Toy Report 2014 – Toys by category, from 3+

A description of the categories will be coming soon.
 
Download report as PDF.
 

Active Play

Chalktrail for Bicycles (FA076-2)
Fat Brain Toy Co.
3 +

With this inventive toy, kids can attach chalk to their bike and leave a trail behind them as they ride. The chalk holder fits all makes and models of bikes, although testers found that it works better on pedal bikes than on balance bikes. Testers also found that the chalk attachment would easily pop off and that the lines drawn behind them were not solid, but tended to be broken up. The thick chalk stick would also break during use and was not easy to replace because of its unique size. Some testers preferred to simply use the chalk for drawing.

★★★
Birthday
Dino Club Croquet Set
Manhattan Toy
3 +

Transport the game of croquet back to prehistoric ages. This cute and colorful outdoor game comes with three dinosaur-shaped wickets, two kid-sized mallets, and two coloured balls. Kids play to see who will be first to hit their ball through all three wickets. Our testers enjoyed playing this easy-to-learn game and loved the cute, colourful wickets and the solid, well-sized mallets. Families appreciated that the openings on the wickets are wide enough for kids to easily master, although they would often fall over if hit.
Arts & Crafts

★★
4 in 1 Suitcase (J05014)
Janod
3 – 8 yrs

This wooden suitcase has multiple surfaces for creative use: a white board, a magnetic board, and a chalk board. It also comes with 41 magnets (letters and numbers), as well as blackboard chalk and eraser. Our testers enjoyed using the magnets to practise spelling and simple math. They also liked the toy’s portability and its attractive design. However, the magic board does not erase well, the chalk breaks easily, and there is no dry erase marker. Families noted that this is not a toy for families with small children. The magnetic letters can come apart to expose a small, loose magnet, which is a clear choking hazard.

★★★
Birthday
Imagine I Can Create & Color: Princess (150190)
Manhattan Toy
3 +

Create and colour a 3-D cardboard princess with this cute craft, which is well-suited to its target age group. Our young testers loved the princess theme. They liked the precut pieces they could colour (5 markers included) and then assemble into a princess. They also liked how the princess will stand on her own and is sturdy enough for gentle play. They enjoyed colouring the background scenes and creating imaginative scenarios with their finished pieces. Some adult assistance may be needed for assembly.

★★★
Birthday
Imagine I Can Create & Color: Space Alien (150200a)
Manhattan Toy
3 +

Beam me up! With this quick and easy craft, kids colour pieces of pre-cut cardboard and then assemble them to make a little 3-D alien and a stand-alone space background. Our testers liked that the instructions were clear, however assembly brought out some problem-solving skills since numbers indicating where pieces go had been coloured over, making this process a little challenging. One tester set his completed craft up for display, while in another family this craft prompted conversations about outer space and aliens. Activity takes about 20 minutes to complete.

★★★ Best Bet
My Box of Punches Boxed Set (KTZ01)
Teo & Zina
3 +

This cute craft includes 5 decorative hole punches (circle, swirl, square, flower and clover), an activity booklet and glue—all neatly packaged in a lovely little box with a flip-up lid and sliding drawer. Our testers thought the box was “super cute” and enjoyed using the high-quality punches in the activity book and on other pieces of paper. While some of our younger testers (aged 3–5) needed adult assistance, this activity and craft set was enjoyed by a variety of ages. Parents liked how play helps develop fine motor skills and shape recognition and how everything stores nicely in the box.

★★★
Birthday
My First Crayola Handprint Creations (80-6884)
Crayola
3 +

What handiwork! Create unique and colourful pictures by tracing handprints and then cutting, gluing and decorating them. Our testers enjoyed making giraffes, bunnies and other animals (with help from mom or dad) by following the step-by-step instructions in the 20-page activity guide. The kit includes templates, coloured paper, tissue paper squares, googly eyes, a glue stick and 2 washable markers. Testing families found this activity to be a good introduction to following step-by-step instructions.

★★★
Birthday
My First Crayola Tissue Paper Creations (80-6883)
Crayola
3 +

Get crafty with this easy-to-use tissue paper activity. Kit includes an activity book with seven shapes and 1000 tissue paper squares. The cardboard shapes have adhesive surfaces covered with waxed paper. Kids simply remove the wax paper and press on balled-up tissue paper. Appropriate for kids to do on their own from the ages of 3 and up, this craft develops fine motor skills and is easy to set up. Our testers really enjoyed this activity and loved the designs and variety of shapes and colours. They were proud to display the finished products.

★★★
Birthday
My First Finger Paint & Frames
Orb Factory
3 +

Get creatively messy with this colourful finger painting craft. Kit comes with 5 pots of thick paint in bright, attractive colours, 4 frames with hangers, and 8 pieces of glossy, durable paper. Our testers found that the paint and paper both worked really well for finger painting. They loved getting their fingers coated in colour and were proud to display their finished artwork. Easy to set up and get started, this craft has enough paint for kids to share. Testing families also liked the extra paper that was provided so kids could make more than one piece of art for each frame. Parents appreciated that the box doubles as a storage container with a useful carrying handle.

Not Recommended
Padaboo Modeling Clay Kit Mosaic (Mouse and Owl) (PMZ102)
Teo & Zina


Create little pictures from modelling clay. This craft kit comes with 2 heavy cardboard templates with cute illustrations (a mouse and an owl), modelling clay, googly eyes, a plastic tool for creating balls, and glue for holding the clay in place. Our testers liked the design and colours, as well as the built-in display stand, but they were disappointed that neither the tool nor the glue worked. The craft takes a long time to complete and then falls apart after it is done. Testing families reported that children gave up from frustration or were disappointed with results if they did complete it.

★★★
Birthday
Play Art Finger Paints (PART14120)
Bo-Jeux Toys Inc.
3 +

Squirt, dabble, mix and paint. These bright finger paints come in cute little flower-shaped bottles that are easy to squirt the paint out of. Our testers enjoyed the messy fun of finger painting, and their parents appreciated how easily the paint washed off surfaces and did not stain clothes. Families also liked how experimenting with these primary colours taught children about making secondary colours. Our testers enjoyed creating their own artwork. Some invited friends to paint side by side, and one used the paints to design her own flag. “Used often and enjoyed always”, reported one testing family.

★★★
Travel
Birthday
Pop Up Colouring Set (Cars) (04-5842)
Crayola
3 – 5 yrs

Take this attractive Disney Cars art kit in the car with you. A big hit with 5- and 6-year-olds who enjoy colouring, this compact kit includes a brightly coloured carrying box, colouring book, stickers, stencils and markers. Testers enjoyed decorating pictures of familiar characters, as well as using blank pages for their own creations. They also liked the variety of items and the cool pop-up aspect of the box. Everything stores nicely in the case, making it easy to pack up and take on trips. Great for independent, creative play.
Bath, Sand & Water

★★
Dino Construction Company T-Top The Triceratops Bulldozer (EI-4153)
Educational Insights
3 +

This dinosaur is ready for some heavy work. The brightly coloured plastic toy is a dinosaur that’s shaped like a bulldozer. The head is designed to push dirt and sand, and the tail has posable joints. Our testers were attracted to this rugged toy, which is a nice size and weight for their age group and is easy to move. However, they didn’t dig the tracks, which slipped and failed to leave prints in sand, and sometimes the front scoop did not function well.

★★★
Birthday
Eau la la! (001KE-01011)
K.I.D. Toy
3 +

Colour me beautiful! Add these primary-colour tablets to bathwater to create colourful, fizzy water. Our testers enjoyed watching the tablets dissolved and liked how they could combine colours (red and yellow to get orange, for example). Parents liked how the kids learned about colour mixing, and they noted that the tablets encouraged reluctant bathers to get in the tub! “My kids had a blast with this”, reported one testing parent.
Construction Toys

★★★ Best Bet
Batteries
Hexbug Nano V2 Helix 180° (477-2909)
Innovation First International
3 +

This bug isn’t creepy at all! It’s downright cool. The micro-robot Hexbug can scurry up clear plastic tubes, navigate around fixed pegs, and pirouette through a spiral tube in this multi-level playset. Our testers were immediately attracted to this toy and delighted in watching the tiny bug climb around the set. The nice assortment of pieces allows kids to build a variety of structures, and while younger testers required some help with building, kids would often work together to design new habitats and see what the Hexbug could manage. Requires a button cell battery.

★★★ Children's Choice
Plus-Plus Mini 600 Pieces (P3310)
Plus-Plus
3 +

This innovative building toy has endless creative potential. With over 600 pieces, all of which can fit together to make 2-D or 3-D creations, kids can build just about anything. Pieces are colourful, lightweight and durable. Testers liked how they fit together easily and stay together well. Our testing families found the toy especially remarkable for its appeal to a wide variety of ages. While enjoyed by testers as young as 3, much older kids also liked it and could make more complex creations. With so many pieces, kids can easily play with this toy together, and families were impressed by how unique each child’s creations were.

★★★
Totter Tower (821543)
Hape
3 +

This unique, eco-design construction toy consists of durable bamboo pieces cut at angles and edged with coloured textile paint. There are four pieces of each of the six different shapes, as well as an instruction booklet to stimulate creativity. The angular shape offers some challenges in balance and design that older testers (and parents) enjoyed but frustrated younger builders.
Dolls, Houses, & Accessories

★★★
Birthday
Autumn Leaves Lottie Doll (LT002)
Arklu Ltd.
3 +

This cute Lottie doll is ready for cool fall weather in a colourful outfit of appealing fabrics and textures. Our testers appreciated her girl-like appearance (she has a child’s body and doesn’t wear make-up or jewelry) and that they could easily dress and undress her (although the boots gave some kids trouble). They appreciated that she wasn’t dressed all in pink and enjoyed creating imaginative scenarios for her in their play. Lightweight and not too tall (18 cm), she was also deemed a perfect size for young girls to carry around.

★★
Barbie Dreamhouse (X7949)
Mattel
3 +

This large-scale, fully furnished, 3-level Barbie house has 6 rooms and a balcony, 2 pull-cord elevators (one for Barbie and another for her clothes!), and other engaging features like a working doorbell and light-up mirror. Very pink and highly detailed, this house appealed to our young girl testers, who especially liked the dozens of little accessories and the various sound effects. Families appreciated how its size (109 cm high x 100 cm wide) allowed for multiple children to play imaginatively together. However, many had to rearrange bedrooms and playrooms to accommodate this large playset. The assembly process—with many pieces and tiny image-only instructions—caused a significant amount of frustration. Testers also had problems operating the elevators. Requires 3 AA batteries. Dolls sold separately.

★★★
Barbie I Can Be… Deep Sea Treasure Playset (Y9347)
Mattel
3 +

Go deep sea diving with Barbie! Our testers loved this pretty-in-pink and purple Barbie doll with colour-changing hair and an outfit ready for deep sea exploration. They used the doll and her accompanying sea horse, squirt octopus, magic turtle and treasure chest to create endless imaginative scenarios. With lots of items to play with, this toy was enjoyed alone and with friends and became a favourite of some. Since this toy was often played with in the bath, some testers wished the colour-changing features (Barbie’s hair and the turtle’s design) were activated by warm water instead of cold.

★★★
Birthday
Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse Friendship Barbie Doll (Y7444)
Mattel
3 +

I’m a Barbie girl, in my Barbie world! This blonde Barbie is based on the Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse web series. She comes with 2 pink dresses, silvery jewellery, purse and shoes (pink, of course). Our testers thought she is very pretty and liked her articulated joints, which allow her to sit and bend her elbows and wrists. They created imaginative play scenarios with her and incorporated her into play with other dolls and toys.

★★★
Barbie Mariposa & the Fairy Princess Doll (Y6373)
Mattel
3 +

This pretty doll transforms from a princess to a sparkling fairy. Push the button at her waist and her skirt pops open to reveal a beautiful ball gown. Unfurl her wings on her back and she is ready to take flight. To change her back into a princess, children must pinch the skirt closed, which was tricky for the youngest testers, but the wings fold back easily. All our testers were immediately attracted to this doll and enjoyed engaging in imaginative play with her.

Barbie Mariposa and the Fairy Princess (Y6372)
Mattel
3 +

This butterfly fairy doll easily captured the imagination and attention of our testers. She has lovely, sparkly wings that can be folded up with a knob on her back to form the skirt of a pretty pink dress. Press her necklace and the skirt will unfurl into wings again. Although they were attracted to this doll, our testers found that she is not as functional as she is beautiful. The transformation features were awkward to use: folding up the wings was especially difficult, and for some testers the wings broke or stopped functioning.

★★★
Barbie Slide & Spin Pups (Y1172)
Mattel
3 +

Barbie’s puppies love to play. This pretty-in-pink playset comes with a tower slide, carousel, basket and dish for Barbie’s two little puppies. (Doll and puppies are included.) Our testers liked to have the puppies slide in two directions, coming out either in a small pool or into Barbie’s lap, and they loved the water aspect of play. Since there are no batteries in the toy, some testers even liked to play with it in the bath. And with such a nice variety of activities, kids can easily enjoy this toy with their friends.

★★★ Best Bet
Batteries
Barbie Train & Ride Horse (Y1174)
Mattel
3 +

Barbie and her little pony are ready to go for a ride. This pretty-in-pink playset comes with a Barbie in sparkly riding gear and a white horse. She can sit on the pony while it walks on a flat, hard surface. Raising or lowering Barbie’s right arm makes it kneel, walk or stop. Our testers loved this toy’s theme and its colourful, detailed pieces. They liked how easy it was to use and loved that Barbie could actually ride! Requires 4 AAA and 3 LR44 batteries.

★★★
Birthday
Biscuit the Beagle Accessory Set (LT011)
Arklu Ltd.
3 +

Lottie’s little dog, Biscuit, is ready to go for a walk with her. The cute plastic puppy comes with a leash, a walking outfit, and a doggie bag he can be carried in. He also has a bowl and a bed waiting for him when he gets back home. Our testers liked the detail of each of the pieces and enjoyed using this toy in imaginative play with the Autumn Leaves Lottie doll. They appreciated how easy it was to put on the leash and clothing, and their parents liked how this toy promoted awareness of animal care.

★★★
Birthday
Calico Critters Rosie's Row Boat (CC1461)
International Playthings
3 +

Row, row, row your boat! Rosie the cute little kitten is ready to row. This miniature playset includes posable Rosie and her boat, as well as oars, an umbrella, a camera, a picnic basket, a sun hat, books, a blanket, and lollipops. Our little girl testers were very attracted to this pretty toy and used her accessories in imaginative play. One tester especially enjoyed pretending to take pictures and read Rosie’s little books. Parents liked how children played together with this toy.

★★★
Disney Princess Ariel Castle and Undersea Playset (X9437)
Mattel
3 +

The Little Mermaid can play both under the sea and on land with this attractive two-level play set. Down below, Ariel can be a mermaid swimming with her friend Flounder, sliding down a green slide, storing treasure in a chest, or swinging on pink shell. Or she go up on land, slip on a pretty dress, and dance on the prince’s dance floor. Our testers delighted in the variety of pretty pieces and the beloved Little Mermaid theme. There is enough space for two kids to play, or one can be easily amused alone with imaginative scenarios. There is even an option to add water to Ariel’s pool.

★★★
Disney Princess Ariel's Royal Ship (Y0941, BBM22)
Mattel
3 +

Sail away on an adventure with Ariel the Little Mermaid. This pretty, lightweight playset is a ship that opens up to reveal Ariel’s underwater home. Our testers loved the Little Mermaid theme and all the little accessories (more than 15 of them), such as a starfish pillow, hairbrush and treasure box. Those who enjoy Disney princesses were especially eager to engage in imaginative play. Our testers also incorporated this toy in play with other toys and with friends. Note that the toy does not come with a doll, although our testers were given one for the testing period.

★★★
Batteries
Disney Sofia the First Talking Sofia and Animal Friends (Y6655)
Mattel
3 +

This pretty doll can have conversations with her woodland friends (rabbit, blue bird and robin) when they are brought close to her “magic amulet”. Our testers delighted in the doll’s interactions with the animals and liked the clear voices and variety of phrases spoken. They enjoyed playing with the doll and animals together or separately, often creating imaginative scenarios or involving them in play with other toys. Parents appreciated how easy it was for children to operate the toy and make the doll and animals talk. Requires 3 AAA batteries.

★★
Groovy Girls Myla Doll (149280)
Manhattan Toy
3 +

This cute, cuddly doll has long brown hair with fuchsia highlights, leopard print shoes and a vibrant outfit. Our testers were attracted to her trendy look and found her to be the perfect size (33 cm tall) for playing with and carrying around. One 5-year-old took this doll with her to the park and on car trips. She pretended the doll was her sister and enjoyed talking to her, eating meals with her, and engaging her in other forms of imaginative play. But testers were disappointed that it was hard to change the doll’s clothes or get outfits to stay on. They also found it strange that they had to cut off her clothes before they could dress her in other things.

★★
Groovy Girls Neon and On (149320)
Manhattan Toy
3 +

Now that’s some flashy dressing! With neon green bellbottom pants, a sparkly pink top, and matching sunglasses, your Groovy Girls doll will be ready to step out in bright, retro style. Our testers liked the nice, vibrant colours, but they found it hard to get the clothes on and off their Groovy Girls dolls (sold separately). The clothes also did not stay on very well, and no self-respecting doll wants to be out in public when her pants keep falling off.

★★
My Friend Huggles (Rubi) (hg06301)
Great Divide Corp.
3 +

This life-size (86 cm) soft doll has long, dark yarn hair, embroidered glasses, a removable flowered dress, and removable undergarment. Like the other 5 Huggles dolls, Rubi comes with a detachable tag explaining her virtue (gratitude) and is designed to encourage children to practise being thankful. Our testers were attracted to the doll’s friendly face and cute clothes, and several enjoyed engaging with her in imaginative play. Many liked her size, and some even shared their own clothes with her! However, families noted that Rubi shows wear quickly. Also, because she is so soft and has a large head, she is quite floppy and unstable.

★★★
R.V. Seeing You Camper (BD37021Z)
Battat Ltd. (Maison Joseph)
3 +

Let’s go camping! With this attractive playset, kids can create camping adventures for Our Generation dolls. Our girl testers were very attracted to this detailed, realistic toy with lots of cute accessories like dishes, pillows and a blanket. Even though some testers had trouble with sticking doors, they enjoyed incorporating the toy into imaginative play with various toys and dolls around the house. Families liked how this set provides a nice transition to similar playsets for older children—the pieces in this set are not too small, and children do not need highly developed fine motor skills to manipulate the accessories. “Our daughter played enthusiastically with this toy throughout the testing period”, reported one parent.

★★★
Sisters' Deluxe Camper (X8410)
Mattel
3 +

Camping in style! This pretty-in-pink camper opens and extends to reveal a kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom. The front part of the camper can be removed and used as a car to transport up to 4 dolls, a feature our testers thought was pretty neat. They also liked the toy’s details and the many accessories it comes with (like a fire pit, utensils, blanket, and frying pan). With so many parts and the extended play area, this toy easily accommodates shared, imaginative play. All accessories can be stored in the camper when not in use, which parents appreciated.

★★★
Willow & The Most Fantabulous Pajama Party Ever (BD31004Z)
Battat Ltd. (Maison Joseph)
3 +

Time to get ready for bed. Our testers were charmed by this friendly, realistic doll, who comes ready for a pajama party. For night time she has PJs, bunny slippers, toothbrush and toothpaste. In the morning, she can wear a cute polka-dot dress and accessories. Testers loved getting her ready for bed each night and found that the articulated limbs made her easy to dress and undress, although her hair was too difficult to brush. Willow was incorporated in play with other toys and found herself in many imaginative scenarios. For children who enjoy chapter books, there is a corresponding book available in print or on-line.
Educational Toys

★★★
Primary Science Plant & Grow Set (LER 4784)
Learning Resources
3 +

Children love to watch their garden grow! Our testers enjoyed learning about plant growth and germination with this engaging activity set. The lit comes with colourful plastic items (such as watering can, pots, an observation jar) and 10 illustrated, easy-to-follow, laminated activity cards for projects that are simple but interesting and educational. (Materials needed for experiments, such as carrots, popcorn kernels and soil, are not included.) Our young testers were very interested in their projects and fascinated by some of the results—and a few testing families ended up with stalks of corn growing in the backyard after surprisingly successful popcorn germination!
Games

★★★
Birthday
Caterpillar Connect Small Tin Game
Manhattan Toy
3 – 5 yrs

Cute, colourful, creeping caterpillars! In this compact game, 2–3 players compete to see who will be the first to build their own caterpillar from colourful wooden pieces by rolling coloured die. The colour thrown on the dice is the colour the player uses to build onto the caterpillar. If that colour is already in use, the player skips a turn. First one to complete their caterpillar wins. These simple rules and a quick play time (5 minutes) made this game attractive for our young testers, although older ones regretted the lack of strategy. All playing pieces fit neatly into a pretty tin, making this a great game for travel.

★★
Batteries
Chasin Cheeky (A2043)
Hasbro
3 +

That’s one cheeky monkey! In this active game, 2 players try to throw their coloured rings onto the monkey’s tail while he’s racing around the room. The first player to get all 3 rings on his tail, then pulls the banana from Cheeky’s mouth to make him dance and wiggle, wins. Our testers were excited to play this game and found the monkey entertaining. However, younger testers had a hard time getting their rings on the monkey’s tail, and while they enjoyed chasing the monkey, they would get frustrated when playing the game. Testers also thought the monkey was too loud and noted that he would get stuck if not on a very smooth floor surface. Parents wished there was auto shut-off. Requires 2 C batteries.

Not Recommended
Batteries
Chatter Phone Talking Game
Fisher-Price


This toy is an electronic, updated version of the classic Fisher-Price Chatter Phone. It comes with 10 number and 12 animal cards that can be inserted into the phone to activate a game. Although the games are intended to reinforce the learning of numbers, animals, and colours, testing families noted that kids have to already know these things in order to play. It was also difficult for our young testers to understand the phone’s directions and find the appropriate card within 15 seconds. Families also reported that the volume was very loud and that some of the phones broke during the testing period. Requires 3 AAA batteries.

★★★
Birthday
Cheese Chase Small Tin Game
Manhattan Toy
3 – 4 yrs

Hickory, dickory dock! Help these cute little mice move with the roll of a die—not up the clock, but toward the cheese. In this very compact, portable game, 2 players take turns rolling the die to advance their mice toward the cheese. Our testers enjoyed the quick, easy-to-learn games, and their families appreciated the quality wooden pieces and handy storage tin. Parents also liked how play helped kids practise their counting skills.

★★★
Birthday
Chipmunk Chomper
Mattel
3 +

Our testers went nuts for this cute and engaging board game. With its bright colours and cute chipmunks, this game was an instant hit. Kids enjoyed using the chomper mechanism to pick nuts from a tree and trying to match the pattern on their playing card. With 3 levels of play, this 2-player game can challenge kids of various ages and abilities. Parents note that the game gives kids an opportunity to practise letter and pattern recognition, matching, spelling, and fine motor skills—a great combination of fun and education.

★★★
KeeKee the Rocking Monkey (00221)
Blue Orange Games
3 – 5 yrs

Now that’s one talented monkey! This colourful wooden monkey can balance multiple balls while rocking on a banana. How many he holds is up to you. Kids take turns placing balls on and around KeeKee, trying not to be the one who makes him fall over. Our testers aged 2–4 really enjoyed playing this game, but those who could easily balance the balls felt they had outgrown it. Parents liked how the game teaches the principles of balance and helps develop dexterity. They also appreciated the sustainable, quality materials that the attractive pieces are made of. Games for 1–6 players take only a few minutes.

★★★ Best Bet
Birthday
Little Tikes Farm Memory Match-Up (615283E5C)
Little Tikes
3 +

The farm animals are hiding under the stack of hay. Test your memory and see how many animals you can find and put back together. This cute and colourful game comes with 10 animal tops and bottoms, 20 haystack cups, and a unique egg-carton-shaped storage case. Our testing families liked how easy it was to understand and play the game. It worked well as an introduction to games for little tots while still engaging their older siblings. Testers also has fun playing with the plastic animal pieces and incorporating them with other toys. “A super popular game”, said one testing family. Games for 1 or 2 players last about 10 minutes.

★★★ Best Bet
Birthday
Manon Duo Memo at the Farm (SP-DUO-002)
Sardine Productions
3 +

Help Manon get all the animals back to the barn. This attractive memory game comes with 44 cards and two varieties of play for 2–6 people. The most popular version with our testers was one in which players try to get all the animals into the barn before the storm hits by finding matching pairs. And they loved the cute barn boards on which to store matching pairs. Testing families also thought the number of matching pairs (14) was just right: not overwhelming, yet challenging enough for 3-year-olds to grow into.

★★★
Birthday
Set Junior (1300)
Set Enterprises, Inc.
3 +

Make sets by matching colours, shapes, and numbers in this easy-to-learn but challenging-to-play game. This Junior version of Set comes with a double-sided game board, tiles, scoring chips and instructions. Our testing families liked the fact that the game has two levels of difficulty (learning how to make sets or racing to find the most sets), which makes it a good game to grow with the children. The instructions and diagrams made it easy to understand the rules. Games for 2–4 players take about 15 minutes to complete.

★★★ Best Bet
Travel
Birthday
Spot It! Alphabet (00520)
Blue Orange Games
3 +

This compact letter recognition game is so much fun that kids don’t even notice it’s also educational! The game comes with 31 round cards in a handy little tin storage case. Each card has several colourful letters and symbols on it. There is always one, and only one, match between any two cards. With three game varieties to play for 1–6 players, there is a wide appeal for players of multiple ages. Our testers found this works equally well as a game for individuals as it does for groups, and everyone found its compact size perfect for road trips.

★★★
Travel
Birthday
Spot It! Numbers and Shapes (00521)
Blue Orange Games
3 +

Can you be the first to find the matching shape or number? This compact, colourful game comes with 31 round cards in a tin. Every card has several numbers and shapes. There is always one, and only one, match between any 2 cards. Our testers thought this was a fun way to practise identifying shapes, colours and numbers. Parents appreciated how educational the game is and liked that the game can be played bilingually. Families also found the compact size perfect for travel. Games for 2–6 players last about 5 minutes.

★★★
Stack Up! (GMK4)
Peaceable Kingdom
3 – 5 yrs

This cooperative game is stacks of fun! In this colourful, attractive game, players work together to build a stack of 12 blocks before the “Stack Smasher” gets to them. Although many of our testers actually wanted the Smasher to knock down the tower, they would work together to build it. Families liked the availability of 3 levels of play to accommodate various ages and abilities, but they noted that the lack of strategy makes this game best suited to the youngest player. Working together to reach a shared goal teaches cooperation, which the parents appreciated.

★★★ Best Bet
Super Moose (897684)
Hape
3 +

In this quirky game of balance, players take turns trying to balance moose antlers on the wobbly head of a moose without tipping everything over. Bamboo and felt pieces are attractive and durable. Play encourages the development of fine motor skills, although testers also enjoyed the anticipation of the crash. The objective is easy to understand, and games can be played alone or with up to 6 players. Games take 10–15 minutes to complete.

★★★
Thomas & Friends Engines on the Go! (90001)
Cardinal Games
3 +

Are you ready to be a train conductor? This colourful game gets kids thinking and moving as they collect freight from “destination pads” spread out around the room or even around the house. Our testers loved wearing the little Thomas & Friends vests that are used to store their collected freight. They also found the spinner that tells them what freight to collect easy to hold and use. Parents appreciated how the game helped kids with memory development and with shape and colour recognition, but they noted that with kids running around, games could easily go off the rails.

★★★
Birthday
Where is Sock Monkey? Game
Cardinal Games
3 +

Time for some monkeying around. This engaging game for 2–4 players comes with a cute, cuddly sock monkey and a durable game board with 22 question tiles, 7 “Go Look!” tiles, and a 40-second timer. The player who is the “Hider” hides the monkey somewhere in the house. Other players will take turns flipping tiles to see if they get to ask a Yes-or-No question or use the revealed clues to go look. You win if you find the monkey, or the Hider wins if monkey remains hidden after three unsuccessful seeks. Our testers loved the short, simple games and also enjoyed playing with the monkey separately. Parents liked how this game helps with the development of speech and cognitive skills.
Imaginative Play

★★★
Birthday
Adventure Cape (with Reversible Adventure Mask) (54273, 14000)
Creative Education Of Canada
3 +

With this shiny red satin cape and a red and blue mask, children can soar into the imaginative world of superheroes. A Velcro clasp at the neck allows them to easily dress and undress by themselves, and the generic lightning bolt symbol on the cape does not limit the roles they create. Eyeholes in the mask are large enough that children can easily see out. Our testers used these costumes in lots of imaginative adventures, even turning shopping trips into cosmic crusades. Parents noted that this costume promoted imaginative play and that the cape can be machine-washed.

★★★
Batteries
Adventure Pack (5305)
Playgo Toys Manufacturing Ltd.
3 +

Get fitted out for an outdoor adventure with this brightly coloured cloth backpack filled with camping-themed plastic toys (lantern–flashlight, spade, mallet, water bottle, knife, axe, compass, and carabiner). Our testers loved the full functionality of this backpack, and its gender-neutral colours appealed to both girls and boys. Testers also liked how well the pack and tools are constructed and how they’re the right size to play with. Parents were glad that the pack encouraged imaginative outdoor play and exploration of nature. They also liked that it could be played with independently or with friends and siblings. Requires 2 AA batteries for the lantern–flashlight, which does not have auto shut-off.

★★★
Travel
Alpaca Puppet
Folkmanis
3 +

This beautiful and very realistic looking Alpaca stage puppet is so soft and snuggly that our testers used it as a cuddle toy, as well as a puppet. Some of our testers put on daily puppet shows and engaged in lots of talkative and imaginative play. The animal is complete (it’s not just a head) and is big enough that adults can use it too. Parents noted that operating the moveable mouth helped children develop their fine motor skills, although they wished it was machine washable. The toy also comes with an engaging and educational story.

★★★
Birthday
Cotton Candy Fairy Set (Dress, Wings & Wand) (33415)
Creative Education Of Canada
3 +

Bibbity, bobbity, boo! Now you are a fairy! Girls can become pretty little fairies with this pink and purple dress-up outfit, which includes a beautifully designed dress with pretty petal skirt, wings and a magic wand. Our testing families were happy that this outfit fits larger children (4–6 years old) and that kids could get the dress and wings on and off by themselves. While some testers with sensitive skin found the fabric a bit itchy, most enjoyed dressing up and playing pretend. They acted out scenarios with their toys and got ready for the fairy princess ball. A magical world awaits.

★★★
Birthday
Batteries
Deluxe Breakfast Stove (3670)
Playgo Toys Manufacturing Ltd.
3 +

Breakfast is ready! This imaginative, durable play set comes with a grill, spatula, plate and egg holder and realistically coloured plastic bacon slices, tomatoes, eggs, steak and burger. The colourful, attractive toy encouraged lots of play among our testers, who especially enjoyed the sizzling sounds as food is pressed on the grill. Younger siblings also joined the fun. Parents should be warned that they may eat a lot of eggs and bacon with this toy around, but at least this bacon is calorie-free.

Farm Set (DSK0966)
Discoveroo
3 +

This colourful, eco-friendly play set comes with a tractor, two trailers, farmer, pig, cow, 4 hay bales, rake and shovel. The wooden pieces are durable and well-made, but they received a cool response from our testers who found that the trailer latches did not work well – even grown-up farmers had trouble with them. Testers also complained about squeaky wheels and generally found the toy to be not very engaging.

★★
Hape UFO Playset with Friendly Alien (E3006)
Hape
3 +

Beam me up! A cute toy for space enthusiasts, this eco-friendly UFO comes with its own little green alien and rover vehicle. The toy is made of sturdy, brightly painted wood with nice details. It is compact and light, so young children can easily carry and “fly” it around. Designed for creative play, it appeals to children interested in rockets, aliens and outer space. It is powered by the imagination, not batteries, so parents appreciate that this is quiet toy, but some testers did not find it very engaging.

★★★
Honeybake Camper Mini Stove Set (TV297)
Le Toy Van
3 +

Breakfast’s on! This cute and colourful wooden playset has everything needed for a camper’s breakfast: a little 2-burner stove with clicking dials, a kettle and mug, a frying pan with sausage and egg, and a ketchup bottle. Our young testers enjoyed lots of imaginative play with this. Some made their parents “tea”, while others served up “hot dogs”. They would also set up forts and camping areas around the house and integrate this set with other toys. Families liked how kids could play with this playset either alone or with friends, and they appreciated the toy’s easy-to-clean, smooth surfaces.

★★★
Honeybake Mixer Set (TV285)
Le Toy Van
3 +

Patticake, patticake! Bake me a cake as fast as you can! This pretty wooden play set encourages young children to explore their imaginative culinary skills. The set includes a mixer with pivoting whisker and detachable bowl and spoon, as well as play ingredients (egg, milk, flour, sugar). Our testers loved the pretty and sturdy pieces, which were the right size for their small hands. They engaged in imaginative roleplay and often incorporated it with other kitchen- and food-themed toys. It does not make noise or require batteries, which parents appreciated.

★★★
Batteries
Imaginext Mega Apatosaurus (X7673)
Mattel
3 – 6 yrs

Imagine a world where humans and dinosaurs coexist! This motorized dinosaur with rotating head, moveable jaw, and tail comes with removable battle armour and missile launcher in which a human figure can stand or sit. Our testers liked how this detailed, durable dinosaur can walk and roar, and they enjoyed firing missiles from his back. Parents appreciated the bright colour of the missiles, making them easy to find, but they would have liked some volume control. Requires 4 AA batteries.

★★★
Imaginext New Batcave (X7677)
Mattel
3 +

Explore the Batcave! Our testers liked this detailed, interactive toy with lots of interesting things to play with, such as a working elevator, a jail door that opens and closes with the push of a button, and a missile launcher. The playset comes with Batman and Robin figures, as well as a batcycle and 3 missiles—enough pieces that more than one child was able to play at the same time. Our superhero fans were especially impressed with all the details and functions. One tester would announce, “I have a mission to accomplish!” Requires 2 AAA batteries.

★★★
Batteries
Jake and the Neverland Pirates Magical Tiki Hideout (Y4605)
Mattel
3 +

Welcome to the secret hideout! This colourful playset is filled with things to discover: a hidden spot to fire a cannon, a secret passage to a crow’s nest, a secret slide escape… Our testers enjoyed using the “magical tiki” to activate various features, and they created imaginative pirate scenarios for play. Parents noted that despite the toy’s many functions, it was easy for children to figure them out and play with them on their own. Requires 1 AA battery.

★★
Magnetibook Crazy Face (J05545)
Janod
3 +

Take your creativity on the go! With this portable case, kids can design funny faces on a magnetic board using the 67 magnets (eyes, mouths, hats, hair, glasses, etc.) provided. They can try to replicate the faces shown on 12 included cards, or they can create their own unique combinations. Our testers enjoyed the variety of detailed, colourful pieces. They also liked that the toy is self-contained, but they found the box a little too small for easily looking through the pieces and packing them back up afterward. Testers also reported that some magnetic pieces bent with use and did not always adhere well.

★★★
Travel
Birthday
Monkey in Barrel Puppet
Folkmanis
3 +

This calls for some serious monkey business! This cute plush monkey puppet with moveable arms and head comes with his own microfibre barrel to hide in. Our testers could easily make him pop in and out of the barrel and enjoyed entertaining their family and friends with little puppet shows. They also enjoyed it when adults played monkey peek-a-boo and made the monkey take small toys and hide them inside his barrel. Families appreciated the toy’s quality construction and materials.

★★★
Travel
Piglet Puppet
Folkmanis
3 +

Whose little pigs are these, these, these? This adorably cute, well-made pig hand puppet is perfectly sized for little hands. It’s easy for children and adults to manipulate, and one aspect that testing families really liked is that the puppet is a complete pig (not just a head). Our little testers used it both as a puppet and as a cuddly toy. It comes with some interesting information about pigs and a little pig poem, which the testers loved. Parents appreciated that the puppet can be machine-washed.

★★★
Travel
Rosabella
Manhattan Toy
3 +

There’s nothing shy about this puppet. The flamingo’s vibrant pink feathers make this puppet really stand out. Our testers thought she was beautiful and enjoyed engaging her in imaginative play, entertaining each other and their parents. Well-sized for a child’s hand, she was a huge hit among testers who like stuffies, imaginative play and puppets (and especially those who are fond of pink).

★★★
Travel
Birthday
Screech Owl Puppet
Folkmanis
3 +

This beautiful, realistic owl puppet can turn his head to stare at you with his big, beady eyes. Our testers liked its lifelike head movements and its soft, grey plush, which looks like feathers. They enjoyed playing with it both as a stuffie and as a puppet. Parents liked how it encouraged imaginative play. They were also pleased that kids learned about screech owls from the little story that comes with the puppet.

★★★
Travel
Sky Dragon Puppet
Folkmanis
3 +

This detailed plush dragon puppet will swoop into children’s imaginations and carry them off to a world of fantasy. The handheld puppet has a movable mouth and forelegs and comes with velvet wings. Although some young testers were a little scared by the dragon’s ferocious appearance, others liked how realistic it looked. The variety of fabrics and materials it is made of also encouraged tactile exploration. Testers especially enjoyed the puppet when an adult animated it.

★★★ Best Bet
Birthday
Thinking Putty (Hypercolor Sunburst) (SU020)
Crazy Aaron Enterprises, Inc.
3 +

This imaginative toy takes putty to a whole new level by adding innovative features like glow-in-the-dark and heat-sensitive colour changes. Our testers moulded, sculpted, bounced, ripped, popped, and pressed this toy, discovering endlessly imaginative ways to enjoy it. Some of their parents noticed that playing with the putty helped kids focus by keeping their hands busy. Putty comes in a compact, 10 cm (4 inch) diameter tin and makes for a handy travel toy.

★★★
Batteries
Thomas Trackmaster Castle Quest Set (Y3339)
Mattel
3 +

Thomas the Train is on quest for a missing crown. Help him get through the castle before the gate drops. Then use a crane to swing into place a missing section of track. Our testers loved playing with this realistic looking set and enjoyed the obstacles, especially the piece of the track that drops so that Thomas shoots out the tunnel beneath him. Track pieces snapped together easily and stayed together during play. Parents liked that kids could play with this toy independently and that it helped develop fine motor skills and problem solving. Requires 1 AA battery.

★★★
Birthday
Tutti Frutti Breakfast (14802)
Bo-Jeux Toys Inc.
3 +

Breakfast is ready! This cute breakfast-themed kit has a plastic waffle iron, utensils and scented moulding clay. Our testers enjoyed the theme and liked the soft, easy-to-use clay with its bright colours and pleasant scents. While most testers had trouble getting the clay out of the waffle iron, all enjoyed cooking up breakfast to share with family members.

★★
Tutti Frutti Ice Cream (14807)
Bo-Jeux Toys Inc.
3 +

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! This package of scented moulding clay comes with plastic accessories in an ice cream theme: 3 cones, a scoop, and a plunger. Our testers loved the theme of this toy and liked the soft, easy to use clay. They enjoyed “taking orders” for ice cream and serving up treats. The smells (chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla) were appealing to most, and plenty of materials meant that there was enough to share with a friend. However, some testers were frustrated because the plunger tool was too hard to push down, and they thought the included play mat was too flimsy. Parents noted that the clay can stain fabric.
Interactive Electronics

★★★
Batteries
Playskool Show Cam (A5258)
Hasbro
3 – 7 yrs

Say cheese! This durable, kid-sized camera lets children take pictures and then animate them with more than 50 silly effects, like stamp-on glasses, moustaches and tiaras. With the flip of a switch, images can be projected onto a wall in a darkened room. The camera can also be connected to a computer with a USB cable so that pics can be saved, printed or shared electronically. Our testers had a blast taking and projecting pictures, and the funny face features were a big hit. Testers also appreciated the easily identified buttons. They noted that the camera was easy to hold and carry, though it was a bit bulky for some 3-year-olds. Requires 4 AA batteries.
Listening, Playing & Viewing

★★★
Birthday
Aquabot
Innovation First International
3 +

Kids and bots get along swimmingly with this innovative new toy. The Hexbug Aquabot is a brightly coloured robotic fish that comes with its own plastic fish bowl. With a 5-minute or infinity swim setting, this smart little fish begins swimming and diving in all directions as soon as it is submerged in water. Our testers loved their little robot pets and the easy-to-understand illustrated instructions. Their parents appreciated that the toy was very well packaged and comes with an additional set of batteries. (And their cats thought this toy was just purrfect.) Toy comes with 4 AG13/LR44 batteries.

★★★
Fruit Music Set (DSKM311)
Discoveroo
3 +

This Australian-made fruity musical play set includes a 4-note apple xylophone, a lemon maraca, lime and melon castanets, and a pear guiro. Instruments are durable, smooth, easy to hold and easy to play. And with multiple items in the set, families can easily form their own little noisy bands. The attractive, multi-coloured instruments are made from carefully-sourced, natural materials, although some families found that paints started to chip. Instruments all store neatly in the box when they are not being used.

★★
Piccolo Carousel Bells (BX1198)
B. toys by Battat
3 +

Ring the bells! This well-designed and colourful set of bells can be handheld or played on a table top. Real metal bells are visually appealing, and they make pleasant sounds tuned to a C scale. Our testers enthusiastically tapped out notes with the mallet and liked spinning the carousel to make a beautiful cascade of notes. A song sheet with seven play-along songs comes with the toy (tucked away inside the packaging), although most of our testers were too young to read the music. Testers also found that the top easily detaches from the base and that the base slides around on soft surfaces.

★★★ Best Bet
Batteries
Symphony in B. (BX1120)
B. toys by Battat
3 +

Step right up, Maestro! Orchestrate your own symphonies with this innovative and colourful musical toy. Kids can choose up to 6 of 13 instruments (from woodwinds, brass, percussions, keyboards and strings) to build their orchestra and explore music in an extraordinary way. Toy includes a portable console, 13 detailed instrument figures, and 15 songs and symphonies. Kids learn how different instruments make up parts of a song and the difference between melody and harmony lines. Our testers loved the clear, professional sounds of each instrument and enjoyed creating unique musical combinations. Requires 6 AA batteries.
Science & Discovery

★★★
Travel
Birthday
GeoSafari Jr. Kidnoculars (EI-5260)
Educational Insights
3 +

These brightly coloured binoculars are perfectly kid-sized. Our testers enjoyed spying on things, and one little tester used the lenses to examine bugs. Families appreciated the focus-free aspect of the binoculars (2x magnification), making them easy for even toddlers to use. The binoculars are very durable and survived being dropped, stepped on, and carted all around. Although most testers found the skinny neck strap uncomfortable, parents appreciated the breakaway clasp that prevented it from being a choking hazard.
Wheel Toys

★★★
Birthday
Motorworks EXS Ground Effects Roadster 1.0
Manhattan Toy
3 – 5 yrs

Style your own formula race care with this attractive kit. The car has a smooth wooden body, sturdy wheels, and interchangeable accessories (spoiler, bumper, etc.). Our testers liked to switch up the parts to create a new look for their car, and they found that the wheels rolled nicely on smooth surfaces. Kids were proud to be able to create cars on their own. Families appreciated the durability of the toy, and they liked that it was easy to hold and encouraged independent play.

★★★
Birthday
Motorworks FSX Monster Truck 1.0
Manhattan Toy
3 – 5 yrs

Our testers enjoyed this cool-looking monster truck that they could customize with interchangeable parts. The durable truck body is made of smooth wood, and kids can snap on parts, such as axles, tires, a spoiler and bumper. Our testers liked how the wheels roll smoothly and how the truck is bigger than most other play cars. One tester would make the truck race, jump and flip and deemed it “indestructible!” Parents appreciated how it promoted creative, imaginative play.