Toys that are Fun, Engaging, and Smart
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Posted: 2013-10-17 18:40:35 By:


Toys for Making things Happen for Older Babies and Toddlers

Finding toys for this age group is often the most difficult. Many toys have way too many bells and whistles. These two top-rated toys keep your baby and toddler at the center of their play experience rather than making them passive observers.



2013 Awards
Infantino Stack, Sort & Ball Drop Elephant
(Infantino $25 Score: )

Sitting up babies will love the fill and spill action of this clever elephant with a shape sorter as well as a ball drop. Put the pieces in the big opening at the top or match the shapes on the side and ab-ra-ka-dab-ra they set off music or elephant trumpet as they come rolling out. Or, show baby how to stack the rings o the elephants trunk or press the big button and set the wheel spinning. Best news is the volume control lets you turn the sound down. This well designed activity center is not random as so many electronic toys tend to be. Baby can actually begin to understand that his actions cause reactions - with repetitive lessons of cause and effect babies gain an empowering sense of making things happen.

SNAP  Unlke so many electronic toys, the connection between actions and reactions is clear. Children can actually connect their actions that cause reactions - so repetitive lessons of cause and effect empower the child's sense of making things happen. The actions also involve dexterity and refining fine motor skills.

Age: Infants, Toddlers. Award Year: 2013.




2013 Awards
Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Crawl Around Car
(Fisher-Price $60 Score: )

You know how car salesmen tell you the car they are selling is fully loaded? That would be a good description of this red activity center that is shaped like a car. It has wheels but does not move around. It's designed for sitting up, crawling, and even toddlers who are cruising. There's a dashboard with steering wheel, lights, and buttons to activate--always a favorite of toddlers. The back wheels spin and one side door opens and closes so tots can go in and out. There is a shape sorter on one side and a ball run on the other, a windshield wiper that talks about the weather. All the pieces are sized up for young players. This toy takes some time to put together with screws and stickers. It says 6 months to 36 but we think this will be used most by babies who are crawling, cruising and beginning walkers. Lots of ways for them to make things happen and for early games of pretending.

SNAP: There's still plenty to do even though the wheels of this sporty red car do not move the vehicle about.  A good choice for a child who is ready for pretend without the need for pedals or foot power. Think of it as a pretend setting with so many ways of making things happen.

Age: Infants, Toddlers. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Playskool Pop N Pick Up Elefun
(Playskool $29.99 Score: )

Toddlers will be popping, chasing, and picking up the five colorful balls that pop out of the blue elephant's trunk. Unlike a lot of pop up toys this does not shoot the balls high or with much force. As tots push the elephant over the balls it scoops them up again. This plays right into the toddler's delight in new-found locomotion as well as their love of repetition. We worried that the toy might be too small for two's, but our tester's dad wrote, "I do not think it is too small for a 2 year old, and Chloe is a large 2 year old. It holds her interest for 10-15 minutes, which is on par with other toys. She loves manually putting the balls in the different holes (trunk, back, bottom), and likes storing them in the handle. The one frustrating thing for her seems to be that sometimes she just wants to walk around with the toy, but it keeps spitting the balls out! Of course, she doesn't yet realize that as long as there are balls in there, it will spit them out. For that reason, the ball storage in the handle is a good idea. For the parent, the annoying thing is that the balls roll all over the place (under the couch, etc.) and we have to find them. Other than that, I think it's a good toy." A great gift for active players 18 months and up.

Age: Toddlers. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on


Preschool Game



2013 Award
University Games Very Hungry Caterpillar Twirl and Toss Game
(University Games $30 Score: )

Players have the fun of tossing small fabric fruits at the Very Hungry Caterpillar as it turns round and round. The object is to be the first to get all three of the pieces of fruit of one color to stick to the caterpillar. An active game that will keep kids pitching and picking up the mini plush apples, plums, pears and oranges. A decorative looking game that will reinforce color concepts, simple counting, and involves active play.


Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on





2013 Award
Journey Girl Dolls
(Toys R Us $39 Score: )

Another beautiful collection that rivals other more expensive dolls. We were taken with Chavonne, an 18-inch African American girl, she wears a satin ruffled party dress topped with a white lace jacket and matching bow in her luxurious hair. She is heading to Paris to see the sights along with the other multi-ethnic Journey dolls. Each has a soft fabric body and plastic legs, arms, and head.   


Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2013.



So important that kids have experiences with building. It's through this type of play that they learn about spatial relations, develop an ability to follow step-by-step instructions and stick with a task. Parents often make the mistake of buying the big box, especially for the holidays-- but for younger builders it's important to start small and pick sets that you can do together. The idea is to build their sense of confidence, not frustration!



2013 Award
MindWare Q-BA-MAZE 2.0
(MindWare $39.99 & up Score: )

We hade some totally amazing marble maze toys this season. This one made a huge hit with older builders. The plastic translucent pieces can be connected both vertically and horizontally and joined with bendable tubes to create complex pathways for the steel marbles to run through. The rushing marbles make a nice sound as they move through the maze. These are not magnetic marbles, but you will need to keep them out of the reach of kids who are still mouthing their toys. Start with the big box set ($39.99) or you can go straight to the Mega Stunt set ($79.99)  that includes along with a good supply of colorful cubes, a pivot trampoline, marble vortex, coaster tubes, stilts and 30 marbles. This is the kind of toy that builds dexterity, patience, and problem solving. It's a playful introduction to physics as well as pushing those creative buttons. They say 6 & up. We think most 6 year olds will need help. This is probably a better bet for mixed ages, parent and child or for older kids who will enjoy it independently. New for 2014, is a Starter Stunt Set ($49.95).


Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on





2013 Award
LEGO City Grand Prix Truck
(Lego Systems, Inc. $29.99 Score: )

While Star Wars often gets the lionshare of requests from our LEGO builders, some of their more traditional trucks got rave reviews from our testers. This Grand Prix Truck received high marks because it was an interesting build. The truck opens in different ways to make room for the Gran Prix car (which "you also get!!").  With 315 pieces this is a satisfying challenge for a beginning builder. The box says 5 & up -- most fives will need assistance, which is fine.  In addition to the truck and the racing car, the set comes with three minifigures so there's lots of room here for pretend play after the building is complete.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on



School aged kids love making things that they can display with pride or give as gifts. Here are three new sets that our testers enjoyed. 



2013 Award
Mattel Hot Wheels Car Maker
(Mattel $49.99 Score: )

Every Hot Wheels fan has probably dreamed of designing original cars and now they can! Works like some of the crayon makers we have reviewed in the past, this is an innovative toy that comes with 2 molds, 3 chassis, and 10 colored wax sticks for making 10 hot wheels. Kids can combine colors of the wax and add decals for unique results. The melting process happens when the wax is loaded and the door locks shut until it cools. In the interim there are sound effects that can be a bit annoying, but you must keep listening so that you know when to lower the handle that injects the wax into the mold. The finished product has a hard glossy finish and fits well on the wheeled base chassis. There are a variety of refill and accessory kits with wax rods, chassis, and molds ($12 each kit) for this winning toy making machine. Marked for 8 & up this is plugged into the wall and needs adult supervision. We think even 8 and 9 year olds will need adult help with the first vehicles they make. 8 & up.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Color Changing Flower Lights
(Creativity for Kids $26.95 Score: )

A really satisifying kit for adding some light and sparkle to any room. Comes with three battery powered (batteries included) round clear plastic globe bulbs that have faceted surfaces. The set comes with plastic leaves, shimmering fabrics, beads, self-adhesive rhinestones, thread, double-sided sticky foam, a bead threader and an instruction book with ideas.  Comes with green satin cords to hang the lights up with. Very pretty and our testers liked that the bulbs have three different settings for varying patterns.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on



Games are an affordable gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.  Here's one of our favorites but we have many more on our list!



2013 Award
Heads Up
(International Playthings $19.99 Score: )

 A game designed by Professor Higgins perhaps? Heads Up challenges players to balance fake books on their heads. Rolling the die tells each player how many books to add to their mortar board. It may also instruct you to remove a book. Comes with 40 "books", four mortar boards and a die. You have to bring your own sense of balance. Marked 5 & up. 


Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on



Products for Infants
Products for Toddlers
Products for Preschoolers
Products for Early School Years
Products for Later School Years
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