We test and play with a lot of toys during the year for the blog and other work I do with various toy brands. Here are my top engaging toy gift ideas from our 2016 playtime. Many are toys that have been around and I think will continue to stick around for some time, as they are wonderfully engaging for children.
I won’t even agree to accept a toy for review if it doesn’t meet certain criteria: hands-on play, low-tech, educational value.
And while it’s rare that one toy can be the “be-all and end-all,” I also look for cooperative play opportunities, homeschool tie-ins, and repeat-play opportunities. So, to even arrive at our home, the toys have already passed numerous checklists in my head! Then I let my kids play with them, and watch how much they enjoy or engage with the toy over time.
My top engaging toy gift ideas from 2016
Play Foam Dino Pals Themed Set – Educational Insights – $8.99
Play foam is one of my favorite ‘crafty’ toys for my kids. They can squish and mold yet it doesn’t make a big mess all over. Their hands stay clean, and any stray foam pieces (which are rare) are easy to pick up. The Dino Pals theme set is perfect for giving kids a jump start into how they can use and shape the foam into their own dino creatures! Plus it gives them lots of colors to play with, versus the ball sets which sometimes only have a few colors. This makes a great stocking stuffer or birthday gift!
Nancy B’s Science Club® Garbage to Gardens Compost Kit & Decomposition Book – Educational Insights – $24.99
We compost all the time at our house, but this kit brings the process home (literally!). My boys love to scrape their leftover veggies into the composter and watch what happens. It really shows them the connection between their food and taking care of the earth. I love the record keeping tools to build science skills, and come on – you are making your own DIRT! It’s just fun! So many tie-ins for STEM learning, writing, and creative thinking in this one toy.
Design & Drill® Power Play Vehicles™ Monster Truck – Educational Insights – $21.99
A great hands-on building toy. My sons both love to build and take apart this monster truck, and we’ve enjoyed several other vehicles in the Design & Drill line. The pieces are large for small hands to manage, and the toy can be played with over and over. To increase play value for older kids, try things like having them build/deconstruct on a timer, like a pit crew! They’ll have fun trying to beat their time!
GeoSafari Jr. My First Telescope – Educational Insights – $29.99
Have you ever tried to get your kids to look through binoculars or a telescope? You’ll notice they often have trouble with eye placement and are a bit taken aback by the magnification. Well, this kids’ version of the telescope accommodates for that by having a wide field of vision and goggles that help position the child’s eyes. With this ‘scope, you can see the moon 10x magnified, which allows them to get a glimpse of some of the details on the moon’s surface. When kids experience success with a toy like this, they are more likely to want to continue learning through play. It’s the perfect starter tool for little space explorers, and encourages discovery, questioning, and exploration. Included is a guide for phases of the moon.
World Traveler Pretend Play – eeBoo – $12.99
Travel was never so easy with this set of passport, postcards, tickets, and other travel documents! Let your kids imagine their way onto an African safari, seeing Big Ben in London, or admiring the Golden Gate of San Fran. Everything a kid needs for a trip to faraway places is included! I think this set also makes a great jumping off point for a homeschooling lesson or add-on activity for geography.
Playing Cards – Bicycle Playing Cards – $3.99-5.99
Playing cards are perfect stocking stuffers, grab bag gifts, and party favors, and are very affordable. There are so many classic card games kids can play with these handy little cards. But Bicycle has really upped the ante (pun intended) with their designs and themed card sets. My boys can’t get enough of the Sharks playing cards set that comes with unique images on each card, plus cool facts about sharks! They don’t even need to play a game to get a lot of use out of this set. The U.S. Presidents playing cards set is my personal favorite (red or blue depending on your party preference! Ha!). An extremely unique set with high quality hand-drawn illustrations (that are just BEAUTIFUL!) includes 44 most recent presidents, 4 famous First Ladies, Uncle Sam, and more! Cyclist playing cards are a nod to a timeless sport and have a classic design on the back (neon color avail. at Walmart!).
More great engaging toy gift ideas!
Here’s a sampling of more of our favorite toy reviews over the years!
- LEGO Junior Sets
- LEGO Duplo
- LEGO Classic Building Prompts
- Rody Horse
- Parum Pum Pum Band Set
- Melissa & Doug ToolBox Set
- Boogie Board e-Writer
- Wooden Balance Bike (a serious family favorite!)
What are your favorite engaging toy gift ideas that your kids have loved?
Thanks to the many brand sponsors that provided samples to facilitate this post! All opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.