Holiday Gift Guide: The Best Toys of 2014

MK's 24th annual Toy Test results

TOY TEST 2014

 

Go ahead, make your list. We've checked it twice for you. Well, actually, fellow MK readers have done that legwork, trying out the following 22 toys as part of our popular annual Holiday Toy Test, then reporting  back with their unvarnished opinions. Scroll through to see their reviews, plus pics of the toys in action, or click on the below links to get right to the plaything that most interests you.

 

More Toy Fun!

See what our Toy Testers had to say about the best games of 2014: Click here to check out our reader reviews!

Want the scoop on even more toys? Check out our 2014 Holiday Gift Guide to see some great stuff on our radar, including arts & crafts, baby toys, archery sets, science kits, scooters, dolls, wheeled things, character- & sports-inspired figures and much more!

3-in-1 Bounce, Stride & Ride Elephant (9 mos.-3 yrs.)

Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Chair (ages 1-3)

Motion Control Thomas (ages 2+)

Little People City Skyway (ages 2-4)

Little Scholars Tablet (ages 3+)

Play-Doh Sweet Shoppe Cake Mountain (ages 3+)

Splish Splash Sink & Stove (ages 3+)

FurReal Friends Get Up & Go Go My Walkin' Pup  (ages 4–6)

Sofia & Walking Minimus R/C Vehicle (ages 4+)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles High Flyin' Blimp (ages 4+)

Kidizoom Smart Watch (ages 4+)

Barbie Endless Curls (ages 5+)

Chatsters Gabby Doll (ages 5+)

Little Live Pets Bird Cage (ages 5+)

Spy Gear video cam (ages 8+), walkie talkies (5+) & dart trap( 6+)

Beadola Bead Maker (ages 6+)

Sew Cool Sewing Studio (ages 6+)

Crayola Sketch Wizard (ages 8+)

Hot Wheels Street Hawk R/C Flying Car (ages 8+)

It's Alive! Science Lab (ages 8+)

 

3-in-1 Bounce, Stride & Ride Elephant

Fisher-Price; ages 9 mos. – 3 yrs.; $45

The gist

This playful sit-on pachyderm lights up, plays music and has other activities that grow along with your child.

The testers

Greyson K. (16 mos.) & mom Nichole; Norristown, PA

Appeal: 9

My son was instantly enthralled by this toy. He went right over and started pushing buttons and dancing to the music. He quickly learned how to climb on it and bounce and to push it around the room. This toy is quite big, so it may be best for those with a lot of room! The music is actually pretty cute — it is not as irritating as some other musical toys we have. The music/noise features are engaging and react to certain types of touch. A sensor will set off music when the toy is touched or bumped. One of my son’s favorite activities is to ram it into things, like the door, and it makes a “sproing” noise when he does. There are two volume settings and an off switch. The toy does match the description and packaging.

Educational value: 8

The toy is educational in that it helps my son learn how to practice his gross motor skills in new ways. The toy is large, so when the push bar is deployed, he loves to push it around the room. Because it is so big, it has challenged him to figure out how to get out of tighter spots (such as when he maneuvers around the coffee table) and to pull it backwards when he gets into a corner. He has also learned how to climb on it and bounce, which none of his toys had allowed him to do in the past. He especially likes the music and dances to it. The toy makes a few funny noises that he likes, and he has been repeating them. For example, at the end of one song, the elephant yells “aaaaah” and Greyson has started to make a similar noise toward the end of just that song, knowing it's coming.

Functionality: 8

Some assembly was required but was not at all difficult. It will take a few minutes and the use of a screwdriver. It is not a complex toy, so my son easily figured out how to play with it. The only difficulty he has is maneuvering it in and out of small places, but he generally gets it in the end (I see this as a positive thing, but it would be difficult for a much younger child to handle). When pushed, it can be pretty loud on hard flooring, as the wheels are plastic. It is quite loud on our hardwood floors but almost silent on carpet.

Durability: 10

This toy is extremely durable. It is mostly plastic and seems like it will hold up to some abuse. The ears are fabric and perhaps could be stained or otherwise damaged, but that hasn’t happened with us yet.

The upshot

My son lights up when he sees the elephant. It is bright and colorful, allows for kids to bounce on it or push it around (the push bar can be tucked away), and it sings and plays songs that toddlers would like. I would prefer it to be a bit smaller.

Greyson's take

Greyson speaks only a few words, but he points to it as soon as the elephant is carried into the room and goes right for it!

 

Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Chair

Fisher-Price; ages 1-3; $40

The gist

This interactive chair sings songs, speaks phrases and teaches numbers, shapes and more.

The testers

Caleiff R. (1) & mom Cavina; Philadelphia

Appeal: 10

My son was very excited to play with the toy. He even wanted to help me put it together.

Educational value: 8

The product is educational because it teaches your toddler numbers, shapes, ABCs, how to identify things and how to say "on, off, up and down."

Functionality: 10

It did not take long to put the toy together; it was easy. It was also easy for my son to play with. The buttons are big enough for him to push and the pictures are bright and colorful.

Durability: 8

The quality of the material was great. My son is a wild child and likes to throw his toys around. He tossed it around and it did not break. But the only thing I didn't like was that the numbers came off and I had to rewrite them.

The upshot

What makes this toy so great is that it makes the child want to engage in learning while having fun.

Caleiff's take

My son can't talk much, but he jumps and down with joy when I say, "Let's play with your chair."

 

Motion Control Thomas

Fisher-Price; ages 2+; $42

The gist

This starter Thomas allows kids to control the little blue engine with a wave of their hand or the included crossing sign.

The testers

Benjamin D. (12),  Luke (28 mos.) & mom Dana; Bensalem, PA

Toy appeal: 10

My kids were both very excited to play with this new toy. They love Thomas the Tank Engine. Of course, this toy is more for the younger one, so I will focus on Luke. He exclaimed, “That’s my Thomas!” and couldn’t wait for him to be out of the package.

Educational value: 9

It will teach following directions and patience. Luke didn’t listen yet to what Thomas was telling him. He really just liked holding the yellow paddle and pushing the button on top of Thomas, then run away across the room. So he isn’t quite yet ready for the instructional part of this toy.  When he is, though, this toy is going to be much more fun and educational.

Functionality / durability: 10

This toy is very durable so far. It has been pushed off a train table and there haven’t been any issues. I can see that it will be long-lasting and stand up to toddler abuse. Every other Thomas toy we own has lasted about 10 years so far — so happy with the quality of the Thomas products, including this one.

The upshot

I think it is a great toy because it will grow with my child.  It’s fun and educational, all rolled into one toy. I do wish that Thomas reacted a bit quicker. My children wave their hands over Thomas and he doesn’t move right away. This makes the younger one push the button on top, and that changes the activity again.

The kids' take

My older son said the best thing about this toy was the way it could move with the wave of your hand.  However the thing he didn’t like about the toy was that sometimes when you waved your hand Thomas didn’t recognize it and you had to keep waving.

 

Little People City Skyway

Fisher-Price; ages 2-4; $39.99

The gist

This car tower stands 3-plus feet tall and boasts multiple ramps and stops.

The testers

Sam M. (3) and mom Jen; Bryn Mawr, PA

Appeal: 10

Sam told me “It looks just like the toy on the box.” He was impressed that it was as tall as it was. He couldn’t wait to get it home to play with it, and he helped me put it together by matching the numbers on the directions to the numbers printed on the toy pieces. The toy matched the description and photo exactly. It’s very brightly colored and durable, and my kids now get excited when they see the commercial for it on TV.

Educational value: 9

Sam learned that he had to predict where the toy cars would go, depending on how the “switch” was positioned on the ramp. That made it more fun for him and allowed him to change his prediction as he watched the car go down the ramp.

Functionality: 10

This toy was very easy to assemble — it took about 30 minutes. The directions were simply pictures that I had to follow.  Sam knew what to do immediately, and tried playing with it before I had it completely assembled. He continues to enjoy it – I think he likes it because of its size (large).

Durability: 10

The toy is very durable and felt strong as I was assembling it. Nothing broke while putting it together. Even my husband commented on its strength — especially for a tall toy (about 3 feet high). It’s stable, and hasn’t fallen over. The ramps are colorful and easy to snap together. Screws were included to keep key pieces in place. My older boys (4 and 6 years old) have tried to carry it up and down the stairs. It has stayed together just fine. Fisher-Price makes durable toys.

The upshot

Again, the toy’s durability and appeal to many ages (my 3-year-old up to my 6-year-old) is very attractive. I like that the directions were easy to follow and that the toy matched the photo on the box. All pieces were very easy to remove from the box. I also like that it had one car with a boy driving and another car with a girl driving. I'm considering buying one for my nephew.

Sam's take

“I love it so much. The cars go so fast and turn by themselves. It’s fun when the car gets blocked and then turns and goes another way all the way to the bottom.” Only one nitpick from Sam's 4-year-old brother, who noted that when a car comes down the orange slide at the bottom, it doesn’t always land on its wheels.

 

Little Scholars Tablet

School Zone; ages 3+; $144.99

The gist

This tablet for kids PreK through 1st grade helps boost math, reading & spelling skills with 150+ preloaded apps, videos, e-books & songs.

The testers

Isabella B. (6), Roy (4), mom Iliana & dad Roy; Sewell, NJ

Appeal: 9

Both of my children were excited to find out what type of programs the tablet had to offer. They forgot what they were doing at the moment I first opened the box, and they both immediately took it to the sofa and sat to discover it together. The toy did in fact match the photo and description on the package.

Educational value: 10

The product has both educational and recreational activities and games. My daughter is starting to do math in 1st grade, so Little Scholar reinforced what she knows and even showed her activities beyond what she is currently learning in school. My son is in PreK, so he’s still having trouble correctly identifying letters and numbers. Playing with Little Scholar for just a few short weeks, he has been answering correctly more letters and numbers than he has in the past.

Functionality: 10

There was no assembly required. We just charged the tablet, and once my kids pressed a few buttons as if to test it out, they were very comfortable in understanding how to navigate it.  My husband and I did not have to spend more than a few minutes to see if they were pressing the right menus. None of the features hindered the kids from full enjoyment of the tablet.  The apps or games had audio feedback, as if giving the instructions to the child as they navigated through menus and buttons. This was helpful to my 4-year-old son, since he doesn’t read yet. We, the parents, were confused about the “lock” button since we had not set a password, and we are not sure what it unlocks.

Durability: 8

Nothing broke while the children played with the tablet, but if not careful, just like any other electronic device, it has the potential to break if dropped. The tablet did not come with a protective case; it would have to be purchased separately. In my opinion, it should come with one since the tablet is going straight to a young child’s hands. The quality of the material surrounding the screen as adequate, but again, a case around it would be beneficial to come with the toy.

The upshot

The kids asked for it every day and were very excited to play with it while also learning. They felt proud of themselves and wanted to run to tell us every time they answered a question correctly. I think the product is great for PreK and Kindergarten, but our 1st-grader didn’t use it as much as our 4-year-old son. After speaking with her, we feel the 1st-grade section of the tablet could have more challenging and fun activities to capture an older child’s attention.

Isabella's take

I liked the stories it read to me and the Farm Animal game, but there wasn’t a lot more fun games for 1st-graders.

Roy's take

My favorite was the skeleton game and I really love all of them because they’re cool

 

​Play-Doh Sweet Shoppe Cake Mountain Playset

Hasbro; ages 3+; $19.99

The gist

Make realistic-looking cakes and pretend frosting with this sculpting set, which includes sparkly Play-Doh.

The testers

Roman M. (6), Vera (4), Victor (1) & mom Megan; Wilmington, DE

Toy appeal: 8

Roman and Vera's first impression was positive. They were very excited to play with it and could not wait to open it. The toy did match the photo in the package fairly well, although the cake mold is smaller than it appears on the box photo.

Educational value: 8

The value I observed came from spatial recognition (figuring out where the molds fit and how to operate them) and fine motor skills (put Play-Doh through various molds). They learned how to operate it quickly. They also observed color changes as they mixed up the Play-Doh and compared it with the texture of regular Play-Doh. They also engaged in imaginative play while using.

Functionality: 8

Did not take long assemble — maybe 2 minutes. My 6-year-old actually figured out how to assemble it before I did. It was easy to figure out how to use it, and they used it well. It's better than other Play-Doh toys in terms of of use, and also much easier to use for younger kids.

Durability: 7

Fairly sturdy plastic. Nothing broken, and we took major pieces apart and put them together again several times without incident.

The upshot

All the kids loved this and played with it daily. They enjoyed making cakes, too. They also played together with it, as there were multiple things they could do at the same time. I wish it were better equipped with stronger molds, but overall it was fun even to me that the toy stimulated my children's imagination.

Vera's take

The best thing is the frosting Play-Doh. She did not like how small the cake was.

Roman's take

The best thing was squishing the Play-Doh into a cake shape and decorating it. He loved all of it.

 

Splish Splash Sink & Stove

Little Tikes; 3+; $19.99

The gist

This “no-leak” play sink has a real working faucet that drains automatically.

The testers

Dominic E. (3) & mom Dominique; Philadelphia

Appeal: 10

As soon as Dominic saw the toy still in its package, he immediately wanted to play with it. He asked us every day if it was time to open it because he was so excited to play with the toy. The photo on the package shows a little girl “splishing and splashing” in a bright red toy sink with lots of suds and water. The toy's dimensions are 17" W x 6" L x 12.50" H. The majority of that is the sink that has a gray two-burner stove with two red knobs just to the left of it. Above the sink is a spout with a pump so that the child can pump water into the sink. To the left of the spout is holder for the utensils. Inside the sink at the bottom is a drain. So when water is put into the sink it drains out automatically and the child must pump the water back into the sink. Once we opened the toy, it met our expectations from the packaging photo, and we were surprised to find two flatware sets that included a cup, plate, fork, spoon and knife, tongs, a spatula and a pan.

Educational value: 8

The sink and stove are engaging and allow pretend play — an important driver in childhood development. The toy allows the child to imitate what they see: mom and dad in the kitchen preparing a meal and washing dishing. The toy is great for social and emotional skills, thinking skills, and it develops the imagination. Dominic got joy while learning a valuable lesson through the experience of pretending to make a meal for the family and clean up the dishes.

Functionality: 6

It took only a few minutes to assemble and required only a Phillips screwdriver. It was easy for Dominic to figure out what to do with the toy and how he wanted to play with it. I enjoy that it is highly compatible with his other toys, such as his pretend food, pretend house and play table. It is a good size and really light, but once there is water inside it is hard for Dominic to lift — which is great because that helps eliminate the risk of accidents. There is built-in storage for the accessories that come inside. which makes it easy to clean up and makes everything easy to find for next time. It was hard for Dominic to pump the water into the sink. Since the water automatically empties to the bottom there is no way to avoid using the pump. I was expecting the water to stay in the sink, but it does not. I wish there were a way to plug up the drain so that the water could stay inside of it. The pump is not functional for little hands that are still growing their motor skills. Dominic did start to get frustrated when the water kept draining out and he couldn’t get it back in. As the name implies, the toy is messy: In the instructions it advises parents to lay down plastic to avoid huge spills. I would not leave my child unsupervised with this toy. Maybe if there was some kind of button to trigger the water to come out of the spout it would be more fun and easier to use.

Durability: 10

The toy is very durable and made of high-quality products. There are no leaks and no way for water to leak out.

The upshot

I would recommend buying this toy because all children like to help out in the kitchen with dinner and dishes. If you are a parent who has pulled up a stool to your kitchen sink for your little one  and ended up cleaning a big mess all over the floor, then you can probably relate. The Little Tykes Splish Splash sink and stove is an opportunity to fulfill his or her wish in a safe and contained way.

Dominic's take

I like playing with the water and bubbles. I do not like when the water went out.

 

​FurReal Friends Get Up & Go Go My Walkin' Pup 

Hasbro; ages 4-6; $49.99

The gist

A plush remote-controlled puppy walks, wags its tail, sits and tilts her head like a real dog.

The testers

Twins Lucy & Carly B. (5), mom Wendy & dad John; Levittown, PA

Toy appeal: 9

My girls ere so excited when they saw this. It was something they had put on their birthday list. They get excited every time the commercial comes on. They couldn't wait to play with it. Unfortunately, I did have 4 C batteries on hand, but they loved playing with it for two days without the batteries.

Educational value: 7

This toy did not teach my girls anything new. It does help reinforce how to treat their toys with respect (don't pull on the leash, don't throw it in the toy box and take turns).

Functionality: 8

Other than not having batteries on hand, my girls thoroughly enjoy this toy. My girls would love to take this toy to the bus stop to meet their older sisters. However, since it's white, I don't let them walk it outside.

Durability: 8

The toy did not break while we played with it. We have had other FurReal toys in the past that have broken — they can take only so much of a beating. At 5, my girls are old enough to understand how to take care of the toy.

The upshot

My girls love animals and spend time every day playing with stuffed animals and/or mechanical animals. This dog is so darn cute that my girls just can't resist it. They also love the related go-go app. I have really mixed feelings about the white fur. It is so cute but over time it will show dirt.

Lucy's take

I love the leash to walk her.

Carly's take

She is such a cutie patootie.""They both also love the related go-go app.

 

Sofia and Walking Minimus R/C Vehicle

Jada Toys; ages 4+; $53.99

The gist

The popular Disney Jr. princess and horse move where you tell them to go.

The testers

Siobhan M. (4) & mom Frances; Lansdale, PA

Appeal: 8

My daughter's initial reaction was sheer bliss. She spied it on my bed and asked right away, "Who was the Sofia for?" She was so excited. The toy itself was an accurate description of the item. 

Educational value: 4

I would have to say the most educational piece of this toy would be the child can learn directionality with having to activate it forward and backward, left and right.

Functionality: 6

My daughter immediately got the idea to push the button and Minimus walks. She struggled with the turning piece. She also has issues turning it on correctly out of demo mode and asks each time, because the switch goes both ways and it is difficult to see.

Durability: 5

Nothing broke.

The upshot

But we felt that the Sofia figure should come off to further play scheme. Instead it was just a static toy – remote control or nothing.The remote control should not have an option for the demo mode for everyday play. That was frustrating for us.

Siobhan's take

Initial reaction: "I love it." "When can we open it." "Put my Sofia costume on." "Wow, this is cool!" Final reaction: Toy not used at all after the first few days – disappointing.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles High Flyin' Blimp

Playmates; ages 4+; $29.99

The gist

 A blimp that inflates to 30" long can hold up to five different Ninja Turtle action figures.

The testers

Joey S. (4) & mom Erin; Hatboro, PA

Appeal: 6

My son was excited to play with the toy when he saw the box. His first impression was excited and he was eager to play. The toy did match the description/photo on the package. Once my son started playing, he was very quickly. He said it was difficult to play with the turtles and hold the blimp at the same time.

Educational value: 3

This toy does not have too much educational value. It encourages use of imagination, but my son had difficulty holding the blimp while playing so he did not use his imagination much.

Functionality: 5

This did not take too long to assemble. It was easy for my son to figure out the toy.

Durability: 5

The quality of the materials used for the product were fine, but the rappelling string did not work too well and the blimp wings fell off numerous times and were difficult to put back on.

The upshot

This toy would be better if it could sit on a tabletop instead of being held all the time.

 

Kidizoom Smart Watch

VTech; ages 4+; $59.99

The gist

This Smart Watch lets you take photos, videos, play learning games and tell time for learning fun on the go.

The testers

Caleb M. (5), siblings Devon (3) & Ian (2) & mom Rebecca; Media, PA

Toy appeal: 8

The two older children were so excited when they saw this toy in the box. They love interactive/electronic toys. Seeing as we have a few VTech toys already, they had very high expectations for this watch. The toy matched the packaging and was true to size.

Educational value: 2

I was hopeful that this toy would help teach time to my children. It did not in any way teach them time. The games on the watch were simply for amusement (a rotating puzzle game and bubble popping dancing game were two) and held no educational value.

Functionality: 6

The watch worked right out of the package (though they recommend charging for 24 hours). My children were able to use the watch independently and easily go back and forth between apps on the watch. I did not like that the settings feature was not locked out. Inevitably one of them would always hit the screwdriver setting tab thinking it was a game and would be able to change settings, and then ended up frustrated when they needed help because the “screen looked different.” The directions recommend shutting the watch off when not using to preserve the battery, however when you turn it back on, each time you need to reset the clock and date. Therefore, the watch never has the correct time/date because they could not do that by themselves.

Durability: 8

The watch’s band is made from a very thick durable rubber. This was both comfortable for my children to wear and “kidproof” from being able to break. The watch was very large on the kids and even with the band tightened to its tightest setting it still moved around on their wrists. My oldest was always afraid he was going to break the screen if it spun around on his wrist and he banged it. It hasn’t been scratched or cracked yet, so it must be just as durable as the band. 

The upshot

They love the camera feature on the watch and it takes pretty good pictures, even from far away. If  the watch encouraged telling time or learning dates it would make this more appealing to me as a parent. 

The kids' take

"I love the voice recorder;, it’s really fun to say silly things and play them back!” “I don’t like how the watch is too loose; it doesn’t stay still on my wrist.”

 

 

Barbie Endless Curls

Mattel; ages 5+; $24.99

The gist

Three different no-heat curling tools actually curl Barbie’s hair.

The testers

Caitlin S. (5), sister Kierstyn (4) & mom Angela; Pottstown, PA

Toy appeal: 10

Visually appealing. Bright colors, fancy updated clothes. Styling instruments look real and are stylish in view. Kids were excited to open box and get doll and clips out. Toy matches description. Hair holds curls for temporary time.

Educational value: 7

Educational in sense that it promotes trial and error. Promotes good hygiene to take care of hair and brush it.

Functionality: 5 

Parts all work, but my kids were limited due to their age with their fine motor skills and dexterity. They both were unable to do hair clips and even I had a difficult time. Good use of curling iron. Main thing was curlers and barrettes they could not do. Was easy to brush hair and do clothes/shoes.

Durability: 6

Nothing broke but I can see over time the barrettes and curlers breaking down at the fold with repetitive movement of the plastic.

The upshot

For older girls, this is cute. Younger than 7 or 8, I would not recommend it due to the dexterity and fine motor skills needed to independently operate tools.

The kids' take

"I cant do the barrettes." "Look, I made a curl!" "I like the curling iron."

 

​Chatsters Gabby Doll

Spin Master; ages 5+; $72.99

The gist

This sassy cutie can chat using 300+ words and phrases as well as play 25 different games and activities when you hold her dog, lip gloss and other items to her mouth. 

The testers

Karly H. (8) & mom Natalie; Garnet Valley, PA

Appeal: 8

Very cool. Initially all the kids were amazed as she spoke, responded, initiated and reacted to things being held up to her mouth. The games were a little basic and disappointing after the initial excitement died down.

​Educational value

Not applicable

Functionality: 6

She does a few cool things: Her eyes are screens (creepy), which reflect what touches her lips. She has games that she chooses randomly, so even if you find one you like you can't play it when you want.

Durability

Not applicable

The upshot

The very small props are needed to activate the various responses- she should come with a carrying case. A big wow factor initially, but Karly and her cousins lost interest after the first few days.

 

 

Little Live Pets Bird Cage, Friendly Frankie

Moose Toys; ages 5+; $19.99

The gist

An interactive bird responds to your child's touch and chirps, tweets and sings like a real bird would. 

The testers

Adeline U. (12), sister Abigail (9) & mom Carolyn; Ambler, PA

Appeal: 10

I don't know why all the kids went crazy for this bird, very cute and surprisingly covered with a soft fuzz.

Educational value: 3

Not educational at all.

Functionality: 7

They love to hear their voice mimicked back to them. It works initially in a very limited way…you need to get the hang of him until he gets warmed up.

Durability: 7

It has been played with repeatedly and still works.

The upshot

We brought this to a soccer game and received many compliments; many people thought it was a real bird! For some reason, this relatively simple toy is a hit. The girls want to collect the other birds that are available. It seemed to get more chatty the more it was handled. They like bring the cage along or just "hang out" with him while doing homework.

 

​Panosphere 360 Spy Cam (Spy Gear, 8+, $14.98)

Dart Trap Spy Gear (Spy Gear, 6+, $29.97)

Ultra Range Walkie Talkie (Spy Gear, 5+, $29.99)

The gist

This secretive trio includes a 360 ̊ panoramic video cam, a motion-triggered dart release system and   walkies that deliver clear messages from up to 2 miles away.

The testers

Sean R. (10), Cole (8), Liam (6) & mom Christina; Glenside, PA

Appeal: 10

The three boys could wait to spy on each other. Excitement was an understatement.

Educational value: 7

Overall, these were helpful for espionage and concocting a plan to spy on someone. They also tried learning the NATO Phonetic Alphabet to use over the walkie talkies.

Functionality: 6

The walkie talkies and dart trap were easy. The boys figured them right out without help. I wish the dart trap did more. The spy camera required some parental assistance and didn't would consistently.

Durability: 6

Again, the dart trap and walkie talkie worked well, but the spy camera was inconsistent and felt like cheap plastic.

The upshot

I would definitely buy the walkie talkies. They have a good range and sounded clear. Since my boys are younger, they almost felt like they had phones.

The kids' take

"We loved being able to really talk to each other on the walkie talkies. They were helpful at soccer practice so we could find each other."

 

Beadola Bead Maker 

Crayola; ages 6+; $24.99

The gist

Design and make up to 90 varieties of customized beads.

The testers

Emma W. (6) & mom Joy; Philadelphia

Appeal: 9

The Beadola Beadmaker made us scream with excitement because: It’s jewelry! A little girl’s favorite thing! Especially making your own beads– super crafters would love this!

Educational value: 4

We learned how to make beads and we made bracelets from them.

Functionality: 5

Rolling out the patterns was a bit complicated. After a few tries, a little practice, we figured it out and have lovely custom-made beads with cute patterns on it.

Durability: 5

It was durable, but still was able to be packed up in its packaging since it all came apart.

The upshot

It’s a great rainy-day toy. For a few crafters during a sleepover I could see a Beadola Bead-making BONANZA!

Emma's take

I loved the choices of patterns. I knew exactly who would want each bead. Nana would love the music notes and Aunt Jill the doggie paw prints! Mommy would want the owls. I love them all- I could make so many bracelets!

 

Sew Cool Sewing Studio

Spin Master; ages 6+; $34.99

The gist

Make stuffed characters, purses, pouches, pencil case and more with a threadless sewing machine.

The testers

Jeilani M. (6) & mom Liza; Camden, NJ

Appeal: 10

She thought it was pretty and amazing to do. I thought, "Aww, a cute sewing machine." She was anxious to try but we had to wait until we got batteries, I believe it's not noted on the box that batteries are required.

Educational value: 10

My daughter was excited to learn how to sew. She says people use these machines to put pieces of clothing together and ship to a store.

Functionality: 8

No assembly required. Easy instructions with pics. Self-explanatory. My daughter had trouble because she is a lefty.

Durability: 7

Nothing broke, but my machine constantly had trouble because the needle tended to get stuck a lot.

The upshot

It's a fun creative toy. 

Jeilani's take

"Its pink. I love the designs it comes with. I love making mommy gifts."

 

The Crayola Sketch Wizard

Crayola; ages 8+; $24.99

The gist

The Sketch Wizard allows kids to trace both 2-D and 3-D objects, then color in the outlines.

The testers

Ella K. (9), Evan (8) & mom Tara; Paoli, PA

Appeal: 7

The Crayola Sketch Wizard has a sleek design that is compact and folds for easy storage. After looking at the box, my kids were very excited to get started tracing their favorite toys and pictures.

Educational value: 4

I don’t really think the Sketch Wizard is meant to be educational — other than seeing how mirror images work. But it does use age-appropriate skills, such as tracing.

Functionality: 8

The design is one of the best features about the toy. It was simple to put together and smartly designed, with small clips to keep your page in place. And it’s easy to adjust the mirror part to get a better image.

Durability: 7

Nothing broke during play, and I found it to be made with the usual good quality that Crayola is known for.

The upshot

My kids liked it the first day or so, it then sat until it was time to write the review. None of their traced pictures resembled the toy or drawing they were trying to recreate. The toy seems to have a steep learning curve or requires a lot of practice to get the desired results. My kids usually love Crayola toys — like the Marker Maker they got for Christmas last year and still play with today.

The kids' take

The best thing about the Crayola Sketch Wizard is that you can see the toys or pictures you are drawing through the eyepiece. It’s sometimes hard to start out the drawing and figuring out how to work the mirror image though.

 

Hot Wheels Street Hawk Remote Control Flying Car

Mattel; ages 8+; $59.99

The gist

Wheels and wings help this RC vehicle take to the road and the air.

The testers

David F. (9) & mom Jenny; Hilltown, PA

Appeal: 7

Our son's first impression was that he could not wait to open this toy and play with it. He thought it looked like great fun and appeared cool-looking. The pictures on the box did not match the overall appearance of the toy.

Educational value: 1

We felt that it was not an educational toy because it did not operate in realistic and similar way to actual flight. 

Functionality: 3

Assembly was very easy We just removed it from the box, added batteries and charged this toy. 

Durability: 3

Although nothing broke on the toy during our operation of it, it did sustain several deep abrasions to te wings as a result of rough landings. The polymer wings lasted approximately three attempts to land, which were on the rough side, before they sustained these abrasions. After sustaining these abrasions, flight seemed to be compromised. The tires are made of thin plastic and are durable on a blacktop service, The tires also do not allow for traction of any sort while in car mode.

The upshot

When this toy was in car mode, our son was able to control it without difficulty. When the toy was in flight form, it was very difficult to control. In car mode, the skills necessary are basic and age appropriate for ages 8+. When in flight mode, the toy requires a different set of skills such as finesse which is not appropriate to the age range of our son. We felt the skills needed were more likely possessed by a child of 10 or 12+. Our son became very frustrated with the toy in flight mode as it went from something fun and operable to something impossible for him to use. We feel that if the toy were more rugged and durable, the toy would be capable of being operated in a grassy field and would allow for takeoff from the setting."

David's take

The best thing I liked about the toy was driving it like car. It was fun in car mode to have it spinning and doing tricks and stuff. I didn't like it in airplane mode because it was too tough. I couldn't fly it that good and it started to frustrate me.

 

It's Alive! Science Lab

SmartLab Toys; ages 8+; $24.99

The gist

A one-of-a-kind laboratory kit complete with a motorized Slime-O-Nator that makes your concoctions appear to grow, dance and mutate.

The testers

Kestian O. (9), siblings Adelaide (9) & Fenton (4) & mom Laura; Wallingford, PA

Appeal: 9

While targeted to children 8+, all three kids were dying to try out this toy as soon as it arrived. I had to put it up on the shelf and later in the basement until we were ready to play with it, as it was so enticing to all. When we did open the package, the kids were still excited about playing with it – but actually more the 4-yo than the 9-yos. The actual toy seemed to match pretty closely with the photo, although I expected the clear bowl to be made of a sturdier plastic. Also, the picture shows it as a spherical bowl, when in fact it was two halves that needed to be ‘snapped’ together – made of similar construction as the clear-plastic to-go containers that you get from a sandwich deli. As I put those pieces together, it felt somewhat flimsy and I wasn’t sure I got a tight enough seal.

Educational value: 9

The toy seems pretty educational. We quickly learned about non-Newtonian liquids and how they can be a liquid and a solid. It did get us talking about properties of materials and how they can change based on what is going on. It also showed some cool things about sound waves, as the machine would make the "slime" or water dance around.

Functionality: 8

It did take a few minutes to assemble, and I had to get a screwdriver to put in batteries. All parts were easy to tell what function they had. One thing I didn’t anticipate was that it required a lot of household products for the experiments. I see now that it says “Experiments require common household ingredients not included with this kit,” but I didn’t realize this until we opened it up. (The outside of the box does not list what those items are.) Once I read through the instructions, I had to dig around the kitchen for things that were needed in the experiments. Luckily, I had lots of cornstarch, but I was lacking in Borax, non-flavored gelatin, liquid starch, cabbage and gel glue. Because of this, we could only do the experiments that I had supplies for. Had I known ahead of time I need to get things from the store, I would have waited. This was a bit of a deterrent.

Durability: 9

Nothing broke while we played with it, but from the start I had concerns about the sturdiness of the clear bowls. They just felt a bit flimsy. And because of this the "slime" eventually leaked because I couldn’t get a tight seal. The rest of the materials were of good, durable quality. Another concern was that the machine, with the bowl placed on top, seemed very tipsy. And when dealing with drippy, gooey stuff the last thing I want is it to tip over. It does come with suction cups on the base, but we had a table cloth over the table, so that didn’t help. And then, when the machine was on, the vibration would make the machine move across the table.

The upshot

I think it does have a lot of potential, and if I had all the supplies we could have done some cool experiments. It could lead to some fun discussions. I’m sure we’ll get it out again to try some other experiments when I get more of the supplies needed. If I were recommending this to someone, I’d tell them about the extra stuff that is needed to do the experiments. Also, it was a bit messy, and was not something they could do without my active involvement. That’s not a bad thing, but worth noting that so parents don’t think they can just give it to their kids and go do something else. And while it’s geared for 8+, I felt that all my kids enjoyed it." 

Categories: Play