The jolly guy and his merry crew of toymakers are wising up in the North Pole. You could say "Father Chemist" is running the show. Those elves have been hard at work inventing gifts that get kids' gears turning with a little S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math) magic. This year, Metro Parent's Holiday "It" List hunted for some of the top creations, with a little help from the National Parenting Publications Awards and some of our favorite go-to toymakers. The result? Gifts that mix up fun, creativity and even education to stuff stockings and fire up noggins now – and well into the New Year.
We're split the toys into categories to help you navigate this extensive list. Check out play toys, invent and build toys, hot toys, books and music, and games.
Kids construct monsters with 15 wicked wood blocks, designed by a studio that's done art for Nirvana albums, Target and more. By Uncle Goose of Grand Rapids. Four sets. Ages 3+. $48/set.
S.T.E.M. is great; S.T.E.A.M., even better. Get that "A" (for art!) with these awesome, affordable craft kits, with themes spanning galaxy and garden to circus and jungle. Ages 3+. $3-$20.
How's this for a mobile music device? Tykes bang out eight notes on this croc's back. His jowls click-clack as he rocks and rolls. It's a nice tempo for music discovery. Ages 18 months+. $25.
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Saving the earth gets a trendy twist with these fashion dolls that care about issues like pollution and deforestation. Bonus: They're made of recyclable, non-toxic plastics. Ages 3+. $39.99-$49.99.
How can robots with batteries and wiring be this cuddly? These Canadian-crafted plush pals have light-up hearts that illuminate kids' nighttime investigations (or just keep the monsters at bay). Ages 18 months+. $34.99.
Water brings these toy pet sharks and clownfish to life, thanks to teeny-tiny mechanics (you see them at work through the translucent bodies). 10 colors. Ages 3+. $9.99/single, $14.99/with bowl.
Manhattan Toys' interchangeable wooden autos sport spoilers, monster wheels and custom decals for little Motor City gear heads. Three series. Ages 3+. $13.99-$29.99/cars, $4.99+/accessories.
Invent and Building Toys
These gender-neutral teal-and-purple sets, created by a mom/former science teacher, come complete with cool activity journals. We love MoonScope ($49.99) and Microscope ($39.99). Ages 8+.
This inventive building line (say "yock-so") includes three shapes – Y's, O's and X's – made of sustainable material kids can turn into rovers, robots and more with household stuff. Ages 4+. About $12.99.
"Fluffy fantasy ice cream swirls" – yes, please! This nifty gift for future kitchen chemists features Play-Doh Plus, which is softer, fluffier and less rubbery than the original. Ages 3+. $14.99.
Bend, curl, manipulate, create. With these soft squishy reusable play pieces, kids can whip up jewelry, critters, picture frames and more (loads of ideas online too). Ages 6+. $19.99 for a 38-piece set.
Lab Four words: motorized toilet bowl mixer! Discover 26 "extreme lab" experiments like foaming flush, cabbage crud, yellow snow, popping poo and stink bubbles. Ages 8+. $24.99.
Prime for "mini mad scientists," the chemistry intro set ($29.99) has basic gear for 99 experiments, from giant bubbles to making your own yogurt and cookies. Ages 8+. Line ranges $4.98-$49.99.
Classic eight-pack not cutting it? Hook kids up with the ultimate mix kit: They can create 16 custom markers using three primary ink colors, complete with DIY labels. Ages 8+. $25.99.
Dull doll house, step aside. Aspiring architects build, decorate and rebuild on a dime with this 105-piece set that has moveable walls, reversible furniture and crayon-erasable surfaces. Ages 6+. $55.
Electric paper airplanes and motorized paper boats? Budding mechanics will dig these green contraptions that mesh origami, wind-up propellers and waterproof paper. Ages 8+. $9.99-$16.99.
"Ba-na-na! Ba-na-na-na!" This wee wacky star from hit animated film Despicable Me 2 sings little ditties (like that ode to fruit) and says 25 phrases, some from the movie, and much more. He's 10 yellow inches of hilarity. Ages 4+. $39.99.
Colorful, kooky and cool – there's a doll that suits any girl. Some have stories, like Haley Galaxy, who was "made from an unidentified object" and makes wishes on falling stars. Others, like Peanut Big Top, have bright hair that's fun to style. Ages 4+. $7.99-$34.99.
He's been tickled for years, but now he wants to cuddle. Everyone's favorite furry friend is back and expecting lots of hugs. In return, he'll fling his arms around your kids – and teach them their ABCs, numbers, shapes and colors. Ages 18 months-4 years. $59.99.
For the kid that wants a dog for the holidays and the parents who aren't ready to commit: Meet Zoomer. He's fun without the hassle! This loyal, trainable remote-control pooch plays and performs tricks – he even understands commands in English, Spanish and French. Age 5+. $99.
With voice pen in hand, kids can tap any spot on this foam mat and learn about animals in the wild – from snakes to sharks. The mat "speaks" English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese – and kids can learn vocab and comprehension through basic and advanced games. Ages 18 months-plus. $79.99.
The coolest kids’ WiFi tablet to hit the market last year is back – with “bigger, better and faster” bells and whistles. It sports Android Jelly Bean 4.2, thousands of free apps/videos/books (many free) and, of course, parent controls. Ages 6-11. $149.99.
Books and Music
This year, give the gifts that keep giving – media! Pick from music that will get kids boogying down all year 'round and books sure to become faves.
Rock out to "When Grandma Says No" and other silly songs that speak to kid experiences by this East Lansing band. $12.99. All ages. LMNO Pop.
Don't be surprised if you find your baby moonwalking after his nap. Hee-hee! $16.98/CD, $11.99/MP3. Ages 0+. Rockabye Baby.
This poppy, acoustic kindie music will have even you swaying along. $12. Ages 5-12. Frances England Music.
If your kids are a bit country, this book/music duo is for them, pard'ner. CD features Brad Paisley, Alison Krauss, Ryan Adams and more. $16.95. Ages 1-plus. Workman Publishing.
How will Kyle get home after a lock-in at this wacky library? $16.99/hardcover, $10.99/e-book. Ages 8-12. Random House Books for Young Readers.
This punctuation mark learns to embrace his differences after meeting a new friend. (From the best-selling creators of Duck! Rabbit!). $17.99. Ages 4-8. Scholastic.
For teens (and parents) who appreciate manners – or could use a few tips on the subject. $16.99. Ages 18+. Zest Books.
Full-text books on posters, including Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone and others. $41.99-$236.99 (Harry Potter is $66.99, ages 10-16). Spineless Classics.
Why are you afraid of it? Little Laszlo finds out the dark doesn't mind him so much – or you, either. $16.9
Reboot family night with fresh competition. From preschoolers to party-game addicts tired of cards against humanity, these picks have you covered.
Applauded for its autism-friendliness, this game involves matching colors on tiles to patterns on a board. It's basic yet mind-bending and great for special needs kids. Ages 8+. $19.99.
"The Hilarious Game of Outlandish Films" challenges you to invent funny titles for fake films based on a couple cards and a genre (it's got a fun Facebook following too). Ages 13+. $29.99.
Barrel of Monkeys gets a spelling-lesson redo. Includes 100 hooks, each with a letter stuck on it, that you link to form words. Ages 8+. $21.99.
Billed as a "corny kind of counting game," this tasty matching challenge reinforces math and visual discrimination skills. Ages 6+. $16.99.
Players draw cards with ancient words/wild gestures/cave illustrations that build into wacky chants; repeat from memory without messing up! Ages 7+. 3-6 players. $12.99.
Get those butts up and try yoga poses, group exercises and pick up some nuggets on nutrition and the environment. First player to reach "OM" wins. Ages 6+. $29.95.
HABA's creative game tests tykes' ability to connect wood pegs into shapes shown on cards. This one even got a nod from the National Association for Gifted Children. Ages 3+. $46.