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. And that’s why every year, plenty of gift-givers turn to The Toy Insider’s annual toy lists to help guide their decision.
For those who are looking to get that tough job over with as early as possible this year, we have some exciting news: The Toy Insider’s Hot 20 List has arrived! We got the exclusive details from The Toy Insider’s editor-in-chief Marissa Silva about all the buzzworthy, innovative and fun toys that made this year’s list.
To create the list each year, Silva says the team starts testing the toys in October of the year prior — and they try out thousands before narrowing it down to the final ones. When analyzing toys for the list, Silva says the team reviews them based on five different criteria points — skill building, play value (how much playtime kids can get out of a toy when compared to its cost), originality, product integrity ("does the toy do what it's supposed to do, what kids expect it to do?") and, finally, fun factor. They also make sure that the list feels balanced, across price points and interests. "We want to make sure that there's a lot of different offerings for different types of kids," Silva says.
The hottest and most popular items are then broken down into three lists: Hot 20, 12 Under $20 and STEM 10. Picks on the list range from affordable stocking stuffers to sought-after finds from brands like Lego, Barbie, L.O.L. Surprise! and more.
Shop TODAY editorial director Adrianna Brach also recently stopped by the show to share a handful of picks from each list. Keep reading to get a first look at those, as well as the rest of the Hot 20, 12 Under $20 and STEM 10 lists. If you see anything that catches your eye, you'll want to act fast, because there's no telling how long these toys will stay in stock.
"Most, if not all, of the toys on our Hot 20 list will be expected to sell out," Silva says.
The Toy Insider's hot toys, as seen on TODAY
Blitzee is a first of its kind electronic pet that kids can actually touch and pet. Each Blitzee starts as a baby, and as kids feed and play with them, they’ll grow into an adult and then a Super Blitzee!
“I love that it comes in this little jewelry box-style case that you can just snap shut and take it with you,” Silva says.
They can reach new heights with this unique race car. Not only does it zoom across floors, but it can also drive up walls and on the ceiling! The best part? This ultra-cool gift is just $20.
With this Elmo toy, not only will kids get to play with a character that they know and love, but it will also help get them moving, Silva says. The plush toy dances and plays the viral song “The Elmo Slide”and encourages kids to dance along. Elmo is also bilingual and can sing and speak in Spanish, as well as, English!
This fun plush toy does it all. It wiggles, walks, plays music and even shoots out confetti for a fun surprise. Plus, it comes with a funnel, scoop and extra confetti, so the fun never stops.
Editor's note: This pick is currently out of stock, but we're sharing another toy from the brand, below.
You can always expect to find at least one L.O.L. Surprise! toy on every hot holiday toy list. And this pick from the brand brings all the unboxing fun that kids love about the toys and takes it to new heights. They can pull back the lid to watch their doll fly.
This toy checks practically every box for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” fans. “It has all that role play value that you’d expect from a toy like that, so kids can reenact their favorite scenes from the movie,” Silva says. “But it also has that fun action play of shooting these little mini pizzas.
“‘90s kids everywhere can rejoice because Furby is back for the next generation!” Silva says. “[It’s] super bright, colorful, neon and fun, but more interactive than ever before.”
This new version of the Furby toy features more than 600 phrases, jokes, songs and other reactions.
Beast Lab is one of the latest toys from Moose Toys, the brand behind the beloved Magic Mixies toys. This one brings a “mad scientist element” into the equation, Silva says. Instead of mixing a potion or waving a wand, kids will follow the steps of an experiment to reveal one of two beasts.
Kids will be introduced to a new way to color with this kit. They will follow the map and use the suggested colors to create a pixelated unicorn — or they can get creative and try their own design. The board is washable, so they can use it again and again.
This bestselling Super Mario Nintendo Switch game is fun for the whole family, Silva says. It takes the classic game and adds a new element: Wonder Flowers, which trigger unexpected elements in the game.
Cocomelon toys are a hit every year, and this plush toy is no different. "He sings some of the iconic Cocomelon songs that kids are going to expect to hear and he's got an interactive play feature, which for babies at that age is really important," Silva says. "You want them to work on those social-emotional skills and interacting with their toy can really help do that."
Fisher-Price is a brand that parents have come to know and love, and this year, they released a new Mix & Learn DJ table that is perfect for kids ages 6 months to 3 years old. "I really love this toy because it grows with kids," Silva says. "So when babies are younger, you can take the legs off and put it right on the floor so that they can have floor play. When they're older, you put the legs on and now they can stand and play. So it really changes based on their needs."
It also features three Smart Stage levels, so they continue learning as they grow, the brand says.
"Activity cubes are a staple for a lot of babies and toddlers," Silva says. "And the VTech one is actually eco-friendly. It has a lot of wooden elements to it, which I think parents today will love. There's just so much play and learning built into all sides of this cube. So it's one of those toys that is not going to cost you an arm and a leg, it's good for the environment and kids are gonna get so much out of it."
It's the year of Barbie, so it should come as no surprise that this year's Barbie Dreamhouse made the hot list. With the tallest slide to date, three levels and 10 indoor and outdoor play areas, the new house inspires "360 degrees of play," Silva says.
"It's a perfect place to also store your Barbie dolls, which I feel like every parent is looking for."
Toys featuring characters from movies and TV shows are a big trend this year, Silva says. And Bluey, the Australian Blue Heeler puppy is a family favorite. "Bluey is everyone's favorite show, from preschoolers to grade schoolers to parents," Silva says. And this toy comes with Bluey and Bingo figures and a large Hammerbarn shopping center for them to explore.
Speaking of beloved characters, this playset brings Spidey from the show "Spidey and His Amazing Friends " to life. Silva says that it has so many different elements from the show built in, so they can recreate some of the adventures that they see on the screen.
A car that transforms into a dinosaur? This is truly the toy of dreams. Kids can play with the fire truck, rescue helicopter and electronic police car on their own and then combine them to create a T-Rex with animated Dino eyes!
Silva says that this Tonies Starter Set is a "great gift" for a number of reasons: It's screen-free, it's educational and it has the collectible character that kids know and love. When they place Mickey on top of the box, they'll get to hear a whodunnit mystery featuring Goofy and Mickey!
Celebrate 100 years of Disney with this special edition Lego set. The set has 12 8x8 plates and additional tiles that kids can piece together to create collages with their favorite characters that they can display on their wall or bookshelf.
Like a real pup, each one of these Dog-Es are truly unique! It goes through a minting process to reveal a combination of colorful lights, sounds and personality traits. Will your dog be playful and loving? Or will they always be hungry? You can also create multiple profiles in the app, so everyone in your family can experience their own unique Dog-E!
"We've never really seen a tech toy like that at its price point of $79.99, so it's just a really, really great value," Silva says.
This set comes with everything you need to play the Pokemon game, including special cards with special unique illustrations. "[It] involves a lot of strategic thinking, which is really a healthy practice for kids in this age range," Silva says. "Plus, a lot of social-emotional development when you're playing against an opponent and you're learning to win or lose." It is currently only available for preorder.
This new version of the Tamagotchi has "more interactivity than ever before," Silva says. "You can customize the room that they live in, you can make friends with other actual Tamagotchis, you can even propose marriage!"
It even comes with a wristband so they can take it with them everywhere they go.
The Toy Insider 12 Under $20
They can take their newest BFF with them everywhere! Because this little toy is designed to fit right on their fingertip. Each one has tons of sounds and reactions and will recognize when you feed them or pet them.
Plush toys are another huge trend this year, Silva says. And BumBumz's affordable plushy friends come in plenty of different varieties, from flowers to a disco ball or koala, like this one.
They can collect all their favorite princesses, from Moana to Ariel and Jasmine! Each doll comes in her signature outfit from the movie and has removable accessories.
This set comes with 333 Lego bricks in vibrant neon colors that kids can put together to make fun designs and characters.
Mini collectible toys are always a hit with both kids and adults alike. And this series of surprise collectibles feature replicas of your favorite home and lifestyle pieces, including plants, aquariums, candles and more.
Meet Mr. Bendy! He can become whatever you can imagine, from an astronaut to a golfer. Players of this game will pick a card and then craft Mr. Bendy into whatever is on it. Others will then guess what he is before time runs out.
They can take their creativity on the go with these cute doodle boards! Each one features a stylus attached with sturdy cord and erases easily when you press the forest friend's nose.
These dolls present a new way to play. Each one comes with seven complete removable sticker outfits that they can peel and stick on to style their doll. They can mix and match the tops, bottoms and shoes to create endless outfit combinations.
Collect all your favorite characters with this surprise toy! Each set comes with magical clues, scene cards, a character figure, a sidekick and an accessory.
The Toy Insider STEM 10
Toy Insiders STEM 10 list features a range of toys geared toward teaching kids science, technology and math concepts. With this kit, kids can build two water-powered robots and then use them in an epic boxing match!
This set comes with more than 500 pieces that they can put together to create epic marble runs. It's said to be ideal for builders of all skill levels — they can start with the beginner template and then work their way up to more complex builds.
Thames & Kosmos Kai: The Artificial Intelligence Robot
They can learn about artificial intelligence and build their own robot that moves and reacts to their gestures.
"What I love about this little robot is that while it is intended for kids, it doesn’t feel overly simplified," one shopper wrote. "There’s room for exploration and creativity which is great for both kids and adults. The booklet tells you the why behind what you’re putting together; not just how to do it."
Is your little one obsessed with space? They can map the stars and make out-of-this-world discoveries with this telescope. The real telescope features up to 110 times magnification and allows them to capture their own images so they can save what they see!
This toy will put them right in the driver's seat! They can put the Magna-Tiles together to create a downhill race track and send their cars zooming down.
Mini coders, meet your new best friend! Kids will follow simple instructions to program Pyxel to perform tricks, show sweet expressions, change colors and more.
Fuel your little one's love for science with one of the Smithsonian's science kits. This one allows them to look at leaves, insect parts and more at up to 900 times their size. It comes with both prepared slides and blank ones, so they can collect their own specimens to examine.
Kids can build their own fully operational FM radio and learn the science of radio waves and electricity along the way. Once they put it together, they can use their radio whenever they want to tune into hit stations!
This fun activity set provides a completely screen-free learning experience! They'll solve dozens of coding challenges with the included activity cards, create mazes and learn space facts.
They can ride with elephants, hang out with gorillas and experience over 40 immersive experiences with this virtual reality kit. Along with the VR goggles, they'll get a 96-page interactive book, which includes a set of animal scratch art pads.