With all of us spending more time inside than ever before, choosing the right toy for your offspring has perhaps never felt so crucial.
But selecting a toy for your child is no easy feat; you want something imaginative, inspiring to look at, educational and creative, built to last, and something that can be passed on, or dare we say it, even shared with siblings.
We also believe that a good toy shouldn’t be a five-minute wonder, it should be cherished and become a long-term companion. But trust us, this is not an unachievable task.
These pointers have all been considered on our hunt for the best toys, with the help of our mini helpers.
We’ve also taken costs into consideration as the most expensive toys don’t always end up being the most treasured.
From puzzles to ponies, magnets to mini scooters, we’ve rounded up the best toys out there.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Brio smart tech sound action tunnel travel set
A new train set from Brio has just landed and to say it’s all singing, all dancing is an understatement. This figure of eight train set comes with 37 pieces to build, but takes playing to a whole new level with the integrated smart technology. The battery-powered engine and sound action tunnel allow children to record and play their own sound clips – favourites for us included “choo, choo” and “honk, honk”.
The engine can also inspire imaginative play with multicolour lights, motion and sounds which are accessed through the Brio “smart tech sound” app, which is incredibly easy to use. Each action tunnel cleverly creates a unique response from the engine, whether that’s slowing it down, changing direction or offering up a spot of maintenance in the fix action tunnel. Built to last years of play, the quality and technology is superlative, and is sure to keep those aged three to seven engaged for hours, plus it’s large enough to play with a friend or sibling.
The Soundbops starter pack
Creating a toy that masks education with fun is no easy feat, but the talented team over at Soundbops have quite frankly hit the high note with this musical gadget. Our four-year-old reviewer, who is yet to show much of an appetite for music, soon got herself acquainted with the high-tech board. Scrolling through the 10 musical instruments, which showcase all the popular choices from guitar to saxophone, our little tester was soon playing a slightly slower rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” that she had learned from the book.
Designed for those aged three to nine (although we think the perfect age is around five to eight-years-old), in the sturdy case you’ll get the board, 12 stacking bops and your first Soundbops music book, you’ll just need to provide four AA batteries to get started. The bops are what take this musical toy up a bar (literally), as each has a different note allowing you to build a chord as you stack them.
For young musicians, creative play will also help them with colours, letters and number recognition and the book does make learning fun and easy to digest, plus there’s also a free app for more in depth tutoring. A fabulous introduction into the wonderful world of music, parents will also be pleased to know there’s a headphone socket and adjustable volume switch for when jamming sessions reign.
Mini Ruby doll suitcase
Say hello to Ruby and her suitcase house from chic French brand Meri Meri. We just love the attention to detail with this miniature toy; open the metal clasp on the house case – complete with neon stitching and gold foil detail – and you’ll find a cotton Ruby doll donning her finest tulle skirt and Breton shirt, there’s also a cotton quilt and pink velvet pillow for when all the playing gets too much. Our four-year-old tester loved carrying the case around the house using the handy leather handle. While the toy may be small, the playing possibilities are huge, and it’s a great way to spark young imaginations.
Mamas and Papas rocking horse, floral
The rocking horse dates back as far as the 17th century, so there’s no denying the toy’s popularity. Fast forward to 2020 and this floral edition from Mamas & Papas is simply stunning. With a soft faux fur mane, tail and hooves, little ones will love cuddling up to their new four-legged friend.
Perfect for those aged two or three-years-old, our 28-month-old tester loved rocking back and forth, and it’s no surprise it’s a comfortable seat. It’ll take you a few minutes to assemble the wooden rocking feet but it’s a robust ride, plus the fabric is easy to wipe clean. The classic playtime horse also looks beyond sweet in a playroom or child’s bedroom.
Magformers my first tiny friends 20pc
You’ll struggle to find a child (or let’s face it an adult) who isn’t mesmerised by the magic of magnets. Magformers is the leading magnetic construction toy and we love how the simple geometric shapes and colours can harness in on some serious 3D brain training, making it a fun yet educational choice.
Connecting using the power of the built-in magnets, the set is for beginners and was perfect for our four-year-old tester. Consisting of seven triangles, 11 squares and two isosceles triangles, watch your little mastermind construct one of 12 animal friends – from fur seal to duck – from the booklet provided. But watch out, it’s pretty addictive and if your budding builder has it their way you’ll soon start building a Magformers empire, as they’re compatible with all other sets. Though currently out of stock, you can sign up for an email alert for when it’s available.
Micro Scooters micro LED sprite scooter
Micro Scooters’s most popular two-wheeled model, named “sprite”, now comes with LED front and back wheels to add a touch of magic to kids scooting journeys. We were impressed that it’s battery free too, as the user generates energy as they scoot, sparking bright white lights. The quality of design is as you’d expect from the scooter giant, a brand which invented of the original two-wheeled scooter with over two decades of innovation and more than 250 design awards to boot.
Kids will love the adjustable handlebars, featherlight aluminium frame for ultimate agility, and a perfectly sized footplate all contributing to a wonderful riding experience. It’s also foldable and comes with a free strap making it easy for kids – or their serving parents – to sling over their shoulder.
You never grow out of a good old-fashioned board game, and this one is a gift for the whole family. The latest addition to the SmartGames family sees Froggit, a multi-player game. For two to six players, guide your frogs across the pond while blocking others; the first player to get their entire frog family to the other side wins the game.
But you’ll need to beware of the fish, as it can scare your frogs back to the starting edge. You can play at junior level which is recommended from six years, or expert level for those aged eight plus, but this really is a fun challenge for the whole family. Allowing flexible thinking, clever planning and a dose of competitive annoyance, let the games begin!
Ravensburger Peppa Pig 32pc Christmas jigsaw puzzle with door hanger
Whether Peppa’s your nemesis or your pick of the pigs, one thing’s for sure is toddlers go potty for her and her friends. This giant 32-piece floor puzzle from Ravensburger is easy for small hands to grasp and place together independently and the quality of the pieces is second to none. Building on problem solving and fine motor skills, puzzles can hold attention for hours and our four-year-old tester was proud as punch completing the snowy scene and was happy to reel off the names of the characters featured. The puzzle also comes with a Peppa Pig door hanger which you can personalise.
Lego adventures with Mario starter course
When Lego joins forces with Super Mario the result is only ever going to go one way, and boy has this impressed. The whole gaming experience comes alive with instant expressive responses and signature sounds from the main man Mario (you’ll just need to pop in two x AAA batteries, which aren’t included).
With 231 pieces, gone are the days of countless Lego instruction booklets, it’s all based on digital building instructions on the free app, plus you also connect Mario using Bluetooth connectivity. While you can play this “screen free”, to get the most out of the game you’ll need to use the app to earn coins as you complete the challenge. It’s recommended from six years plus, but we’d suggest around the eight to ten years is a good age for this toy. Expect hours of creative fun.
Paw Patrol dino patroller
If you have a Paw Patrol devotee on your hands, then the dino patroller is sure to be exciting. The first-ever motorised Paw Patrol team vehicle, there’s room for all six pups (that’s Chase, Zuma, Skye, Rocky, Marshall and Rubble if you’re wondering). It features big chunky all-terrain wheels, a projectile launcher and an exclusive Chase and T-Rex dinosaur action figure whose mouth and tail moves. Press the blue button and watch it go, but the best bit for our four-year-old tester is launching the rescue nets to help save the T-Rex. Paw Patrol is on a roll indeed with this top toy.
Pinkfong Baby Shark let’s go hunt fishing game
Baby Shark’s fame has no signs of waning as the global phenomenon’s latest game is making a real splash. Designed for up to four players, the “let’s go hunt” fishing game features all the favourites: Mummy Shark, Daddy Shark, Grandma Shark, and, of course the star of the show… Baby Shark. With four fishing poles, kids need to grab the fish as the board spins and the player who reels in the most fish wins. The game sure to make them squeal in delight, but failing that, let them dance away to the Baby Shark song. You’ll need two x AA batteries which aren’t included.
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