MAMA PICKS: holiday toy suggestions

{Best Green Toys}

We're all looking for great "green toys". So it makes since that the best kept secret in green toys that speaks for itself with a no-nonsense name: Green Toys. All toys are made 100% in the USA, and recycled milk containers are the main ingredient in Green Toys. How great is that! They are free of BPA, pthalates, and lead. My children adored the tea set. It was the perfect size for little hands. I loved the fact that I didn't need to worry if they put the cup to their mouth when they played, and that there was no concern these saucers would break if flung from the table.

Plan Toys Dollhouse
Plan Toys are as cute and creative as they are green. Their wooden toys are made from clean, natural rubberwood, and then painted with soy and water-based paints and glued with formaldehyde-free glue. They have a host of stimulating manipulative toys for the baby and toddler set, but we are big suckers for their dollhouses! The Terrace Dollhouse is the perfect dollhouse for young hands - it's big enough that kids can maneuver the dolls, but small enough to tuck into a corner of the playroom. The neutral rooms and movable terrace, partitions, windows, door and staircase allow kids to lean on their imagination. And best of all, the house is accessible from both sides - ideal for siblings who are learning to play together.

Insect Lore offers all sorts of kits and products that allow kids to explore nature right in their homes. What kid would not want to watch a caterpillar grow into a butterfly, or a tadpole develop into a frog in their own homes? This is a fabulous company with some pretty amazing gift ideas for any holiday.Read more about Insect Lore here.

{Best Educational Toys}

VTech has a solid reputation for being one of the leaders is creating toys that multi-task as fun gadgets that also cultivate some learning. Our favorite products in the VTech line up this year are:

Vtech Kididoodle - These little contraptions allow kids to doodle in pairs, to send e-cards to each other, and to play games on the little handheld devices. They seem like the perfect travel toy for the car or airplane, and as a mom of two kids, I love that they come in a set of 2, which means no fighting over whose turn it is to hold it!

Vtech Nitro Notebook - this is one of our favorite toys for kids over 5 from the Vtech lineup. Youngsters will love whipping out this very grownup-looking laptop for a little educational time. It comes packed with lessons on everything from language and math, to social studies and music.

Fisher Price Fun-2-Learn Computer
With bright, animated graphics and big controls that are easy for young hands to use, Computer Cool School hooks up to your computer via a USB cable. This kid-safe, kinder-friendly laptop builds confidence in young ones by teaching important school skills, including Reading, Writing, Math, Art, Music and Science. And the attached mouse and QWERTY keyboard will teach early computer skills, too.

Smart Lab offers a range of toys that are educationally based, and sure to inspire a lot of fun and thinking in your home. Most of the toys are geared towards kids 8+ years old, so they make for perfect school-supplements. Our favorite smart lab toys are the First Electronic Learning Kit and the Face Off Air Hockey Kit. The bottom line on these toys is that if you have a kid who is interested in science, these toys will delight their little minds.

{Best Games}
We are all about board games! We love that they get families away from "screen time" and help teach our kids good sportsmanship, how to take turns and give our family quality & fun time together! We are big fans of classic games like Candyland, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, & Gator Golf. But, there are some really great games out this season worthy of some attention.

What we love about these games the most is that they introduce social skills in such a fun way. Teaching your kids good manners, to share, and how to listen has never been so fun! We like that the audio cd and storybook come with these games because it gives us multiple opportunities to practice these essential skills that we moms are always trying to hone [good manners, listening, sharing] with our kids. We love that these games are not focused on winning, but rather on cooperative play and working on a goal as a team!

The creators at I Can Do That! know kids. And they know parents. Their Dr. Suess-inspired games get kids up and out of their seats—running, jumping, and following directions. They understand that games for the preschool set need to be simple, engaging, and easy-to-follow. Even better, they seem to have created toys that kids can actually play BY THEMSELVES. Yep, every parents' dream.

I often wonder if the Cranium headquarters is full of kids, because their games are absolutely made to keep kids on the edge of their seats. We heart Cranium in a big way. Read more about it here. The latest Cranium game that has stolen my heart is Puppy Pals Bingo. The game-making geniuses at Cranium have taken the classic game ["bingo"] and turned it into a better version of itself. My kids swoon over the puppy tokens and delight in hearing each puppy's name (every puppy token has a different puppy face and name like "Ginger", "Princess", "Buster", "Scooter", "Doodles"). My 2 year old son can play this game! (Thank you for that.) The bingo cards are so cute with their different dog house designs. And, lastly, you have made learning colors, shapes and patterns super fun!

I love when we can take a beloved character from books and bring them into our world of play in other forms and these Fancy Nancy games and activities are a ton of fun! My daughter and I have been playing the Fancy Nancy Dress Up game daily. It is a really simple game (my 2 year old can even play with us), but is a lot of fun. She also loves to "accessorize" Fancy Nancy's bedroom with all the cling on stickers that she can take off and put back on to her little heart's desire! [I am a big fan of that one for "quiet room time"!]

Get ready for this all new action-packed family game that will have you tossing, kicking, bowling, and throwing like never before! First toss out the soft foam Boochie target and then try to land your ball and hoop as close to it as possible. Keep score on a special wrist tracker that gives you a different outrageous throwing challenge every round. You may have to toss between your legs, behind your back, or even with your eyes closed! The player with the most points wins. Geared for players ages 8+, it offers tons of indoor and outdoor fun for the whole family!

{Best Toys for Girls}

In a world of Bratz and clothing marketed to little girls that is clearly meant for "ladies of the night", we are overjoyed to find this line of Groovy Girls RSVP dolls.Dressed in their party best, these wholesome and playful Groovy Girls RSVP dolls come with a password that unlocks an online clubhouse just for girls, featuring fabulous and fun parties and games, while also imparting positive value messages to girls. "RSVP" stands for the values of Respect, Self-expression, Values, and Play. Manhattan Toys is partnering with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve "Toys for Tots" program to donate these dolls. We love that this gives us (moms) the opportunity to have discussions about "RSVP" values as well as the need for our girls to be aware of the needs of others. And, these plush dolls are just so, well, so groovy! There are also groovy pets, horses and furniture for the girls to play with.

Fisher Price Dora Dollhouse
Gotta gal who loves Dora? She will love Dora's Magical Dollhouse. Decorated in bright colors, this folding doll house features eight rooms, a working lamp, and fun sound effects. What really separates the Magical Welcome House from other doll houses is a fun set of interactive features, like a doorbell that rings. But my daughter's favorite part is being able to play house with her favorite television character!

This line of toys combines two of the things that girls love - sparkly jewels and coloring! The Color Me Gemz jewelry box is a full functioning jewelry box that can be decorated with special gems inside and out. It comes with special markers used to decorate the "gemz", that can then be used to add some bling to the jewelry box. The jewelry box will hold lots of special treasures like necklaces and bracelets (and feathers found at the park). The Color Me Gemz line also offers necklace kits, bracelets kits, and purse kits. This line is targeted at girls 5+, and even I had fun testing this out with my daughter.

{Best Toys for Boys}

DC Super Friends

Boys love superheroes. It is an ingrained, immuteable fact. My son's obsession started at age 2, and I was not ready to give in to the scary looking action figures he seemed drawn to like a moth to the flame. I discovered the perfect compromise for the preschool set. DC Super Friends are action figures of all the favorite superheroes, but they are animated and sized for the younger crowd.

Brio City Rescue Set
The Railway City Rescue Set is one of our favorites from Brio, a high-quality line of wooden toys. It combines the best of rail play with the elements of rescue - with several buildings and a firetruck ready to save the day. Boys can set up the tracks themselves, and then create endless scenarios of rescus scenes.

For the boys who know all about Lightening McQueen & Mater, these wee-little cars are a fabulous gift. They fit perfectly in little hands or a pair of jean's pocket, and are one of our favorite things to take to the park, in the car, out to dinner, to grandma's house... [I do apologize in advance for the amount of times you will be on your knees hunting under the couch for "little Queen", your son's new favorite buddy.

{Best Toys for Your Budding Artist}

Clementine Art Kits
Clementine Art Kits develop creativity and imagination in young children ages 3+. They have fresh and natural art supplies (all products are certified non-toxic and environmentally friendly) that inspire creativity and free-play in art. One of our favorite kits is the "Printmaking" kit. It comes with colorful paints, a sheet of clear acrylic, paintbrushes, 25 sheets of recycled paper, textured painting tools & rollers.

V-Tech KidiJamz Keyboard
For the budding musician, this keyboard will be a hit. It lets kids record their own songs and music and play it back on a detachable music player. My son thinks it is his own personal ipod, and he loves hearing himself recorded! The microphone has digital voice effects, and it even comes with a musical scratching disc. Your kids will be a master DJ in no time!

Inspire your child to shake and shimmy when they step in front of this kid-friendly camera console. Plug into your TV and the camera projects your little one onto your TV screen so they can dance along to kid-friendly tunes and adorable preschool characters. You can also hook up your own mp3 player in the freestyle mode and let the kids dance to music of you own choosing! ["Who let the dogs out, who who who who?"] We love that the Dance Cam gets our kids moving - dancing and wiggling to the music - while they giggle and watch themselves on the TV screen. It is super easy to set up - load in the batteries and plug the cords into your TV and you are good to go. My kids LOVE this toy. (Their daddy was enjoying seeing himself dance too.) This is a pretty great toy to have on hand for parties, play dates and anytime that you are stuck indoors and you want to get your kids moving.

Stock up on the staples
My daughter draws, doodles, and writes "letters" every day! I am planning on giving her a big box of computer paper (made from recycled paper, of course), a new set of markers and crayons, and some other random "office supplies". Those seem to delight her every day of the week as it is.

You could also borrow this idea from Julie!

Fill a toolbox or tackle box with craft supplies for your budding artist and they will have their own collection of supplies to tote with them and keep organized for when inspiration strikes! (We suggest stocking it with markers, crayons, glue, pom pom balls, googly eyes, glitter, scissors, tape and some yarn to get started).

{Best Baby/Toddler Toys}

If you are looking for a soft, stuffed animal friend for a little one this holiday season, this cozy Rosco Dog will steal your heart with his puppy dog eyes and his super soft, squeezable body! What will set him apart from the other gazillion stuffed animals lining the shelves is his ability to record a 10 second message for you. You press his left paw to record a message, and then press his right paw to play it. We think this would be a super special gift to send to a beloved child that lives far away from you. Can you imagine a sweet message from Grandma, cousins, or an auntie pre-recorded on the little pup? Swoon...

Manhattan toy also makes some of the cutest finger puppets we have ever seen!

Brio Shape Sorter
A shape sorter is a classic stimulating and engaging toy for infants and toddlers, and we love this version from Brio. Made of wood instead of the typical plastic, it helps teach children shapes and colors and develops hand-eye coordination and concentration. To make things easy, the sliding bottom stays attached to the box, and the six shapes are in bold, bright colors.

Sometimes there is nothing better than the classics. When I think of toys that have held my kids attention, I cannot help but think of the toys that I enjoyed playing with. One of my all time favorites is Mr. Potato Head. There is just something intrinsically fun and silly about getting to choose Mr. P's face. Oh the giggling we do over here with Mr. P. It gets our vote as a great gift idea any day of the week!

{Best Bath Toys}

Boon Bath Toys
When we saw the company "boon" and their tagline "innovations for modern parents", we knew we have to investigate. What we have learned is that is a company that is creating some fun and innovative stuff for parents to use with their kids. They are also working hard to create products that are safer for our kids, and we are big fans of safer stuff in our kids' world! These bath toys do not absorb water, reducing mold and mildew. Their contemporary colors and funky forms look great in the modern bath. The mini-scrubbies are designed to fit little hands perfectly. The funky shapes inspire great free-play and creative stories during our kids' baths. They are all phthalate and PVC free. We like to call them "clean toys to use while your kids are getting clean."

Kuster Bath Toy Store
This Bath Toy Store isn't a toy, per se, but it sure keeps those pesky bath toys organized. It's cleverly designed to scoop and hold the wet toys and allow them to drain free of water - you simply tip it away afterwards. And it's compact and attractive enough to sit happily in the bathroom neatly and tidily storing the toys - so you'll barely notice they are there - ready for use the next time.

{Best Toys for the Little Chef}

Zebra Mix

This is a healthy baking mix that also provides a fun & engaging activity to do with your kids. Each Zebra Mix comes with a large foldout 18' x 24' "Safari Baking Map" that leads kids through the step by step instructions of the baking process in a super fun way. My kids loved following the map from start to finish and checking off the box after completing a task. Each Safari Baking Map is double-sided with unique activities tailored for different age groups -- side 1 is for kids 4-9, and side 2 is for 9 and up.

What I think I love the most about this product is that it does not contain any artificial ingredients, used over 70% organic ingredients and does not have even a trace of partially hydrogenated oils (that is hard to find in baking mixes)! Parents just have to provide a couple fresh ingredients, such as fresh eggs and butter, and mouth-watering treats are on their way! Even their decorating sugars found in the Cupcake Kit are colored with all-natural vegetable dyes! Visit the Zebra Mix website to check out more and to see where you can find these mixes for chocolate chip cookies, brownie bites, and cupcake & frosting kit! This is a great & affordable gift idea that you know will be put to good use (rainy day activity AND a snack!), and would be super cute to bundle up with a cute apron or mixing bowl!

Sassafrass Enterprises offers many options that will have your kids cooking up fun in the kitchen faster than you can say "Deluxe Holiday Cookie Making Kit". They have all sorts of kits and cooking accessories to choose from.

{Best "Pitch In" Gifts}

Sometimes it seems like the the gifts that last the longest and get the most use are "outside of the box".

How about asking family members to pitch in some money to buy a new craft table for your kids? Like this or this.

Or, what about setting up a "Lessons Fund" - grandma & grandpa could contribute towards dance, piano, karate or golf lessons. (Think of how happy they will feel when they see those photos of their little sugar plum fairy in her tutu spinning across the floor!)

And, when in doubt, we can always rely on books to be a perfect gift!


  1. My daughter wants that cupcake maker and my son wants anything with a super hero - easy peasy! Last year they both got Leapsters and play with them every day - we have gone through hundreds of batteries but it's an educational version of a Nintendo DS, costs way less and is the only toy they still play with after a year!

  2. What a wonderful comprehensive list! Thanks :)


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