11 best kids' toys 2019: Puzzles, games and crafts that make the perfect Christmas gift
From Lego and puzzles to the return of Polly Pocket, our roundup features a mix of fun and educational treats
A toy which captures the imagination of a generation is an amazing, but rare, thing.
The best toys, we think, should be imaginative, inspiring to look at, promote learning or creativity and be well made so as to withstand inevitable wear and tear.
We also think a good toy should provide long term fun. Not something to be ripped open, tinkered with and discarded after a couple of minutes.
In our search for the best toys around, we’ve also tried to be mindful of budget – with two of the toys here costing sub £10 – showing that you don’t always have to spend a fortune in order to please.
From jigsaws and Lego to slime and spacemen, we’ve found the best toys out there, ensuring that you give the children what they really, really want.
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.
Tonies toniebox: £69.95, John Lewis & Partners
An audio machine for children like no other, the toniebox is perfect for children over three-years-old who love stories. Instead of having to faff about with buttons, wires, disks, controls or other fiddly bits, all children have to do is simply fix a Tonie (a figurine containing an audio story) onto the toniebox and they’re away, engulfed in a fantasy world, the story having downloaded onto the device.
There are tonnes of Tonies to choose from but we recommend The Stick Man, read by Imelda Staunton although The Jungle Book was a massive hit with our three-year-old who sung along to all the songs. There is also such a thing as a creative Tonie, which is perfect for if parents might want to narrate their own story and let their children listen to their voice.
The toniebox is pretty cool as an object – well-made, weighty and robust, available in a range of colours. What we really love about it is that it’s awesome technology without the overbearing glare of a screen, the confusion of buttons or distraction of flashing lights. The toniebox can play any downloaded Tonie without Wi-Fi.
Our three-year-old tester got to grips with this very quickly, while a 10-year-old enjoyed working out how to put other audiobooks onto the creative Tonie.
Lego x Disney Arendelle castle village: £74.99, Lego
When Lego meets Frozen II is what a million young gift wish lists are made of. The Arendelle castle village is brand new and offers much to please children of all ages. Firstly, there’s the castle – three stories of removable floors in the deep purple and green hues that Arendelle is famous for – perfect for when creative would-be architects want a change of building design.
Then there are the figurines of Elsa, Anna and Kristoff – plus a cat and two birds. There is a hinged duvet under which figures can sleep and outside, market stalls complete with food stuffs, ready for selling. The whole set opens up a world of imagination that is anchored in the familiar. Our six-year-old tester actually squealed with delight when presented with this. It is big enough for at least two children to play happily together on it at the same time.
Melissa & Doug grocery basket: £20, Argos
For younger kids who love nothing more than make believe, where they pretend to be grown-ups out and about in the big wide world, a grocery basket is just the ticket. This version is bright with a very cheering red and blue colourway. There are also eight essential shopping items including tacos and tomato soup for little ones to add to their basket. There is even a shopping list and pencil.
What we loved about this is how easy it was to use thanks to being lightweight and having the option of being lifted or rolled. A group of toddler testers fought over this trolley – which we took as a good sign!
Jurassic World destroy ‘n devour Indominus Rex: £33.99, Smyths Toys
Dinosaurs don’t come more deadly than this T rex, who roars, chomps and even swallows humans whole. He has sharp teeth and is absolutely terrifying to behold. Avid fans will be thrilled by the collector card teaming with stats about the Indominous Rex.
Our seven-year-old tester, having pressed the buttons on the dinosaur’s back and tail which activates the arms and jaw movements respectively, was agog at the dino’s throat, which glows red as he swallows his prey. Be warned, the human prey comes separately. This is the kind of toy that makes an awful lot of noise – and will be loathed by parents, which is part of the reason children will love it so much.
Aquabeads 3D merry go round set: £15, Argos
Aquabeading is kind of a big deal – a hugely successful pastime which started as a craze but is showing all the signs of having proper staying power. Children essentially use transparent trays with small compartments in them placed over a colourful design to fill with corresponding beads. Once happy with the design, the beads are sprayed with water which makes them stick together. After an hour or so, the design is solid and ready to be removed from the tray.
This brand-new 3D carousel is the latest offering from Aquabeads. The set includes a merry-go-round and some 1,000 plus beads to decorate it with. Our seven-year-old tester couldn’t wait to get her mitts on it, but we think there needs to be a fair amount of parental supervision when it comes to the construction of the carousel. Engaging, fun, creative and with something pretty cool to show for it at the end – a brilliant toy.
Usborne animals of the world jigsaw: £9.99, Usborne
Nothing beats a jigsaw. This one, with 200 pieces, will keep children and adults alike totally engrossed and is a brilliant way to work as a team. The beautifully illustrated atlas design provides an early introduction to geography and wildlife too. The jigsaw also comes with a book bursting with animal facts. Simple, cheerful and not faddish, this will be a toy to return to year after year. A family of testers – from three to 80-years-old joined in for the making of this puzzle, resulting in proper old-fashioned fun.
Sylvanian Families elegant town manor: £79.99, Sylvanian Families
Fans of these infamous woodland critters will be floored by the latest and arguably grandest addition to the town. The manor has much to recommend, including a dazzling chandelier and sweeping staircase, which can be attached to any part of the structure. The set has 46 pieces to keep little fingers busy, including Stella the chocolate rabbit older sister (actual name, if you please) and a rather decadent dining table.
Orchard Toys knights and dragons matching game: £8, Orchard Toys
The team at Orchard Toys have created yet another brilliant game to entertain and educate enquiring young minds. Knights and dragons is perfect for budding history buffs aged four or older – and, as with all Orchard Toys – has been teacher tested. It’s a matching game with a little more jeopardy than good old Snap! Players must try to match as many top and bottom knights as possible – and avoid encounters with any fearsome dragons. We found it easy to explain to two five-year-old testers who quickly got the hang of it – and there weren’t too many disputes over turn taking. Cost effective fun that enhances matching skills.
Polly Pocket mega mall: £29.99, John Lewis & Partners
Polly Pocket and her miniature compact world was a massive craze in the Nineties before fading out of fashion. But she’s is back with a bang – as this mega mall proves. With an eye-popping colour palette, six storeys (accessible by a fabulous lift) which include things like a cinema, a pet shop and a boutique. There is of course, a car park for Polly to leave her wheels while she’s shopping. It’s the attention to detail which makes this – and all of the Polly Pocket toys – so exciting for our testers who ranged from three to nine-years-old, they were totally enthralled. Note the moving skate ramp and the spinning popcorn machine – genius.
Toy Story 4 Buzz Lightyear helmet: £49.99, Very
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, so fans of Buzz Lightyear are going to want to show their devotion by donning his clothing. This couldn’t be easier to assemble; within minutes the recipient of the armour will have it on, visor down, wings deployed and lights flashing. The audio side of things is genius, with buttons activating various soundbites from all four of the Toy Story films. According to our four-year-old tester the jet pack felt comfortable and not too heavy (and we took this to be true given he watched TV in it and it had to be prised off over his head by bath time).
So Slime DIY slimelicious station: £16.99, Amazon
Slime is all the rage with youngsters across the land, much to the sorrow of parents whose carpets, curtains and upholstery are under daily threat. This kit, however, boasts no mess or glue – you just add water to powder and you’ve got some serious slime. There are four mini shakes, scented powder, stickers and three different colours to choose from and mix up – all contained within a fantastic organised workstation – which is essentially the coolest and most colourful factory-turned-pick-n-mix stand you’ve ever seen, complete with tools for honing one’s slime skills with.
The verdict: Kids’ toys
It’s really hard to choose a winning toy given they are all so different and serve varying ages, stages and interests. But we’d say the Toniebox is the pick of the bunch – despite also being one of the most expensive. This is because it will delight toddlers to tweens, is built to last and encourages a love of narrative and storytelling. A terrific invention and investment.
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