By the time the holiday season rolls around, both parents and kids have one thing on their minds: toys!
But while kids spend most of that time excitedly counting down the days until they get to open their presents, parents have the tough job of finding the toys that they'll actually love. That's why every year, plenty of gift-givers turn to The Toy Insider's annual toy list to help guide their decision.
And we have some exciting news: The Toy Insider's Hot 20 List has arrived! We got the exclusive details about all the buzzworthy, innovative and fun toys that made this year's list.
Toy Insider Hot 20 List
When working on the holiday gift guide, the team sorts through thousands of toys to find their favorite ones, Toy Insider's editor-in-chief Marissa Silva exclusively told Shop TODAY. So how do they land on the final picks? When analyzing toys for the list, the teams review them based on five different criteria points — play value (how much playtime kids can get out of a toy when compared to its cost), originality, skill building, product integrity (if it does what it's supposed to do) and, finally, fun factor.
The entire gift guide has hundreds of must-have toys, but the hottest and most popular items are broken down into three lists: Hot 20, 12 Under $20 and STEM10. Picks on the lists range from affordable stocking stuffers to sought-after finds that are likely to sell out from brands like Lego, Barbie, L.O.L. Surprise! and more. Keep reading to get a first look at all the picks from the Hot 20 and 12 Under $20 lists and then check out all the best STEM toys, here.
- Best toys for 0 to 2-year-olds
- Best toys for 3 to 4-year-olds
- Best toys for 5 to 6-year-olds
- Best toys for 8-year-olds and up
- Best toys under $20
Best toys for 0 to 2-year-olds
Babies and toddlers aged 9 months to 36 months can dance, move and bounce along as this fun toy plays music and sounds and displays colorful lights. With three Smart Stages learning levels, kids can learn the alphabet, colors, counting and more.
They might not be old enough to play video games, but you can give them a gaming chair of their own! The cute chair, which is a Toy of the Year 2022 finalist, features a swivel seat, joystick, pretend headphones and an interactive "tablet" with letter buttons and piano keys.
Best toys for 3 to 4-year-olds
Toys featuring kids' favorite characters from TV shows, movies and social media platforms have been big for a while now and they continue to trend this season, Silva said. And Cocomelon is a clear favorite. "I keep calling it the year of Cocomelon because Cocomelon is going to be everywhere in the toy aisle." Because of its popularity, if you see a Cocomelon toy in stock, you're going to want to add it to your cart ASAP. "If you see Cocomelon toy, grab it immediately," she said. "Don't wait for the sale, just pick it up, because it's going to be something that your kid is going to be looking for."
With this toy, JJ's head, elbow, knee or foot light up when he's hurt and your little one can place the bandages over each area to make him feel better.
This nearly four-foot doll house is truly the ultimate dream for Barbie lovers! It features a working elevator, 10 "indoor" and "outdoor" play areas (including a party room with a DJ booth!) and plenty of accessories including furniture and pets.
Playhouses are always a popular pick for kids and this one features characters from the popular Australian cartoon series "Bluey." Currently a No. 1 new release on Amazon, the playhouse comes with Bingo, Bluey and Chattermax figures, so kids can recreate their favorite scenes from the show.
"Kids want to do what they see their parents doing," Silva said. And while you might not be too excited to pick up your mop or a broom on house cleaning days, kids will love feeling like they're pitching in with this set. "I love the Clean Sweep Learning Caddy, because it inspires a fun roleplay experience that kids can engage in," she said.
If your kids still can't stop singing "We Don't Talk About Bruno," from the hit 2021 Disney movie "Encanto," then they'll be obsessed with this pick. "It's a really cute karaoke machine that's designed with graphics inspired by the movie, and has Bluetooth technology built in and a really cool EZ Link system," Silva said. "So you can connect it to any streaming service like Spotify, for example and it'll pull up the perfect karaoke 'Encanto' playlist that kids can just sing along to."
They can help Alice whip up some tasty treats with this Magical Oven Set. When they open up the oven it'll make sounds and play “The Baking Song” from the show!
Rev your engines! It's time for a monster truck race — and this four-foot-wide garage is the perfect place to have it. Kids can load up their trucks, crank them up the elevator and send them racing down the ramps while showing off their coolest stunts.
Kids have been enjoying the messy fun of Play-Doh for over 50 years now, but this playset gives little ones a new way to use the classic toy. They can pretend to scoop up colorful ice cream creations from their very own food truck. It comes with 12 colors and cones, dishes, stampers and molds, so they can create endless treats!
Best toys for 5 to 6-year-olds
Addison Rae now has her own doll — and she even plays music! The doll comes dressed in glamorous clothes and accessories that kids can use to get her performance-ready.
They can challenge their friends to epic battles with the Legends of Akedo Powerstorm Triple Strike Tag Team Arena. They can use the battle controller to perform expert fighting moves and use their player's elemental attack abilities to boost damage points. This playset comes with two exclusive warriors, but there are 42 of them to collect!
Calling all young fashionistas! It's time to get this L.O.L. Surprise! doll ready for the runway. Her outfit is ready to go, but she is in need of a hair makeover. Little stylists can use the included tools to create runway-ready twists, crimps, curls, waves, straight hair and more.
"Last year, Magic Mixies was the hot toy, and I think we're going to see that continue this year with the new crystal ball," Silva said. This new version, which is currently available for preorder, takes the magic to the next level. They'll use the interactive wand to cast a spell and reveal their new Mixie friend. The toy can be reset so they can perform the magic time and time again.
Music lovers can mix and create their own fun tracks with this unique toy. As they punch, swipe, twist and flick the music mixer, they can loop and remix the preloaded songs to create their own beats.
Meet the newest addition to their Squishmallows squad, Carlee The Camel! The 16-inch plush toy is the perfect size for snuggling at bedtime, on the plane or in the car. There are a range of different characters in the 16-inch collection and kids can collect them all to grow their buddy squad.
Best toys for 8-year-olds and up
As if a 6-foot inflatable dinosaur wasn't cool enough, this one thrashes, stomps, spins and makes tons of sound effects! Kids can control all of its functions using the remote control.
Young gamers can bring their Super Mario adventures to life with this Lego set. Along with the start pipe, goal pole, swing set and more, it features an interactive Peach figure with a color sensor, an LCD screen and a speaker that plays sounds from the game.
They'll swing, kick, spike and bowl their way to a win with this Nintendo Switch game. It features games like soccer, volleyball, bowling, tennis and more. While you can get the digital code to add to their Switch immediately, the physical version comes with a leg strap that they can use for soccer.
Part activity tracker, part epic battle game, this band will make a great gift for kids who are always on the move. It features a step counter and heart rate vital function, and kids can perform various activity missions like sprinting, shadow boxing and walking to earn trophies, increase their battle win rate and evolve their Digimon character.
Best Toys Under $20
These surprise toys feature all their favorite fast foods in miniature versions. Each one comes with five foods and there are more than 65 minis to collect, so you can grab them a couple and they can start building their own kitchen collection.
Judging from this list, the surprise toy trend isn't slowing down any time soon. This surprise egg features a range of fun toys, from stickers to mini dinosaurs for Jurassic Park fans to collect.
Made for kids ages 3 and older, in this game, they'll spin the wheel and match the character, color, shape, or pattern on the board. Not only is it a fun game for little ones, but it will help them learn, too! According to the brand, it encourages color, shape, and pattern recognition.
Toys that promote mental and physical wellness in kids are trending in the toy world, Silva said. And this affordable journal combines fun with emotional wellness. According to Silva, it can serve as an "intro to journaling for kids, but it makes it more of a creative and fun experience." It features prompts and activities that encourage kids to engage with their feelings.
The fidget toy gets a fashionable makeover with this doll. There are 18 dolls to collect and each one has at least three fidget features. It even comes with a keychain so they can hook it on their backpack or water bottle!
Cats vs Pickles collectible toys were huge last year, and now kids can add these baby versions to their collections. Each mystery bag comes with a pair of soft, bean-filled kitten or pickle characters along with a crinkly "fidget blanket."
For the parent who is hoping to introduce more sustainable products into their kids' routines, this toy is the perfect pick. The sensory foam is made from plant-based material and comes in eco=friendly packaging.
Silva said this is one of her "favorites" from the under $20 list. It takes the classic PopIt fidget toy and "takes things to the next level," she said. Kids can try to pop all the bubbles when they light up and then press the button on the back before time runs out.
The Star Wars Micro Galaxy Squadron Starfighter Class toys are a line of mini-ships from the Star Wars series that fans can collect. "It has a little bit more play value than your standard unboxing toy," Silva said. "And I think this one's great because it's going to appeal to a super wide age range of people — I think even adults are going to love collecting these."
Kids of all ages can enjoy the fun of this toy. Younger kids can grow their fine motor skills as they push and pull the bubble tabs, and older children can use it as a fidget toy to keep their hands busy.