A parent can become dismayed – let alone exhausted – trudging through toy aisles and combing the Internet for Christmas-time winners. Atlanta Parent wants to ease the burden, so we tested dozens of toys. Here are our staff favorites, and on the following pages we offer more sure bets in different price categories. We hope the whole family has a wonderful time at play. Merry Christmas to all!
The children’s line of some 60 Blabla dolls are beloved around the globe, but the home base for Blabla is quietly tucked into Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood. From Sox the Fox to Prudence the Owl, the oh-so-soft whimsical friends are knitted by Peruvian artists. All “classic” Blabla dolls are available in two sizes. New critters for 2011 include Beauregard the Wolf and Georgia the Cow (the color of Georgia clay). All ages. At blablakids.com and Blabla, 1189 Virginia Ave. NE, Atlanta. $38 (small) and $48 (large)
Where is Sock Monkey? Well, he’s hiding in this lively game from Cardinal, and it’s up to budding detectives to find him. Young players turn over “clue” cards showing both a picture and the word for it (such as “books” or “chair”). Or they might turn over a “Go Look!” card and have to quickly hunt for the monkey before time runs out. Sock Monkey’s sweet face is fun to spot in unexpected places. Great fun for hiders and seekers alike. Ages 3 and up. At most major retailers. $12.99
Turn your iPad into an art canvas with the Crayola ColorStudio HD app and iMarker. The app acts as a virtual coloring book, with 30 different-themed pages. Kids use the iMarker to color the pages, play games and create their own pages. You can proudly post the creations on Facebook when they are complete. Ages 3 and older.
At Apple stores, Toys “R” Us and Best Buy. $29.99
Baby will love his first dog – if it’s the Stretchy Puppy by Alex. The puppy’s tail is a rattle and his soft nose squeaks, and best of all, he crinkles when he’s stretched. Ages 10 months and older. At most major retailers. $27.99
Land ho! Open the door wide to imaginative play with this terrific Pirate Ship from Box Creations. Putting together this award-winning playscape will be worth it, because it means many hours of theatrical fun for kids. (Just add costumes and eye patches!) Made of sturdy, recycled cardboard and big enough for three children to romp around on. Ages 3-7.
At boxcreations.com. $40 (includes shipping)
With more than 60 songs and activities in English and Spanish, Bright Starts’ Get Rollin’ Activity Table will keep toddlers amused for hours. Kids delight in dropping balls into the funnel in the middle of the table, watching them spin around and then come out of the legs. Ages 6 months to 3 years. At most major retailers. $44.99
The Las Vegas Crime Lab won’t have anything on your kids! The Edu Science CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Crime Solving Kit presents young detectives with three different crimes and a slew of sketchy suspects. By analyzing the evidence with equipment, including an ultraviolet scanner, microscope and specimen vials, kids use their wits and problem-solving skills to close each case. Ages 8 and older. At Toys “R” Us. $19.99
If they build it, they will learn. That’s the idea behind the six-piece Red Toolbox Tool Kit, with a hammer, saw, screwdriver and other tools ergonomically designed to fit a child’s hand. Kids ages 8 and older will hone carpentry and design skills as they build birdhouses and other projects. Red Toolbox kits in other sizes are also available. Adult supervision is a must. At Lowe’s and lowes.com. $14.99
Let your child go wild with these handmade and environmentally friendly Anamalz poseable pals. Get a giraffe, zebra, elephant and tree in the Anamalz Wild Box Set. Ages 3 and up.
At anamalz.com. $34.95 (add the super-soft play mat for $39.95)
Handymen love duct tape, and now young fashionistas will, too. The All Duct Out kit by Alex comes with templates and duct tape for making jewelry, purses and other accessories for the well-dressed young lady, ages 7 and older. At Learning Express stores. $24.99
Young artists can develop their talents with Faber-Castell’s Young Artist Texture Painting Set, which includes five colors of nontoxic, washable tempera paint, five texture tools, a paint tray and paper. Instructions and a mixing chart let ages 5 and older mix unique colors and create designs. At most major retailers. $19.99
Your daughter can express her unique style with Crayola Jewelry Boutique. The kit comes equipped with accessories needed to create more than 160 beads using a soft modeling material. Girls can add extra pizzazz to their creations with bead glaze, gems and interchangeable charms. Ages 6 and up. At Amazon.com, Toys “R” Us, Walmart and Michaels. $19.99
Jungle Speed from Asmodee Games is all about quick reflexes and pattern identification. The first to spot the pattern matches grabs the totem. But don’t be fooled by the supposed simplicity of this card game; the patterns are strikingly similar, and it’s easy to get caught up in the speed of the game and make a mistake. Your opponents are counting on a slip-up, and before you know it, you’ll be the one left with all the cards. For Uno fans who want a little more of a challenge. Ages 8 and up. At Target and Toys “R” Us. $19.99
Toddlers will enjoy giving some TLC to the V-Tech Care & Learn Teddy as they tend to the musical, interactive teddy bear. Equipped with a stethoscope that detects his heartbeat, a bandage and thermometer, children will like playing doctor while becoming familiar with various body parts. Ages 18-36 months. At most major retailers. $19.99
Scrabble Alphabet Scoop from Hasbro makes learning to spell a fast-paced game for kids. Players use their ladles to scoop out letters to spell a word on their playing card, and the one to spell their word first wins. Scoop out a fly and you must return all the letters to the bowl and start over. Ages 6 and up. At most major retailers. $19.99
Guess and guess again! The object of the two-player Ultimate Mastermind: The Extra Challenge Edition game from Pressman is to figure out the code your challenger has created. Each player devises a challenging code, then gets to watch his pal pulling his hair out while trying to crack it. Thousands of possible code patterns prompt endless fun.
Ages 8 and up. At Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and pressmantoy.com. $19.99
It’s a car. It’s a robot. It’s both. This Kre-O Transformers Bumblebee Set and Autobot Jazz set is by Hasbro. Kids can spend many hours with this construction set. The pieces seem as durable and easy to work with as LEGO – and they are compatible with LEGO pieces. Ages 6-12. At most major retailers. $7.99-$9.99
In a wonderful way, Hoot Owl Hoot! from Peaceable Kingdom Press provides fun and encourages cooperation among children. Of the many new board games examined, this proved to be the best for a younger age group. Kids must learn how to work as a team if they want to move all the baby owls into their nest before sunrise. Our parent tester loved how well the children enjoyed working together toward their common goal. Ages 4 and up. At Amazon.com. $14.99
Youngsters can stretch their creativity and imagination with Shrinky Dinks Fairy Garden from Creativity for Kids. Color, cut and bake more than 50 fairies, then bake for three minutes or less; watch them shrink before your eyes. Our kid testers loved it, and so did their babysitter. Includes a 3-D pop-up playscape. Perfect for a rainy-day activity, but adult supervision is a must. Ages 7 and up. At most major retailers. $19.99
What mood is your kid in today? He might use Freaky Pets from Abandon Entertainment to give you fair warning. One side is a cute animal, but turn it inside-out and it gets cranky! This fluffy plush makes for a great stocking stuffer and could become a favorite new friend. Ages 4-12. At Hallmark Gold Crown Stores. $9.99
What could be more fun than playing with your own multi-colored bouncy ball, except creating it? The Bouncy Ball Blast kit, from Alex, has three ball molds, nine packets of ball powder and instructions to make six balls. Ages 6 and older. At specialty stores and alextoys.com. $9.95
If you always catch your kid dancing around the room to the radio, she’ll love Get Up and Dance developed by Gusto Games and published by O-Games for Nintendo Wii and PlayStation Move for PS3. When they’re grooving to hits from Taio Cruz, The Pussycat Dolls and Timbaland, your kids will be having a great time and getting exercise. Ages 8 and up. At most major retailers. $29.99
Stomp, stomp! Stomple from Spin Master is the strategic marble-stomping game great for groups and parties. Players use their wooden “stompers” to push marbles through the board. Our kid tester loved it because it’s a game of strategy that keeps players on the edge of their seats. Ages 8 and older. At most major retailers. $29.99
Fiery-haired Ariel, one of the Disney Animators’ Collection Dolls, transforms from girl to mermaid and plays with her fishy friend Flounder. Twice as tall and much more sturdy than a Barbie, she’ll become an instant favorite among girls. From Belle (“Beauty and the Beast”) to Snow White and Pocahontas, browse the selection of dolls to choose a girl’s favorite. Ages 3 and up. Only at The Disney Store and from disneystore.com. $24.50
It doesn’t get any grosser than Doctor Dreadful Zombie Lab by Spin Master. Children assemble a green and pink oozing zombie skull, which serves as the cauldron for mixing and serving concoctions that are both edible – and disgusting. Kids who tested this described most of their creations as “nasty-looking, but very sweet, like melted ice cream.” They liked the green, chunky zombie barf, but not the pink, slimy zombie brains. Ages 5 and up. At most major retailers. $24.99
Show off your creativity with Morphology, the game that challenges your imagination to see what you can create from colorful cubes and beads, Popsicle sticks, string and more. Draw a card to see what you have to build and get inventive! If your team can guess your word, you’re on the way to winning. Ages 13 and up. At most major retailers. $29.99
It will be “three points for Gryffindor” with Scene it? Harry Potter: The Complete Cinematic Journey. Test your family’s knowledge with this trivia game, featuring clips, images and questions from all eight movies. All you need is at least two players and about 45 minutes for a single game. Ages 13 and older. At most major retailers. $29.99
Complete with clever game pieces like the Magic Wand that will delight kids, Trivial Pursuit Disney For All from Hasbro tests a family’s knowledge of Disney movies, characters and TV shows. Players of all ages will show off at times and be stumped at others. Answer correctly and earn wedges that get you closer to winning. Ages 8 and up. At most major retailers. $24.99
Let’s pretend we’re at the zoo, with everything you need to create animals and their enclosures. You and the kids can color and assemble more than 100 pieces to put together the whole menagerie of the Recycled Cardboard Zoo from Creativity for Kids. Ages 4 and up. At most major retailers. $29.99
Hello! Hola! Your kids will be talking in English and Spanish with the Chicco Hello Pups Talking Phone. The bilingual toy features catchy music, animal sounds and colorful buttons. Youngsters enter the numbers displayed in the phone book to call a dog, cat or rabbit. Push the American flag button for English or the flag of Spain for Spanish phrases. There’s even a phone handset so kids can imitate Mom or Dad. Ages 1-3.
At Toys “R” Us. $29.99
For tomorrow’s American Idol contender, the Voice Rockrz Mic from First Act syncs up with an MP3 player or lets kids sing on their own. A young rock star will dig the special sound effects and cool accessories that come with it. Parent tester’s warning: Be prepared for high noise levels. Ages 4 and up. At major retailers. $24.99
There is extraterrestrial life – well, at least with LEGO Alien Conquest UFO Abduction. The kit supplies building enthusiasts with the materials necessary to build an alien UFO as well as three mini-figures. Will you let the farmer be abducted by the evil green alien pilot? Or will the Alien Defense Force Agent save the day? Ages 7-14. At most major retailers. $29.99
A puzzle game based on the 1980’s arcade game, Tetris Link from Techno Source challenges players to reach as high as they can by carefully stacking assorted bricks of varying shapes. Think Connect Four but at a higher cognitive level. The difficulty depends on the user’s ability to make perfect lines with the bricks, since lines with gaps help contribute to the build-up of pieces near the top of the screen. Kids have already discovered the electronic version on their parents’ smartphones – but this low-tech, hands-on version was a huge hit with the family that tested it. Ages 6 and up. Sold at specialty shops and major retailers. $29.99
Boys love Hot Wheels, but Moms are less keen about the tracks on the floor. The Hot Wheels Wall Tracks Starter Set from Mattel
makes everyone happy. The tracks mount on 3 feet of wall space with low-adhesive tape that won’t damage painted walls. Ages 4-6.
At most major retailers. $29.99
Charades maniacs are always looking for more side-splitting action and plenty of hilarity is in store with Reverse Charades: Junior Edition from Gryphon. The twist: An entire team acts out as many words as one person can guess in one minute. Fun, crazy and fast-paced comedy. Ages 6 and up. At Books-A-Million and Amazon.com. $23.99
This is one creature allowed inside the house! The Haba Pulling Crab Calino is a colorful pulling toy made of durable European hardwood.
Tots are sure to giggle as his eight legs scuttle across the kitchen floor. The toy is colored with non-toxic paint. Ages 1 and up. At Amazon.com. $30
Slide open the paperboard matchbox to reveal a 3 1/2-inch Maileg Matchbox Mouse, a critter resting on a mattress and tiny pillow, tucked in with a knit blanket. All of the mice are different and evoke classic storybook characters. Find the mice, from Maileg Danish Design, at specialty stores and online at maileg.dk/frontpage. Ages 3 years and older. $25-35
Place any animal on a peg in the hut of the Little People Zoo Talkers Animal Sounds Zoo playset and you’ll hear that animal’s name and the sound he makes – lions will roar and bears will growl. And children ages 18 months to 5 years will roar back in delight. From Fisher-Price, at most major retailers. $39.99
The beloved characters of Thomas & Friends reside at Discover Junction Tidmouth Sheds. Toddlers will have hours of fun loading and unloading coal in Thomas and playing with Sir Topham Hatt and his car and Harold. Ages 18 months to 5 years. From Fisher-Price, at most major retailers. $34.99
The plastic Nerf Vortex Nitron Blaster from Hasbro shoots foam disks in rapid succession. Think machine gun loaded with 20 baby Frisbees. The two boys who tested it included one true Nerf weaponry expert, who proclaimed the Nitron “100 percent awesome.” The boys particularly liked the electronic scope featuring pulsing targeting lights to help center their aim. The Nitron is huge and requires the disks instead of the foam bullets that most Nerf guns take. It can take a good bit of time tracking down lost ammunition. Ages 8 and up. At most major retailers. $39.99
Telestrations, winner of numerous awards for Best Party Game, gets guests sketching and guessing and laughing in a game based on the old “whisper down the lane” telephone game. The newest version of the game from USAopoly, for ages 12 and up, lets up to 12 people play at once. At most major retailers. $39.99
The Hexbug Nano Hive Habitat Set from Innovation First Labs Inc. lets kids take their Hexbug Micro Robotic Creatures along when they’re on the go. The set allows kids to customize a playground for their Nanos, with ramps and obstacles. Ages 3 and up. At most major retailers. $34.99
The world just got a whole lot cooler with Hot Wheels Video Racer from Mattel. Your kids can film all their stunts by attaching the Video Racer car onto other surfaces such as bikes and skateboards. The USB cable (included) allows kids to upload, edit and share their videos. Ages 5 and up. At most major retailers. $59.99
Elmo sings and plays music with your toddler in his newest incarnation, Sesame Street Let’s Rock! Elmo from Hasbro. He comes with a microphone, drums and a tambourine. Toddlers choose the instrument, and Elmo knows what to do as kids sing along. Guitar and keyboard sold separately. Ages 18 months to 4 years. At most major retailers. $49.99
Don’t leave home without the Chicco Fun Travel Activity Nest for baby’s visits to Grandma’s house or anywhere else. This all-in-one portable play center multi-tasks as an interactive gym with detachable toys, lights and music. The canopy also creates a cozy area for a quick snooze, and the cushiony playmate is quite the entertainer for tummy-time. For baby’s first year. At Amazon.com and Target. $59.95
Preschoolers and early elementary-aged children alike will challenge themselves with the V-Tech Brilliant Creations Advanced Notebook. Children appreciate everything from the realistic “laptop” look and feel, fun educational games, colorful graphics, and even the attachable mouse and touch pad. Subjects include reading, math, science, social studies, Spanish and more. Ages 5-8. At most major retailers. $49.99
Introduce your child to a new best buddy. The Fijit Friends from Mattel are interactive robots full of pep and personality. They have names such as Sage (screaming lime green) and Logan (bright powder blue). They talk, laugh, dance, tell jokes, plus respond to over 30 verbal commands. Our parent tester’s children giggled with their new robotic friend for hours. Ages 6 and up. At most major retailers. $49.99
BOOKS TO GIVE
Sesame Street B is for Baking
Baking is fun with your little one with B is for Baking: 50 Yummy Wishes to Make Together. Kid chefs will love the steps designated just for them, while their folks will appreciate the healthy ingredients in each recipe. Start dinner with “Oscar’s Messy Green Stuff in a Potato Crust” and top off the meal with “Ernie’s Banana Cream Pie in the Sky.” The pages, complete with color photos of the final concoctions, are colorful and durable for little hands. For youngest baking enthusiasts and their folks, from Wiley. $16.95.
Star Wars: Darth Vader in 3-D
A must for the Star Wars fan. Discover the creation of the iconic villain in Star Wars: Darth Vader: A 3-D Reconstruction Log by Daniel Wallace. Each page details a different component of the surgery and technology behind Anakin Skywalker’s transformation. The 3-D format creates a fascinating visual aid that allows kids to understand the man-to-machine process. Ages 8 and up. Scholastic. $19.99.
The Giant Book of Giants
Saviour Pirotta Giant Book of Giants will feed your kids’ imagination with six short stories about giants, including, of course, “Jack and the Beanstock.” One of many awesome things about this gigantic book is the detailed 3-D poster that handily pulls out. It’s more than 4 feet tall – perfect for hanging on a youngster’s door. The interactive format will get kids interested in more books that teach while also providing a great time. Ages 4 and up. Sterling Publishing. $19.95.