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All the Best Toys for Kids That We’ve Ever Written About

Photo: Photo-Illustration: Stevie Remsberg; Photos: Courtesy of the retailers

Like everything else we write about, we want our toy recommendations to be thoughtful, well-priced (whenever possible), and thoroughly investigated. That’s why our writers and editors spent months gathering insight on all the best toys today from dozens of experts (about 40) in different age groups, including child psychologists, discerning (and sometimes famous) parents, nannies, play therapists, teachers, arts educators, and toy-makers.

Dr. Roberta Golinkoff, a professor of child psychology at the University of Delaware, says the best toys allow growing kids to engage in imaginative play, practice communication, and develop fine motor skills. And depending on your child’s age, she says the right toy can also help them build on growing senses of creativity and understanding of others. With this in mind — and, of course, a sense of fun — we found highlights such as a colorful, pop-up crawl tunnel that helps your toddler develop spatial awareness through peek-a-boo; an easy-to-learn whodunit game that encourages problem-solving skills; an Oppenheimer Gold Award–winning kit for building clay dinosaurs that introduces kids to the world of paleontology; and countless more art and engineering picks to boost your child’s curiosity and sense of play.

Below, we’ve curated a lineup organized by age for the first ten years of your kid’s life. And if you’d like to shop by type, visit the Strategist Toy Store here.

For 1-Year-Olds

When looking for gifts for 1-year-olds, child development expert Sarah McLaughlin says “you have to add sensory or mobility features to the mix” to keep them interested. In searching for the most engaging toys, we spoke to educators and parents to round up selections that will stimulate and surprise your early learner — like this best-selling, pop-and-play crawl tunnel that’s perfect for peek-a-boo games; palm-grasp crayons that let your 1-year-old safely practice fine motor skills and explore color; and these colorful pipes that turn bath time into an engineering adventure. Read more here.

For 2-Year-Olds

To help a 2-year-old continue to explore and develop their imagination, we surveyed professionals and parents to find 30 open-ended toys that let your child play and discover. Reality-TV star Lauren Conrad likes that these mess-free markers will only show up on a specific pad of paper, while Strategist writer Lauren Ro says this magnetic drawing board with a tiny handle lets her son endlessly doodle and take it everywhere with him. And for a game that promotes physical activity (always a good thing) and social interaction, toy buyer Holly Magelof says she loves this Twister-like game: “You see the kids wiggling and giggling — it’s consistently a best seller,” she says. Read more here.

For 3-Year-Olds

Child psychologist Dr. George Sachs says 3 is the age kids start initiating conversation and producing simple sentences, and any toy you or another adult can play with them helps foster language development. Dr. Sachs endorses this easy-to-learn squirrel game, which he says teaches the skills of sharing, turn-taking, and handling frustration when losing. To further help your toddler practice communication and joint play, Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo says this race-car set comes with two vehicles that run on different radio frequencies, so siblings or friends can use them together. And if your 3-year-old gets upset while figuring all of this out? Try this bouncy horse: New York City–based yoga teacher Lily Balsen says the rhythmic movement is “a great self-soothing and self-regulating mechanism. Also, it’s just plain fun!” Read more here.

For 4-Year-Olds

For 4-year-olds, Dr. Golinkoff says to think about the “six C’s”: collaboration, communication, content, creative innovation, critical thinking, and confidence. We’ve rounded up 28 toys with those C’s in mind — including a take-apart racing car that Jason Feifer, editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur magazine, says is “an endless experiment” for kids; an Oppenheim Gold Award–winning STEAM clay-dinosaur craft kit; and a microscope that Andrea Scalzo Yi, founder of and author of 100 Easy STEAM Activities, says allows her son to “explore the world around him in a unique way.” Read more here.

For 5-Year-Olds

Sachs says that by 5 years old, children have a better grasp on their emotions and are ready for problem-solving games that help foster skills around competition and collaboration. Here, we’ve gathered 28 toys that fit that criteria, such as a cooperative whodunit game Strategist contributor Steven John says helps kids practice teamwork and planning by searching for a guilty fox; a fort-building kit that comes with colorful tubes and balls for your child to build tunnels and structures; and a 16-piece gardening kit Ashley Tyrner, founder and CEO of Farmbox Direct, says teaches kids how veggies and fruits make it onto their plates. Read more here.

For 6-Year-Olds

For the 6-year-old making the transition from kindergarten to first grade, moving from a play-based environment to a work-based one can be tough, play therapist Joseph Sacks says. To help you find ways to comfort your 6-year-old after challenging days at school, we rounded up 27 toys that also serve as creative outlets, such as a coloring-pad kids can scratch away at instead of drawing on and a simple instant camera that lets kids choose from 100 fun templates and create comic strips. Or try a pair of walkie-talkies that Zibby Owens, author and mom of four, says have taught her kids that “communication doesn’t have to be through screens.” Read more here.

For 7-Year-Olds

At 7, second-graders are finding a sense of independence, and the toys best suited for this newfound agency should reflect that, Dr. Golinkoff says. Lori Caplan-Colon, a speech and language pathologist at Montclair Speech Therapy, says she loves how this step-by-step comic-book-making kit encourages discipline and creativity in kids interested in art and writing. If your child is more interested in how things work, Tiny Treasures Nanny Agency founder Ruka Curate says Snap Circuits are a popular recommendation to introduce kids to circuit boards and STEM. And for the kid who’s still figuring it all out? A kit for making oven-baked erasers out of clay gives them tools to create and try again. Read more here.

For 8-Year-Olds

While 8-year-olds are in the midst of “a tremendous growth spurt in physical, emotional, and cognitive development,” Stoller says, they’d probably appreciate gifts that are stimulating but also encourage creativity. As seen in our roundup of the 11 best STEM toys for kids, this Laser Maze Logic Game comes recommended by Dr. Taylor Chesney, Psy.D., who says the game’s multilevel challenges grow with your child. For more puzzle-like games, Maddie Michalik, assistant manager of content and digital communications at the Toy Association, says this gumball machine maker not only looks cool but also introduces basic physics to kids. And if your kid just wants to blow off some steam, Owens tells us her twins love to use these inflatable body bumpers for crashing into each other. Read more here.

For 9-Year-Olds

To help 9-year-olds in their early tween years, Natalie Williams, director of education at the Miami Children’s Museum, says art activities can help with self-expression and regulate emotions. Owens says her daughters play with this top-rated “hair chalk,” which she says “packs quite a punch but quickly and effortlessly comes out in the next shower.” We found 30 other gifts for the growing and curious 9-year-old in your life, like this meditative Buddha Board that lets young artists destress by “painting” temporary images with water, and these 3-D puzzles of architectural wonders — including the Taj Mahal, Notre-Dame, and the Colosseum. Read more here.

For 10-Year-Olds

And for 10-year-olds, you’ll want to find something that celebrates this double-digit age and encourages your child’s rapidly increasing physical and emotional skills. We’ve found 28 of the best toys that will delight your tween — like this Ghost Cube that Beth Beckman, a co-founder of Little Kid Big City New York, says her son calls “a way cooler” version of a Rubik’s Cube. This Nerf-like blaster, meanwhile, comes with adhesive targets so kids can make their own challenges and games. And if they’re looking for a laugh with friends, gift your 10-year-old this upside-down glasses game Adrienne Appell of the Toy Association says is “wacky, silly, and good to play together.” Read more here.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

All the Best Toys for Kids That We’ve Ever Written About