Cleared for Takeoff!

Parents Best Toys 2016

We start scouting new toys in February, request tons of them in May and June, and over the summer, test a few hundred faves with some 75 kids and their parents. The result—this annual list—is the best of the newest. We don't play around! (Oh wait, maybe we do…)

By Jessica Hartshorn
Photos by Jeffrey Westbrook

Birth to 12 months

Pull Lamaze Munching Max down from his clip and watch him crazily wave his acorn back and forth—definitely the silliest, funniest baby toy we saw this year! Birth+, $15;

The playground that is the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Crawl-Around Learning Center encourages small motor skills, like lifting a window and spinning a dial, and big ones, like crawling and cruising. 6 months to 3 years, $50;

Babies love it, and parents agree the Skip Hop Silver Lining Cloud Activity Gym is nice enough to leave out in the living room. Birth+, $80;

Got a rocker-and-roller? Create a nice, wide playspace with B. Floorchestra foam tiles. Unique to this play pad is the soundboard; snap it on for sounds and songs, or take it off for quiet play. Birth to 6 years, $30;

Eeboo Hue Do You Love Plush Animals are soft, vibrant-colored velour and make the crinkling sound babies love. Birth+, $13 each;

This souped-up Little Tikes Light 'n Go 3-in-1 Activity Walker has tons of games up front and shines a light on the floor; our tiny testers were thrilled to push it around. 9 months to 3 years, $40;

Hand over the Kids Preferred Amazing Baby Bumble Bee Bumpy Ball to keep your babe busy! Eight nubs just right for grasping make it easy to explore (or, likely, gnaw). Birth+, $15;

Ages 1 and 2

The Haba Grocery Shop Play Tent proves to be equally right for one kid hiding out and four children playing “store” together. There's a window or a door on three sides so parents can peek in. 18 months+, $90;

Got a Thomas fan? The Dynacraft Thomas & Friends Foot to Floor Car is probably in your future. A tot is delighted to open a door, climb in, and beep the horn even before pushing off. 18 months+, $70;

A fridge toy is brilliant, because you spend half the day in the kitchen anyway. LeapFrog Fridge Numbers Magnetic Set goes beyond showing numerals; magnets also demonstrate quantity. 2 years+, $20;

Hammering shapes through the correct hole is a million times more fun when the mallet is a chicken and when one shape is a big egg. Janod Zigolos Hen Activities House, we salute you. 18 months to 3 years, $40;

Guest Editor Kristen Bell tested the Radio Flyer Retro Rocket with her kids and says the under-seat storage is a hit. She appreciates that it's an easy first rider and gives it a 10-out-of-10 for keeping both daughters engaged. 1 to 3 years, $30;

Toddler testers flocked to the Lego Duplo Mickey & Friends Beach House. The timeless appeal of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy combined with a tiny boat and boom box make for one fun toy. 2 to 5 years, $40;

Of course in 2016 there's a Mega Bloks First Builders Food Truck Kitchen! If you pretend-cook artisanal burgers, you may as well pretend-sell them. #entrepreneur 1 year+, $40;

Playskool Love2Learn Elmo can, with a free app, ask if it's potty time, suggest brushing teeth, or say good night (then shut off). He'll say the letter and number of the day and that an armed-services parent is “very brave.” 18 months to 4 years, $60;

Ages 3 and 4

Coding that's intuitive! Each part of the Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar dictates an action. Pull it apart and reassemble in any order, then hit the go button to watch the creature follow each step. Use the arrow and star to set up a challenge. 3 to 6 years, $50;

You will get wet playing the Zing Wet Head Water Roulette Game, but only enough to make you laugh! The anticipation—players take turns pulling pins, waiting to see who gets dumped on—makes for a screaming good time. 4 years+, $15;

Way too young for Game of Thrones, kids may still want to mother this dragon. Hasbro FurReal Friends Torch, My Blazin' Dragon coos when petted and breathes flame-colored mist; hold up the marshmallow to watch it “toast.” 4 years+, $80;

The Li'l Woodzeez Honeysuckle Airway is the latest set for the sweet land of make-believe. It comes with luggage and snacks; characters are sold separately. 3 years+, $30;

The Manhattan Toy MiO Playing Eating Sleeping Working + 2 People set is beautiful in its simplicity. Wooden pieces can be placed any which way, and characters have a beanbag body so they balance upright. 3 years+, $100;

Boys and girls gravitate equally to Just Play Doc McStuffins Toy Hospital Care Cart with its scrolling EKG machine, squeezable blood-pressure pump, drawer to hold tools, and “Welcome to the Hospital” song. 3 years+, $50;

Guest Editor Kristen Bell tested a Kid O Jumbo Glow-in-the-Dark Magnatab with 3-year-old Lincoln and “loves that it mimics pen and paper” (without the mess!) and “that it glows in the dark” (so it can be used, for instance, in a dim backseat). 3 years+, $35;

Lowercase and combo-letter tiles make playing My First Bananagrams less intimidating; early readers can use “oo,” “wh,” or “ee,” for instance, to put words together. 4 years+, $15;

Wonder Forge Disney Frozen Where's Olaf? Game is a playful variation of “hot or cold?” that has one player hiding the snowman and the others seeking after some deductive reasoning. 4 years+, $20;

For builders caught between Duplo and City sets, Lego Juniors Ninjago Lost Temple and other Juniors sets are age-perfect. Pieces go together quickly, and there's an emphasis on popular figures (hello, Lloyd). 4 to 7 years, $30;

Ages 5, 6, and 7

One of a series of affordable DIY sets, GoldieBlox Li's Lighthouse Lookout is a quick and satisfying build that comes with its namesake character. 6 years+, $15;

Next level: In Hasbro Gaming Pie Face Showdown, two players each hit a button as fast as possible. The slowpoke gets whipped cream in the face! 5 years+, $25;

You just throw Diggin Mega Rocket, okay? No fancy tech. The inflatable is really tall—6 feet—yet throws easily and far for a superior game of catch. 6 years+, $17;

We predict Spin Master Hatchimals will be the “It” toy, mixing the thrill of a blind box with electronics and nurturing play. Kids hold and touch an egg to get the creature inside to peck its way out. It reacts with sounds and eyes that glow through the shell. By the time it finally breaks through, it's an Instagrammable moment for sure! Kids then “raise” a Hatchimal from baby to toddler to kid. 5 years+, $60;

If you're wondering where the boys are when it comes to 18-inch dolls, look no further than these new dudes who are joining the My Life As line. 5 years+, $28 each;

Toy cars, meet the hot movie franchise! Mattel Hot Wheels Star Wars Carships Death Star Revolution Race Track Set lets kids launch light-side or dark-side vehicles into orbit around the Death Star. Yes, there's an occasional exciting collision! 5 years+, $50;

Ages 5, 6, and 7

It's back and really is better than ever because the Hasbro Furby Connect receives updates from an app, giving it new features all the time. Also, it comes with a sleep mask that lets you give Furby a well-deserved rest. 6 years+, $100;

A Hexbug in a board game? That's crazy! Players try to move a piece across Ravensburger Buggaloop while the bug lurks underneath; when the spastic crawler finds its way onto the game board, havoc ensues! 6 years+, $30;

Sixteen figures in Lego City Fun in the Park—City People Pack include a baby in a stroller plus a dog and a hipster. Among the 157 pieces are a croissant and a soccer ball. It's like they know us. 5 to 12 years, $40;

Bridging Bitty Baby and Girl of the Year, American Girl WellieWishers, who each have a backstory about kindness, are made for schoolkids learning to navigate friendships. 5 to 7 years, $60 each;

The throwback Crayola Color Spinout uses up to three markers at a time to create geometric masterpieces, a nice little break from all those coloring books. 6 years+, $15;

Skylanders fans will go gaga for Activision Skylanders Imaginators. Players create highly customizable characters in the game, name them, and play them; they can even order a playable 3-D figure of their design. It all starts by putting a creation crystal on the portal. There are new Sensei figures as well. 6 years+, $75;

Ages 8 and up

Already a hit in Europe, Space Scooter debuted in the U.S. this year. Speed can be controlled by foot-pumping the board instead of pushing off, which allows a rider to go slow (riding next to a walking friend) or fast (when it's time to zip). 8 years+, $149;

Assemble a robot! Spin Master Meccano Micronoids are what Erector sets have become. You don't just build; you program a creation to move and dance. 8 years+, $40 each;

Though they sound fierce, MGA Entertainment Air Wars Battle Drones are simple flying fun as far as our testers are concerned. They flew them side by side rather than battling; after all, having two means not having to take turns. (Or, charge one while the other goes!) 8 years+, $110;

Inventors and makers find inspiration in the littleBits Rule Your Room Kit. Kids can use the pieces to arm their diary with a burglar alarm, for instance! 8 years+, $100;

Wonder Forge Stick Stack is a mesmerizing tabletop game that challenges players to pay attention to the colors as well as the precarious balance as they take turns putting down pieces. 8 years+, $17;

Kids adored the Spin Master Air Hogs Remote Control Batmobile, which zips faster than many RCs and just bounces off of walls and obstacles. It has to pause for charging, but when it races, it's a thrill. 10 years+, $60;

Razor Jetts Heel Wheels turn sneakers (youth 12 to adult 12) into skates. But wait … they also send off sparks! Our testing shows that they need some practice to master but that it's worth it. 8 years+, $40;

See these toys in action at