A toy expert picks this year's 7 best gifts for kids

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Mike Natale
·5 min read
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These days, it’s getting harder and harder to know what to get kids for the holidays. Once upon a time, you could at least stroll into a Toys R Us or K.B. Toys, pluck some brightly colored goodie off the shelf and hope for the best. Now, with those places gone and trips to department stores being sparse — or in many cases, nonexistent — this year, finding something the children in your life will love isn’t exactly an easy task.

Whether you’re all caught up with this year’s toy trends (and don’t quite know how they changed so quickly) or still think Cabbage Patch Kids are the it gift of the season, we’re here to help, with some great picks from lifestyle and toy expert Meredith Sinclair. These selections offer something for every age range, and all help to enrich and mold young minds.

Shape Sorter Xylophone

Shapes and songs, in perfect harmony (Photo: Walmart)
Shapes and songs, in perfect harmony (Photo: Walmart)

Both xylophones and shape sorters have been classics for decades, and their benefits in developing hand-eye coordination and sorting skills have been known for just as long. This tool combines two iconic toys to create even more enriching educational playtime for kids 12 months and up.

“It not only teaches music and sound recognition,” Sinclair divulges. “But also beginning colors, beginning shapes and really gets kids actively learning.”

Shop it: Shape Sorter Xylophone, $30, walmart.com

The Animal Interactive Toy Truck

The classic toy car gets a wild upgrade (Photo: Amazon)
The classic toy car gets a wild upgrade (Photo: Amazon)

Everyone remembers their first toy car; it’s practically a rite of passage. Before you ever have hopes of hitting the open road, your whole home becomes a highway for your hot-rod of plastic and rubber. Now there’s a vehicle that combines the latest innovations in toy car tech with the wildly popular “unboxing” trend.

“What’s super cool about this is it’s the first unboxing truck,” Sinclair explains. Kids insert a key into the back of the box, make noise to “awaken” the truck, and then it emerges from the box like an animal, with claws on its tires, ready to climb any terrain.

Shop it: The Animal Interactive Toy Truck, $30, walmart.com

Playmobil Mermaid Cove

A colorful new adventure from the classic brand (Photo: Amazon)
A colorful new adventure from the classic brand (Photo: Amazon)

Since 1975, Playmobil has brought detailed, imaginative sets to families’ homes. In the last year, with licensed sets for franchises like Scooby-Doo and Back To The Future, and their very own theatrical feature film, Playmobil continues to offer exciting ways for kids to play.

One of the newest additions to the Playmobil line is the Mermaid Cove, complete with an illuminated dome. Sinclair notes: “These really grow with kids, so any of your Playmobil sets will work with any others you have—it really extends the playability.”

Note that this particular set might not be delivered in time for the big day, but there are a ton of great Playmobil sets in stock that will arrive to be placed under the tree.

Shop it: Playmobil Mermaid Cove, $60, amazon.com

Paint by Pom Pom

A fluffy puff of crafting fun (Photo: Etsy)
A fluffy puff of crafting fun (Photo: Etsy)

This unique year has reinvigorated a love of crafting in people of all ages, so it’s really no surprise that one of the most exciting gifts of the year offers a new and fun way to create. Paint by Pom Pom offers a new spin on the classic “paint by numbers” craft kits, minimizing the mess without sacrificing the fun.

Sinclair singled out the project’s easy-to-use element: “You literally just pull back [the] cover, and it exposes an adhesive board with a beautiful image on it,” she says. “And then kids use their tiny pom poms to fill and ‘paint’ their piece of art.”

In no time, your loved one will have a unique puffy masterpiece.

Shop it: Paint by Pom Pom, $20, etsy.com

Moving Creations

Kids can turn daydreams into experiments with this new take on the classic building toy (Photo: Amazon)
Kids can turn daydreams into experiments with this new take on the classic building toy (Photo: Amazon)

”Kids are going to learn early engineering skills, math and science,” Sinclair says of the many educational opportunities this toy provides. “And this comes with nine different builds and eighteen different experiments.”

Education resource company hand2mind partnered with K’nex to create a toy that combines both their strengths, allowing kids the opportunity to build an array of different structures and experiments, applying real scientific principles to playtime. As Sinclair says, “This is a great way to sneak in a whole lot of learning with a really fun building kit.”

Shop it: Moving Creations, $30 (was $40), amazon.com

Yu-Gi-Oh! Cards: Maximum Gold

The newest take on the celebrated card game (Photo: Amazon)
The newest take on the celebrated card game (Photo: Amazon)

Though collectible card games had existed before, from Magic: The Gathering to Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh was unique in the way it incorporated the card game itself into its storyline, first in comics and then cartoons. It offered kids a way to interact with the very same game they saw the characters play on screen. And now, with Yu-Gi-Oh celebrating more than 20 years of its massively popular card game, there’s a glistening new edition that’s a holiday must-have for fans.

“This is a game of strategy, where kids duel each other with magical monsters and spells,” Sinclair explains. And the game offers more than shiny cards to store in shoeboxes. She notes that kids who play Yu-Gi-Oh “...are learning early math and reading skills, and those social skills they need to compete against each other.”

Shop it: Yu-Gi-Oh! Cards: Maximum Gold, $23 (was $36), amazon.com

Polaroid Now Instant Film Camera—Star Wars The Mandalorian Edition

This classic camera is inspiring a whole new generation (Photo: Amazon)
This classic camera is inspiring a whole new generation (Photo: Amazon)

Even in the age of Instagram and smartphones, the classic Polaroid Instant Camera has never gone out of style. Sinclair says this is a gift “...for tweens and teens, but really for the whole family.” And this one is great for Star Wars fans too!

This bundle offers everything you need to create lasting memories, providing you with the camera and two rolls of film. “This is really a fun, modern take on the retro camera,” Sinclair says. “It’s a phone-free way to document all your family memories, and then tell stories about them when you’re done.”

Shop it: Polaroid Now Instant Film Camera, $99 (was $120), amazon.com

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