Holiday toy guide: 14 kid-approved gifts parents will love to give


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By Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow

Whoever said it’s the thought that counts clearly has never given a gift to a child. Even the best-behaved kids find it hard to fake pleasure over a present that doesn't excite them. 

To help get some legitimate joy, we’ve rounded up 14 of the coolest, kid-approved gifts on store shelves this year. Many are under $50 and—best part—all can be purchased from the comfort of your living room.

1. Lucky Duck

Count stacking as one of baby’s favorite things to do (right behind sleeping and eating, that is). This sweet stacker—made of cherry and beech woods—gives them plenty of chances to indulge their need to arrange while also teaching important concepts like colors, numbers and counting. (For ages 12 months and up; $24.99 at Yoyo)

2. Puppet Master

As great as high-tech gadgets are, sometimes the best entertainment comes from the simplest things. Case in point: these eight adorable laser-cut puppets based on characters from the beloved children’s series Madeline. Get their creative juices flowing by having them act out their favorite scenes from the book. (For ages 3 and up; $16.99 at Galison)

3. Big Wheels

It’s not hard to see why VTech’s Go! Go! Amaze-ment Park Playset is topping wish lists this year: This exhilarating set has all the makings of four-wheeled fun. Cars whoosh down ramps, zip around a dizzying 360-degree loop, and swing by the electronic pit stop to refuel. All the while, budding Indy 500 racers are being exposed to language-building songs, sounds and phrases. (For ages 12 months-5 years; $58.79 at Yoyo)


4. Puppy Love

Pound Puppies are back and better than ever. Much of what you loved about this ‘80s favorite remains -- plush rescue pups are up for adoption, and each comes with a breed-specific fact card and the iconic heart-shaped dog tag. But today’s 2.0 version also lets your children register their furry friend online and even print out an adoption certificate. (For ages 3 and up; $5.99 for a 3.5-inch plush keychain, $7.99 for a 6-inch plus, and $19.99 for a 12-inch plus at Funrise)

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5. Home Sweet Home

Ramp up their game of hide and seek with the ultimate secret spot. When this ombre hanging play home canopy from Land of Nod isn’t busy offering cover, it can double as a instant reading nook, a make-believe classroom or a serene napping spot. (For ages 3 and up; $159 at Land of Nod)

6. Mr. Sandman

Just because you’re months away from a beach vacay doesn’t mean your kiddos can’t enjoy some fun in the sand—the Kinetic Sand, that is. Unlike the gritty stuff that finds its way into everything from their shoes to their ears, this soft space-age sand sticks together for easy molding and won’t leave behind any residue. Translation: All those sand castles won’t end up on the wrong end of the vacuum cleaner. (For ages 3 and up; $19.99 at Toys ‘R Us)

7. Loads of Fun

Watching trains circle a track can only amuse your pint-sized conductor for so long. Up the fun factor with BRIO’s Rail & Road Loading Set, a 32-piece railway that includes a magnetic train crane, two cargo trucks and three rock risers that give some lift to the course and allow a satisfying “whoosh” sound as the train rolls down. Bonus: The pieces interlock easily, so there’s no headache during assembly. (For ages 3-6; $69.99 at Yoyo)


8. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah

GoldieBlox isn’t your average doll. She has bendable joints and grippy hands for more lifelike play, plus she comes with construct-your-own sets, like this awesome 13-inch zipline. Sure, your kids are seeing basic engineering principles in action as they send Goldie soaring down the line, but more importantly, they’re having a blast. (For ages 4 and up; $24.99 at Amazon)

9. Worlds to Explore

Stave off a chorus of “I’m bored” this winter with a subscription to Junior Explorers. Each month, your kid receives an interactive kit that teaches them all about different spots on earth—everywhere from the Antarctic to the Serengeti. The mission continues online, where thrill-seekers learn about the animals and landscape of the location—and how best to preserve them. (For ages 5-12; $19 a month at Junior Explorers)


10. Pet Shop Kids

Why should Blythe, Minka, Penny, Pepper and friends have all the fun at the Littlest Pet Shop? This highly customizable play set, a duplicate of the one from the animated series, puts your animal lover right in the middle of the action. Each comes with Minka Mark monkey, Sunil Nevla mongoose and Kitery Banter cat, plus a whopping 135 pieces, everything from accessories to wall panels to stickers. (For ages 6 and up; $39.99 at Toys ‘R Us)

11. Piece by Piece

Let’s face it: It’s not always easy to encourage the kiddos to keep learning during a holiday break. But thanks to the award-winning Around the World jigsaw puzzle, they can brush up on geography basics without even realizing it. Bonus: Each of the 63 pieces features bright, cheerful illustrations from artist Johnny Yanok -- a perfect pick-me-up for a snowy winter day. (For ages 6 and up; $14.99 at Galison)

12. Good Game

Family game night starting to feel a little stale? Surprise your mini real estate moguls with Monopoly games personalized just for them. Use cute snaps of you and the fam to customize property spaces, tokens and even Community Chest and Chance cards. Whether you keep the card awarding you second place in a beauty contest is totally up to you. (For ages 8 and up; $19.99 at Hasbro)


13. Dream Weaver

Need a surefire way to keep older kids entertained during the holiday break (or at least long enough to put down their cell phone)? Pick up the Loopdeloom Weaving Loom Kit, which lets them create everything from of-the-moment infinity scarves to personalized iPhone cases. Best part? Thanks to a new loom design that features spinning pegs, the weaving process isn’t just easier, it’s faster. (For ages 8-15; $29.99 at Amazon)

14. A Doozy of a Doodle

We don’t know what we love most about 3Doodler Creations 3-D Pen, the world’s first 3D printing pen -- that budding artists can literally draw creations in the air or that this veritable magic wand costs under $100. Using it is a piece of cake, too: Just fill the marker-sized pen with a spool of colorful plastic and start scribbling. As you draw, out pops a string of plastic, which can then be manipulated into any shape you want. Genius. (For ages 14 and up; $99 at Michaels)