toys and games before turning them over to 140 kids, ages 3 to 13, for testing in our labs and in their homes. We parsed 1,000-plus surveys, subjected toys to a Drop Tester, and checked safety data to find the 24 best. Be sure to check our top board game picks for more family fun!
The T.S. Shure ArchiQuest Architectural Elements ($30; ages 4+; amazon.com) contains more than 50 wooden blocks, in fresh shapes and bright hues, that young builders loved stacking up — and knocking down.
With Moose Toys Fortune Cookie Maker ($25; ages 5+; amazon.com) young bakers can mix and roll real dough, heat it in the microwave, and form it around fortunes they write. The best part: devouring their own creations.
The portable Hexbug Hive Habitat Set ($35; ages 3+; amazon.com) lets kids customize a bi-level maze, then see mechanical bugs run amok. Its 35 easy-to-assemble pieces link with other sets to create an arena that will amuse for hours.
An affordable alternative to die-cast models, Jakks Pacific Power Trains Auto Loader City ($40; ages 5+; amazon.com) had boys and girls assembling 18 realistic-looking feet of track for a five-train motorized locomotive.
Techno Source's Glow Crazy Doodle Dome ($20; ages 3+; amazon.com) gives little Picassos magical privacy as they sketch on the tent's walls using a green light wand. When the mess-free art fades, it's time to start all over again.
Pack the Playmates Shellraiser ($35; ages 4+; amazon.com) vehicle with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ($10 each; sold separately) and send the reptiles on a wild, imagination-fueled crime-fighting spree. A new TV series is now attracting another generation.
Do the Twist
Puzzle fans got a kick out of creating critters from Techno Source Codee ($8; ages 7+; amazon.com), a twistable chain of interlocking blocks that, when kids followed the coded formula, formed a bright flamingo, scorpion, or robot, to name a few.
The Amazing Racer
The Moose Toys Micro Chargers Loop Track ($20; ages 6+; amazon.com) is perfect for superfast freewheeling fun. Tiny collectible cars, charged in as little as nine seconds, shot to incredible speeds for thrilling play.
Older kids adored Playmobil E-Rangers Headquarters ($130; ages 7 to 12; amazon.com), a command center with a swiveling LED spotlight for imaginative scenarios. A working solar panel (it operates a fan) instills eco ideals.
Constructing a motor home replete with two dolls, bikes, and a surfboard made Lego Friends Adventure Camper ($30; ages 6 to 12; amazon.com), a popular pick with our testers. They were also fans of the Lego Creator Street Rebel set.
Leaving Their Marks
Crayola Marker Airbrush ($25; ages 6+; amazon.com) uses markers to create spray-paint — style art while giving kids a serious workout operating the manual pump. Includes 12 markers and four stencils.
Hardly a standard remote-controlled toy, the Silverlit Porsche 911 Carrera ($80; ages 8+; amazon.com) is hyper-detailed (it's a 1:16 replica of the coveted sports car) and can be steered via iOS devices (download the app first).
Seeing the Sights
A Ravensburger 3D Building Set ($26; ages 10+; amazon.com) may trigger the travel bug as young ones dexterously join curved, hinged, and flat puzzle pieces to form a famous site (other kits make the Empire State Building, Big Ben, and Tower Bridge).
"I like to spy on people," explained a fan of Wild Planet Night Sight ($40; ages 8+; amazon.com), expressing a common sentiment. Head-mounted infrared goggles provide a 50-foot view in the pitch dark.
In a total remake of the original, Hasbro's Bop It! Smash ($23; ages 8+; amazon.com) ratchets up speed and intensity levels as players try to hit a moving light squarely in the center.Improves coordination and entertains one or multiple kids.
Creating beauty takes focus. With 20 patterns to try, Colorfall ($45; ages 8+; marblesthebrainstore.com) from Marbles: The Brain Store shows kids how to arrange tiles in ways that, when knocked over, reveal artful designs (or they can make their own).
The 4-foot-tall motorized K'Nex Atomic Coaster ($71; ages 9+; amazon.com) promises a wild ride for two dueling cars. Parents may need to help assemble over 1,250 (count 'em!) pieces.
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