Stumped on what to get for the kids on your list this holiday season? Here, TODAY contributor Stephanie Oppenheim from ToyPortfolio.com highlights some of the site’s Platinum Award-winning toys. All of them have been trial-tested, so you don’t have to!
For preschoolers and early school year kids, pretend settings are not only fun, but really offer kids an opportunity to use their imaginations as they spin their own stories. We often only think about dollhouses, but here are two settings that will appeal to boys as well:
Arena (Playmobil, $89.99)
Playmobil meets the Gladiator with this ancient arena that includes audience seats, trapdoors to the lion cages, a wide gate and large battle area.
Woodland Adventures Castle of Courage (Step 2, $79.99) There is great competition in wooden castles, and what’s great about the Step 2 castle is that it really gives specialty-store quality at a mass-market price. It comes complete with towers, a working drawbridge and knights ready to defend their castle.
A special doll or huggable makes a memorable present for the holidays. Here are a few of our favorites:
Lia Interactive Baby Doll (Corolle, $89.95)
The French doll maker is known for beautiful, classic baby dolls. We were surprised by this interactive doll that speaks four languages! Our testers often pass on interactive dolls, but found the sound effects fun (and not too noisy). For a very special holiday gift, we’d pair it with their Classique Nursery Twin Stroller ($80).
American Girl Dolls (($87 each with book) This year, American Girl’s Historic dolls have a relatively recent cast to them. American Girls Julie and Ivy are two 1970s San Francisco girls who are caught up in the women’s movement, Title IX, the Bicentennial and the issue of divorce.
Arnold the Snoring Pig (Gund, $30)
Everyone loves Arnold — when he snores, his mouth and ears move! He’s my personal favorite huggable this year.
Playing a game with your kids is a great way to connect at any time of the year, but especially during the holiday break when you’re free from your everyday schedule. Here are just a few of our award winners this year:
Candy Land Castle Game (Milton Bradley, $19.99) We love this low-tech game that reinforces shape and color concepts. Pull the candy-cane lever and out pops a shape. Players match shape spaces on their gingerbread-cookie playing boards. Preschoolers will like the action of popping shapes, and you can add words that define the colors and shapes.
Cat in the Hat I Can Do That Game (I Can Do That Game, $19.99)
The Cat in the Hat wants to see what players can do. Players flip three cards over and then try to do what the cards say, using the playing pieces provided. For example, can you jump up and down while holding a fish under your chin? There’s reading, memory, action and lots of fun built into this entertaining game for kids ages 4-8.
Jam Pack Jam (Cranium, $19.99)
Ever try to pack the family car for a trip and have trouble closing the trunk? This game comes with an SUV that players take turns packing. They draw six cards from the deck with pictures of objects. They must pack four before the timer runs out. If they beat the clock, the motor starts up. A fun family game that requires some strategy and visual perception.
Toss Your Cookies (Gamewright, $11.95)
Players must gather five of the same cookie cards and the only glass of milk pictured on the circular cards. Players get the right combination (or not) by following the actions on the dice and passing cards left or right. This is a good game for matching skills, directionality and turn-taking. Aside from all that, each round is quick and fun. It accommodates 3-8 players and is geared toward kids ages 8 and up.
These two aren’t quite the real thing, but they sure are fun to play with!
Mini Automoblox (Automoblox, $7.99)
For parents looking for “cool design” for the playroom, look no further. These are smaller versions of the sleekly designed Platinum Award-winning wooden cars. Like the originals ($34 each), these also got high marks from our testers, who enjoyed taking the cars apart (and putting them back together).
Air Hogs Havoc Helis (Spinmaster, $39.99) The Air Hogs Havoc Helis is our favorite novelty toy of the season. Amazingly lightweight and small, these helicopters hover, flit and speed about a room. They are operated by a hand-held transmitter that “pilots” can also fly outdoors. The infrared remote control maneuvers the copters up and down and right or left (and look really cool with the lights off!). They fly for about 5-7 minutes before needing a recharge (which takes 15 minutes). OK, so they are not for a room with serious art treasures, but they are fun! Buy them singly or, better yet, as a pair for racing and piloting games. Comes with spare tail propellers (smart!). For kids ages 8 and up.
Construction toys Construction toys are fun parent-child projects. Here are two Ferris wheels that tied for top place with our testers.
Double Ferris Wheel (K’NEX. $29.99)
At three feet tall when built, this takes two sets of hands to put together!
Creator Lego Ferris Wheel (Lego Systems, $69.99)
This is a reintroduced classic. Will look great on a desk once built!
We won’t blame you if you end up wanting to keep some of these cool gadgets for yourself:
Kidzoom Camera (Vtech, $59.99)
We were really impressed with the many features on this new digital and movie camera: dual-eye viewing, an 1.8" LCD screen, 16 MB memory and auto flash. It stores 200 photos or 5 minutes of video. It has wacky effects such as hats, photo frames and more that can be added on the camera screen or when you put it on the computer or TV. It also has games and photo puzzles. A lot for the money!
Eye Clops (Jakks Pacific, $49.99)
This is one amazing “bionic eye” that magnifies objects 200 times their size! Plug it into the TV screen and look at your skin, a bug, a coin, your sweater. We hope a future model will plug into the computer so you can save slides of your finds. For kids ages 6 and up.
Fly Fusion Pentop Computer (Leapfrog, $99) A sleek update of a truly innovative product: The computer is built into the pen, which works with special paper to create a variety of options — a working calculator, a translator and, our favorite, a musical keyboard you can draw and then play on your paper. But our testers loved that they could take notes on the special paper and later convert them to a document on the computer. It’s so cool, it might make you want to do seventh grade again ... OK, not really, but you will want your own pen!
For other Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award-winning toys, visit .