The Very Best New Toys of 2020
The Best New Toys for Toddlers
Cosmo Octopus Large Toy by Meri Meri
When it comes to mysterious underwater creatures, it’s hard to outdo the octopus. They’re crafty eight-limbed shapeshifters, and one of the most intelligent species you’ll find in the wild. They’re also venomous, so the safest and smartest way to get close to one is by toting around this blue wonder, which is nearly three feet long. Cosmo is perfect for late night snuggles, pretend underwater exploration, and reenacting key scenes from Finding Dory.
Magna-Tiles Colors with Elmo Set by CreateOn
So many brand mashups make no sense, and seem like nothing more than a crass money grab. Which is but one reason we love this new Magna-Tiles set. On their own, magnetic tiles and bricks are pretty much perfect open-ended play toys, because there are no real limits to what kids can build with them. But when you throw Elmo, Big Bird, and Oscar the Grouch into the mix, you get a vibrant, colorful, engaging set that’s captivating to preschoolers, who recognize the beloved characters and feel comfortable around them.
Animals by Plan Toys
These sweet figures, which represent so many inhabitants of the animal kingdom, are sized just right for little hands. And because they don’t roar or light up, they’re perfect pretend play toys: It’s all up to the child to create fantasy worlds full of orange lions, pink dolphins, and blue elephants, and in doing so, to begin learning shapes, colors, and animals. The toys are made of sustainable PlanWood (engineered wood) and organic pigments and so are super-safe for little hands (and mouths).
Playdate Friends Harper by Manhattan Toy Company
As early as six months, a baby’s brain will notice race-based differences, including skin color and hair texture. So it’s never too early to expose your child to as many diverse toys as possible. And this doll is a standout, because she’s machine-washable, soft and cuddly beyond belief, and comes with her very own teddy bear buddy. She’s a nurturing toy that can open up dialogue about how we should recognize and embrace our differences.
Monster Math Scale by Hape
This toy may look somewhat crazy. But it’s actually crazy-smart. The monster’s arms move up and down, depending on the weights placed in either hand. When toddlers and preschoolers shift the weights around, they learn about shapes, colors, and numbers, and begin to grasp what addition and subtraction actually means: When you remove a weight, something weighs less than it did before. The set includes 10 larger weights and 10 soft weights.
The Best New Toys for Preschoolers
Terra Kids Connectors by HABA
The idea behind this set is that kids gather sticks and other building materials outside and use the Terra Kids rods, corks, and drill to transform them into figures and simple machines. Unlike other tool sets, these tools are functional, but also basic and safe enough that kids can play independently after some brief instruction. The open-ended nature encourages kids to actually get outside and come up with their own designs, and allows them to use it differently every time, without you having to hear that dreaded whine: “I’m bored.”
Dentist Play Set by Melissa & Doug
Going to the dentist can lead to fear-based tantrums because really, who wants a drill in their mouth. Which is why this highly-detailed 26-piece dental kit really hits it out of the park. The best part? Kids don’t have to recruit any patients – the kit comes with a set of play teeth, a dry erase marker that marks “decay” and all the supplies they need to treat it. Tools like a pick, mirror, and a vibrating “drill” help them fill cavities, and they can even try their hand at fitting a retainer and set of braces. So the next time they go in for a cleaning, they might even, if not like it, then tolerate it.
Whale Balance Game by Babai Toys
There are blocks. And there are puzzles. This is a perfect blend of the two. As a friendly whale balances on a precarious rocker, kids stack blocks on his back, learning how to balance them and get them where they need to go. Or else, the whale tips over. The game helps toddlers develop fine motor skills and learn about cause and effect: put the block here, and gravity makes it fall.
Emotions Game by Janod
This card set is not your average matching game. Kids choose one of 20 magnetic situation cards and match it with a series of diverse faces, each indicating a different emotion. They might match a card that shows a girl dropping her ice cream with a sad face and an embarrassed face. In doing so, kids learn to identify different feelings and develop the vocabulary to talk about their own.
Doctor Puppet by Melissa and Doug
Kids solve problems through role play. The issue: Fear of going to the doctor. The solution: Role playing that visit and becoming comfortable enough that they won’t freak out. That’s where this puppet comes into play. Dr. Chartwell, outfitted with a surgical cap and mask, white lab coat, and stethoscope, allows kids to act out the role of a doctor, manipulating his mouth and gesturing with his arms. They can imagine different doctor visits, work through fears, and get creative.
My Home Office Set by Fisher-Price
It’s never too early to teach kids about those missing TPS reports, or why reply-all email chains should go the way of trucker hats. And yes, here’s a pretend play set that brings the indignities and realities of working from home down to their level. This eight-piece set includes a laptop, four fabric apps to attach to the screen, a wood smartphone, a to-go coffee cup, and a headset. Now, when they see dad on endless Zoom calls, preschoolers can too get in on the action. Or flee from it.
Silly Spaghetti by Hape
This ingenious 13-piece play set includes one bowl of twisty noodles, and wooden ingredients preschoolers attach to the pasta. Why? Why the hell not? The shrimp, broccoli, and mushrooms have clips, so fastening them is easy (but still gives those fine motor skills a nice workout). It’s a great way to encourage brave eaters and budding chefs to get creative with their (play) food food without turning your kitchen into a superfund site.
Code and Go Bumblebee by Brio
Instead of tying itself up in knots to be groundbreaking and different, this screen-free bumblebee coding toy keeps it simple: Toddlers press the buttons on its back to program up to 27 different movements. The insect then lights up, buzzes, and moves around. It’s cause and effect at its finest.
My Wooden Weather Station by Moon Picnic
One of the simplest ways to teach young children about science is via the weather, which requires no beakers or microscopes. After all, they only need to step outside to see if it’s sunny or drizzly out, windy or calm, cool or warm. This beautiful wooden weather station helps them understand something that can be bewildering and mercurial and downright scary (tornadoes, anyone?). It has four movable dials, and five weather symbols, and empowers kids to understand what’s going on outdoors.
Contemporary Dollhouse by PlanToys
It’s a shame that so many dollhouses go all in on those tired princess tropes, because they’re actually wonderful pretend play toys for any gender. This one is a standout for its Scandi-minded simplicity. Made of wood, this two-story dollhouse is a study in minimalism, and full of modern furniture we’d want in our own homes. By keeping things as no-frills as possible, it requires kids to use their imaginations to fill in the gaps. Which is what you want.
Cash Register by Play-Doh
Children learn about and make sense of the world around them by engaging in pretend play and mimicking what they see adults doing. And chances are, they’ve accompanied at least one parent to a grocery store. This brings the food shopping experience down to their level: They use Play-Doh to make pretend foods, which they pay for with pretend cash and coins after running them through a barcode scanner. The set comes with four cans of Play-Doh, and a cash register that beeps, just like the one at Whole Foods.
Builder Set by Brio
The best building sets don’t have a prescribed way of using them. Meaning, there’s no one way to do anything, and no wrong way to tackle the project at hand. And this set is the gold standard. Kids get 120 wood and plastic pieces, which they put together to make helicopters or cars, bridges or houses. Or. Or. Or. And they bring the whole creation to life with a battery-powered motor.
Bird’s Nest Cafe by Tender Leaf
Pretend play is the lens through which kids learn about their world. And while the Bird’s Nest Cafe by Tender Leaf is incredibly beautiful to look at, it is a one-stop solution to creative play that helps with the development of your child’s language and fine motor skills. To start with, the set contains 40 different accessories, all made from sustainable rubberwood, giving kids ample gear to act out innumerable scenarios. Your breakfast, your lunch, your coffee, is served.
Geometric Fish and Hook by Babai
No, a river doesn’t have to run through it for your child to go fishing. This beautiful wood set tests their fine motor skills, as they use the two seven-inch rods to “catch” the 12 magnetized fish. The game requires concentration, patience, and a solid grasp of hand-eye coordination. Which makes it perfect for the preschool set.
Little Bricks by Guidecraft
Guidecraft’s Little Bricks weighted blocks system have an irregular, earthy shape, a satisfying feel (the weights make them somewhat stone-like), and an organic design that make kids’ final creations look like ancient dwellings that grew out of the earth. They work especially well with natural objects (sprigs and branchlets, mostly), adding another layer to what is an already solid building toy: encouraging creativity while also bringing kids closer to nature.
Gatcha Gatcha Bingo Machine by kiko+ & gg
On the one hand, bingo is bingo, and it doesn’t need to be fancy. On the other hand, bingo just seems more fun (and the play area much better-looking) when the candy-colored bingo balls are in a sleek wood dispenser that’s easy for little hands to turn. This bingo “machine” isn’t revolutionary; it’s just a timeless game in a super-attractive package that will cheer everyone up.
Luxe Cups by Land of Doughand parents. The designs are very cool, too, and the dough, being all-natural, never expires and can be re-softened in the fridge with water.
Safari Binoculaurs by Tender Leaf Toys
These durable wood “binoculaurs” have adjustable, kaleidoscope lenses, a solid, sturdy feel, a size perfect for little hands, and — because details matter — painted-on eyelashes. They’re one of those toys that are simple enough, and responsive enough to kids’ environments, that kids stay engaged for hours, exploring the world around them.
Eco Beams Building Set by Miniland
Wood beams. Yes, wood beams. Nothing more, nothing less. And yet, when the dust settles, and your kids get older and all those trendy surprise toys have lost their luster, this is the toy they’ll come back to over and over and over again. Why? Because there are absolutely no limits or restrictions in how you can use it. You stack the beams. You tilt the beams. You line up the beams. And you create a rollercoaster or a house or a castle or a boat — whatever the imagination dictates. The 32-piece set is made from PEFC-certified fir wood fibers.
The Best New Toys for Elementary-Age Kids
The 4-in-1 Workshop by PLAYMake
This beautifully constructed, fully functioning wood-crafting set allows kids to actually saw, drill, sand, and turn wood — all without any risk of hurting themselves. The set is intuitive to use, with pieces that slide out and snap right into place to transform the base into a drill press, a jigsaw, a sander, or a wood-turning lathe — all of which can be used on wood, cardboard, or found objects. Maybe the most impressive thing about the PLAYMake, though, is the ingeniously designed safety features, which make the set surprisingly safe, given what it can do, and allows kids as young as 4 to learn woodworking.
Ooze Labs: Colorful Crystal Lab by Thames & Kosmos
Crystal kits are nothing new, but the quality of this one sets it apart. It comes with a sturdy lab setup including real scientific tools like a beaker, test tube, and centrifuge, and supplies to complete 11 different experiments. Sure, some experiments take days rather than hours, but crystals do grow in the end, so kids see science in action.
Circuit Explorer Rover by Educational Insights
Even in a world with more STEM toys than we can count, the Circuit Explorer Rover stands out. Its educational purpose is to teach kids the basics of circuitry with a modular toy that allows them to build their own space vehicles using easy-to-connect motors, lights, and batteries.This particular set comes with everything needed to build a Martian rover. Or another kind of space rover. Or a communication station with a rotating radar dish. Or a design that your kids haven’t thought of yet. In other words, it combines STEM and creativity in an uber-fun toy. What’s not to like?
My First Stamp Collection by Kid Made Modern
Stapling stuff is fun. But stamping stuff is even more satisfying. This set includes six stamps, three inkwells, and six crayons, all perfectly sized for preschool hands. They help artists hone their gross motor skills, and leave their mark, be it a circle, star, or rainbow.
Back to the Future Delorean by Playmobil
Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine is one of the most iconic vehicles in movie history, and this toy version is a great gift idea for any parent who wants their kids to grow up with an appreciation of the classics. The license plate reads OUTATIME. The doors swing open upwards, revealing a time-travel control panel and space for included figures of Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and/or Einstein the dog. The flux capacitor lights up, but don’t worry: this thing uses a pair of AAA batteries as a power source instead of plutonium. If you’ve heard Huey Lewis and the News coming out of your kid’s room. this toy is perfect.
Squeakee The Balloon Dog by Moose Toys
Looking like something Jeff Koons dreamed up, this inflatable red dog is a hell of a good time. And sometimes, that’s all a toy needs to be. He responds to a kid’s voice, sits and stands, and pees and farts. Intrepid Cesar Millans can use Squeakee’s toy to train him to sit and beg. Plus, they can pop him and then inflate him back up using the pump. It’s doggone fun.
Barbie Inspiring Women Series Ella Fitzgerald Collectible Doll by Mattel
Mattel’s signature doll has come a damn long way since her 1959 launch, when she arrived on the toy scene clad in a black and white zebra-striped swimsuit that emphasized her ridiculously tiny waist. Now she’s paying tribute to some of history’s most notable trailblazers, in this case jazz luminary Ella Fitzgerald (as well as Susan B. Anthony, Billie Jean King, Florence Nightingale, Rosa Parks, and Sally Ride). Not only does the Ella Fitzgerald Barbie come with a microphone and stand, but she even has some meat on her. We’ll sing to that.
Snap Ships Lance SV-51 Scout by PlayMonster
At first glance, this toy looks like just another toy spaceship, but it’s hiding some pretty sweet abilities. For one, there’s the snap-together construction that allows them to be dis- and re-assembled into multiple unique vehicles, each of which has a cockpit for the included figure to sit in. (Because someone has to steer the ship across the galaxy.) This particular toy is a low-cost way to get into the Snap Ships universe, and there are plenty of other available options if (when) your kid wants to expand their universe.
Music Maker Science Kit by hand2mind
Likely you’ve sat through enough baby and toddler music classes to witness how listening to songs or symphonies is a rich multi-sensory experience, encouraging kids to express feelings, move their bodies, and work on their motor skills. And this kit takes music to the next level: It’s part clever STEM toy, part jam session. Musicians build their own instruments — a box guitar, a pan flute, and an ocean drum — and then play them. Earplugs not included.
KidiZoom Creator Cam by VTech
If you’re sick of your kids constantly swiping your phone and blowing up your photo stream with nonsensical clips, you’re in luck, because this hardy little gadget turns any child into the next Francis Ford or Sofia Coppola. It comes equipped with a tabletop tripod/selfie stick and built-in microphone, plus 20 backgrounds and the ability to create time-lapse video. Best of all, kids edit using the camera, so your iPhone is safe. For now.
Large Hospital by Playmobil
Hospitals are scary places for kids, full of sick people, strange equipment, and odd sounds and smells. This epic 514-piece Playmobil set demystifies medicine by letting kids explore, on their own terms and in a safe age-appropriate setting, what being a doctor or a patient really means. This ultra-detailed kit includes two hospital beds, X-ray images, a swiveling operating room light, and even a miniature microscope. And a toilet. Because when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Dots Desk Organizer Building Kit by Lego
Yes, there are many glitzier, shinier, fancier Lego sets out there. But the Dots line is a standout. Why? Because instead of putting together random items — be it buildings, ships, dragons, or rockets — that are worthy but ultimately just wind up sitting on a shelf, young builders create things they can use in real life. This 405-piece set turns into a multi-colored desk organizer with two compartments, a photo holder, and even a drawer that opens. It’s crafting taken to the next level.
Ultimate MT1 Brawler Toy Car by Automoblox
It’s hard to reinvent the wheel with toy cars, but somehow, this brand manages to do it. This specific line of wood cars is on the larger side, so they’re easy for preschool-sized hands to maneuver. And the cars are all mix and match, with each vehicle having multiple interchangeable components. Meaning that kids work on their motor skills when they put the magnetic pieces together and build the monster truck of their dreams.
Magnetic Packs by Clixo
The best open-ended construction toys let your kid build whatever the hell she or he wants. And that’s where Clixo comes in. Each pack contains 18-42 different colored magnetic shapes that connect together. In any shape your child dreams up. A house. A car. A cow with wings. It’s easy to take anything apart and put something utterly different together again.
Explore Tool Kit by Makedo Tools
You know all those Amazon boxes that are stacked in your garage? Here’s a stellar way to put them to use. This construction kit contains blunt steel saws, screwdrivers and 48 screws, and your kid uses them on cardboard to build stuff. Yes, those very same boxes you bitch about nonstop. Now they can become a fort or a kitchen or a guitar or a piano or a dog or we could go on.
The Best New Toys for Middle Schoolers
Halo MA40 Motorized Dart Blaster by Nerf
The Halo video game series is the inspiration for a new line of blasters from Nerf, and the MA40 is the coolest of the bunch. It’s Goldilocks-sized (and priced), with motorized blasting and a ten-dart capacity. More specifically, it’s modeled after a weapon in Halo Infinite, the latest title in the series. And as a bonus for video game sessions after Nerf battles, it comes with a code that unlocks a special digital asset in that game.
STEAM Paper Flower Science Kit by Crayola
Crayola’s new paper flowers will look familiar to parents who were kids in the 1970s and ’80s, when paper flowers, and crafts, more generally, were a normal part of life. Crayola has added a “STEAM” component with this set, which has inks and colors that kids can mix, paint, drop on, or apply by wicking, which encourages them to explore the science of water.
Star Wars Mandalorian Darksaber by Hasbro
When Moff Gideon whipped this thing out in the season one finale of The Mandalorian, fans of The Clone Wars and Rebels must have audibly gasped. Playing catch-up, the rest of us soon learned about the awesome power of this ancient weapon and what it might mean for season two of the hit series. This toy version is, therefore, a very hot commodity as the new season premieres and a slam-dunk gift for any kid who loves The Mandalorian. It’s an electronic saber with sound and lightning effects that capture the dark power of the weapon, including the ability to summon lightning.
Star Wars: The Mandalorian Razor Crest Building Kit by Lego
The coolest galaxy-cruising hunk of junk since the Millenium Falcon is the Razor Crest from The Mandalorian.. At 1,023 pieces this Lego version will present a challenge even to experienced builders. And fans of the show will appreciate the attention to detail, from the carbonite bounty in the cargo hold to spring-loaded shooters perfect for escaping a hairy situation It comes with Mando, Greef Karga, Scout Trooper, an IG-11 droid, and a minifigure of Baby Yoda, which we’re calling Baby Baby Yoda.
Mini Golf by Sphero
It looks like a regular golf ball. It feels like a regular golf ball. But this thing is on par with the best STEM toys out there and comes to you with a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer. Kids download the Sphero app, connect the golf ball to it, and create their own golf course; they can either play alone or with dad or with friends. They can also choose one of three games and use the Sphero as a controller to demolish asteroids, speed through a rotating tunnel, or crash into a polygon of bricks. It’s iOS 10+ and Android 5.0+ compatible.
Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power Strategy Board Game by Ravensburger
What the original Villainous game did for Cruella De Vil, the newest iteration does for Thanos and Hella: It makes the baddies deeply appealing. In this case, 2-4 players choose which of the five villains they want to be, and complete their objectives; in the case of Thanos, for example, it’s collecting the elusive yet all-powerful Infinity Stones. It’s complex, immersive, and detailed, which is everything a great board needs to be.
Star Wars The Child Animatronic Edition Toy by Hasbro
When you touch The Child’s head, he giggles, babbles, and even goes to sleep. Such is the magic of Baby Yoda, the animatronic wonder whose head goes up and down, ears move back and forth, and eyes open and close. It’s pretty much a must have for anyone who loved The Mandalorian, or who enjoys sipping bone broth for dinner.
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