Each year, the Toy Industry Association presents the top toys in a variety of categories the coveted “Toy of The Year” award. This week, I’m happy to showcase the premier preschool toys from the past five years, and I know I’d have had a blast with this cool stuff when I was in preschool…
Our first award-winning preschool toy is the “Doc McStuffins 'Time For Your Checkup' Doll,” from the Disney show sharing the same name, and her adorable stuffed patient, Lambie. Both Doc McStuffins and Lambie have plenty of encouraging things to say and songs to sing, as your little ones help to check Lambie’s heartbeat, temperature and ears with Doc McStuffins’ bag of tools. I hope that parents are a fan of Doc McStuffins herself, as she is a little on the loud side (And has absolutely no volume control!), and she’s certainly not something that most little boys will beg Santa for (Girls will eat her up!), but any toy that promotes utilizing one’s imagination in a sweet and caring manner is definitely a great thing in my book. I really like the fact that even though Lambie needs three batteries, and the good Doctor needs four to do their thing, that all seven batteries are included with the package, making her a great gift for near-instant enjoyment, without having to take an extra trip to Walgreens. Seven! Seven batteries! Ah-Ah-Ah!
Ah, the children’s learning non-computer sure has come a long way, hasn’t it? This rugged device has well over 100 entertaining and educational games and apps to keep kids occupied with “my first computer” for hours on end. There are tons of impressive things about the LeapPad Explorer, such as the wide variety of activities, like the virtual pet app, the extremely precise and responsive touch screen, the easy to use built-in camera/video recorder/microphone creative tools, and the device’s dollar stretching feature of adapting to the child’s reading level to continue to hold their attention. My one caveat for parents hoping to use the LeapPad Explorer as a sort of placebo to save their own tablets, is to buy some rechargeable batteries, or better yet, the official AC adapter. After all, with so much to do, see and create, the LeapPad Explorer may need frequent battery pit stops. I’m sure that my mom wishes that I had one of these, instead of the “so obnoxiously loud, she actually stuck duct tape over the speakers” learning computer that I grew up with. It’s easy to see why LeapFrog won 2012’s award!
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t really get what the big deal was about Sing-a-ma-jigs when I first encountered them in the wilds of the toy isle. They are cute, hand-held, bunny-like plushies, but when you press their tummies, they open their mouths into an “O” shape and croon a note for as long as you hold their belly buttons. Each time you press the button, the Sing-a-ma-jig belts out a different musical note, and kids can cycle through different songs, noises and tones by pressing the creature’s hands. Then it clicked- Sing-a-ma-jigs are musical instruments that anyone can operate, with the flexibility to be used to make any number of “on the spot” preschool tunes. They aren’t inherently loud, but if a kid loves their Sing-a-ma-jig, you are definitely going to hear a lot from the little jabbering stuffed critter. It’s far from being as obnoxious as giving a child a plush-covered drum set, but there really isn’t a better musical instrument/cuddly “best buddy” toy out there, so I can definitely see the appeal in the rainbow of available Sing-a-ma-jigs.
Crayola is one of those brands that continues to be both timelessly classic, while exploring the boundaries of creative play, which is demonstrated with their “Color Me A Song” musical tablet. The tablet is big enough to hold a few sheets of paper on its surface, along with a drawer on its side to store the set of triangular crayons that the set comes with. The genius of the idea is to inspire very young kids to want to draw and color by introducing them to a lap-top drawing pad that plays music as quickly as they can scribble. It’s not really intended for kids who are already interested in coloring between the lines or making their own pictures, but the bulky crayons and happy tunes are sure to get novice scribblers to burn through a whole bunch of colored wax, if only to see how fast the funky beat can go. Color Me A Song is cute, durable, not-too-loud fun that initiates preschoolers to the concept that the inherent moving of colorful crayons is fun, which in itself is a fantastic starting point for encouraging creativity from an early age.
Ever since “Tickle Me Elmo” made his energetic debut in 1996, everyone’s favorite red Muppet has made his way onto the best-sellers list of “must have toys” just about every year since, and for good reason! “Elmo Live,” this specific model, was the most technologically advanced plush toy at the time, with sensors in his tummy, back, nose and left foot that will get the silly monster to tell plenty of silly jokes, stories, activities and sweet ‘lil phrases, like “I love you!” and “Give Elmo a hug!” While “Elmo Live” is pretty darn tough to find mint in the box in 2013, “Big Hugs Elmo” is the latest, greatest and cuddliest Elmo yet. While I was definitely a groupie for both Cookie Monster and Grover when I visited Sesame Street to learn my ABC’s, the appeal of preschoolers being able to play, sing, dance and cuddle with the closest thing to the actual Elmo is crystal clear. As great as “Elmo Live” was, “Big Hug Elmo” blows his 2009 self out of the water with innovative features such as a gyroscope that instantly effects Elmo’s conversations and the greatest advancement of them all: A sleep mode switch so kids can take the formally rambunctious monster to bed at night. Sure, Elmo ever won’t stop being a noisy goofball, and you can hear just a little bit of robotic whirring beneath Elmo’s singing, but he’s such an optimistic, sweet and upbeat role model for kids, that you can’t help but to love the furry guy.
Big Hugs Elmo
Hey parents! Don’t forget that Christmas is just around the corner, so do yourself a solid and grab these award-winning toys from the Amazon store below before it’s too late. Which preschool powerhouse toy is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments below!