by Kathryn Streeter
On a recent shopping trip to buy a teddy bear for my son to take on a hospital visit, I discovered it was nearly impossible to find a simple stuffed bear with no battery-induced features or movie merchandizing markings, a reminder that stuffed animals—with no bells or whistles—are a bit ‘yesterday’. Kids have other things they’re into and toy manufacturers are quick to make yearly adjustments to insure dreams come true.
Parents, here are some gift pointers using the 2018 Toy Association’s broad categories to help you wow the kids this holiday.
The Big Reveal:
The appeal of these types of toys is experiential, offering an element of excitement through the activity of “unboxing” a toy. The kids will relish the hands-on activity of unboxing a store-bought toy purchase such as the enduring Kinder Surprise eggs, L.O.L. Surprise, Poopsie Slime Surprise Unicorn, Scruff-a-Luvs collectibles and the Crate Creature Sizzle Collectible Toy, lauded as this year’s top unboxing toy. Kids are also fans of blind-bag toys (inexpensive, mini collectables) such as Shopkins, Star Wars and Paw Patrol. The frenzied mania behind this toy movement is explained by kids’ obsession with watching others ‘unbox’ gifts on social media. Aimed to entertain children, popular unboxing channels on YouTube are often hosted by children and are an effective advertising strategy, influencing toy trends. Common Sense Media offers parents cautionary tips to curate appropriate unboxing videos.
This classic toy category is growing, rising to meet millennial parents’ desire to help their child play unplugged like they did as kids. The Teddy Ruxpin is back, updated to sing and read to your child. The beloved Tickle Me Elmo, bursting into laughter when a child squeezes his belly, is a hot option in this category as is the Calico Critters collection, offering new characters, play sets and villages. Perhaps parents will enjoy gifting their child with an updated model of the classic pogo stick, My First Flybar Foam Pogo Jumper.
Board games and puzzles are top-toy recommendations for this holiday offering both new games and remakes of classic oldies such as Uno Emoji and Monopoly Fortnite. Popular new silly games for the whole family include Pimple Pete and Watch Ya Mouth, a game where players wear mouthguards and attempt to pronounce a phrase (also available via app). Top-rated Hot Potato Electronic Musical Passing Game offers perfect road trip entertainment. For older kids, consider the trendy new card game Unstable Unicorns or the 5th edition of the ever-popular, Catan.
This hot trend reveals children’s penchant to care for pretend pets, whether stuffed or digital. Kids will find it cool to have choices such as pet dinosaur furReal Munchin’ Rex who hops around begging for treats or a small horse to feed and ride. Hatchimals blends the unboxing toy category with pet play, offering an egg with twins which your child will care for. If twins are too much responsibility, try the Hatchimals Mystery, a large egg promising just one live birth. Last year it was Fingerlings Monkeys, but 2018’s craze is Fingerlings Untamed Dinosaur Raptors. While wrapped tightly around little fingers, raptors will learn to talk, roar and develop a personality from your child.
This category is all about playing make-believe, allowing children to step into roles (what do you want to be when you grow up?), play dress-up, experiment with food in their own kitchen, design and create using arts & craft activities. Designed to stoke your kids’ imaginations using food, consider combining Mommy Please Pretend Food Kitchen Play Set (125-piece play food) with Freestanding Wooden Fresh Market Grocery Store, offering a hand-cranked conveyor and grocery scanner which beeps. Ultimate Disney Princess Dress Up Trunk transforms kids into their favorite characters. “Top doll” of the year LuvaBella Doll allows children to play the part of parent because the baby cuddles, slurps and picks up vocabulary from your child. For kids who’d rather care for a monster than cute doll, check out Fugglers. Or maybe your child is obsessed by construction equipment? Big Dig Ride-On Crane will hit the spot.
Toys that Teach:
The 2018 twist on STEM/STEAM toys are the inclusion of toys which encourage kids to be socially responsible and make the world a better place. Children of the World Jumbo Jigsaw Floor Puzzle or I Never Forget A Face Matching Game will grow kids’ hearts and minds, while creative wall maps of the world with animal/landmark decals teaches as kids place them in their appropriate places. Crystal Growing Experiment, Harry Potter Coding Kit and Hape Checkout Register Kid’s Wooden Pretend Play Set are examples of today’s popular items in this category which offer a foundation in science and math.
Tech and Entertainment:
The bottom line in this category, parents, is to let movies serve as a guide because they always spin off new toys both virtual and real. Combining popular culture with tech results in kids’ frenzy over toys like Jurassic World Pterano-Drone and R2-D2 App-Enabled Droid. In the pure tech space, Lego Boost Creative Toolbox affords five robotic models in one project kit, each progressively harder, and Anki Cozmo the robot is ready to be your kid’s “loyal sidekick.”
Houston toy retailers you mustn’t miss this season:
Toys are divided by mind, body and soul.
Tomfoolery Toys & Books
Select pickup and they will bring it to your car.
Big Blue Whale
Carrying highly acclaimed brands such as Hape and Moulin.
Off-beat toys, new and old, in The Heights and Trader’s Village.
Family-owned store specializing in all-things-baby.
Toys to Love
Complimentary gift wrapping offered.
All latest Disney designs at this Galleria-located store.
Super Happy Incredible Toys
Vintage and pop memorabilia, art, collectables.
Cool City Trading
Houston’s premier wholesale toy dealer.
Imagination Toys & Shoes
Toys categorized by plush, science, remote control and more.
*Pro-tip: View How to Wrap a Present! DIY 8 Creative Gift Wrapping Ideas on YouTube for gift wrapping inspiration.
Kathryn Streeter writes for Houston Family Magazine. Find her on Twitter, @streeterkathryn.