12 toys that get top marks

Review of 12 top toys for children ages newborn to 2, ages 3 to 5, ages 6 to 9 and ages 10 & up

‘Tis the season for shopping, gift wrapping, baking and visiting but, most of all, it’s a time for toys. They are everywhere — from the big box stores to your local pharmacy. But finding a toy that suits a particular child, while respecting your budget, can turn the holiday season into a headache.

For some guidance, we turned to the owners of independent toy stores around Montreal, including Kidlink, Rêve d’Enfant and Art Enfant. These toy experts are happy to make recommendations to help you find the perfect plaything this holiday season.

This year, they’ve kept a special eye out for toys that are budget and eco-friendly while still offering years of play and fun. (Just keep in mind that toy prices are fluctuating along with the financial markets; we’ve given an approximate price but it could swing up or down in the weeks leading up to the holidays). Happy shopping!

Newborn to 2

Little CharlyLittle Charly, Lana Naturalwear, $30

Little hands love to grasp soft toys and this line of small stuffed animals is just the perfect size. Parents will appreciate that they’re made from 100 per cent certified organic cotton with no chlorine or formaldehyde used in the production. Babies will love the creatures’ furry texture, wide-eyed expressions and jaunty striped arms and legs. Several different animals are available including a sheep, pig and donkey.

Sophie la Giraffe

Sophie La Giraffe, Vulli, $20

Vulli brand soft teethers have been available in Europe since the early 1960s but are just making their debut in Canada this year. They are made from natural rubber and non-toxic paint, and are the perfect size for chewing. A little one can grab Sophie’s long neck and then use her ears to rub against tender gums for a little relief from teething pain.

Wacky Bowling SetWacky Bowling Set, Alex, $35

Toddlers can design their own crazy bowling pins with these six soft, rubber animal shapes whose heads and bodies can be mixed and matched. Once assembled, the six bowling pins can be knocked over with two toddler-sized balls, which jingle as they roll. The set can be used both indoors and outdoors and includes a plastic carrying case for easy transport and clean up.

 

Ages 3 to 5

Discover Rig, Sprig Toys, $65Discover Rig

Sprig Toys uses recycled plastic and wood to create “Sprig Wood,” an environmentally friendly product that has the rugged look and smooth feel of plastic. The “wood” is molded into trucks and cars that, when pushed, use friction to produce light and sounds (no batteries required!). The Discover Rig, for example, looks like a giant jeep and comes with a play figure, Cap Faraday, whose headlamp lights up when he’s placed in the driver’s seat.

AnamalzAnamalz, Anamalz, $7

Children love collecting and these small, bendable figurines are just the right size for preschoolers to hold and manipulate. The animals are made from organic maple wood (a renewable resource) with soft cloth used for ears, tails and manes. Each creature can be shaped into different poses and the company’s website, www.anamalz.com provides interesting facts about the animals.

Fun Farm, PlayMais, $20Fun Farm Playmais

Created in Germany, this unusual craft set includes small, coloured pieces, with the feel of styrofoam, but which are made from non-genetically modified corn and food colouring. When wiped on a damp cloth, the pieces stick together, allowing a child to build all kinds of objects from a farmhouse to a castle. The pieces can be reused a number of times, but some sets also allow the finished product (such as the farm) to be used as part of a board game.

Ages 6 to 9
 

Dancing EggsDancing Eggs, Haba, $25

This simple game will have kids – and adults — stretching, skipping and laughing. Players try to acquire as many wooden eggs as possible, but must also perform tasks, printed on cards, while holding the eggs in funny positions, such as under the arm or chin. Drop an egg and you lose! The game is fast paced and even younger players will have a blast as they try to balance their eggs. A nice touch: the eggs and cards are packaged in a box that looks exactly like an egg carton.

Oops, FoxMind, $20Oops

This game will appeal to players of various ages and can be used either by one person or in a group. The idea is simple: take apart the magician and put the pieces on a board, following the picture on an instruction card. Then, by moving the pieces around, re-construct the magician. Players must carefully consider their moves or they get can get “stuck” and be unable to complete the task. The instruction cards range from easy to expert so players can challenge themselves over and over again.

Ezy RollerEzy Roller, Ezy Roller, $100

Tempt your child to get moving with this unusual gadget that is a cross between a bike, a scooter and a skateboard. The Ezy Roller is entirely powered by the child moving his or her feet back and forth along a push bar. The Roller then moves forward in a snake-like motion. It can be used inside or outside and will accommodate kids as old as 14.

Ages 10 and up

Graphic T-Shirt Designer, Fashion Angels, $22Graphic T-Shirt Designer

Who says recycling and fashion can’t go together? This kit shows young people how to transform old T-shirts and hoodies into stylish items they’ll be proud to wear again and again. The Fashion Angels kit includes a jeweler tool to add gems and studs to fabric as well as ribbons, fabric makers and stencils. Kids can get ideas from the brightly-illustrated instruction book or simply let their imaginations run wild.

BladestarBladestar, Wowwee, $60
This wacky toy looks like a set of helicopter blades and comes with a remote control. Set the blades going and the object flies, making realistic helicopter sounds. But for even more fun, set it on “automatic” and the blades will whirl around by themselves. Object sensors prevent the toy from bumping into things. You can also stage Bladestar combats, with two toys diving at each other.

Fuel Cell X7 Car, Thames & Kosmos, $125Fuel Cell x7 Car

This kit allows teens to explore how “green energy” works. It includes everything necessary to build a car that will run on hydrogen (obtained by separating water into its two parts, hydrogen and oxygen). Completing the kit takes a certain amount of patience, although the manual has step-by-step instructions along with information about the science behind what is happening.