If you’re looking for a list of the Best Toys for Kids, we’ve found a great one featuring tons of the smaller brands we love, curated by the indie retailers who actually sell them and interact with parents and other customers day to day.
In fact, I’m really excited to be working with ASTRA, the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association, which is the nonprofit that supports those community retailers, bookstores, and smaller children’s toy brands.
I’ve always had a heart for mom-and-pop stores that are such an important part of their communities, like the toy shop 3 blocks from me where they know me by name, know that I’m always looking for craft toys for birthday party gifts, and lets my kids play with the train table long after we’re done shopping. (Psst…a long overdue thanks for that one, guys.)
FOR A NEW TAKE ON CREATIVE BUILDING: Squigz (by Fat Brain Toys)
Okay, so I love everything from Fat Brain Toys anyway. Squigz is no different. It’s a suction-cup based building set that my kids will not put down. I’m finding them stuck to all kinds of surfaces in our house (they don’t leave marks, phew!) but most of all, they have discovered they love them in the bath.
FOR OPEN-ENDED PLAY: Playmobil Cargo and Passenger Aircraft (by Playmobil)
I have a soft spot for all things Playmobil. They strike a great balance between building and creative play. This airport set is wonderful for boys and girls. It comes with 5 figures (although, psst, Playmobil . . . it’s a flight attendant, not a stewardess) but the plane fits 7 so your existing favorites can go for a ride too. The on-board “working” bathroom is a nice touch–maybe even a good way to get inexperienced young travelers excited for their first flight of the friendly skies.
FOR BATHTIME FUN: Green Toys Seaplane (by Green Toys)
We’ve been covering this eco-friendly company from the moment they launched, and they keep reinventing great toys for kids, all made from recycled milk jugs. This plane actually floats and is so great for a pool or bathtub. You can even pop it in the dishwasher, which I wouldn’t do with too many of our other toys.
FOR OUTDOOR PLAY: RingStix Lite (by RingStix)
I admit when I first looked at this I thought, Someone’s losing an eye! I was totally wrong. This is such a great outdoor game for kids, along the lines of classics like Kadima or any throw-and-catch game. Kids each hold the Stix and use it to toss rings back and forth, with the ability to make it harder or easier. They have a great time getting the hang of it, and figuring out how to make the ring fly super far.
FOR ARTISTIC PLAY: The original Spirograph Deluxe Kit (by Kahootz Toys)
Spirograph wins my prize for best creative art toy sets of all time, second only to a new box of crayons. Not only is it still as compelling as when I was a kid, my own girls will not put it away–including my 6-year-old (so take the 8+ reco with a grain of salt). It’s remained on our kitchen table for weeks now, and several times a day I can expect my kids to run to me shouting, “Look at these new ones! Which one is your favorite?” Plus? No batteries, no lights, no sound. The perfect toy.
FOR FAMILY GAME NIGHT WITH YOUNG KIDS: Zingo! Sight Words (by Think Fun)
Zingo! is bar none one of the very best first games for kids, and the new Sight Words version is perfect as they get a bit older and can move from icons to actual words in this Bingo style game. Perfect for preschoolers and kindergarteners learning sight words, but they’ll just think they’re just having fun with a great game.
FOR BABIES: Skwish Classic (by Manhattan Toy Co)
I got one of these for my very first friend who had a baby. Years later, my own girls played with this as infants. Now it’s become a 30-year classic. It makes a thoughtful baby gift at a nice price, and parents can feel good that it’s made from eco-friendly rubberwood with water-based, non-toxic paints. Clever way to stimulate babies’ sense of exploration through sound, touch, and most likely, taste.
FOR DIY FUN: Curiosity Kits Pulsar Powerballs (by The Orb Factory)
My kids were convinced for some reason that “these kits never work”–until they actually used them, made a bunch of powerballs, and then spent days torturing me by sending them careening all over the house. Perfect rainy day activity with a toy to show for it at the end. Kids about 6 or so can figure it out, but might need a little help. Of course my 8-year-old wanted nothing to do with me while she made hers.
FOR DRESS UP FUN: Rainbow Fairy Wings (by Douglas Cuddle Toy)
I may be the biggest advocate of a costume bin as the ultimate, essential creative play tool that should be in every child’s room. However I tend to be skeptical of mass-produced costume supplies when you can do a lot with old scarves and accesories–but wow, this is a really nicely made set of butterfly wings. Or fairy wings or dragon wings. I dare you to try to get your kid out of them at bedtime. Or maybe that’s just my daughter? Get your smartphone video cam working and be prepared to watch many plays starring butterflies and fairies in the near future.
FOR CLASSIC CRAFTING: Potholder Pro (By Harrissville Designs)
Here I go again with my love of craft sets as gifts. The loom you loved as a child has not lost its luster; the metal loom won’t break like the plastic ones of yore, and the bigger size means you can actually use your potholders for holding pots. In fact, my kids beam with pride any time I use theirs to pull something out of the oven. Just like I did when I made ones for my parents as a kid.