From wooden blocks to electronic games, the best toys for kids make their young users think and dream while building useful skills. Of course, they're also tons of fun!
The following list focuses on the top toy categories. While the favorite licensed character of the moment can change, these classic categories will provide lasting guidance in selecting the best toys for your kids. However, LoveToKnow Best realizes you may be looking for specific suggestions, so we also provide some popular and award-winning choices in each larger category.
1. Educational Toys
Many of the best toys for kids combine learning and fun. The GeoSafari Talking Globe provides interactive geography games in a fun electronic format. It was named to Dr. Toy's Best Classic Toys List in 2006. Professor Noggin's History of the United States is a fun and informative card game that made FamilyFun.com's Toy of the Year list.
2. Pretend Play
Kids love to pretend, and the best toys for kids can spark their imaginations and lead to hours of fun. The Real Projects Workshop was a grand prize winner in the 2006 FamilyFun.com Toy of the Year awards. With this pretend workshop kids can play with realistic tools while building projects out of foam "wood". Dora's Talking Kitchen won "Girl Toy of the Year" in the 2006 Toy Industry Association Toy of the Year Awards, adding a new face (and voice) to traditional cooking play.
3. Stuffed Animals
Every kid needs a cuddly friend. Kids may ask for stuffed animals based on popular television and movie characters, but teddy bears, stuffed dogs, and other plush figures that haven't appeared on-screen will have long-lasting appeal. For a unique twist on stuffed animals, the Lil' Luvables Fluffy Factory lets kids stuff their own teddy bears. It was a Toy of the Year grand prize winner at FamilyFun.com.
Games foster cooperation while encouraging everything from memory skills to exercise. Hullabaloo, from the makers of Cranium, won "Best Game" honors in the 2006 Toy Industry Association Toy of the Year Awards. The game gets kids moving and laughing as they follow instructions from the game's audio console. Twister Dance DVD made it to Dr. Toy's 100 Best Children's Products List by putting a new spin on a classic kids' game with dance moves.
5. Squishy Substances
Most kids can't get enough of materials they can squeeze and mold, even if parents don't always enjoy the resulting mess. While Play-Doh is a classic choice, with the Play-Doh Creativity Center earning a place on the FamilyFun.com Toy of the Year list, there are many other options. MSNBC.com added Moon Sand to its 2006 list of the Best Toys Under $25, and it also appeared on Dr. Toy's 100 Best Children's Products List.
6. Arts and Crafts Supplies
Inspire creativity while developing fine motor skills with art supplies and craft kits. MSNBC.com selected the WonderWorks Talking Picture Book as one of the best educational toys of the 2006 holiday season. In addition to functioning as a portable drawing pad, WonderWorks allows kids to record stories to accompany their pictures. FamilyFun.com picked Inspiration Bands as one of the best toys for kids. The kit allows them to make personalized versions of the popular rubber wristbands.
7. Building Toys
Building blocks and other construction toys allow kids to feel a sense of accomplishment as they see their plans become reality. Legos are always popular. Along with the classic block sets, there are themed kits for numerous interests, from pirates to space travel. For more intricate construction possibilities, K'NEX Super Structures was named to the Dr. Toy list.
8. Dolls and Action Figures
From playing house to enacting elaborate stories with a fleet of superheroes, dolls and action figures can inspire hours of imaginative play. Baby's First EZ Dress Dolly Travel & Go was another pick from MSNBC.com's list of the Best Toys Under $25. It also earned a place on the Dr. Toy list. Baby Alive was a top pick at FamilyFun.com.