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Searching high and low for the perfect present for a special child? You can close all of those browser tabs because we’ve compiled a list of sure hits for a variety of ages. These in-demand toys all provide hours of fun, but also feature some sort of learning component you’ll love. (Shhh—we won’t tell if you don’t.)
Popular toy trends include family games and educational toys. "With more kids being home over the last year, parents naturally started becoming more involved in their children’s play and way of learning," says Kristin McGrath—shopping expert at BlackFriday.com. "Outdoor games are also trending as a result of COVID concerns keeping families at home," she adds, along with fidget toys, character toys based on film and television, and nostalgic toys.
A few things to keep in mind as you browse: The best toys are age-appropriate, highly interactive to inspire all kinds of creative play, and durable so that they can provide many years of fun.
Here are the hottest gifts of the holiday season.
Disney Princess Disney's Raya and The Last Dragon Color Splash
Dimensions: 3.11 x 17.87 x 12.76 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 3 years and up
Cool color-changing element
Can be played wet or dry
Takes a while to drain Sisu's tail
Dip Sisu's dragon tail in the water, and watch it sway back and forth—and change colors! The 2-foot dragon toy is nicely proportioned to the included Raya doll, whose accents also undergo a color transformation when immersed in water. Despite the set being water-friendly, both figures can be played wet or dry.
WowWee Got2Glow Fairy Finder - Electronic Fairy Jar
Dimensions: 4.5 x 4.5 x 7 inches | Material: Plastic, virtual | Recommended Age: 5 years and up
Each fairy is different
Mini games included
Packaging is difficult to open
Boys and girls will love the thrill of catching a new fairy every time, because each fairy is unique with its own characteristics. Fairies come from four levels of rarity, and your little one can find them by playing games or bringing the jar to a new location. The virtual fairies can be fed, hugged, and greeted.
Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Stunt Tire Play Set
Dimensions: 4.25 x 17 x 10 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 4 years and up
Can be folded up for easy storage
Easy to assemble
Trucks don't launch as well as the cars
It comes packaged in a tire-shaped case that can be used for portability later on. It's super easy to assemble and break down each time—simply open and close to set up your racetrack. Your child can launch cars or the included Monster Truck through the Ring of Fire, and even stack the included crushed cars to make more fun obstacles.
Mega Construx Pokemon Detective Pikachu
Dimensions: 9 x 2.65 x 10.3 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 8 years and up
Spring-tail can wiggle
Not all pieces snap together easily
Pokemon has always been relevant, but there's been a major uptick in trading and collecting cards and Pikachu-themed everything in the past couple years. This Detective Pikachu building toy features over 200 pieces and stands a little over 4 inches tall when completed. His spring-loaded tail can wiggle around, and the head and arms can move for added fun.
Melissa & Doug Dust! Sweep! Mop! Play Set
Dimensions: 11 x 4.5 x 28 inches | Material: Wood, plastic | Recommended Age: 3 years and up
Great for pretend play
Toddlers love copying you, even when you're cleaning—this set lets them play, help, and build confidence as they handle each housekeeping tool on their own. The set includes a broom, mop, dustpan, and hand brush, and each tool is perfectly sized for toddler play. When they're done, you can hang them on the included stand via the sturdy cords.
AKSDTH Push and Pop Bubble Fidget Sensory Toy
Dimensions: 5 x 5 inches | Material: Silicone | Recommended Age: 3 years and up
Fun for a wide range of ages
Comes in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes
Not as durable as some parents expected
Some find the popping sounds too quiet
Though relatively basic, kids love these hugely popular toys, because they’re fun to squeeze, hold, stretch, and—of course—pop. The standard square is a bestseller, but they also come in tons of fun shapes and sizes like unicorns, ice pops, crabs, and more. It also makes for a great stocking stuffer.
LEGO Star Wars: The Mandalorian, The Child Building Kit
Dimensions: 7.5 x 8.5 x 5 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 10 years and up
Fun to build
Can be played with groups
Long play time
Star Wars fans can bring The Child to life, thanks to this over 1,000-piece building kit and clear building instructions. Multiple players can help build the mini-figure, and once complete, The Child makes for a phenomenal display. You can even pose its head, ears, and mouth for various expressions, and prop the included gearshift knob in his arms.
Nickelodeon Paw Patrol Kids' Digital Watch
Dimensions: 3.2 x 3.1 x 3.1 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 4 years and up
Teaches time and schedule management
Strap could be a bit more durable
With this watch, the littlest set will feel all grown up—and just like their parents. Emblazoned with the ultra-popular Marshall from "Paw Patrol," this watch appeals to their interests, but the adults in their lives will love the fact that it teaches them all about telling time and accountability.
SPACE JAM: A New Legacy Super Shoot & Dunk Playset With Lebron Figure
Dimensions: 7.01 x 6.93 x 10.04 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 4 years and up
Suitable for a wide range of ages
Could be more detailed
Only one player included
What’s old is new again, and thanks to the new movie, "Space Jam" is a hit with the younger set. Kids can test their own dunking skills with the help of modern cast member and basketball legend Lebron James.
CoComelon Musical Yellow School Bus
Dimensions: 13 x 12.75 x 12.5 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 2 years and up
Multiple play possibilities
Easy for young kids to maneuver
Only plays limited version of one song
Quality of the bus could be improved
This big yellow school bus houses six of their favorite "CoComelon" characters, plus plays the tune you’ve been hearing on repeat all year long: "The Wheels on the Bus." It’s the perfect way to jumpstart imaginative play.
Roll over image to zoom in Do, Re & Mi Blue Jay Plush Toy
Kids aged 3 years and up won't stop dancing and singing along with these adorable, 8-inch plush toys, found exclusively on Amazon. Each figure features sounds and voices from the pre-school TV program, Do, Re & Mi—this specific plush doll represents Mi, the bubbly blue jay. Along with the super soft and cuddly plush dolls, you can also collect the series' musical instruments and playsets.
Dimensions: 7 x 6.3 x 8.5 inches | Material: Plush | Recommended Age: 3 years and up
Encourages musical skill and appreciation
You can only purchase on Amazon
Madame Alexander My First Doll
Dimensions: 8 x 4.5 x 10.5 inches | Material: Vinyl, fabric | Recommended Age: 0 years and up
Comes in a range of skin tones
Soft and cuddly
Great for pretend play
Doesn’t come with any accessories
Pom-pom on hat could accidentally detach
A perennial favorite with toddlers for a reason, these 12-inch baby dolls are ripe for imaginative play but are soft and plush enough to cuddle with. Plus, now the Madame Alexander “My First” dolls come in an expanded range of skin tones, so more little ones will see themselves in their pretend toys.
GUND P.Lushes Designer Fashion Pets
Dimensions: 4 x 4.8 x 6.8 inches | Material: Microfiber | Recommended Age: All ages
Soft and cuddly
No choking hazards
Packaging is lackluster
Care instructions difficult to read
There’s no question your little one will be excited to add another fashionable pet to a growing squad—or start a whole new collection. Each one of the award-winning plush toys features embroidered accents like a metallic bow, plus sparkling eyes, and lined ears.
Little Bridges Grandma & Me: In The Kitchen
Dimensions: 8.75 x 2.1 x 10.75 inches | Material: N/A | Recommended Age: 4-8 years
Multiple activities in one
Great bonding activity
Requires adult help
Packaging a bit bland
This do-it-together activity kit is a practical and fun way for grandparents and other family members to get in on the fun. With "Grandma & Me: In the Kitchen," you'll work hand-in-hand in the kitchen to create a tangible product you’ll both love to show off. Each kit comes with conversation cards, a journal with prompts, and recipe pages, as well as a read-aloud storybook, a child-size apron that can be personalized, a keepsake potholder, and fabric paint.
DC Comics Batman All-Terrain Batmobile Remote Control Vehicle
Dimensions: 10 x 13.5 x 10 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 4 years and up
Not as waterproof as indicated
So lightweight it frequently tumbles upside down
Whether your child loves "DC Comics" or simply has a penchant for speed, this remote control vehicle will be a welcome addition to their toy bin. It’s perfectly suitable for indoor or outdoor play—the all-terrain tires have no problem tackling water, snow, mud, rock, and grass. It also has out-of-range sensors, so it’ll never stray too far.
Barbie Career of The Year Music Producer Doll
Dimensions: 1.34 x 2.76 x 11.73 inches | Material: Rubber | Recommended Age: 3 years and up
Includes fun accessories
Great for collectors
Various color hair available
Packaging is hard to open
Younger set may need help understanding accessories
This year, Barbie is taking the music world by storm. The producer comes dressed in a trendy graphic tee, jeans, and an iridescent crop jacket, plus includes fun accessories like a sound mixing board, a computer, and headphones. Great for any musically-inclined kids—or the avid Barbie collector.
Tonies Toniebox Playtime Puppy Starter Set
Dimensions: Not listed | Material: Not listed | Age Range: 3 years and up
Easy for kids to use independently
Difficult to set up
Other characters cost extra
The whole family will undoubtedly enjoy this small, portable audio system. It plays classic sing-a-longs that’ll be on repeat for the foreseeable future. And you don’t have to worry about them fiddling with tech beyond their years—the speaker, available in six colors, is made of a material that's soft enough to handle but durable enough to withstand any accidental tumbles.
Playmobil Large City Zoo
Dimensions: 26.8 x 11.8 x 6.3 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 4 years and up
Multiple ways to play
Pieces are easy to lose track of
Hard to assemble
Animal lovers and budding tinkerers alike will spend hours laboring over this build-your-own zoo kit. With the included parts, they’ll have the unique opportunity to play zookeeper, erecting a penguin habitat, a giraffe viewing platform, and even their very own souvenir shop. An add-on lion enclosure (sold separately) extends the fun.
The Woobles Penguin Crochet Kit
Dimensions: 3.5 inches tall | Material: Acrylic yarn | Age Range: 8 years and up
Lots of instructional help
Comes with (almost) everything you need
Can be frustrating for younger kids
Crochet hook costs extra
For older children growing tired of the same old arts and crafts, consider this DIY kit, which almost instantly expands their repertoire—and teaches a very useful skill. The beginner crochet kit comes with everything they need to get started (hook optional, but certainly recommended!) to create a loveable little knit penguin they’ll proudly display or cuddle. They’ll also get access to step-by-step videos for a frustration-free experience.
Bluey Family Home Playset
Dimensions: 17.5 x 4.94 x 11.32 inches | Material: Plastic | Age Range: 3-15 years
Lots of play potential
Characters don’t fit in furniture well
Could use more detail
Some feel house is too small
Toys based on hit television or movie series are always a sure bet, and this playhouse made especially for "Bluey" characters is no different. The two-story, four-room house is readily recognizable and comes with a variety of removable furniture to bring some of their favorite characters to life.
LEGO Super Mario Adventures with Mario Starter Course
Dimensions: 12.48 x 10.32 x 3.54 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 6 years and up
Lots of play potential
Some parents don’t like that the app requires location services
Can be difficult to configure
This collectible 231-piece LEGO set gives kids the opportunity to construct their own obstacle course with bricks and star characters from an all-time classic video game. It’s not your average LEGO set—a compatible smartphone app brings the whole thing to life in new and exciting ways.
Crayola Paper Butterfly Science Kit
Dimensions: 2.75 x 11.5 x 12 inches | Material: Not listed Age Range: 7 years and up
Non-toxic art materials
Requires some parental help
Butterflies could use more detail
This fun arts and crafts kit gives kids hands-on learning experience in physics while making creations that are just as unique as the real-life creatures they’re constructing. The set includes 12 pre-cut butterfly wings and supplies, markers, and a display stand. The kit includes essentially everything kids need to get started.
LEGO DUPLO My First Number Train
Dimensions: 13.94 x 7.52 x 3.58 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 18 months and up
Easy to handle
Lots of play potential
Requires help assembling
Blocks may come apart too easily
Stickers need to be applied
Consider this a first-foray into the wonderful world of LEGOs. These blocks are slightly oversized, so the tiniest fingers can stack and build to create a train set that helps them count from zero to nine.
Rainbow High Rockstar Vanessa Tempo Fashion Doll
This modern fashion doll brand has been a hit lately due to the dolls' creative and fashion-forward style. This set in particular features Vanessa Tempo, the drummer of the Rockstar band. She comes in her own outfit, complete with printed work boots, gloves, and jewelry accessories. Also included is a second outfit that she can mix and match, like a green mod jacket and platform heels. All Rainbow High dolls feature posable arms and legs during play or for display on the included doll stand.
Dimensions: 12 x 12 x 3.2 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 6 years and up
Stylish and fashionable dolls
Comes with accessories
Due to high demand, dolls are difficult to find
Blippi Bendable Plush Doll
Dimensions: 6 x 3 x 16 inches | Material: Not listed | Recommended Age: 3 years and up
Can be difficult for a young child to press
Battery compartment is easily accessible
B-L-I-P-P-I. There’s a whole generation of kids who are learning to spell "Blippi" before their own name. And these toddlers will go crazy for the plush doll in the YouTube sensation’s likeness. The 16-inch figurine, which is largely soft enough to snuggle with, repeats some of the star’s most commonly-uttered words and phrases for plenty of playtime fun.
FFTROC Wooden Stacking Dinosaur Toys
Dimensions: 0.6 x 9.45 x 7.56 inches | Material: Wood | Recommended Age: 2 years and up
Lots of play potential
Smaller than expected
Watch for pointy dino tails
The youngest set will have a roaring good time balancing colorful wooden blocks on a teetering see-saw. But the fun doesn’t stop there—there’s plenty of playtime to be had using each of the figurines separately.
LeapFrog Blue’s Clues and You! Really Smart Handy Dandy Notebook
Dimensions: 1.3 x 3.74 x 6.1 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 2 years and up
Could be more interactive
Audio may be too soft for some
Just like the one in the show "Blue’s Clues and You!" this handy-dandy notebook features 14 light-up app icons that introduce toddlers and young preschoolers to educational concepts like colors, counting, shapes, and even health and hygiene. It also features phone, music, and mail apps for pretend play with Blue, Josh, and Mailbox.
YGJT Baby Balance Bike
Dimensions: 19.29 x 9.76 x 7.09 inches | Material: Carbon steel | Recommended Age: 10-24 months
Easy to assemble
Easy for young kids to use
Great for burning energy
Can be used indoors or outdoors
Too small for taller kids
Back wheels could be further apart to stop tipping
Foam handles are soft, but bitable
For the most active youngsters, a small, low-profile, four-wheeled bicycle that’ll help them learn the fundamentals of riding. It’s suitable for both indoors and out, so they won’t need to wait for the weather to warm. And it comes in three fun colors, so you’re bound to find something just right for your tot.
Kinetic Sand Sandwhirlz Playset
Dimensions: 3.25 x 12 x 11.5 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 3 years and up
Lots of play potential
Doesn’t hold together as well as advertised
Molds can be awkward to use
This kit comes with three different colors of kinetic sand—squishy, moldable sand—that your little one can shape and reshape over and over. The 2-pound set also comes with 10 different tools (cutters, molds, and more) for endless fun. Parents will love that it’s all packaged in a plastic tote for easy storage.
ThinkFun Gravity Maze Marble Run Brain Game
Dimensions: 9.38 x 3 x 10.5 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 8-15 years
Lots of play potential
Fun and challenging
Pieces can be hard to keep track of
Smaller than it looks in the photos
This award-winning toy doesn’t need any batteries or electricity (a win for parents everywhere). Instead, kids focus on building a marble run using one—or more—of the 60 challenges that come with the toy. Complete each task can improve everything from spatial reasoning to visual perception—all skills a budding engineer needs.
Learning Resources Spike the Fine Motor Hedgehog
Dimensions: 9.1 x 9.1 x 3.9 inches | Material: Plastic | Recommended Age: 18 months and up
Lots of play potential
Easy to grip
Storage compartment is hard to open and close
Parents need to carefully watch that quills stay out of toddler's mouth
Toddlers will love fitting this hedgehog's colorful quills into its back. Rather than the sharp quills that you might be used to seeing, the needles are actually chunky, peg-shaped pieces that are perfect for tiny hands to grab and explore. And as your child grows, they’ll also get the opportunity to use the toy to learn colors, counting, and even pattern play.
Purse Pets Glamicorn Unicorn with Over 25 Sounds and Reactions
Dimensions: 4.25 x 6.2 5x 2.5 inches | Material: Faux leather | Recommended Age: 5 years and up
Children ages 5 years and up can wear this adorable purse and easily lug it with them so they can play on the go. Featuring a glitter horn, pink faux leather, and an adjustable strap for a more comfortable fit, this Purse Pet can go with virtually any outfit. Purse Pets come in a range of animal characters, such as Fox and Leopard, and each one can blink its eyes, play fashion show music, and make the cutest animal sounds. Note that the purse requires three AAA batteries to operate, but an initial set is included with the purse.
Can be played on the go
Eyes really blink
Requires three AAA batteries to operate
What to Look for in a Toy for Christmas
Though age may appear clear just by looking at the toy, it’s a good idea to check the formal manufacturer recommendation. This guideline is a great indication as to whether the toy is safe and engaging enough (or too complicated) for the child you’re shopping for, says Kristin Morency Goldman, senior advisor of strategic communications for The Toy Association.
When shopping—especially for younger babies and toddlers—keep an eye out for toys with small parts that can be a choking hazard. In general, avoid toys for tiny tots that are labeled 3+, says Morency Goldman.
Though overt learning components (numbers, letters, colors, and other technical features) are always nice, experts say toys don’t need to be complicated to have great educational value. Children are always learning—even during playtime, says Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in South Overland Park, Kansas. Even traditional toys, like blocks and dolls, can help teach young children important cognitive, social, and motor skills, she says.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was written by Brigitt Earley, a freelance writer who covers home decor and gifts for The Spruce. Previously an editor, she's written about everything from bedding to organization and knows what makes a product great. Brigitt also has four young children ages 3.5 and younger, so there’s a constant stream of toys in her home.
For this list, she considered the recommended age, durability, and how interactive the toy is—plus tapped into her personal experience. She also consulted with two experts to gain further insight: Kristin Morency Goldman, senior advisor of strategic communications for The Toy Association, and Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician based in South Overland Park, Kansas.