Playing is hard work! For our annual Toy Awards, kid testers spent hours putting nearly 300 toys through their paces. The winners pleased kids, parents and GHI’s LittleLab scientists alike. After hours of play, these emerged as our 2021 Good Housekeeping Institute Toy Award winners.
How We Test Toys for the 2021 Best Toy Awards
✔️Safety check: Our engineers and analysts start by ensuring that each toy meets all safety standards. They also assess pinch points and make sure toys won’t shatter into small pieces to pose a potential choking hazard.
✔️Ease of Use: Next, we carefully evaluate how simple each toy is to assemble, how well it’s constructed and how durable it is during play.
✔️Kid Approval: Final decisions come from more than 100 children, ages 1 to 15, who assess the fun factor!
Testing is a months-long process. Each year, the project kicks off at the international Toy Fair (which is usually held in February but was virtual this time around), where we preview the slate of toys that will be released in time for our awards process. From there, we assess the toys in terms of skill-building attributes: Does it develop social-emotional skills, physical skills, language developmental skills, STEM knowledge or creativity? After ensuring appropriate safety-standards have been met, our analysts unbox, assemble and use each toy, and then hand them over to several kid-testers for feedback. This year, we evaluated hundreds of toys, spanning thousands of hours of play, starting in June and culminating in our top-tested picks here.
These are the winners of the 2021 Good Housekeeping Toy Awards:
$30 and Under
Two Friends in One
An adorable baby doll is made even sweeter by a plush, furry costume with a hood they can use to play peekaboo. The body is soft and huggable, and there are three costumes available: a llama, a uni cat and a sloth.
Lab Results: Kid testers and parents both responded to the designs of the doll, which aim to maximize cuteness. Ages 0+
The Squishmallows world expands with new, plush Squishville play sets, including this mall, which lets the furry friends roam around in a food court, arcade, toy store and rooftop terrace. It comes with two, 2″ plushes who can squeeze themselves into accessories like the shopping cart, cash register and arcade game.
Lab Results: Collecting Squishmallows is a huge trend, and the new smaller size of the mini-plushes makes them easier to tote around than the bigger pillows. Ages 0+
Create Your Potato Head Family
When it comes to potatoes, three heads are definitely better than one. This set comes with two large potato bodies, one small potato and 42 accessories to use among them, making for tons of silly combinations.
Lab Results: Kids loved swapping out the pieces to make various family configurations, and one parent noted that this was a good way to reinforce the idea that not all families look the same. Ages 2+
Art Without Stains
Spill Proof Washable Paint
The secret to a cleaner painting experience, Crayola’s spill-proof paint is not the consistency of regular paint — it’s more of a semi-solid that stays put in its pot and doesn’t drip all over the place.
Lab Results: One tester noted this formula is mess-hating-Grandma-approved! (Though parents should be warned that kids cans till get paint on themselves if they touch their creations before they’re dry.) Ages 3+
Educational TV Tie-In
Numberblocks MathLink Cubes 1-10 Activity Set
Fans of Numberblocks will love this set, which uses the show’s characters to teach basic math like counting, addition and subtraction. The interlocking cubes add a hands-on dimension to learning about numbers.
Lab Results: “My kids have learned so much math from it, it’s mind-blowing,” one parent reported. Ages 3+
A Green Matching Game
Hungry Bins: Learn To Recycle
It’s a classification game with a sustainably-minded twist: Players must collect materials and put them in the proper recycling bins. The bins themselves have fun, cartoony designs (and they sure look hungry).
Lab Results: “LOVE this game!” raved the parent of one tester. “So educational and fun.” Parents also liked that it helps with sorting skills and memory. Ages 3+
A Sampling of Sensations
Sensory Bin: Ocean and Sand
Sensory bins are often a DIY affair, but this set does the work for you, as it comes complete with
sensory sand, water beads, scoops, river rocks and plastic animals.
Lab Results: While the sand and beads inevitably come out of the bin, parents liked how they could just snap the lid back on during cleanup. Ages 3+
Stones for Stacking
No-slip “pebbles” let preschoolers make stacks by size and shape, sort by color and try to complete the challenges on activity cards, introducing them to early math concepts.
Lab Results: Our scientists liked that this set offered a twist on a building toy beyond traditional blocks and bricks. Ages 3+
Light-Up Activity Board
Crayola’s light-up board comes with see-through geometric pieces and transparency sheets, so kids can combine shapes to make pictures and experiment with color-mixing, too.
Lab Results: Parents liked that it’s light, compact and has its own built-in storage for the pieces, making a great toy for taking on the road (but many were bummed that the batteries were not included). Ages 3+
Nano Real Bugs
Fans of creepy-crawlies will thrill to this set, which uses Hexbug technology to make bugs that realistically scamper and even move around objects. The set comes with a cicada, a cockroach, a Japanese beetle, a water scorpion and an assassin bug.
Lab Results: These insects are extremely realistic. Families who love pranking each other will get a kick out of how much they look just like the real thing! Ages 3+
Playing With Emotions
Explore Feelings Kit
With this set, kids take a trip through the Feelings Forest and use storytelling to explain their emotions. Magnetic faces help them portray the emotions of their characters, and there are prompts and games to play that help them describe their own feelings.
Lab Results: Kid testers were enamored with the magnetic faces, and parents found it an innovative way to get preschoolers talking about their emotions. Ages 3+
A Barbie Glow-Up
Gorgeous hairstyles, shimmery iridescent clothes and super-trendy accessories make the Barbie Extra line of dolls more fashionable than ever. The bodies are posable, too, and each one comes with a pet that’s just as stylish as she is.
Lab Results: Kids loved Barbie’s new look, and testers rated this line off-the-charts great. Ages 3+
Healthy Pretend Play
Sunny Day Mobile Farm Stand
Apples, eggs, lettuce and potatoes fill the carts and crates at this famer’s market stand, which encourages kids to think about where their food comes from. The set comes with more than 20 pieces, including two people to run the stand.
Lab Results: Everyone was impressed with the quality of the figures, and parents noted that the stand is so easy to put together that the kids wanted to do it themselves. Ages 3+
Magical Surprise Collectibles
Rainbocorns Fairycorn Surprise
These Rainbocorns have everything a magical collector could want: They come with fairy wings a kid can wear, color-changing slime called “fairycorn poop,” glittery accessories and other fun surprises. These come in seven different animals, including a kitty, an owl and a hippo.
Lab Results: “I like that it comes with a little friend so it’s not lonely,” one 5-year-old tester says of the included “Boo-Boocorns” pet. Ages 3+
Bears With Big Hearts
Care Bears Togetherness Bear
Fans of the Care Bears in the ’80s should thrill to the news of their return, sporting brighter colors and cuter designs. New for 2021, the Togetherness Bear sports every color of the rainbow as a nod to inclusivity and kindness. No two are alike, just as no two people are alike. This bear also has a great motto: “Love all.”
Lab Results: Testers liked these bears’ supersoft fur, smiling faces and mix of colors. Ages 4+
Caring for Creatures
Scruff-A-Luvs Cutie Cuts
Kids are encouraged to take a scruffy pup with overgrown hair and give it the full salon experience by trimming the excess fur (with a tool that looks and feels like an electric razor), styling the pet and even painting its nails.
Lab Results: There’s a huge trend in toys that teach kids empathy by having them care for pets, and parents found this as one, a much-improved update over a previous Toy Award winner, the most engaging. They were impressed by how easily the hair shaves off! Ages 4+
Disney Mad Tea Party Game
Players are invited to a tea party at a tipsy table. Cards tell the players what size cup to stack on the table and where. But they have to do it carefully — the cups are off-kilter and the whole stack can fall!
Lab Results: Testers enjoyed the cute design of the cups, and one parent liked how the game doesn’t end when the teacups tumble, so it’s a little lesson in getting over failure. Ages 5+
GeoSafari Jr. Kidscope
Kids can learn more than 200 facts about animals, plants and the world around them by looking at these kid-friendly slides through a double-eyed microscope. When they’re not in use, the slides store away easily in the base.
Lab Results: The microscope was easy enough for elementary schoolers to use on their own, and kids loved reading up on all the animal facts. Ages 5+
Fashion-Forward Furry Friend
Part toy, part accessory, these kittens, puppies, koalas, pandas, unicorns and more can be used as hair scrunchies, bracelets or backpack clips.
Lab Results: Colorful, cute and cool — who wouldn’t be charmed by these wearable toys? Plus, they’re priced to be perfect stocking stuffers. Ages 5+
Bustin’ Makes Them Feel Good
Ghostbusters Proton Blaster M.O.D.
Whether the kids are fans of the OG Ghostbusters or the new Ghostbusters: Afterlife, they’ll have a blast defeating ghouls with this role-play toy. It has two different attachments — “Blast ‘n’ Trap” and “Proton Stream” — and it makes different sounds depending on which one is in use.
Lab Results: The different attachments meant that kids got a lot of use out of this for the price. (Though, be warned: Parents reported this one was very noisy.) Ages 5+
Pokémon Trading Card Game Battle Academy
As the first board game adaptation of the popular card game, the set contains everything kids need to easily learn how to play the game. It also comes with three decks, so families can dive in and start playing right away.
Lab Results: One parent saw her kid go quickly from not understanding the rules to regularly beating her father. Ages 6+
Friends Who Love DIY
Each of these girls has an interest in making the world better, from caring for animals to cleaning up the beach. In addition to the eco-message, they all come with some kind of DIY activity, from sewing an outfit and purse to making BFF jewelry.
Lab Results: Families liked the environmental focus of the dolls, and loved the DIY projects and found them as good as activity kits that are sold on their own. Ages 6+
Stories of the Three Coins
In this game, everyone works together to tell an adventure story and hopefully guide the main character to a happy ending. Players are dealt cards they can use to keep the tale going.
Lab Results: Parents appreciated that the game was driven by imagination and creativity. One tester observed her older and younger kids all loved playing it together. Ages 6+
Fashion With a Click
Style Squad: Hype Hair Floral Frenzy
Kids can DIY their own fashion accessories with this kit, which lets them choose a paper flower and a jewel to go on top, then easily stamps into a hair. They can layer the flowers in their hair for lots of flair!
Lab Results: Parents reported that once the applicator was set up, it was easy for the kids to do themselves (and gave them practice with motor skills and hand-eye coordination, too). Ages 6+
Connecting in Three Dimensions
Corner Crush Game
This looks similar to other four-in-a-row games you’ve played in the past, but taken to the next level. A rotating tower means that the play can wrap around corners, so player have to use their memory skills to connect their pieces across the tower’s different faces.
Lab Results: Testers found that this game was a good one for older kids looking for a little more of a challenge. Parents appreciated that the pieces get stashed away back in the tower, so it was easy to set up and put away. Ages 7+
For kids who love to make their own videos, this kit lets them add glowing fashions and lighting effects at the push of a button. First, they craft their accessories out of reflective material. Then all they have to do is use the clip-on LED light to make everything light up!
Lab Results: “I haven’t seen anything like this before,” one kid-tester raved. “I want to invite my friends over and do it again.” Ages 8+
A Nostalgic Fave Returns
Fans of the original Digimon will be excited to learn that this new version is reverse-compatible with older ones, and it has a host of new features like Quest Mode, Dice Roll Attack and Digimon Facial Expressions.
Lab Results: Kids still enjoy hatching, training and caring for digital pets. Ages 8+
Cooking Shows Brought Home
MasterChef Family Cooking Game
Families cook their way through real recipes with real food (not included) to see if they can score points with the judges. Challenges like doing a blindfolded taste-test of a mystery ingredient or prepping food one-handed add spice to the competition.
Lab Results: Yes, they do eat the results! “We loved the recipes that were included!” one kid tester noted. Ages 8+
Transposable Building Set
Forge Maul FT-12 Assault Mech
For those not initiated into the Snap Ships world, it’s a line of building toys that is modular enough to make different vehicles out of each set. This one can be used to make three different builds with features like hinged and rotating shoulder cannons, claws and joints. Or, kids can go off on their own and create something entirely new!
Lab Results: Kids like how it can be assembled, taken apart and used to make something else — the set stays novel for longer that way. Ages 8+
Enter the MCU
Marvel Villainous: Mischief & Malice
In this strategy game, players choose to be one of three Marvel villains: M.O.D.O.K, Madam Masque or fan-favorite Loki. Each villain has to accomplish their own evil goals, while a shared fate deck throws a wrench into all of their plans.
Lab Results: Testers noted it took time to get into the gameplay, but once they did it was extremely engrossing, and it kept kids entertained for a long time. Ages 12+
Watch our experts talk toys! Tune in to The Toys That Built America on The History Channel, November 28 at 9 p.m. ET.
$65 and Under
Mini Music Mixer
DJ Mix and Spin Studio
Toddlers can experiment with tempo, rhythm and sounds by playing the piano keys or using the knobs and buttons to add effects to backing songs. They can even use the record to make scratching noises.
Lab Results: DJ-inspired toys are a big trend this year, and this one brings the idea of mixing and scratching down to toddler level in an ingenious way. Ages 1+
A Musical ‘Frozen’ Play Set
Little People Elsa’s Enchanted Lights Palace
Made for the tiniest tots, this set packs in three levels of interactive play, including a working elevator that when moved plays that beloved song. It also features multi-colored lights and sounds that turn on when the magic snowflake is pressed.
Lab Results: While parents may be ready to “Let It Go,” most kids still clamor for Elsa and Anna, both included with this package. Ages 1+
Two-for-One Shape Sorter
Sort and Recycle Ride-On Truck
This multi-tasking truck has a built-in shape and color sorter and doubles as a ride-on. The vehicle packs in interactive elements, so kids can enjoy music and also learn about sorting and different material types.
Lab Results: Our lab pros loved that the whole toy is built-around the concept of recycling, teaching kids from a young age the importance of sustainability. Plus, the majority of the plastic used is reclaimed. Ages 2+
Sustainable from Start to Finish
RV Camper Set
This 3-in-1 set features a pick-up truck, a camper and a boat with trailer plus accessories like mini-figures, chairs, a picnic table and camping stove. RVing is definitely on trend, and this playset is the perfect opportunity to introduce the concept to children.
Lab Results: Parents were happy that it included so many well-constructed pieces that don’t require assembly, and our lab pros appreciated the sustainably-minded packaging and product materials. Ages 2+
A Desk Made for Learning
Get Ready for School Learning Desk
Many learning features are built into this toddler desk, including a clock for telling time, a calendar for keeping track of the days of the week, a station to monitor the weather and interchangeable interactive activity pages. But the coolest item of all is a projector that helps kids trace.
Lab Results: One mom says her three kids all jockey for time at this desk. Ages 2+
Deep Sea Shark Rescue Submarine Set
When you have this play set at your disposal, any week can be Shark Week. It comes with a diver and diving accessories, a submarine with real working lights, an orca and a shark and even sea animals that glow in the dark, so your kids can pretend to operate their own research station.
Lab Results: Kid testers loved that the sharks really chomped their jaws! Ages 3+
A Healthy Habit Doll
Lulu Achoo Doll
The latest addition to the popular Baby Alive series, this doll features a myriad of interactive check-up accessories, including a doctor station with stethoscope and thermometer. Lulu Achoo give more than 50 reactions, including body movements (e.g. her hands go to her face when she sneezes), lights (e.g. her forehead turns red when she has fever) and sounds (e.g. giggles or sneezes).
Lab Results: Parents appreciated the subject matter, notably in today’s times, helping kids get more comfortable with doctors and shots. Ages 3+
Tiles With a Twist
‘Monster at the End of This Story’ Magna-Tiles
Magna-Tiles are as popular as ever, and one of the Little Lab’s favorite educational toys. These come with pieces inspired by The Monster at the End of This Book, with Grover doing things like building a wall that says “Keep this wall up!” Kids can also combine all the pieces to build a dump truck to transport the tiles.
Lab Results: Parents loved that the beloved building toy now has a storytelling dimension. Ages 3+
Toys to Take Apart
Design & Drill Bolt Buddies First Responders
The set includes a kid-friendly power drill, vehicle, two figurines, a dog and fire hydrant. Kids can disassemble and re-assemble the fire truck endless times while reinforcing STEM principles and fine motor skills. Other toys in the line include other first responders, including a rescue copter and police motorcycle.
Lab Results: We love that the packaging doubles as a backdrop for play, extending creative play while providing more conscientious packaging. Ages 3+
A Great First Game System
Kids learn letter, numbers, shapes and colors with this simple plug-and-play game stick. With a kid-sized controller and intuitive controls, kids will love learning through simple two-dimensional gameplay.
Lab Results: While it’s rated for ages 3 and up, we found 4- and 5-year-olds to be ideal gamers for LeapLand Adventures. Ages 3+
Take to Pretend Skies
Action Drivers Airport Adventure
Matchbox lets kids move their imaginative worlds from ground to air with an airport that has a moving luggage carousel, a positionable jet bridge and realistic lights and sounds.
Lab Results: While parents noted that this set could get loud, kids enjoyed linking it with certain other Matchbox and Hot Wheels play sets. Ages 3+
Cleaner Modeling Dough
The Dough Project Six Pack
This dough is fun to squish, stretch and smoosh, and it’s made with ingredients like organic wheat flour, sea salt, vegetable oil and cream of tartar. Also, it gets its color from plant sources.
Lab Results: Our scientists felt good about letting kids play with dough made from these ingredients. Ages 3+
A Wooden Toy for Pup Fans
PAW Patrol Rescue Mission Wooden Dashboard
Kids get the chance to sit behind a realistic steering wheel and car dashboard, including a key start, gear shifter, turn signal and horn. The toy includes three double-sided mission cards to mount in the “windshield” to help prompt role playing.
Lab Results: Well-built and engaging, this toy even lets kids hear various phrases aligned with the missions in English, French or Spanish. Ages 3+
Coding Critters MagiCoders
Coding is disguised in magic for kids in this play set. It includes a story book and remote wand to help Skye the Unicorn (or Blazer the Dragon) dance, follow moving objects or light up, based on the spell cast by kids.
Lab Results: Most kid-testers were engaged for over an hour, enjoying the cute characters and themes. One parent raved: “I love that it was fun and educational.” Ages 4+
Digital + IRL Play
Kids interact with physical farm pieces to navigate their augmented reality world with the Plugo Farm. The kit includes a foldable gamepad where you dock your compatible device (Android or Apple), plus farm-related accessories including crops, animals, a tractor and other props.
Lab Results: Parents appreciated that there was a physical component to the digital play. Ages 4+
A Different Way to Build
Kids can build limitless creations with these novel building pieces, which are designed to be light, compact and stackable when not in use. This set includes more than 40 flexible, durable, magnetic pieces.
Lab Results: One parent says, “I love how simple it is for each of my kids to be creative with minimal guidance from an adult.” Ages 4+
This RC has large, soft wheels that are safe indoors; they can roll over obstacles and on carpets without scuffing walls or floors. The real trick is that it can jump more than 20 inches in the air, making for even cooler stunts. Its landings are surprisingly soft.
Lab Results: Its ability to leap over obstacles gives this a big wow factor. Ages 4+
For Forever Fairy Fans
Got2Glow Fairy Finder
Open this jar and watch the magic as different fairies fly inside. Kids can feed them and play games with them or trade them with their friends. There are over 100 fairies to collect!
Lab Results: Kids loved experimenting with little tricks like holding the jar bottom up to catch an upside-down yoga fairy. Ages 5+
smART Sketcher 2.0
Kids can choose from one of more than 60 pre-loaded activities or take a photo, upload it and start sketching the projected image. Generation 2 of the smART Sketcher means a better build quality and more educational and fun content.
Lab Results: One parent noted it was great for teaching her kindergartner how to trace letters. Ages 5+
Peek-A-Roo comes as a combination of Momma-Roo and Baby-Roo, which interact with one another as well as the child’s inputs, offering more than 150 sounds and actions. They are both part-panda, part-kangaroo, with one of three mystery babies are hiding in the pouch when first unboxed.
Lab Results: Parents noted kid testers were clamoring for this toy, anticipating all the sounds and movements and enjoying the mommy-baby combo. Ages 5+
High-Tech in Your Hands
3Doodler Start+ Essentials 3D Pen Set
This set introduces kids to the basics of 3D printing, allowing them to build a three dimensional representations of objects by adding layer upon layer of plastic from thin filaments. The pen is great for reinforcing creativity, spatial awareness and fine motor skills.
Lab Results: Our engineers found this latest pen improved in the extrusion process, though families still have to be careful to keep it from clogging. Ages 6+
Deluxe Fashion Closet
This closet comes with enough dresses, tops, pants, shoes and accessories to make hundreds of new looks for a Rainbow High fashion doll. But organizing and storing it all — on gold hangers, in a clear shoebox — is half the fun.
Lab Results: It’s worth noting that this comes with everything but the doll. Ages 6+
Feature-Loaded First Smartwatch
Tobi 2 Smartwatch
Tobi doesn’t just tell time: This watch comes stacked with functions, like a step counter, selfie camera, calendar with reminder alarms and games that test both brain power and fitness skills.
Lab Results: The variety of activity options made kids return to Tobi again and again. Ages 6+
The World in Virtual Reality
Professor Maxwell’s VR Atlas
No passports required! This 138-page atlas comes to life via augmented and virtual reality, with videos highlighting natural wonders, cultures and points of interest around the globe.
Lab Results: Kids feel immersed in social studies via the engaging projects and experiments. Ages 8+
An At-Home Gym
Tumble Town Foam Blocks
This set re-creates the playspace experience at home, with six stackable, moveable foam blocks for them to climb on and slide down. The pieces are sturdy, but still lightweight enough for kids to rearrange.
Lab Results: Parents reported that these blocks kept kids active and engaged; one even said that her kids all liked playing with it together, despite their range of ages. Ages 9 months+
The Block Set
Not just a block set, this play kit comes with a shape sorter, magnetic rods, pieces that can be threaded on string, wooden peg people and more, expanding the ways kids can use blocks. It all comes in a bright, pleasing color palette, too.
Lab Results: As is true of all Lovevery toys, this set comes with information about how kids can use it at different developmental stages, which parents truly appreciate. Ages 1+
How to Bee Helpful Set
Five animal friends come with this set, which can be stored in a plush heart for easy transport. In addition, it comes with a hardcover book that teaches kids about caring, kindness and self-love.
Lab Results: Kids responded well to both the stuffed animals and the story. “I cannot say enough wonderful things about Slumberkins,” one parent writes. “What a wonderful way to show young children how to love themselves and know they are good, even when they make mistakes.” Ages 1+
Modi Toys Bundle
These versions of Saraswati Devi, Baby Ganesh, Baby Hanuman and Baby Krishna aren’t just huggable — they also play different mantras, sung by child artists based in India. You can add a child’s name for personalization. The dolls also available for purchase individually, but be quick: the new Saraswati Devi sold out almost immediately after launch.
Lab Results: Hindu families who tested Modi toys were ecstatic that their culture was portrayed in a positive, kid-friendly way. Ages 1+
Ultimate City Tower
This tower stands at a whopping three feet tall — the biggest yet for a Paw Patrol lookout. Fans of this year’s Paw Patrol: The Movie will recognize the new design, too. In addition to the tower, this set comes with six figures and a vehicle.
Lab Results: Even non-Paw Patrol fans loved the interactive features on this set: a ramp pops out and launches vehicles, there’s an elevator for the pups and there are lots of lights and sounds. Ages 3+
Alphapals Backpack Set
A full set of smiling stuffed letters lets kids learn the alphabet, spell out words and sort by color. It’s a way to play with language that doesn’t involve worksheets. Sets come in other sizes, including one that stuffs all the letters into a lounge seat, which won a 2021 Good Housekeeping Parenting Award.
Lab Results: Parents appreciated the way all the letters fit into a cute backpack for easy transporting. Ages 3+
Screen-Free Story Time
Toniebox Starter Set
The Toniebox is a soft speaker kids control by placing a toy figurine atop it to activate stories, songs and other content. The ears double as cute volume controls, gentle taps change chapters and tilting it will rewind or fast-forward.
Lab Results: Testers were impressed by the vast library, which includes everything from original stories to licensed Disney content. Ages 3+
Let’s Pretend Pet Doctor Pop-Up
When fully open, this set offers six sides for pretend veterinary play, including a waiting room, an exam room and a front desk. When kids are done, the whole thing folds flat for simple storage.
Lab Results: Parents were enthusiastic about the space-saving design, noting that this was the perfect set for rainy-day fun. Ages 3+
USPS Mail Carrier Ride-On Toy
Little ones will have a blast cruising in this motorized vehicle while pretending to deliver the mail. It comes with a mailbox and three envelopes to deliver.
Lab Results: Parents were impressed that the horn honks, the lights work and
there’s a radio with MP3 player input. Ages 3+
A Vertical Train Set
Trains & Cranes Super Tower
There’s so much action in this Thomas & Friends set: Kids can send the trains down the tracks, load and unload cargo with different cranes or spin the turntable. In addition to representing favorite locations from the show, it comes with a Thomas engine, a Percy engine, a Harold the helicopter and four cargo crates.
Lab Results: Kids played with this for a long time, and, at more than 2 ½ feet tall, it’s big enough to entertain two at the same time. Ages 3+
An Update to Classic
$179.00 (20% off)
Who wouldn’t want to move right in? This new, 43″ tall version of the Barbie Dreamhouse can be customized in different configurations, and has fun features like a BBQ that reverses to a dessert buffet or a TV area that reverses to a pet play corner. But things really start happening when Barbie hits the DJ room, which has lights and plays music.
Lab Results: The dance party room was a hit with kids, and parents appreciated that this fits into a corner of a room better than the previous DreamHouse. Ages 3+
For Ultimate Batman Fans
Batman Bat-Tech Transforming Batcave
Standing at more than 30 inches tall, this set opens up to form a Batcave with 10 areas of play and sounds that are activated as kids move their figures through the locations. When it’s not in use, the whole thing closes up to look like a giant Batman figure.
Lab Results: Kids were bowled over by all the rooms, which include an evidence lab, dojo, batcomputer room, garage, elevator — even a jail for bad guys. Ages 4+
Ultimate Octo Carwash
This track spreads out to a length of more than four feet of car-wash fun. But the real magic begins when a Color Reveal car is dunked in water, which unveils its design. But after drying off by — what else? — going through a loop, if a Color Reveal car gets squirted by cold water from the octopus, the car changes color again!
Lab Results: Kids never tired of seeing the cars change colors; even if they’d done it before, they were always ready to put them through the wash again. Ages 4+
A Super-Stylish Dollhouse
OMG! House of Surprises
$184.00 (20% off)
This house has everything your L.O.L. Surprise! fan could need, including 10 rooms — six of which rooms that whirl around to reveal extra features. Four feet tall and four feet wide, it has room enough for a spiral slide, a working elevator, working lights and lots of furnishings.
Lab Results: This is the ultimate for kids who like unboxing surprises — there are 85 surprises in all here. Ages 4+
Large City Zoo
Playmobil figures can tour this zoo, checking out the giraffes from a raised platform, seeing the penguin enclosure, watching a zookeeper feed animals fish and even stopping for a balloon at the gift shop. There are more than 200 pieces included in the set, including six people, six penguins, two giraffes and a pelican.
Lab Results: Kids needed a parent’s help setting everything up for the first time, but then they returned to it again and again for the animals. Ages 4+
Moji the Lovable Labradoodle
Moji acts just like a real puppy, with one big difference — the pup’s collar can tell kids what it’s feeling and how it wants to play. In addition, it comes with a set of cards that the collar can scan when kids want to do actions like to give him a bath or feed him a treat. It also knows trucks, can respond to voice commands and plays with a rope.
Lab Results: With so many cards and actions, kids spent a long time playing with Moji — one parent reported her daughter played with the pup to the exclusion of all other toys. Ages 4+
LEGO VIDIYO The Boombox
In the age of TikTok, everyone wants to make their own videos, and LEGO obliges with VIDIYO, which brings kids’ buildings to life in its app. The Boombox set becomes a stage that provides different backdrops and scenery for the videos. It comes with four minifigures and 18 BeatBits tiles, which kids can scan and use to add different effects to their creations. Smaller sets are also available.
Lab Results: Parents said that kids stayed engaged for hours making their creations. Ages 6+
An Engineering Challenge
GraviTrax PRO Vertical Starter Set
STEM fans or kids who already love the GraviTrax marble run play sets can build higher, faster creations with this set, which puts an emphasis on taller towers and a quicker pace. It comes with more than 150 pieces, and it’ll get them thinking about gravity, physics and magnetism.
Lab Results: Little builders liked assembling the tracks, taking on the challenges and seeing the marble race down the paths. Ages 8+
Evette Doll, Book and Accessories
Evette Peeters, aka Evie, is part of American Girl’s new World By Us collection, which features characters who are passionate about inspiring positive changes. She’s into all things sustainable, including helping her community work to clean up a polluted river and upcycling her clothes. In her book, borrowing clothes from “Gran E’s” closet uncovers a family secret.
Lab Results: Testers always love American Girl, but they especially connected to Evie’s eco-friendly story. Ages 8+
Chief Technologist & Director of Engineering
Rachel is the chief technologist and director of engineering at the Good Housekeeping Institute, where she oversees testing methodology, implementation and reporting for all labs.
Parenting & Relationships Editor
Marisa LaScala covers all things parenting, from the postpartum period through empty nests, for GoodHousekeeping.com; she previously wrote about motherhood for Parents and Working Mother.