Metro Parent's Holiday 'It' List 2011
Need family gift ideas? Check out the hottest toys, creative finds, cool stuff for babies and teens, plush pals – and a chance to win lots of it!
Santa, Baby: Your work is done! Metro Parent has the coolest collection of kids Christmas gifts in southeast Michigan already picked out – from fun, crafty creative toys to plush pals – and chance to win some of the hottest gifts of the season (LeapFrog LeapPad, Let's Rock Elmo, Fijit Friends or Air Swimmers, anyone?). Plus, we've peppered in some sweet scores for picky teens – and unique gifts sure to delight the babies on your list.
So let the elves take a break, sit back and have yourself some milk and cookies, old man!
(Scroll through the buttons below to see our top 27 holiday gifts!)
It's the iPad for 4- to 9-year-olds – and a virtual substitute teacher, to boot! With the LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer Tablet, kids interact with their favorite characters, who turn learning into playtime. It's got a library of 100+ cartridge games and activities that help with reading, writing, math practice, drawing and tons more. And each kid gets a unique educational experience – since LeapFrog automatically adjusts skill levels to accommodate progression, tracking success online for parents to see. Its built-in camera and microphone build creativity, imagination and art skills. Durable, inventive and complete with a touch screen, this is the ultimate learning system – without the expense of an iPad. Ages 4-9. $139.99+
Tickle Me Elmo made you laugh, but now it's time to rock. Let's Rock Elmo dons his very own concert tee and performs with drums, a microphone or tambourine (all included). This interactive music toy recognizes any of the instruments you place in front of him – so you can put a mic in his hand and he sings! You can even pick up one of his instruments to play and form your own band. Elmo rocks out to six different songs, including "It Takes Two" and "Elmo Loves to Rock." Keyboards, microphones and guitars are sold separately. Ages 18 months-4 years. $69.99
The Fijit Friends – Willa, Sage, Logan and Serafina – want to be your daughter's new besties. Sold separately, these interactive robots come in different colors and have their own personalities – trendsetter, sporty, adventurous and sweetie pie. Chat with them (they respond to 30 commands and say more than 150 phrases); they even swap jokes. Turn on some music and they'll bust a move, or watch as they break it down to one of their own four songs. Touch their soft, squishy bodies and they'll giggle. Plus, with integrated Sonic Chirp Technology (audio coding), Fijits hear and respond to apps and webisodes on the Fijit website! Ages 6+. $49.99
Shark-infested – air? Darn right. Just when you thought it was safe to go out of the water, these remote control-operated predators are on the hunt for fresh blood in the bright blue beyond! Held aloft with helium, Air Swimmers have been getting plenty of YouTube play for pure surprise fun appeal – thanks to their smooth, life-like (and super quiet) motions. The line, which also includes a Nemo-esque clownfish, is the brainchild of the William Mark Corporation, known for such zany how'd-he-do-that products as the Maple Seed Copter and Blaze Ball. Beware: Definite assembly required! Ages 36 months+. About $30
Give your kids the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, even a space shuttle – or at least the tools to make mini versions. With Nanoblocks micro-sized building blocks, kids can create masterpieces tiny enough to fit in a pocket! Each set includes up to 500 pieces in a small portable bag, plus a how-to guide to make construction easy. Art projects instantly become more detailed, stimulating and entertaining. (Did we mention they're just as addicting for adults?) Ages 8+. $8.99-$24.99
Family's drawing skills not quite Pictionary-caliber? This is the game for you! Morphology uses small, simple shapes to create words in a three-dimensional format for your teammates to guess. How would you make a pizza out of wooden sticks, colored cubes or glass beads? Or bowling lane? How about the term "think"? Morphology means "the structure and shape of something," so it's fitting you gotta use creativity to make words with the provided odds and ends. Ages 3+. $29.99
All that project paper translates to a lotta lost forests. What's an Earth-conscious DIY kid to do? Shake off the guilt with Alex Toys' Eco Crafts kit. It's stocked with 428 stickers and shapes, six recycled colored pencils, 42 wooden buttons, spools and beads, 42 craft sticks, four wooden spoons, tissue paper, ribbon and loads more. Kids can create 20 different projects including owls, giraffes, trees – and all the things they're preserving with their new "green" kit. Ages 6+. $21.95
To fire up imaginative play, Manhattan Toy's Puppet Theatre nudges little noggins into a magical world of storytelling and performing. This fanciful purple-and-gold wizard-hat stage, made of lightweight nylon, comfortably fits two kids. It's ideal for Manhattan puppets like Peter Pteranodon (or make a few of your own; old socks work great!). The theater doubles as a playhouse tent for your child to hang out in when the final curtain goes down. Ages 3+. Theater, $65; dino puppet, $30
"It's more fun to play the Colorforms way." That was the claim of the classic sets that came out in 1951 – way pre-web, Wii and Facebook. That bold statement stands up as Colorforms celebrates its 60th anniversary. The original set, specially reissued, includes 350 bright, geometric-shaped stick-ons in a spiral notebook. Its reversible play board gives kids a blank canvas. Recently joining the Toy Hall of Fame, Colorforms is like the basic black dress of creativity kids toys. Ages 4+. $49.99
Your tykes can transform mirrors, light and tiny bits and pieces into a feast for the eyes with Creativity for Kids' Make Your Own Kaleidoscope Kit. Use the provided craft elements to create unique optical illusions – or, for true innovators, add household items like Cheerios, buttons or coins. The set comes with markers and vellum paper designs, too. Bonus: Kids learn about mirrors, light and angles as they ooh and aah over their beautiful patterns. And the kaleidoscope's changeable bottom chamber lets 'em design new sights over and over. Ages 5+. $12.99
If your kids are already suffering from Cedar Point withdrawal, here's a winter alterative: Have them build their own 'coaster! It's not as crazy as it sounds thanks to the K'NEX Doubleshot Roller Coaster. With 1,000+ pieces and 32 feet of track, your kids' creations will rival any amusement park – at least from a pint-sized perspective. The set includes two coaster cars, a motorized chain lift and color-coded instruction booklet. Best of all, there's no height restriction for this ride. Ages 9+. $60.99
Forget FTD. These bouquets are a breeze to "order," never wilt – and, best of all, only cost a few bucks a bunch. eeBoo's Crepe Paper Flowers kits yield a batch of cute carnations with just a few pinches, twists and poofs. Each comes with colorful die-cut-edged sheets for three fluffy flowers, plus pipe-cleaner stems. Create a big pocket-full of paper posies in 10 total eye-catching combos, from pink-and-orange Edith to blue-on-blue Agatha. Ages 8+. $5
Say "hi" to the world's first construction toy set that lets kids build models with energy. Attached to a small power unit, Laser Pegs light up when correctly connected. Each piece feeds the next a low-voltage current that fuels LED lights within each block for bright, long-lasting fun (up to 100,000 hours – that's 11 years of non-stop illumination!). Make bugs, car models, a 3-D light board – or whatever your kids' hands desire – and never be left in the dark again. Ages 7+. $24.95-$99.95
Three-dimensional art never looked so funky – or fidget-friendly. With Mudpuppy's Pop Patterns Constructibles, kids can build a bevy of open-ended, MoMA-worthy structures. The 25 sturdy pieces boast bold designs, from zany chevrons and crosshatches to rainbow stripes and dots, in five basic shapes. A fab fit for a toddler's playroom (durable, fosters hand-eye/fine-motor factors) or teen's desk (highly dabble-able, solid quirk quotient). Ages 4+. $14
Shrink classic party faves to the perfect size for competitive, space-saving fun – and you've got Table Top Games by CHH Games. From air hockey and foosball to a mini pool table and a 3-in-1-shuffle board, teens can entertain friends and pick up a new screen-free pastime. Each fits and sits atop almost any space – and costs less than your cable bill. Ages 5+. $31.95
There's nothing more annoying than trying to untangle your headphones when you just wanna groove. Enter Zipbuds! With a sleek design, its two separate cords (the ones that connect to the earbuds) join into one handy wire with a colorful zipper – so you get awesome sound quality without the mess. They've got plenty of cord, too, for free movement and cushiony ear tips for long-time listeners. $39.99
Get your green teen some stylish gear – made out of recycled candy wrappers. The Ecoist line hand-transforms trash into treasures like coin purses, jewelry and handbags. Collections include M&M'S, Twizzlers, Dots and a confetti of brands featuring food packages and soda labels, to boot. Waste gets "upcycled" to create sassy accessories that promote fair trade! (Sugar buzz not included.) $19.50-$49
For bookworms who dig classics like The Great Gatsby and Moby Dick, Out of Print Clothing lets them wear their love like a music buff: band-shirt style! Founded by former Michigan guy Jeff LeBlanc and a pal, OOPC sells merch of all types, from Ts and fleece hoodies to tote bags, phone cases and notebooks. For each item sold, a book is donated to a community in need via a partnership with Books For Africa. $16-$42.
True or false? It is not the afternoon. I have teeth in my mouth. You are wearing a ring on your left hand. Be the first to slap the target with the right answer and you win a round of Trigger. This tiny tin game comes with 60 playing cards and a target. Each player (three to eight) has to quickly plunk down one of their five cards to answer a question from the moderator. Sounds easy, but answers may depend on time of day or locale. Critical thinking and speed help you win. Ages 8+. $11.99
Don't let his wooden exterior fool you: Build-A-Robot has feelings. And tots can learn about his different emotions by swapping his four interchangeable heads to vary expressions. His moveable arms and legs also support fine motor-skill development. Is Robot happy or angry? Whatever the case, Build-A-Robot is always eco-friendly and adorable. Ages 3+. $34.95
The Lil' Shoppers Play Set is perfect for small fries who like to mimic mom and dad. Tots can pack and unpack the tote full of adorable felt groceries – just like parents. Each food features different textures and design elements to keep baby intrigued. A smiley banana with crinkly peels, for example, and rattling milk carton with a peek-a-boo mirror are part of this six-piece play set. 6 months+. $24
You know the scenario: Kid in back seat decides to take his washable (ha!) marker and decorate your upholstery instead of his drawing pad. What's a mom to do? Tell your tyke to H2-Whoa! This nifty tablet lets kids scribble with pens filled with – here's the cool part – water. So wayward artistic instincts are no biggie. 18 months-5 years. $22.99.
Monsters, meet your match. Quirky and way cuter than the '80s Gloworm, A Light in the Night is the ultimate fright-banishing pal. Press his tummy and he lights up, keeping scary stuff at bay. Each one comes with a book written by mom and first-time author Sandy Harsanyi Murphy, which promises: "You'll know where I am for the big night ahead. I'm ready, waiting to light up your bed." Ages 2+. $29.95
This wide-eyed critter may not be stuffed, but he's no less cuddly a companion for naptime! O is for Owl joins a lion and frog in the Smarty Kids Comfort Cuddly Blanky line. His flat magenta body is easy for babies to clutch and snuggle. With lots of different fabrics to feel and patterns to look at, this creature offers visual stimulation and tactile discovery, too. Ages 2+. $13
Growing up ain't easy. Luckily, there are Worry Woos! Each of these monsters represents a fear or emotion. Like the collection's newest member, Wince, The Monster of Worry – or Rue, The Monster of Insecurity, who thinks his nose is too big. Kids relate to the monsters' emotions – and love their silly looks and signature belly buttons. These handmade pals also have colorful books (sold separately) that introduce them to your little one. Ages 2+. Plush, $21.50; with book, $36
Peek-a-boo may date to the 1600s, but when it comes to babies, this game is anything but ancient. "Hello, baby: Peek-a-boo is the most fun with you!" That's just one of the five phrases the GUND Peek-a-Boo Bear says as it plays this timeless game with your infant. Just press its foot and this adorable, electronic plush toy comes to life – lifting and lowering the blanket while engaging with tykes. Ages 3+. $40
Babies are crazy. Seriously: One minute they're cooing and cuddling, next they're barfing and bawling! So why not celebrate your wacky wonder with this apropos pull-toy? Kid O's "Nutty Squirrel" wags his bushy tail and squeaks sweetly, all while chasing down his next meal (like any infants you know?). 18 months-plus. About $20