Top toys for the holidays
Why is it that December has this habit of sneaking up on us unsuspecting parents? You get up one morning, look at your calendar, and realize that the holiday socializing, eating and gift-giving is only a few short weeks away. When it comes to finding presents for your children, it can be tempting to drive to the nearest big-box store, with aisle after aisle of toys and gadgets. But as parents soon learn, all toys are not created equal. Only a few will stand the test of time, being used months after the holiday decorations have come down.
To help you find toys with long-lasting play value, we’ve asked for ideas and suggestions from some Montreal experts: Judi Meade of Art-Enfant in Westmount, Ramzi Soueida and Hania Brooks of KidLink in N.D.G. and Sarados Matzouranis of Funky Toys in Pointe Claire. They research toys all year round and hear every day from customers about which toys are keepers (and which aren’t). Here’s a selection of their favourite picks for this season.
Newborn to 2
Northern Lights Soother
Getting a baby to settle down for sleep in her crib will be a bit easier with this delightful toy featuring friendly-looking animals peeking out from a woodland scene. When a baby reaches up and touches the screen, music plays softly and the scene lights up. Parents can set the sounds to either soothing classical music, nature sounds or even attach an MP3 player and select their own tunes. The toy can be attached to all kinds of cribs and includes volume controls and an auto-shut off.
Tote Along Musical Mirror
This ingenious tote bag will provide hours of delight for little ones. Set the bag down in front of a baby, and he can admire himself in the mirror or gently chew the soft toy giraffe that is included. Later on, toddlers will enjoy carrying the bag around to be filled with various treasures (and then emptied out, over and over!). As well, kids can press a button and hear two different songs — one with a slow tempo and the other more upbeat (the music can be deactivated by parents if they wish).
Geared Shape Sorter Robot
Shape sorters are a classic toy as kids love learning to put the correct block in the hole and watching as it “disappears” (only to be pulled out and used again). Pkolino has created a new twist on the sorter with this whimsical geared robot. Little ones can rotate the gears to line up the shapes and then insert the blocks, making the toy more challenging than a typical sorter. Parents can also “lock” the gears in place to make it easier.
Ages 3 to 5
The fascination with all things dinosaur seems to be hard-wired into kids and this toy provides a unique twist on these prehistoric creatures. There are four dinosaur models, each carved out of wood, with embedded magnets at the joints. Toddlers can make specific dinos (a brachiosaurus, for example) or, with several sets, create their own animal. These sturdy toys will last for years and encourage imaginative thinking about our prehistoric friends.
Silly Soft Seat
Parents may ask if this is a toy or a piece of furniture, but little ones aren’t likely to be concerned about the distinction. Instead, they’ll be busy finding ways of using these three plush-covered pieces, which can be stacked to form a soft friend. The pieces can be sat on, jumped on, tossed or hugged. The seat is light enough for a preschooler to carry around and has a washable cover. There are five different models, each one featuring a charming face.
Twist and Turn Ring Toss
This ingenious game provides a challenge to a child’s eye-hand coordination. It looks like a simple ring toss, but the sticks for catching the rings can be set to move and twist to two different tunes. The entire set of sticks can be configured in different ways, making it easier for several kids to play at the same time. Five rings are included with the game.
Ages 6 to 9
Spooner Inc. $55-$66
Adults may wonder what this board, which looks like a skateboard without wheels, is all about. Just let a kid get on it and you’ll soon see them twisting, rolling, jumping and wobbling across the room. Designed to be used indoors or out, the Spooner challenges children’s balance, coordination and imaginations as they find unique ways to amuse themselves with it. The company’s website, http://spoonerboards.com, has videos of young people doing amazing tricks with these brightly-coloured boards.
Whipple Cupcake Set
Catch the cupcake decorating craze with this new craft kit featuring a non-edible paste that looks exactly like whipped cream. Kids use the paste, plus assorted sprinkles, to decorate little cakes. When the paste hardens, the creations can either be displayed or the smaller ones can be used as zipper pulls or doo-dads to dangle from backpacks. It’s a fantastic way to indulge in decorating madness, without all the sugar!
Mugz The Ice Cream Maker
Jupiter Creations $10
If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer or small gift, check out these animal-themed mugs that make frozen treats. You just put salt, water and ice cubes in one compartment and then milk, flavouring or even crushed fruit in the top. Shake for three minutes and voila — ice cream or sorbet (recipes are included). Several models are available including a penguin, a dog and a seal. Gives new meaning to the idea of shaking up the holidays!
Ages 10 and up
At first glance, these oddly-shaped vinyl creatures may seem like a strange present, but they are literally a blank slate for youngsters to express their creativity. Using markers or paint, kids can transform the Munny dolls, which come in two different sizes, into all kinds of characters. The company’s website, http://sites.kidrobot.com, features a gallery where photos of the finished Munny can be uploaded, as well as ideas for decorating the creatures.
Creation Bojeux $16
Teens often have an MP3 player for music, but the sound coming from the little headphones may not be the best. This do-it-yourself kit allows young people to construct two small cardboard speakers, which have a surprisingly good sound quality. The speaker boxes can then be decorated with stickers and markers. One kit is targeted towards boys (dark colours) and the other for girls (yes, a lot of pink). It’s a creative gift for those hard-to-please teens on your list.
6-in-1 Educational Solar Kit
Get young people hooked on science with this 21-piece kit, which allows them to build six different models that move thanks to a solar-powered motor. The parts snap together to create boats, planes, a windmill and an adorable puppy. No batteries or other equipment is required so kids can start building right away.