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

We Pick the Best Toys of 2014

    Toys to Grow On

    6. One to Grow On

    R/C Air Toy Thayer Allyson Gowdy

    Tablets may get smaller or bigger, but one thing's certain: There's no shortage of them in the kids' market for the foreseeable future. Kurio slimmed down its line of stellar 7-inch tablets with the 4-inch Touch 4S to attract kids who are in the pre-phone stage. The only Android alternative to Apple's pricey iPod touch, this handheld device comes with the easy-to-use parental controls Kurio is known for, an adjustable Internet filtering system for safer surfing, 30-plus preloaded games and apps, a camera, child-size earbuds, and more. Kurio Touch 4S for 3 years+, $100

    7. A Fun-Raiser

    After finding success on Kickstarter, ATOMS is ready to conquer the world ... or at least your child's toy box. The genius "plug-n-play" electronic bricks work with classics that most kids already have (Legos, stuffed animals, cars) to get them to do awesome things, including making sounds, lighting up, or moving. Kids can collect individual bricks -- each has a function, such as an audio record-playback, motor, Bluetooth-connected iPhone controller -- to build something from their imagination. Or buy a starter kit that includes all the pieces they need to create something extraordinary. 7 years+, $10 and up for bricks, $40 and up for sets

    8. Creative App-eal

    Augmented Reality (AR) is taking over playtime faster than you can say, "There's an app for that." AR-enabled headsets (like Google Glass) will make integrating digital media into the real world even more a part of a kid's daily life. As with everything else, moderation is key. Choose AR apps that include physical toys and activities that can be used with or without a device. (Two we like: Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle and Imaginext DC Super Friends Batcave.) Make your child's art leap off the page (literally) with colAR. Print off the app's coloring templates (bird, dinosaur, and more), and let your kid go crazy with the crayons. Once the masterpiece is done, scan the page with an iPad to see it animated. 3 years+, free for limited pages, $3 for a package set

    9. Robot BFFs

    What's not to love about 'bots? They know lots of things and never get tired of playing (as long as they're fully charged). WowWee is making expressive robots the next big thing. RoboMe, for instance, can take on whatever personality your kid chooses (with a little help from an iPhone or an iPod touch attached as the "head"). The remote control's app encourages budding engineers to easily program facial gestures, voice commands, and sensor reactions, such as dancing. This year the next generation will roll into stores on two wheels similar to the way a Segway does. Known as the MiP, this robot builds on the seamless interaction of the RoboMe by allowing kids to control its movements with simple gestures. RoboMe for 8 years+, $100

    10. Face Off

    Personalized playthings aren't new. But what about toys that know you? Biometrics is one of the next big things in play, so don't be surprised when your child's favorite doll or dinosaur recognizes his face, voice, fingerprints, or even retina. Xbox One not only knows your kid, it knows your whole family. Sit before the new gaming console, and the screen will greet you personally. Its facial recognition remembers up to six people. 8 years+, $500

    Comments

    Add a comment