the toy matrix

Welcome to the Toy Matrix, the Strategist’s Definitive Kid Gift Guide

We talked to over 40 experts to bring you the absolute best toys for kids.

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

If you’re familiar with New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix, you might recognize the concept here — except this matrix is dedicated entirely to toys. Matrices, we should say; we’ve created them for ages 1 through 10. There’s the Educational quadrant: the musical blocks that will introduce the rudiments of melody; the Barbie-like doll that teaches you to code. And the Brain Candy side, with stuff that’s silly and noisy and beloved simply because it’s fun, rather than focused on any sort of developmental benefit. (Although, of course, the dividing line can sometimes be a bit arbitrary, as that hyperrealistic toddler kitchen we’re calling “candy” might well nurture collaborative play.) You also have the Reasonably Priced options and the Splurgy.

Each toy in every corner comes highly recommended. We spent the past three months gathering insight from dozens of experts (about 40) in different age groups, including psychologists, discerning (and sometimes famous) parents, nannies, teachers, and a Mensa member. We also surfaced the absolute best toys we’ve encountered in our own personal experiences as product obsessives (and people with kids in our lives), diving deep into Amazon reviews for cross-reference along the way. Then we broke down our picks by category: Educational/Reasonably Priced, Educational/Splurgy, Brain Candy/Reasonably Priced, Brain Candy/Splurgy.

The Strategist’s gifts coverage doesn’t stop at fifth grade, of course. We’ve also got lists for teen boys and tween and teen girls, and just about every other age, too. You can start making your way through 1 to 10 below.

For 1-Year-Olds

Rainbow nesting blocks, Dyson for kids, baby shark. Read more here.

For 2-Year-Olds

A shape sorter, a Radio Flyer, a mini–lawn mower. Read more here.

For 3-Year-Olds

Musical blocks, bouncy horse, modern dollhouse. Read more here.

For 4-Year-Olds

A talking microscope, a singing Elsa, a car that can repair itself. Read more here.

For 5-Year-Olds

A coding kit, camera, a colossal Hot Wheels set. Read more here.

For 6-Year-Olds