Alpha Mom’s Toy Hit & Miss List for 2013
Welcome to the first annual Alpha Mom Hit & Miss List for Holiday Toys. The inspiration for this came came suddenly after last and this year’s exercise of analyzing some of the big-box retailer’s “Hot Toy Lists.” Each list is virtually identical and there are rarely toys on it that garner the level of enthusiasm we have for other toy and game favorites.
I asked a few Alpha Mom contributors to share their families favorite and least favorite toys and games. Ones that they are really passionate in their love or hate for. What I discovered is that the toys and games that their kids play with for the longest periods of time in one sitting or over time are the ones that garner the most accolades. And the ones they loathe? Those are the toys that are highly annoying, don’t work as expected or break easily.
In the end, we recommend 40 Toys and Games that we feel you can trust and a dozen from which you should stay away. The selections range from infant to tween. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add your opinions in the comments section. At the end of the day, when buying a gift think of the recipient. Gifts given thoughtfully and picked specifically for the recipient will always be “Hits.”
Hit Toys & Games!
For Babies under One
Babies don’t need much of anything other than food, sleep, diaper changes and love. However, as they start to crawl and get curious, I’ll make this recommendation of a toy:
1. Mozart Magic Cube : this is an all-time favorite amongst experienced parents. Kids love it and parents too.
2. Pull-Toy Squirrel: we like this one but you really can’t go wrong with any pull toys. It’s developmentally appropriate for this age and this one is super cute.
3. Toy Broom & Dust Pan: my toddler son loved to maneuver his broom. Toddlers love to mimic their parents and this toy is another developmentally-appropriate toy.
4. Pretend & Play Doctor’s Kit: Fantastically simple toy. Your kids will love being the doctor, nurse or patient. This toy is a hit toy amongst a couple of moms like Kelcey and me. Another choice is this cloth/ soft play doctors kit version.
5. The Bilibo : When this innovative toy burst onto the scene several years ago, it was the talk of the town. Let’s not forget about it. It provides hours of open-ended play fun and belly laughs. Perfect for a two year and it will be still be loved when your child is in the first grade. Toys with staying power are hits!
6. Kettler Tricycle: was a huge hit once my son he turned 2.5 years old. We started out with the navigation steerer and then once he had mastered his movements (around three years old) he was off on his own. Don’t forget the helmet, of course.
For Young Preschoolers
8. The Picnic Game: Even though this game is recommended for children ages 5+, it’s gotten rave reviews from almost an three-year old last year. My son was also pretty young in preschool when we played it regularly.
9. Richard Scarry’s Busytown Game: Our regular contributor Kelcey, shared that “this is a wonderful game for kids because you play individually but then you win or lose as a group. So no sad pouty faces at the end. My girls love this one. And we always end feeling good.”
10. Magna-Tiles: This is by far my favorite toy in the whole wide world. Unfortunately, Magna-Tiles are expensive! Yeah, this is a big investment, but worth it in my opinion. This is another toy with tremendous staying power. If you can swing it, I recommend starting to buy tiles when your kid(s) are young and then add and add to the collection.
11. Melissa & Doug Pizza Party Kelcey shared: “My kids have been playing with this for years! A simple, creative toy that stands the test of time. Who doesn’t love pizza?”
12. FurReal Friends Cuddles My Giggly Monkey Pet Kelcey looked at this toy closely for our Hot Toys of 2013 analysis and she and her family gave it a big thumbs up. Her littlest daughter, who is three years old, fell in love and Kelcey thinks this one will have staying power especially if you have kids who love to play with baby dolls.
For Older Preschoolers
13. Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book! Amalah recommended this book as a hit. She shares: “A wonderfully fat book full of fun activities, crafts and doodle prompts that kids can (mostly) do unsupervised or with siblings and friends. Kept my kids occupied for weeks on end. Plus, it’s the Pigeon! Everybody loves the Pigeon.”
14. Feed The Kitty: My son and I loved this roll-the-dice game and we traveled with it often when he was younger (we would just take the dice and pieces with us in a ziploc). I definitely would recommend it for children aged 4-5 year olds.
15. Playmobil Action Sets: definitely a splurge gift. Playmobil playsets are not inexpensive but they will always have a special place in my heart for all the hours of imaginative play my son dedicated to them.
16. Marble Runs If you’ve got a four or five-year old, now is the time they start appreciating marble runs. I love marble runs because as the kids get older they can build more complex structures. There are a lot of different marble run systems and I would choose one based on the the ability to expand, or for the cool accessories (bells, slides, funnels) if you’re buying for older preschoolers.
For Younger School-Aged Kids
17. Angry Birds Star Wars Telepods. Amalah shares: “You gotta hand it to the marketing geniuses behind the Angry Birds. They keep coming up with ways to keep your kids hooked on a game you probably got bored of two years ago. The Telepods interact with the app but are also pretty cute little figures on their own (I’m a sucker for the Star Wars birds) that encourage (non-tablet-based) building and imaginative play. They also more or less fit with other Angry Bird branded games and sets.”
18. Legos: every one loves Legos. Because of the small pieces, regular Legos are not recommended for young ones. But, there’s a line called Duplo where the pieces are bigger and therefore safer. To read more about introducing Lego to your child, here’s some fun and useful advice from Amalah.
19. Lay & Go Activity Mat Amalah has tried all of the Lego storage/organization options out there. All of them. This is the best one. Keeps Legos easily contained without cramping your kid’s freedom to play and dig around. If you’re buying anyone Legos this year, please send one of these, too.
20. The Blank Comic Panelbook For your older or more experienced doodler, these basic comic panel sheets let them get to work on their own graphic novel masterpiece. Excellent for helping kids plot their stories and organize their writing, too.
21. My First Magic Set Kelcey shared this pick. Kids love magic and this is a fun kit to teach them basic tricks.
22. Uno Card Game: This card game is a favorite of our contributor Wendi and her family. It’s a classic for a reason… it’s simple, easy to follow and really fun for all ages.
23. The 3D Drawing Pad is so much fun. My son has one and it really does work!
24. Razor Kick Scooter This is a perfect holiday gift and Razor is the leader at making them. What kid doesn’t want one? Don’t forget the helmet.
For Older School-Aged Kids & Tweens
24. Pencil Toppers Sewing Kit Kelcey also recommends this set to for the kids to take a break from the Rainbow Loom craze and let the them get creative with sewing projects.
25-28. Board Games: Wendi and her sons spent weeks last year playing a whole bunch of board games and then sharing their opinions. Their favorites: Blokus, Spot It, Qwirkle, andApples to Apples Jr (also a favorite of our contributor Mir. Mir told me that her family always knows the game is over when they’re laughing too hard to continue).
30. Squap Wendi’s boys love, love, love this simple throw/catch game. No batteries, very portable and can even be played alone.
31. Perplexus Epic Wendi’s boys saw this in the enrichment room at their school and begged to get one for home. It’s a clear globe with ramps inside and the challenge is to make a small ball inside go somewhere. (She doesn’t really know how it works, but apparently it keeps them really quiet, so she likes this toy A LOT.)
32-35. Lego Architecture Play Sets A favorite of mine and Wendi’s. Her son Jack LOVES these and has built the UN building, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Space Needle and the White House. He keeps them displayed on a shelf and shows them off to any friends who come by.
36. Pogo Stick when my son was around seven years old, he spent lots of time bouncing around on this exact pogo stick. Dress in layers, put on some gloves, and a safety helmet (avoid any icy patches outside) and your child can generate enough warmth bouncing around in the cold weather too. You don’t necessarily have to wait until summer.
37. SKLZ Pro Mini Basketball Hoop My now 10-year old son and his friends still love this toy. Many of them have one hanging on the doors of their bedrooms. This is another toy with great staying power. Now, it’s a noisy toy. So if you have downstairs neighbors (or you have noise sensitivity) who are easily bothered by kids jumping around and bouncing balls indoors, pass on this one.
38. Just Dance 2014 video game wow, is this one a lot of fun. Kids and adults compete (or play solo) by following dance moves set to some of the best (and recognizable) dance music. It’s available for the Nintendo, Playstation and XBox platforms.
39. NBA 2K14 video game is another favorite of my 10 year-old son and his buddies. It’s available on the XBox, Playstation and for the PC. (NBA 2K13 is available for the WiiU). It’s a great game, really innovative where your child can customize his NBA player (down to the tattoos), hold interactive press conferences and if s/he wins the championship, even join an animated-President Obama at the White House for a photo opp. I like it because the point of this game is to make shooting hoops cool, not guns.
40. Nike+ Fuelband SE. I love these movement monitors. I have Jawbone UP. My son and many of his friend have a Fuelband and they love it. The new one by Nike– called the SE — comes with an additional ability to monitor the intensity of your movements, not just your steps. Any product that motivates kids to move is a home-run to me. This is definitely in the expensive column, but if I had to decide if my dollars went here or to a video gaming system, a tracking monitor would win.
Toy & Game Misses!
1. Furby we really tried to understand why Furby was the Hot Toy of 2012. A few Alpha Mom contributors and their families lived with one for several weeks and the toy was universally loathed. Moreover, since then I have seen several posts on my personal Facebook feed from different parents lamenting their purchases.
2. Remote control vehicles Wendi think the cheap ones have a horrible chemical smell on the plastic wheels that can’t be safe and/or healthy and they’re a total drain on batteries.
3. RoboRoach Amalah describes it as disgustingness with a bonus helping of animal cruelty! NOPE NOPE NOPE.
4. Batman Launcher Amalah shares that the only good thing she can say about this toy is that the pull cord proved to be too difficult for her 8-year-old to yank on himself, and then promptly jammed after about two “launches.” Note that the best-case play scenario is basically sending a hard, pointy object flying upward at high speed to inevitably 1) break something, or 2) hit somebody in the face. PASS.
5. Elmo Tickle Hands Amalah brought this one to my attention. These are battery-operated furry gloves that vibrate (not “tickle,” vibrate) while playing the sound of Elmo’s high-pitched maniacal laughter. The…hell?
6. Don’t Break the Ice Kelcey thinks this game should be called, “Kids Break The Ice and Parents Put It Back Together Again and Again.” She finds this toy beyond irritating. It takes kids seconds (maybe a full minute if you’re lucky) to break the ice and then parents are stuck putting the game back together again. Tedious. Avoid at all costs.
7. Spin Art Kelcey shared that it’s way way way messy. Not really pushing the limits of creativity. Just buy your kids some cool art supplies and call it a day.
8. Curious George Matching Game Kelcey picked this one and told us that she loves a good matching game but this one has 72 tiles. 72!! She says “your poor preschooler will never find a match. Buy a matching game with far fewer tiles or you will have a depressed kid on your hands.” Meanwhile, she shoved this to the back of her toy closet.
9. Voice Activated Password Diaries Brenda told me that this toy seems like a great idea. What kid wouldn’t love a password protected diary and better yet, no key to lose! It’s not. It’s horrible. The voice recognition mechanism never works and you will spend hours listening to your child shout their password unsuccessfully into the cheap plastic box. The recorded “password denied” message is beyond annoying. It gets stuck in your head and you will find yourself walking around the house saying, “Woowhoo wooo password not accepted” in a female robot voice. Her kid never wrote anything in her diary and keeps this big hunk of plastic around just to taunt her friends. She thinks she should have gotten her a tape recorder instead.
8. Kiddie Laptops Brenda shared that since she’s always on her laptop, working, it seemed perfectly natural that her kid would want to play on a laptop too. She lovingly purchased this for her daughter thinking they’d work side by side in peaceful bliss. She was so wrong. First of all the screen was minuscule and the games were lame. But the worst offense to her was that her daughter used this as her own personal music library. By punching a key she would play twenty seconds of a song. There were a collection of about 20 songs. She would hit a button and then dance around to the song. Twenty seconds later she would hit it again. The songs never lasted long enough so she had to hit the same key over and over and over again and she slowly lost her mind to the tinny tune of Yankee Doodle.
9. Hair Braiding Bead Kits Here’s a fun game: Let’s tangle our hair with a tiny motorized metal tool and lose beads all over the house. Why not just brush your hair with an electric mixer and throw beads into the path of your vacuum cleaner for kicks! That’s about how fun this toy was for Brenda. Worst of all, if she managed to complete an actual braid (which happened about 10% of the time) the beads never stayed in! They just slipped right off. Perhaps this toy works great for some people’s hair but her daughter has the thinnest/slipperiest hair ever. This toy was invented by hair stylists who wanted
10. Rubber Ducks Rubber ducks are super cute. Brenda reminds us, however, that they have a little air hole in the bottom of them so you can squeeze them and make noise. If you leave them in the bathtub for any period of time that little hole becomes a portal for bacteria and gunk. It’s just gross.
11. Make a Face Sticker Books Brenda feels bad saying that she hates these because she loves stickers. But these itty bitty face stickers seem to end up everywhere but on the paper pad to which they are supposed to be stuck. She’s serious. On your feet, stuck to your shoes, stuck to furniture and the windows of your car…She says that all stickers smaller than an inch should be banned.
12. Fake Fingernail kits You know what’s grosser than gross? Discarded fake fingernails all over the house. Don’t even get me started on the cheap nail polish.