Ahead of the Game

The future is ... now! Check out the toys at the forefront of a new wave of playthings that will entertain, challenge, and thrill your child like never before.

1. Smart Toys

Red toy

Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Companies like LeapFrog and VTech currently offer parents online "report cards" for how their children are doing with educational products, giving a heads-up when kids are ready to move to the next level. And coming this summer, we'll see the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages' lawn mower, puppy trail, and more. A parent enters the baby's current age in months, and the learning content will adjust automatically to his stage. 6 months+, $20 and up

2. Hanging Out

Look, Mom! No remote control! Traditional R/Cs are getting a boost with hover technology. The idea here is kids can make a toy follow their movements -- no extra device needed. Spin Master, in particular, is making the most out of improved hover capabilities for its flying R/Cs. The company plans to continue releasing motion-controlled toys, and the indoor Air Hogs Atmosphere might be the next to steal the show. With its orb shape, this R/C can bang into walls and bump off ceilings without messing up its flight, adding an extra level of play. 8 years+, $25

3. Cool Collaboration

Debuting in March, the Lego Mixels is the multimedia brainchild of both The Lego Group and Cartoon Network. The two titans joined forces to develop this brand-new line that combines constructible and collectible brick characters from three quirky tribes, virtual gaming, and animated shorts on Cartoon Network and CartoonNetwork.com. But the collaboration doesn't stop there: Fans are invited to create their own characters and content! 6 years+, $5 and up

4. DIY Toys

Unless your bank account is keeping up with the Kardashians', you probably don't have the money to splurge on a superexpensive 3-D printer that can make toys out of plastic or even Play-Doh (check out Hyrel3d.com). If you're looking for an affordable, fun way to make toys (think a 3-D printer on training wheels), there are lots of options to get your children in the do-it-yourself spirit. For example, Mattel's Hot Wheels Car Maker Playset contains molds and wax to build vehicles from scratch, while the Hot Wheels Car Design Machine lets kids deck out their rides with customized decal finishes. (For crafty kids who aren't car fans, the Barbie Iron-On Style Doll lets fashionistas create her clothes.) 5 years+, $20 each

5. Reinventing the Wheel

Balance, pedal, three-in-one bikes -- most major changes to the cycle have centered on the frame's design. More and more, though, toy inventors are giving the wheels a second look. The 360-degree spinners have been the biggest trend of late, offering riders a gliding good time. British company Early Rider took the trend a step further by replacing the wheels altogether. The space-age-looking Spherovelo moves on balls instead, with the back one rotating in all directions for simple maneuvering. (Another option: the Ziggle by Radio Flyer, for kids 3 to 8 years.) The Spherovelo's unique design may look cool, but it also serves a purpose: The bubble-shaped body is broad, and rolling balls are low to the ground to give tots better balance. 12 months+, $99

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