Children learn about themselves and the world by playing. They learn critical thinking skills, how to get along with others, self-esteem and motor skills, not to mention how to let their imagination and creativity run wild. As parents, the ideal toy is not one that will allow a child to check out but one that will challenge and benefit the child in a healthy way. Toy experts predict that the hot toys this year are an eclectic mix of modern, techie items and simple, classic items. These examples are as mentally stimulating and educational as they are enjoyable.
Children of all ages -- and parents -- continue to enjoy traveling to "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." The release of new movies in the Walt Disney "Star Wars" franchise has fueled a huge demand for "Star Wars" toys in the last two years. In fact, Fortune magazine online reports that the franchise raised the sales of the toy industry by 5 percent in 2016. The Spinmaster Star Wars Hero Droid BB-8, as inspired by the adorable "The Force Awakens" droid character, appears on many toy hot lists this year. For about $300, those ages 6 and up can enjoy full control of the 16-inch-tall droid. It has voice recognition and authentic lights and sounds, takes voice commands and has a unique "Follow Me" mode, where it will roll right alongside you, just as in the movie. Children love to bring their favorite characters to life, and this interactive gift will do just that.
Fingerlings Baby Monkeys from WowWee, another interactive product, are predicted to be a big seller this season. Christopher Byrne is the content director of Toys, Tots, Pets & More, a toy consumer research site whose editorial team reviews thousands of toys each year and writes comprehensive reviews. He believes that with Fingerlings, WowWee has "managed to incorporate electronics and play into something that we think kids are really going to respond to." The six characters latch on to a finger and respond to touch and motion by moving their head, blinking their big monkey eyes and talking in a sweet voice. Kids ages 5 and up will have friendship right on their fingers. Each Fingerling sells for $14.99.
Certain toys like dolls and action figures can help teach children positive values and learn about other cultures. American Girl just released its newest BeForever character, Nanea Mitchell, a brave girl growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1941, just before Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. Stephanie Spanos, a spokeswoman for American Girl says, "Her efforts to help and heal her friends and neighbors during wartime are all driven by her spirit of aloha." Children can get a taste of Hawaiian culture, American history and compassion by playing with Nanea. What's more, American Girl is taking donations for the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program online and in retail stores through Dec. 31.
Some might prefer to go the American Girl Create Your Own route, which allows them to customize a Truly Me doll online. "Custom choices include face molds, skin tones and freckles, eye and hair colors, hair textures, new cuts and styles, along with special extras like earrings, hearing aids, glasses and sunglasses, and braces," Spanos says. Young ones can create a doll in their likeness that celebrates their uniqueness or get creative with another design.
Byrne believes that children are discovering the fun in simple and silly games. In this age of gadgets and electronics, going back to basics can be refreshing. "Today's 11-year-olds have never lived in a world without a smartphone," he says, "so it's not a novelty to them. Yes, of course, they like the phones, but the real novelty is stuff you sit down and play with friends." The Spinmaster Rube Goldberg Acrobat Challenge offers STEM-based learning by challenging kids to use gravity and spring forces to launch an acrobat out of a cannon. Boys and girls ages 8 and up can build and rebuild a random contraption with pieces like a seesaw ramp, circus ball, flaming hoop and snake to complete the mission. It's a fun toy that allows children to collaborate and play with their hands.
Any of these toys are perfect for children to enjoy year-round. Give your kids the gift of love and laughter this holiday season.