Nothing says the holidays like the release of new children's toys. As a child, I used to look at the local store mailers and dream of all the exciting adventures I could have with all the featured toys. Christmas will forever be a time of great anticipation.
In the 2017 crop of new toys, there are some winners. Here are five excellent toys that will not only keep kids busy but stimulate their minds and creativity.
From Thames & Kosmos comes the Barbie fundamental chemistry set. What? A chemistry set marketed to girls? That's right, and it's themed with bright pink colors. The set comes with six safe, fun and inspiring experiments. Kids can create a colorful slime solution, an erupting test-tube volcano, a fizzing lava-lamp reaction, color-changing putty, a feathery crystal structure and bouncing putty. Each experiment teaches a scientific principle.
My 15-year-old daughter spent hours enjoying the experiment that creates color-changing putty. She loved it. But be aware the experiments are consumable. Once all six experiments are complete, the set will lose some of its shine. There are 25 permanent components such as test tubes, pipettes and a pair of safety glasses. Overall, I am excited there is chemistry set on the market for girls. Let's hear it for Barbie and the pipettes! $30
Magformers log cabin construction set is a trip down memory lane. Do you remember Lincoln Logs? Well, in 2017, the new line of log cabin toys comes with magnets. Magformers are color-coded construction shapes (such as squares and triangles) with embedded magnets that snap together easily and hold fast until pulled apart. Kids will enjoy 87 construction pieces consisting of four geometric shapes. The included guide features more than 10 building projects to work on. Add balconies, doors, windows and walls to your structures as well as ladders, trees and grass.
What's nice about this set is all the possibilities. With the basic shapes, creative builders can put together an infinite number of buildings. Want to build a three-story tower? No problem. How about a log fort? No problem. Children will only be limited by their imaginations. I was particularly impressed with how durable the parts are, and the ease of using the magnet pieces made construction quick and painless. Tearing the buildings down is easy too. It's a wonderful new take on the log cabin construction sets of the past. $100
The Silverlit Train My Dino toy is designed to keep kids entertained for hours. A maker of electronic/robotic toys, Silverlit offers an electronic dinosaur pet that will roll around on carpet and flooring. A hand-held remote puts a child (or adult) in control of the rapid reptile. It will follow a person, roar, navigate a room with its built-in sensors, respond when petted on the head and attempt to return home when the correct button on the remote is pushed. Two modes of play include wild and controlled. The mouth even chomps about when the dinosaur gets excited.
Done right, electronic toys can be some of the most rewarding for adults and children. The key for an electronic toy is how well it responds to commands and how many options it can perform. The Train My Dino does both well. I was surprised how well it could move on both carpet and wood floor. Its built-in sensors do an adequate job of keeping it out of trouble, but I did have to rescue the dino a few times after it got trapped. The remote works very well and the addition of the wild mode allows users the ability to let the dino go and have a mind of its own. $45
In the Alex Toys Future Coders line, the toy Poppin' Pictures will teach children how to decode symbols while uncovering a hidden picture. The toy is shaped like a robot with a huge gridlike belly. The belly contains an eight-by-eight grid with sunken squares that can hold colored square pieces called pixel tiles (they remind me of Chiclets gum). The toy includes 20 code cards that indicate which colored tiles to place on the grid according to a symbol. For example, the top row of the code card shows circles. Circles are associated with blue pixel tiles, so the child places blue tiles in the grid belly wherever circles are indicated.
What makes this toy stand out is the excitement of creating and guessing what mysterious image is being created. The code cards only show a bunch of symbols on them, so it is hard to decipher what the image will be. However, once the pixel tiles start to come together, the image takes shape. The game includes a suction-cup pen that is used to manipulate the tiles, but it was easier to use fingers. It's an interesting toy that kids will enjoy. $28.99
For the little engineers in the family, the Brackitz pulley set is a new construction toy that has won multiple awards for creativity. The hard but pliable plastic components snap together to create a variety of projects. What makes this set different from others are the parts: It contains multiple connectors and extensions along with pulleys, string, a crank and a bucket. Children as young as 4 can put together cool construction projects such as zip lines, cranes, elevators, drawbridges and much more. Complete plans for 10 projects come in the box.
My first project was a crane and pulley system I set up on the edge of the living room coffee table (see photo attached). The crane and pulley parts were durable and snapped together easily. I threaded the string through the pulley, added the crank and attached a large yellow bucket. The bucket hung over the edge of the table all the way to the floor. It was a lot of fun to throw objects into the bucket from the floor and lift them all the way to the tabletop. The set includes plans for eight contraptions, including a working drawbridge and zip line. $40