo Puzzle by Pearhead
There’s no shortage of coordination games for infants, but this one has the benefit of reinforcing the faces of family members. After tracing the puzzle shapes onto pictures of your loved ones, you can cut them out and secure them using two-sided tape. Now when your baby pulls out a piece, he or she will reveal the smiling faces of Mom, Dad, Grandma, the dog, or Uncle Roger. It’s a great way to maintain familiarity with relatives who aren’t able to visit often.
Sold out? Don’t panic! This Kiko+ & gg* Telephone might be more for you than for the baby (the fun of watching your kid use a facsimile of an antiquated piece of technology). But it looks great, has real working parts, and comes with fake coins — in case a landline wasn’t unrealistic enough, it’s also a payphone.
Magicube Magnetic Building Blocks by Geomagworld
Because they’re magnetic, Magicubes allow small, pudgy hands to create freestanding construction projects without having to snap anything together. To build a castle, mythical creature, or throne for Rascal the stuffed rabbit, your kid just has to arrange the 32 blocks, which come in four shapes including wheels, into the appropriate build. Sure, you might still graduate to Legos at some point, but this opens the world of creative building play earlier using recycled plastic blocks.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Here’s another way to get young kids playing with blocks that’s a whole other level of interactive. The Fisher-Price Mega Bloks Ride n’ Chomp Croc is a rideable reptile that “eats” them up off the floor.
Playdate Friends Ellis by Manhattan Toy
In a recent neuroimaging study focused on young children, researchers from Cardiff University found that playing with dolls activates regions in the brain associated with empathy and social processing. In other words, doll play helps raise kind, thoughtful kids. Manhattan Toy’s Playdate Friends Ellis works great here: She’s machine washable, built tough, and free from regressive gender stereotypes. There are no aprons or ballerina skirts here, and the only accessory is Ellis’ well-dressed dog.
Sold out? Don’t panic! StepStitches Cinnamon Annie is a classic rag doll handmade in Decatur, Georgia. And if she needs a companion or you prefer a boy, the brand makes a handsome lad who goes by Cinnamon Andrew.
Wobbly Bobbly Frog by Manhattan Toy
Traditional stuffed animals allow children to care for something smaller than themselves, which is important. But this wobbly froggie has a different aim: It wants your kid to learn about cause and effect. It jingles when you move it, and thanks to the weighted silicone base, it wobbles, bounces, and rolls while always returning to its upright position. The intensity of its song and dance is a direct result of how hard you nudge it. Understanding that will help a child move on to more advanced motor skills.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Haba Roly Poly Giraffe swaps out the frog for a wobbling giraffe and you get the bonus of a long neck that holds two teething rings.
Rocket Ball Air Stacker by Hape
This toy will ignite a young scientist’s curiosity with a 101 course in air pressure. The fully built rocket stands 3 feet tall, and as each new piece of tube snaps into place, a fan in the base unit fills it with air and forces the ball up. The ball floats at the top of the tube regardless of whether there’s one piece or all seven, but once you snap on the rocket’s pointy top, the air pressure normalizes and the ball falls to the bottom. It’s a toy that teaches a lesson through a facade of imaginative play.
Sold out? Don’t panic! It’s for older children and requires patience to build the Playmobil Mission Rocket with Launch Site playset, but once complete, you can fire up the countdown sequence and thrusters with AA batteries.
Sweet Cocoon Activity Table by Janod
There’s a lot here to keep little hands busy, including puzzle blocks, sliding ball loops, rotating gears, and wobbly trees on spring-loaded trunks. But it’s the racetrack that does the best job at encouraging social play. The two wooden cars can chase each other round and round, and as they complete each lap, they’ll ring a bell at the starting line. But let’s not kid ourselves here: We are suckers for good design and the Janod looks better than just about any other activity table we’ve seen.
Sold out? Don’t panic! The Little Tikes Learn & Play Roll Arounds Turnin’ Town might be the only car track that includes a car Ferris wheel, and it was all designed to develop help with hand-eye coordination.
Baby RC Race Car by Brio
In our increasingly remote world, it’s never too early to teach kids how buttons can affect the things outside their reach. Brio’s mega-simple remote-control car does that with just four buttons. Your toddler will come to see the link between action and outcome. The four yellow pads move the racer forward, backward, left, and right, and mastering those reveals the ability to affect the world from a distance. One must press responsibly to avoid crashing into a bookshelf or scaring the cat.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Peter Parker fans will enjoy the Disney Spidey Web Crawler Remote Control Car, where the same simple control style sends their superhero crashing into baseboards.
Duplo Modular Playhouse by Lego
Give your kid’s bookshelf and toy box an audit. How much racial diversity do you have in there? Truth is, it’s never too early to build a representative world of play that helps your child construct empathy and identity with an eye toward inclusion. Lego’s Duplo helps with its non-white figurines, a feature that’s still shamefully rare in toys. And because the pieces are bigger than traditional Lego blocks, they’re appropriate for kids as young as 2.
1.2.3 Aqua Splish Splash Water Park by Playmobil
Your kid can only stay in the bath for so long before pruned skin and cold water ruin the fun. But this playset moves water play outside of the tub. A hand crank sets the lazy river in motion so nine figurines — rafts, people, and animals — can float circles around the track. The Water Park is a complete kit on its own, but if the group grows to include more kids, Playmobil offers a suite of compatible accessories.
Sold out? Don’t panic! The Little Tikes FOAMO 3-in-1 Water Table comes with a motorized bubble and foam machine. It’s bound to be a mess — but a ton of fun, too.
Potato Head Family by Hasbro
The original Mr. Potato Head was a lone spud. But now he’s all grown up: The new Potato Head family (“Mr.” is no longer in the name) gives your kids two parents and a baby spud for richer social play. The set’s 42 accessories allow for more creativity in building faces and family constructions, and they’re still compatible with previous Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head sets. It looks like your kid’s tater-verse just became a whole lot more interesting.
Mirror Peekaboo Puzzle by Familiar Faces Toys
Children don’t usually recognize themselves in mirrors until after age 2. Until then, their reflection reads like a smiling friend, which is why the simple Peekaboo Puzzle is so ingenious. Once they realize their buddy is hiding behind the red circle, children as young as 3 months old can begin grasping the knob to pull out the piece. Over time, their relationship with the reflection will change, and the friend they meet in infancy will become the inner self of their toddler years.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Perfect for car rides or tummy time, the easy-to-hold Fisher-Price Peek & Play Mirror captures an infant’s attention with its spinning trunk, textured tail, and the adorable child that seems to be living inside it.
The Best New Toys for Toddlers
MiO Sleeping by Manhattan Toy
It’s a simple beechwood playhouse but it provides hours of open-ended fun while kids dream up stories and reenact scenes from around the house. These small toys help children explore dialogue while allowing social and intellectual skills the room to develop. It’s easy to scale up the fun during a playdate by adding more figurines, and it’s almost impossible to break — which you’d have a hard time saying about an iPad.
Sold out? Don’t panic! At 16 inches tall, the Kido Keepsake Dolls are likely too big for most dollhouses, but the soft, filled bodies make inclusion easy to grab and go in the car or the park.
Monster Math Scale by Hape
By using weights, this one-eyed monster scale makes math fun and interactive. Mix and match nine larger monster-shaped weights with 11 smaller ones to balance out the scales as kids learn math. They can calculate how many smaller weights they’ll need to balance the scale of a larger one. For kids just learning numbers, this helps with mathematic and motor skills and understanding balance.
Sold out? Don’t panic! A similar idea to the Monster scale, the CoolToys Monkey Balance Game has weighted numbers (1 through 10) along with a pile of small monkeys and playing cards.
Amechan Reusable Bubble Wand Set by Kiko+ & gg*
Skip the disposable plastic bubble wands for these beautiful, sustainable, beechwood versions. The chunky handles make them easy for kids to grasp and the four-piece set includes a wood dish to mix bubble solution in — which is also good-looking enough to leave out and stash your keys or candy on.
Sold out? Don’t panic! With both English and Spanish words for numbers and colors, the Yinibini Baby 10-Piece Wooden Block Set helps bilingual children learn how to count and the colors of the rainbow. Most blocks don’t include the “0” but you’ll need that if you ever want to get past “9.”
Big Feelings Pineapple by Learning Resources
Think of this pineapple as Potato Head meets Jim Carrey. The 6-inch tall toy comes with all the pieces to create 26 different facial expressions, which get stored inside. The toy helps kids develop social-emotional learning skills by expressing happiness, anxiety, and anger while encouraging a discussion about those feelings. The body can host two faces at once so you can compare different emotions at the same time. Kids can literally turn a frown upside-down — then also tweak the brows — and there is a guide that helps build all the faces.
Blue Superhero Costume by Meri Meri
Playing dress-up isn’t just for Halloween. It’s a form of imaginative play that helps kids create social scenarios, then test out problem ideas. And if other kids join in, now everyone is strengthening teamwork, sharing, and cooperation skills. This gender-neutral set covers the basics with a blue cape, mask, and cuffs, which your kid can put on solo while they work on fine motor benefits of attaching snaps and hook and loop tape.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Simple and colorful, the Darlyng & Co. Superhero Cape celebrates diversity with a soft, stretchy cape (and mask) decorated with kids of every color.
My Calendar by Moon Picnic
A simple puzzle that is engaging and looks good enough to leave out. Magnetic numbers and icons teach kids about numbers, days, weeks, and months. The beechwood parts are finished with water-based paint. The base has a slider to identify the days of the week, then from there, kids mix and match the 55 removable parts of the specific month. There are themed pieces for things like Valentine’s Day or birthdays.
Sold out? Don’t panic! This larger, two-panel Melissa & Doug My First Daily Magnetic Calendar helps kids learn months in the year, weather, and activities they’re looking forward to.
Foamo Foam Machine by Little Tikes
This foam machine is a reminder that it’s OK to have toys that celebrate having fun more than a teachable lesson. This kit includes everything you need to turn the backyard into a kid-safe bubble party — one you know grownups will enjoy. The blower stands on a 5-foot tall table and pumps out mounds of hypoallergenic foam, after you add water to the crate. Once you’re done, it all packs down into the box for easy storage.
Sunny Doll Family by Tender Leaf Toys
These 4-inch figurines are sized for dollhouse play and painted in simple, bold colors. You can feel good about encouraging doll play for two reasons: studies have shown it enables boys and girls to develop empathy and processing skills, even if they’re playing alone. But playing with these dolls is particularly rewarding because for every tree harvested to make them, the manufacturer plants a new one.
My First Animal Jumble by Megformers
Kids can explore building animals with this 60-piece set that uses magnets to re-create the characters from their favorite books, shows, and zoo visits. The set includes the basic shapes, from triangles to trapezoids, along with animal accessories like a lion’s mane. The magnets have that satisfying click sound and will never reject each other so there is no wrong way to assemble. And this is a great entry into more advanced Megformers sets.
Design & Drill Bolt Buddies Helicopter Toy by Educational Insights
While your child will be captivated by the fun helicopter and two removable characters, they will also be honing fine motor skills while matching shape. Thanks to its drill and five bolts, along with a drill-powered winch, the Bolt Buddies Helicopter encourages free play while stimulating imagination and working with your hands (maybe encouraging the next generation of carpenters, plumbers, or electricians?).
Sold out? Don’t panic! The wrenches, clamp, hammer, and parts in the Black + Decker Junior Backpack Tool Set provide everything your child needs to start his or her pint-sized shop — and the carry case is everything you need to keep it all organized.
DJ Mixer Board by PlanToys
It’s never too early to ease a child into the ones and the twos, and with PlanToys’ DJ Mixer Board, he or she will be taking the first step toward spinning Ibiza. But en route, its sliders, buttons, and knobs refine fine motor skills while using your kid’s imagination and ability to expresses themselves. The toy itself is made from renewable, responsibly sourced rubberwood and finished with nontoxic, water-based paint. A giant mouse head is not included.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Even if your kid isn’t a fan of the movie, the KIDdesigns Trolls World Tour DJ Trollex Party Mixer has plenty of engaging features: tons of color, nine sound effect buttons, a scratcher, and a microphone.
Sticker It Up! by Craft-tastic
Searching for a way to peel your child from his or her device? Ironically, it may be with this kit full of reusable stickers that hold through static cling, so you won’t have to worry about residue on your walls. You also won’t have to worry about loss: With eight scenes and more than 750 stickers, your son or daughter can afford to lose — or even share — a few.
Sold out? Don’t panic! This massive Melissa & Doug Habitats Reusable Sticker Pad has more than 150 reusable decals that kids can place around five distinct scenes like the desert, farm, jungle, and ocean.
Magnetic Funny Face by Hape
Consider these removable, magnetic features by Hape the tactile equivalent of emojis. Markedly more compact and portable, the 29 pieces snap on the metal carrying case head in any configuration your little one can imagine. And that’s the point: With no rules (and technically no right way), a kid can discover facial features while letting his or her creativity roam.
Snap Block Animals by Guidecraft
This 33-piece set arrives in a scramble but shows your child how its magnets connect, so they will be off creating a private zoo in no time. The wood blocks are durable, responsibly sourced, and oversized, making them easy to assemble with small fingers. The kit also includes five double-sided build cards should your kid need an assist in crafting a favorite animal. While enjoyable, it’s a Trojan horse, encouraging creative problem-solving and imagination.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Lego Duplo Heart Box is an 80-piece set of easy-to-grab and assemble parts that can build 15 different simple shapes, from zoo animals to ice cream bars.
Secret Agent Play Set by PlanToys
Maybe we’ve got Bond on the brain, but this secret agent kit is just what the Dr. No ordered. It includes an earpiece with a walkie-talkie, a fingerprint scanner, badge, L-shaped scale, and coloring comic. When the asset is in motion, your son or daughter can stash his or her equipment in an included utility belt. Espionage and spycraft have never been this much fun.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Less tech-y and more dress-up, Melissa & Doug Spy Role Play Set has everything your kid needs to step into a film noir: A trench coat, fedora, sunglasses, and even a how-to manual will teach your child the fine arts of subterfuge.
Play’n Pack by Olli Ella
This backpack full of adventure is perfect for the little explorers. With a 6-foot coloring roll, a half-dozen crayons, over 100 stickers, a pair of trains, and 52 colorable alphabet cards, there’s a little bit of everything for any situation. Plus it’s portable, so whether you’re waiting until Grandma arrives, or need to keep someone occupied during a Zoom call, there are always a few more activities left to complete.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Want your kid to be curious about the outdoors? The REI Outside Inside Backyard Explorer’s Essentials Kit is a legit starter set with a flashlight, compass, and even binoculars that allow your child to explore the backyard or find toys under the sofa.
The Best New Toys for Preschoolers
Indi Educational Robot Student Kit by Sphero
While a little bigger than the Matchbox cars of your youth, there’s a whole lot of tech packed into Indi. Its optical reader follows color-coded cards for directional cues, allowing your child to plan out mazes as complex as they can dream up. But what they don’t realize is that the basics of coding are also being imparted — and entry into the STEM pipeline. Our favorite part: zero screens, so the iPad can be tucked away. And the carry case makes it easy to take outdoors and to keep all the parts intact.
Sold out? Don’t panic! With the tap of a finger on a smartphone, the 16-inch-tall Ruko Smart Robot executes one of 58 preprogrammed moves, as well as blasting tunes with its Bluetooth speaker.
Hubelino Marble Lift by Haba
Your kids have undoubtedly seen the marble racing videos that came out over the pandemic, and just as likely, you’ve got a baker’s dozen underfoot on any given day. The Marble Lift can be positioned at the end of a marble run to recycle the exiting ball and deposit it at the start. It integrates seamlessly with the company’s other Hubelino components and includes 18 marbles, should you not have enough over the range of your home.
Sold out? Don’t panic! This 228-piece Quercetti Marble League racing kit packs a lot of track in a small space, making it a great choice for cramped quarters.
KidiZoom PrintCam by VTech
For your budding Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz, the new PrintCam allows your child to capture his or her first photos and then color them in. First, they snap a photo or selfie, then review it on a 2.4-inch color screen. Now it’s time for the filters: Select from more than 100 overlays of effects, comic strips, or games. The camera then prints it out, where the real hands-on play comes in. The result is a mixed-media piece without the crushing student debt.
Marble Rush Ultimate Set by VTech
This 135-piece building kit focuses on all kinds of motion, including a Ferris wheel. There’s also a swirling, music-playing, light-throwing cone; tracks and ramps; and even launchers. It includes challenging directions for a variety of ages and levels, as well as the opportunity to create your child’s own brain-melting courses. Once assembled, release the 10 included marbles to test out theories and attention to detail. The kit also syncs with others in the Marble Rush universe.
Hot Wheels Car Customizer by Mega Construx
Start with a base of the four original Hot Wheels supercars, and then make them even more super. Mega Construx has outfitted these models with the ability to accept Lego-like blocks, which, with the right balance, might mean an entire Hogwarts Castle built atop a racing chassis. Of course, the Rally Cat, Dawgzilla, Night Shifter, and Mod Rod include four micro action figures, along with myriad other engines, wheels, mags, windshields, and other means of customization. Altogether, it’s a 485-piece kit that is a monster exercise in creativity and coordination.
Candy Claw Machine by Thames & Kosmos
Skating rinks are few and far between, but you can bring the excitement of the claw-grabber machines into your home while encouraging your child’s STEM skills. With Mousetrap-like precision, your child assembles gears, levers, belts, screws, linkages, and cranks to move one of three different claw shapes. If successful, a spring-loaded trap door ejects any captured prizes. While there are six lollipops included, you can also stock your own.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Bring a classic home with the Fat Brain Toys Electronic Arcade Pinball that’s smaller and faster, but still keeps the sounds, lights, and plunger of the real deal.
Forest Above & Below Puzzle by Mudpuppy
Challenge that budding puzzler in your life with this double-duty project. While 100 pieces might not sound like much, this puzzle is two-sided. That adds a layer of difficulty — matching color and shapes — while ensuring that once it’s assembled, an entire other project is just a flip away. It’s also a zoological lesson, with one side printed with forest floor-dwellers, while the other has animals that burrow underneath. Pieces are made from recycled paper and nontoxic ink.
Sold out? Don’t panic! The Puzzle & Bloom 2 Puzzle Bundle Set checks off the boxes: With 15 big and chunky pieces each, it’s not likely to frustrate a 3- to 5-year-old. Plus, it shows the stories of diversity, a nature-loving boy in the city and a girl from the Caribbean enjoying the beach.
Small Castle Brick Building Set by Teifoc
These are not your ordinary building blocks. The Teifoc set is made from porous terracotta blocks that you first soak in water, and then assembled into one of three included plans. When you’re ready for teardown, just submerge them to weaken the corn-based “mortar” and start from scratch. The kit includes a small trowel and a mixing bowl to blend up the glue to spare the wear and tear on your kitchenware.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Made from 28 pieces of basswood, Uncle Goose Swahili Blocks are a graphic, colorful, and engaging way for kids to explore southeast African culture while learning basic math.
Ultimate Light Board by Crayola
Add a new, vibrant facet to your child’s artwork with this Crayola board that’s backlit by an LED panel — no paper needed. The included gel markers add a neon luminance that wipes clean with water. For kids who like to practice and trace, they can slip in thin tracing paper and copy just about any image you can print out. The board stores the six markers, making it easy to take along in the car, or for spontaneous Pictionary.
Shuffleboard Game by Janod
This update to a classic retirees’ game combines shuffleboard with the leaps and chaos of a pinball machine. Whether your child is playing solo or with friends, they launch the puck off the launch ramp toward colored zones of varying points as they learn how to win, lose, compete, and strategize. Instantly understandable and yet demanding practice to master, you’ll find yourself at the kitchen table with it after the kids go to sleep.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Here’s a simple, fun game kids can use indoors in the winter and take outside in the summer: The GoSports Pro Ladder Toss has forgiving rubber balls, an adjustable frame, and a sack to carry it all in.
Backyard League Gaming Baseball by Playfinity
Baseball for the Fortnite crowd. This smart ball and app are the antidote to glazed eyes and dragging feet when it comes to baseball practice. Sensors in the regulation-size ball track things like speed, height, and distance. Those work in conjunction with the app, via Bluetooth, to give a simple toss in the yard the vibe of a competitive video game. Your child may be racing to complete long balls, fast throws, or achieve “bulls-eye” accuracy, but they will also be honing the components required for competition.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Help a budding slugger work on their timing with the Franklin Sports MLB Electronic Pitching Machine, which is adjustable and comes with a blinking light that helps kids dial in their stance, so they can let it rip safely in the yard — it works with plastic balls, not regulation baseballs.
Pinball Challenge by Brio
Pinball has never been a head-to-head game in the truest sense — until now. Brio mirrored the classic ball knocking interface but added a foe. You and your child can now square off as if you were playing air hockey. The wooden machine’s spinners, which rocket the ball toward the opposite goal, can be switched with yellow turbines, which ricochet the ball in unexpected directions for an added degree of difficulty.
Sold out? Don’t panic! It’s hard to think about air hockey and not picture hand-eye coordination — and on the smaller scale, the Best Choice Portable Air Hockey Table only gets faster thanks to a 40-inch-by-20-inch footprint.
Mechanics Magnetic Motion Kit by Geomag
While many know Geomag’s magnetic building blocks for creative play, its Mechanics line of STEM-inspired kits is the next step for the inquisitive makers. Once assembled, moving magnetic constructions trigger one another, illustrating primitive gearing and other fundamental mechanical principles. The kit’s 86 pieces are made from post-recycled plastics for durability and ease of cleaning.
Sold out? Don’t panic! The Teni & Tayo 3D Stem Puzzle Toy has it all: a solar-powered roof, sporty design with chunky wheels, and wood parts your kid paints. Packaged with the kit is a mission from African superhero Captain Nosa.
Ukulele by Loog
Like pet adoption, there was a run on ukuleles during the pandemic, in part because of its ease of play for the young and old alike. Loog, which comes in six colors, is ideal for young musicians because it’s sized right for smaller players and the nylon strings are easier on the hands. Learn two ways: chord on flashcards or using the companion app, which unlocks things like songs, video tutorials, a drum machine, and a points system to unlock songs.
Sold out? Don’t panic! A recorder is a very popular way for children to learn music. While it might be painful to listen to it around the house, the Yamaha Plastic Soprano Recorder will help with dexterity and keeping time — and with two, they can stash one at a relative’s house.
The Best New Toys for Tweens
Woom 6 Bikes
What started in a garage in Vienna by two cycling-loving dads has grown into an international business that focuses on bikes for kids — not just smaller adult versions. Woom bikes are lightweight with aluminum, not steel, frames so younger riders can steer and control them easily. The components keep the ergonomics of smaller bodies in mind with a low riding position and longer wheelbase that’s more stable. It’s easy to get on and off a Woom, and the upright riding position ensures your kid is comfortable. The website makes it easy to size one of their six models, for kids up to 14 years old and about 65 inches tall.
Sold out? Don’t panic! If your tween has outgrown his or her bike, the Cannondale Trail 26 has the features — lightweight aluminum frame, eight gears, front suspension, disc brakes — to take on gnarly off-road trails or paved streets.
Innovation Academy Planetary Orbiter by Melissa & Doug
This working model of the Earth, moon, and sun is way more engaging than a science book. Your child builds the model that uses gears and a chain to spin the moon around the Earth, which is also turning, as the whole assembly bops around the bright, fiery ball in the sky. Along the way, kids learn about seasons, where the three objects are in relationship to one another during night and day, and how things change based on the Earth’s tilt. It’s a STEM project that is interesting enough to leave out on a bookcase after building.
Evette Doll & Book by American Girl
As part of a new American Girl line that addresses contemporary social themes, Mattel released 13-year-old Evette Peeters. She’s a teenage environmentalist who lives in Washington, D.C. with her biracial parents. Her outfit is a mix of styles because she’s crafty at upcycling clothing and loves anything vintage. The companion book, The River and Me, follows along as she tries to clean up the polluted Anacostia River.
Gravity Bugs Free-Climbing MicroBot by Thames & Kosmos
This next-level STEM robot uses suction cups to climb smooth surfaces after you’re done building. The kit even includes the tools required to build the electrical component and the gearing that moves the four legs. Once built, it gives your kid bragging rights anytime the bot is climbing up the refrigerator.
Empower Flower by Craft-tastic
This kit is from a woman-owned toy company in Michigan, and once assembled, it becomes wall art filled with positive attributes kids give themselves. The center is a shaker bubble filled with metallic confetti and the words “I am.” From there, iridescent and gold foil, along with colorful strips, radiate outward like the pedals on a daisy. Each celebrates a different trait pulled from 250 positive words. Then once it’s all done, the 15-inch wide flower is ready to hang on the wall — preferably next to a mirror so they can read the words with a mini-pep talk each morning.
Sold out? Don’t panic! Improve fine motor skills while encouraging positive self-expression with the Horizon Group Just My Style Personalized ABC Bead kit, which has over 1,000 parts to make about 40 pieces of jewelry.
Elite 2.0 Flipshot Flip-32 Blaster by Nerf
Some Nerf toys are surprisingly accurate, while others peg winning backyard or basement wars on volume. The Elite 2.0 Flipshot is a numbers game. It fires 32 darts in less than a minute by emptying the first 16 using the pump-action handle. Then slide back the green handle, flip the magazine, and find a fresh set of darts. It encourages hand-eye coordination and perfecting a maniacal laugh.
Makena Doll & Book by American Girl
When Makena Williams experiences racism in her front yard, her story turns to the idea of raising social justice through social media. She comes packed with positive messaging, like her T-shirt’s saying, “See me, hear me, know me,” and the cover of her notebook, which reads, “We rise by lifting others.” That’s the message echoed in her book when Makena posts less about her OOTD and more about using fashion to battle injustice.
Gravitrax Pro Vertical Starter Set by Ravensburger
Be prepared to surrender a big chunk of living room floor space to this epic, 153-piece set that lets kids design, build, and repeat a marble run. It’s the right balance of creative freedom within a designed system that ensures tracks align so marbles will roll as planned. There’s even a multi-ball launcher that enables testing various designs, like a race, to see which one is faster as kids see gravity, magnets, and kinetic energy up close.
Sold out? Don’t panic! On the surface, the Omy Dinosaur Coloring Poster might not look complex, but the magnetic illustrations of Jurassic having a good time at the park will suck your kid into coloring between the lines for a wall-worthy project when it’s all said and done.
Penguin Stuffed Animal Making Kit by Cate and Levi
During the paper-ripping fury of Christmas morning, a DIY kit like this might go unnoticed because it takes time to build. But it’s a great way to set aside an activity for a rainy day. This 10-inch-tall penguin from Cate and Levi comes with everything you need, including the needle, thread, and reclaimed wool stuffing. It will keep a kid busy for about 4-5 hours as they work on their fine motor skills.
Sold out? Don’t panic! This Teni & Tayo Smart STEM Building Sticks kit is a more elaborate STEM option that welcomes building and rebuilding with colorful plastic parts that provide the foundation of building shapes and basic engineering.
Maritza Doll & Book by American Girl
With Bolivian and Mexican parents, Maritza Ochoa has a backstory that feels relatable in 2021. As part of the brand’s World by Us line, the themes covered in the book that comes with the doll lean into immigration and taking pride in one’s heritage. She’s dressed in a sporty top, leggings, and sneakers because she’s into soccer, but her story is more than goals on the field. Rather, it explores how she learns to speak up for immigrant families.
Artie Max the Coding Robot by Educational Insights
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