By Marianne Szymanski

Parents are always on the search for the best toys that stimulate learning, engage interest and boost development skills. Many times, the aisles and piles of toys in stores and pages and pop-ups of toy ads online are just plain confusing. While gift givers always are hoping to choose something a child will always play with, it just does not always happen. Many toys given as gifts stay in the toy box, get stored under the bed, hidden in a closet or sit on a shelf, all to be lost and forgotten. The “Hot” Holiday toy lists you read about and see on TV are marketing ploys to promote specific products in a holiday season. Trends peak and fade and classics are always a sure thing.

For gift givers trying to find the right balance, Toy Tips has a formula to follow that secures an educated smart toy choice:

Age Appropriateness + Current Skills + Active Interest

Since 1991, Toy Tips has been evaluating, testing and playing with thousands of toys each year to whittle down a list of those toys that children play with, have fun and learn from. Here are just a few of our picks for 2017. For additional updates, visit our social media and find Toy Tips on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


The evolution of STEM learning toys
The term STEM stands for Science. Technology. Engineering and Mathematics. Over the past few years, A was added for Arts and recently R was added for Robotics. Collectively, these skills encompass a new learning style used in grade school and middle school curriculum to promote these disciplines within the classroom. You can find many toys that will say (on the box) that a toy is a STEM product but there is no governing source to prove that. So, buyer beware.. be sure you understand the skills/ interest of the intended child before buying a toy that offers such claims. These are a few on our list of Toy Tips Tested and Trusted selections…

Thinkfun Code Programming Game Series
Rover Control, On the Brink and Robot Repair (all sold individually)
Learning how to code through hands on game play individually or in pairs/groups is one way for siblings to concentrate on an activity together. Users complete “challenges” using analytical and critical thinking skills, fine motor skills and concentration.
8+ |


Creation Crate
A “maker” subscription service that surprises a child with a new creation each month. Best to start out by working with an adult until a child can begin to grasp the project on his/her own. We tried out the Mood Lamp. The instruction book was easy to follow and and all parts included cre-ated an experience to understand the inner workings of electronics and how to “make” a lamp. Subscription boxes vary in price and project but if you go to their twitter page, we saw a code for 10% off!
8+ |

Piper Computer Kit
Yes, younger children can learn to build a computer. If you have a budding computer science en-thusiast to shop for, this maker kit encourages the user to build, connect and create a working computer. Once built, 3D engineered diagrams guide the child to build and program electronics using Raspberry Pi. An advanced set for the child with serious interest, this is an excellent kit to get started on some serious computer learning.
8+ |

piper computer gift

Tech Will Save Us
Techno Sounds Kit, Electro Machines Set and Bright Creatures Kit
Each of these 3 kits offers an activity that turns a moldable “dough” into creations that become interactive. A story book app enhances the play experience. Ideal for children as young as 4, a parent can use this activity as a learning aid and project to do together.
4+ |


Be Social

Whether you get outside, sit around a kitchen table or play with a sibling, social play is extremely important to reinforce skills such as sharing, turn taking, listening and engaging in conversation. Children can be creative, imaginative and enhance their own individual skills all while playing with others. Sometimes it just takes some crazy fun to get social. Here are our picks! In the house….

Illustrations Monkey Bingo
Who does not want to learn about monkeys and primates? This coffee table boxed game looks great in a family room and playing the game before a trip to the zoo will make learning about primates all the more interesting.

YULU Operation Escape Room
Have you been to an Escape Room yet? They are super fun. However, you can make one in your own home. This child-friendly version allows children to create their own challenges to race against a timer to solve. For families that enjoy puzzle time together, this game requires concentration, deductive reasoning skills, planning and teamwork for execution.
6+ |


JENGA is a classic game first introduced by Parker Brothers. The word JENGA in Swahili means:

a. to build play together
c. to concentrate
d. to dance

In one year, Lionel made nearly one million engines, cabooses, and other rolling stock. That would make a toy train nearly 180 miles long. If it were a real train, how long would it be?

a. 2,000 miles
b. 5500 miles
c. 70000 miles
d. 28,0000 miles

Whose son designed and developed Lincoln Logs?

a. Paul Klee
b. John F. Kennedy
c. Frank Lloyd Wright
d. Pablo Picasso

The Big Gift!

Riding toys may not be appropriate for our Wisconsin Winter weather but they sure are after a Spring thaw! Be sure to always purchase a new helmet and follow all safety guidelines when purchasing any toy that moves. Getting outside….

Pulse Performance Chopster
A mini-motorcycle includes mini ape-hanger handlebars, foot pegs and a sissy bar and dual pneumatic (air-filled) rubber street tires, the 24 volt rechargeable battery provides up to 30-40 minutes of ride time. You’ll find these for close to $200 online.
8+ |

Teens Still Play With Toys!

Teens are probably the most difficult age to choose for. What’s trending now are all sets SLIME and the newest in gaming hardware. You can’t go wrong with a great age-appropriate board game and those classic ones you played are most likely still around. Teens love when you share experiences with them that you had in your childhood.

Karina Garcia is the “Slime Queen” made famous on You Tube for creating and smooshing slime on her social media channels. Her Instagram alone has over 7 million followers. This “make-your own” slime set includes everything needed to make 4 different kinds of slime and is sold exclusively at Target.
12+ |

slime gift

Super Nintendo Entertainment System – Classic Edition
Teen gamers appreciate the most up to date hardware and newest game titles to maximize their best gaming experience. This mini system of the classic system is a smaller version and contains 21 games from the ’90’s that are pre-installed. Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario Kart and Star Fox 2 are just a few. It’s best for parents to play these games before introducing to a child.

super nintendo system

Jupiter Bike
Electric Bikes are all the range and transitioning from a teen bicycle rider into a young adult city traveler requires an investment of the most efficient bike. Used on many college campuses, fold-able bikes are easy to carry, easy to transport and lightweight. This bike showcases a trendy design, transports up to 10 miles, has the potential speeds of up to 15 mph on a single charge and can fold up to fit in a backpack.

Jupiter Bike


There is nothing better than a trip to your favorite bookstore or the Wauwatosa Library!