Each year, the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), releases a list of the best play products for children, based on input from independent toy store owners around the country. These toys meet ASTRA members’ high standards for quality, safety and lasting play value. They also offer a wide variety of opportunities to encourage free, unstructured playtime.
One top toy is shown for each category. To see more, just click on the links below. You can also buy great toys like these from playzak's and TDmonthly's Holiday Gift Guide!
Infant playthings should nourish a young child's innate curiosity and encourage repeat play.
Toddlers need truly interactive toys – toys that engage, are child-powered and as imaginative as their minds.
Physical activity is important for building body muscles, pumping blood to the mind, developing vital motor skills and promoting self-esteem
Nothing equips kids to face the technological challenges of tomorrow like hands-on manipulative, constructive play.
The 12” Waldorf Towel Doll is an old-fashioned European tradition for new mothers. Made from the finest cotton flannel, this soft towel doll absorbs the familiar scent of the mother, so when babies are alone in bed, the calming effect leaves them feeling safe and happy. Made in Germany of cotton flannel, the machine-washable doll has a hand-embroidered face. — When asked about best-selling gifts, Jude Larene, owner of Izilla Toys in Seattle, replied, "The Käthe Kruse towel dolls. They're probably my single best selling category. They have 10 different styles. They just sell very, very well." He said he sells about 10 per month. — Four of 45 retailers said the dolls and towel dolls from Germany are popular gift items. — "Käthe Kruse Waldorf towel dolls are the first friend of a baby — something to cuddle and love. [They] are made of all natural fabrics," said Marion Hohmann of Käthe Kruse.
Suitable for children 18 months and up, this rocket lights up and emits realistic rocket sounds with the push of a button. It has a handle for take-along play and comes with an alien, a moon crate, a dune buggy, a space puppy dog and two astronauts. The rocket features a cargo hold, a Murphy bed and toilet, a cockpit and an on/off switch and volume control. "The Lift-Off Rocket by iPlay is designed to encourage young imaginations and introduce them to new worlds. This high-quality playset has a space theme with an at-home-feel," Sue Tice, public relations director and product manager at International Playthings Inc., told TDmonthly. Awards: TDmonthly Top Seller 2007. Launch date: March 2007. — As of 5/12/2011 this product had 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com from 98 reviews. Cons: Doors fall off too easily; the dog and alien figurines are too large to fit in the rover. — Lynda Blankenship, owner of Smart Toys & Books in Knoxville, Tenn., told TDmonthlyin late Spring 2011 that Lift Off Rockets were among her best-selling activity kits and playsets. — “One of my favorite toys this season, for 18 months and up, is the iPlay Lift-Off Rocket," said Deb Necker, owner of Necker’s in Simsbury, Conn., when discussing hot-selling infant toys in her store. — The Lift-Off Rocket is popular at LB Toys in Media, Pa., according to Owner Jamie Burdette. “It’s a great 1- to 2-year-old toy for a boy,” he said in April 2008. “Rocket ship toys for this age are hard to find.” — Want this? As of 05/11/2011 this product was available at Smart Toys & Books
Gymnic Line’s Rody Horse is a favorite with children to learn balancing and coordination while they hop on it. (A base is available for transforming to a Rocking Rody Horse.) Rody is used in therapy for handicapped children, owing to its softness and ride-on qualities. Made of super-strong, latex-free vinyl, Rody inflates according to the size and weight of a child with a hand or foot pump. The maximum inflated height to “saddle” is 12". Rody is recommended for kids ages 3 and up, with adult supervision. Awards: A TDmonthly Classics Award for being an all-time favorite toy. — As of 7/21/2011 this product had 4.5 out of 5 stars from 145 reviews on Amazon.com. — “We do more Rody Horse [than any other physical fitness toy]. They look like a horse. They’re more unique and kids love them,” said Jenny Goodlund, manager of JT Puffin’s in Madison, Wis. — Jennifer Blacklock, sales and marketing representative for Toymarketing International, told TDmonthly, “Even though the Rody is for 2- to 4-year-olds, my 7-year-old rides it and loves it. He plays games with it with his little brother. It’s just a really good toy that teaches balance and coordination. It’s fun exercise — what we need more of in this society today.”
This colorful kit allows kids to create personalized notes and comes with the new KidsTALK book, “Thank You,” as well as 15 note cards, 12 card stock Pop-Outs! templates, and more than 600 fun Pop-Outs! in a portable Velcro-closing box.
Kids are now able to blast off to outer space and beyond with the Jr. Astronaut Space Helmet, which features high quality construction and amazing details. It includes built-in sound chips, a spring loaded retractable shield, a mock boom microphone, and an official looking NASA logo. This product received the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award for 2007. Launch date: March 2005.
Khet combines lasers with cstrategy in an award-winning game that takes minutes to learn but yields infinite possibilities. Players move Egyptian-themed, mirrored pieces around the playing field, ending each turn by firing a laser that bounces around with the goal of knocking out an opponent’s pharaoh. The silver player wins the game by deflecting his laser around the field and hitting the red player’s pharaoh. With the addition of fog or smoke, the laser beam becomes visible for more high-tech excitement. Khet (formerly known as Deflexion) caused a stir in 2006 at Toy Fair and Pomona. “The game truly spans the generation gap, with enough technology to interest the 'video-gamers' of the younger crowd while maintaining enough classic strategy ... to interest their grandparents and everyone in between,” Luke Hooper of Innovention Toys told TDmonthly. It received a 2006 MENSA Select Award and was a 2007 T.O.T.Y. Game-of-the-Year Nominee. Launch date: 2006. Read Review — "Khet ... is great seller for us. It's new and did well — even at $50," summed up Danny Givens, owner of Little Dickens in Lynchburg, Va. — "I put my money on Khet," Co-owner Michele Gietz of Where'd You Get That? in Williamstown, Mass., said in October 2008 about anticipated holiday best sellers. "We only bring in 15 at a time, but the price doesn't scare anybody off — just have to hit the right people." ― Taka Andrews, owner of Miller's Toy Store in Mamaroneck, N.Y., said Khet is a top seller for tween boys, despite the allure of video games. Seven of 39 retailers told TDmonthly in October 2009 that board games are their go-to items for tween-aged boys.
A marvel of engineering, the Ball of Whacks is made up of 30 magnetic rhombic pyramids that can be taken apart and rearranged in endless creative ways. More versatile than a puzzle and lots more fun than a brainteaser, there’s no right or wrong way to use it. Just pick it up and play with it! Designed to be a creativity workshop in a box, Ball of Whacks comes with a 96-page illustrated guidebook providing exercises for creative brainstorming, strategies for problem solving, insights into the creative process challenges to construct shapes and mosaics, and to invent new ones. The game is also a good stress reliever for active individuals working under pressure.