By Ellen Metrick
For toys to be true hits with kids and parents alike, they have to be fun right out of the box, but they have to have staying power, too. This year's top picks in the Toys and Tech Toys categories will educate, entertain and hold kids' attention over the long haul.
Gold Award Winners
Supermag, Plastwood, $21.95; www.plastwood.com, 800-647-9989; ages 3 and up. This well-crafted construction set enables children and adults alike to play with the science of magnets. Magnetic balls and rods of different sizes let you experiment and create three-dimensional designs. It is a great toy for the beginner builder or the professional architect.
A-B-C Oy! Game, Dream Green, $9.95; www.123oy.com, 888-GET-GAME; ages 4 and up. This card game teaches the basics of the alphabet, such as word identification and order, and helps children form words through a number of fun and educational games. Each card features one large uppercase letter and its lower case counterpart in a bold, simple typestyle on a plain white background to allow for easy identification and play.
1-2-3 Oy! Game, Dream Green, $9.95; www.123oy.com, 888-GET-GAME; ages 4 and up. Children will have so much fun with the many game variations that they won't even realize they are honing their math skills. There are slow- and fast-paced games to choose from, so the game can match the players' abilities and challenge them to add skills.
Art Activity Table, ALEX Panline USA, $160; www.alextoys.com, 800-666-2539; ages 3 and up. This wowing activity table provides the space for creativity and friends to mix. The oblong shape of the table and the two benches provide ample room to fit four to six children comfortably. Paper roll stores underneath and feeds through a slit in the tabletop. Recessed storage cups and canvas bag provide space for all your materials.
Cranium Cariboo, Cranium Inc., $16.95; www.cranium.com, 877-CRANIUM (272-6486); ages 3 and up. Find treasures by matching a color, shape, letter or number card to a picture on any one of the 15 doors. Open the door with a key to reveal a treasure. Once all the treasures are found, the treasure chest will open. This is a great game to teach beginners appropriate game-playing skills, and it reinforces the foundations of learning.
Honors Award Winners
Big Bubble Bucket, Little Kids Inc., $12.99; www.littlekidsinc.com, 800-LIL-KIDS; for ages 3 and up. This jumbo-sized, classic no-spill bubble tumbler has three wands for friends.
Buzz Off! Game, Aristoplay Ltd., $16; www.aristoplay.com, 800-634-7738; for ages 4 and up. This is a game of fun, active color matching. Roll the dice and swat the matching color "fly" card with your foam swatter.
Changing Rooms Woodkins, Pamela Drake Inc., $15; www.woodkins.com, 510-528-2993; for ages 4 and up. A wooden notebook opens to reveal sections of a room and doll body, which can be covered with a child's choice of fabric. Close the notebook to see the restyled doll and room.
Cranium Hullabaloo, Cranium Inc., $24.95; www.cranium.com, 877-CRANIUM; for ages 4 and up. Kids listen, think and move to different pictured/colored pads on the floor in response to music, sounds and verbal instruction.
Design & Drill Activity Center, Educational Insights, $39.95; www.educationalinsights.com, 800-995-4436; for ages 3 and up. Parquetry meets the drill. Use the design cards to recreate a picture with colorful, plastic bolts and battery-operated drill or a hand screwdriver.
Dizzy Funland Building Set, Learning Resources; $36.95; www.learningresources.com, 888-800-7893; for ages 3 and up. Create your own amusement park! Gears fit together easily and can be activated by a battery-operated remote control.
Fisher-Price Crafting Fun Kits, Make Me Happy Toys, $14.99; 888-226-4190; for ages 4 and up. A felt-covered binder includes all the craft supplies kids need for creative exploration within a given media. Stamp, Felt, Bead, Foam and Color-by-Number kits are all sold separately.
Green Alligators, Vida Games, $9.99; www.vidagames.com, 866-769-0269; for ages 4 and up. Describe the picture on the card and let your opponents guess what it is. Pictures and words do not require reading, but they do encourage it!
Hallie Doll, American Girl, $48; www.americangirl.com, 800-845-0005; for ages 4 and up. This beautifully realistic doll comes complete with an early-reader storybook. The book has a parent section to assist children with some of life's challenges.
Hero City Ice Mountain Playset, Mattel Inc., $40; www.mattel.com, 310-252-2000; for ages 3 and up. A cool winter mountain scene for matchbox cars to drive down - watch out for an avalanche or thin ice! A rescue crane and motorized lift adds to the fun.
Imaginext Pirate Raider, Fisher-Price, $29.99; www.fisher-price.com, 800-432-KIDS; for ages 4 and up. Kids can build this Pirate Ship in different configurations and then play. Comes with accessories to fuel their imaginations.
Kid K'nex, K'Nex Industries, $9.99-$19.99; www.knex.com, 800-822-5639; for ages 3 and up. Using the pictorial instructions or their imaginations, young children can build one-dimensional and 3-D objects. Bold colored pieces snap together securely.
Omagles, Link-Kit, $249; www.omagles.com; for ages 3 and up. Kids use rods and connectors to build large-scale functional objects, such as chairs and wagons, or structures from their own imaginations.
Play-Doh Creativity Table, Hasbro Inc., $29.99; www.hasbro.com, 401-725-TOYS; for ages 3 and up. Provides a designated space for creativity and to store materials.
Portable Easel, Battat Inc., $22.50; www.battat-toys.com, 800-822-8828; for ages 3 and up. This portable plastic easel securely fastens in upright position with storage for included art supplies. Folds up as a small briefcase.
Shape Time with Colors, Cadaco, $19.99; www.cadaco.com, 800-621-5426; for ages 4 and up. Learn simple shapes and four basic colors while matching foam cutouts on the picture cards.
Sorting Shapes Cupcakes, Learning Resources, $12.95; www.learningresources.com, 888-800-7893; for ages 3 and up. Match the shape on the bottom of the cupcake to the shape in the cup and then again to the correct spot in the cupcake pan. Also available: Rainbow Color Cones and Counting Cookies.
Squash Blox Builder Set, Mongo Toys, $60; www.squashblox.com, 201-792-5451; for all ages. These large construction cushions attach with hook-and-loop fasteners to create forts and structures of all kinds. Accessory kits attach to blox to create a train, garden, animal or castle are sold separately.
Surprise!, Gamewright, $5.99; www.gamewright.com, 617-924-6006; for ages 4 and up. Children develop memory and recall skills by flipping over and moving cards to reveal gifts.
Speedstars Maximum Thrills Raceway, Hasbro, $29.99; www.hasbro.com, 401-725-TOYS; for ages 3 and up. This foldaway plastic raceway incorporates action and thrills into a typical racecourse design. Turn the crank to power the cars.
The Young Scientists Club Kits, The Young Scientists Club, $10.99; www.theyoungscientistsclub.com, 800-964-1320; for ages 4 and up. Mail order science experiments open the doors to scientific exploration and learning for young children.
To see winning toys for other age groups, return to NAPPA 2003 Award Winners: Toys.
See also: NAPPA 2002 Award Winners: Toys
Ellen Metrick is a toy specialist with the National Lekotek Center.