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We Asked a Child Psychologist to Review the 17 ‘Toy of the Year’ Winners

A couple of weeks ago the Toy Association presented the winners of the Toy of the Year Awards, the Oscars of the toy industry, at the Ziegfeld Ballroom. And this year the audience of industry insiders experienced a moment not far off from last year’s La La Land–Moonlight Oscars fiasco: The top prize, Toy of the Year, ended up a tie. Fingerlings and L.O.L. Surprise shared the win.

For anyone that interacts with children, those winners aren’t much of a shock: Collectibles are in and these were by far some of the most popular, but we wondered, are collectibles actually good toys for children to play with? Do they encourage learning and collaboration? To see how these top winners and the 17 other best toys placed in the eyes of a child psychologist, we reached out to Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, co-author of Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children (and who helped us find the best toys for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, and 6-year-olds).

“These are really cute. The idea that you can have a monkey pet, endow it with a personality, and speak to it is fun because this gives you something to do with it. I can see kids having a collection of these in different colors and making a family of them. How fun is that? You can have them interact and act out little scenarios.”

“A kid might like that, but it doesn’t seem like something brand-new and exciting to me. I like the idea of collectibles, though. I might point out that collecting things from nature has always been available to us, like feathers you find on a walk or pretty rocks, seashells. I’m always looking for toys that have stickability where the kid can keep coming back to them, but I’m not sure what you do with these after opening them. It’s nothing to write home about.”

“I could see kids wanting to play with these characters. This one has a horror theme, which I’m not sure about, but I love Grimms’ fairy tales, which aren’t exactly Alice in Wonderland. They had a lot of violence in them, too. I’m not overwhelmed by these, but they’re a license for imagination and that’s good.”

“It just dances? Once you see that he dances and there’s music, how many more times are you gonna play with it? I don’t know. I don’t think this is an amazing toy for inspiring the imagination. It’s all about the toy; there’s nothing about the kid here. I wouldn’t buy it. ”

For something with more “stickability,” try magnetic tiles, here.

“I know children love this, so I have to endorse anything Lego. I suggest that after they build the original thing, once they’re finished looking at it and feeling accomplished, they should try to build something new that isn’t prescribed by the box, with the same Legos.”

“This looks quite interesting and I do like the crossover with technology. I don’t know of many toys that are material toys that then get controlled. It makes sense that this is becoming a thing. It’s definitely for an older child.”


“It’s cute, but we need superheroines. This comes with a cape for the kids so they can do things with this character as a buddy. Kids could do a lot of make believe with that, which is good, but I need a female version too. And why not? Girls need superheroes too.”

If you prefer a girl superhero doll, DC makes a version of Wonder Woman, here.

“Board games encourage children to talk to each other and negotiate. They can teach children about numbers and counting. Think about Monopoly: You had to figure out money, how to take turns, how to not flip out when your friend landed on the spot you wanted. This is great because it’ll encourage social interaction, collaboration, and communication.”

“We have data from our research showing that children get the most out of stories when they’re told them by adults who can have conversations about the stories, tell kids what they want to know, and ask the kids questions. This toy could spur the imagination, but I don’t want people to think that getting a kid Teddy Ruxpin means you don’t have to do bedtime stories. Cuddle time is really important.”

“I’d wear this around the house and try to scare people! It looks really fun. One kid can dress up as this and another kid can dress up as something else and they’ll chase each other around. Taking on another character is the most fun.”

“Kids love this stuff. I have to say this might be something I get for my grandkids once the wheather turns. And it’s collaborative so they can play together.”

“This is a variation on a theme, nothing new, but still my grandchildren love stuff like this. They can play them for a very long time. Kids may not say much if they’re playing alone, but they can play jointly too.”

“This is very female. In general, the toys on the marketplace are more gender-stereotyped than they have been in the past. I don’t know why that’s occurred. This could be cute, though, even though it’s very gender-role specific.”

“You don’t have to know anything about Paw Patrol to want to play with this toy. I think it’s cute and kids love to play with cars. It gives them power and they can make-believe that they’re driving. Many kids like the things you can move, like cars.”

“I like this. What’s good is that kids can do a lot of fantasy and make believe about going places on the train.”

“Can’t go wrong with Star Wars and I don’t think you’d have to have seen Star Wars to enjoy this either. This has characters that you can put in and out of it who are wielding guns. I don’t know, sometimes kids turn anything into guns at home, but in this culture I don’t think make-believe guns are a good idea, so I wouldn’t go out of my way for this one.”

“This is very cool. It’s building a robot and then playing with it, which is again that mix of a non-tech toy that can also be controlled with technology. I like that crossover.”

“I really like this because it has interesting characters and lots of different things you can do. You can hook and lift things up, it has an anchor and an octopus, it has something you can drive. You can do a lot of make-believe and kids would like that.”

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A Child Psychologist Reviews the 17 Toys of the Year