We start scouting new toys in February, request tons of them in May and June, and over the summer, test a few hundred faves with some 75 kids and their parents. The result—this annual list—is the best of the newest. We don’t play around! (Oh wait, maybe we do...)
Best Toys of 2016: Toddlers & Preschoolers
Coding that’s intuitive! Each part of the Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar dictates an action. Pull it apart and reassemble in any order, then hit the go button to watch the creature follow each step. Use the arrow and star to set up a challenge. 3 to 6 years, $50.
You will get wet playing the Zing Wet Head Water Roulette Game, but only enough to make you laugh! The anticipation—players take turns pulling pins, waiting to see who gets dumped on—makes for a screaming good time. 4 years+, $15.
The Li’l Woodzeez Honeysuckle Airway is the latest set for the sweet land of make-believe. It comes with luggage and snacks; characters are sold separately. 3 years+, $30.
Way too young for Game of Thrones, kids may still want to mother this dragon. Hasbro FurReal Friends Torch, My Blazin’ Dragon coos when petted and breathes flame-colored mist; hold up the marshmallow to watch it “toast.” 4 years+, $80.
The Manhattan Toy MiO Playing Eating Sleeping Working + 2 People set is beautiful in its simplicity. Wooden pieces can be placed any which way, and characters have a beanbag body so they balance upright. 3 years+, $100.
Boys and girls gravitate equally to Just Play Doc McStuffins Toy Hospital Care Cart with its scrolling EKG machine, squeezable blood-pressure pump, drawer to hold tools, and “Welcome to the Hospital” song. 3 years+, $50.
Lowercase and combo-letter tiles make playing My First Bananagrams less intimidating; early readers can use “oo,” “wh,” or “ee,” for instance, to put words together. 4 years+, $15.
Wonder Forge Disney Frozen Where’s Olaf? Game is a playful variation of “hot or cold?” that has one player hiding the snowman and the others seeking after some deductive reasoning. 4 years+, $20.
Guest Editor Kristen Bell tested a Kid O Jumbo Glow-in-the-Dark Magnatab with 3-year-old Lincoln and “loves that it mimics pen and paper” (without the mess!) and “that it glows in the dark” (so it can be used, for instance, in a dim backseat). 3 years+, $35.
For builders caught between Duplo and City sets, Lego Juniors Ninjago Lost Temple and other Juniors sets are age-perfect. Pieces go together quickly, and there’s an emphasis on popular figures (hello, Lloyd). 4 to 7 years, $30.