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Best 25 Toys of 25 Years

“Fantastic toys don’t just captivate. They help shape lifelong interests, lead to careers, focus passions. Have you ever wondered what early mechanical experiences led to Wilbur and Orville Wright’s accomplishments? What hours of play and observation honed Thomas Edison?

It’s the magic that’s the key. All toys worth their salt have it. They strike flint in the child’s mind; they ignite imagination, stimulate creativity, elicit striving, and provoke the desire to make order. They whet and saturate appetites. They push, pull, and comfort. They help a child build a sense of self, a sense of ability to accomplish.

Good toys are not instant gratification. They have staying power; they engage. They help build attention spans, not fragment them. Good toys do not glamorize or reflect the destructive aspects of society. A good toy does not offer answers; it stimulates questions and presents problems for solving- all in good humor.”

Written over two decades ago by Parents’ Choice Founder, Diana Huss Green, these words remain our guide. For twenty-five years, we have put toys (and books and music and …) to the test. We are, as some have termed us, watchdogs with a sense of humor. We will continue to hold steadfast to our ideals and our choices. The following selections represent toys awarded throughout the past 25 years. Some we would have included on the list are no longer being manufactured – either at all, or in the form and quality of their original production. Deliberation and final selections could not have been possible without the help and knowledge of Julie Creighton and our intrepid Ruth B. Roufberg.


Gymini 3-D Activity Gymini 3-D Activity
Ages: Infant - 10 months
Tiny Love, $39.95

Skwish Classic
Ages: 3 months & Up
Manhattan Toy, $14.99

Little ones are fascinated with the brightly colored nontoxic beads that slide easily back and forth as the child moves them. In addition, shiny bells provide a pleasant sound in response to baby's touch. Suitably named, this toy "skwishes flat and bounces back."

Ages: 0 - 3 yrs.
Educo International, Inc., $14.99

A springy, three-dimensional wire and bead maze sends one to ten multicolored wooden beads careening around the continuous length of blue wire, which has been bent in such a complex shape that it seems soft, not rigid.

Hugg-a-Planet: Earth Hugg-a-Planet: Earth
Ages: 9 months & Up
Hugg-a-Planet, $18.95

Hugg-a-Planet is a colorful stuffed globe covered in a soft but sturdy fabric that is patterned with a map of the earth. Children can play with it like a ball, study it like a map, and hug it like a friend. Its message - love our earth - was an early one in the spate of ecological toys.

Jumbo Music Block Jumbo Music Block
Ages: 1 - 4 yrs.
Neurosmith, $59.99

Welcome, Toddler, to a world of exploration, discovery and learning. Each side of the 14-inch velour cube presents a different combination of color, shape, music and related activities. For example, when the circle faces up, the music is "Ring Around the Rosy," and a round button opens the round flap, under which is a round pocket containing a ball on a string. Every baby instinctively tugs at the ball, and when (s)he lets go, the string slowly retreats with a clicking sound, pulling the ball back down again. Each time the baby turns the cube to a different side (exercising big arm, leg, and back muscles), there's a new shape with related song, flap closure, and toy or activity inside (for developing the small hand and finger muscles).

Cozy Coupe
Ages: 1 - 5 yrs.
The Little Tikes Company, $40.00

The Original Rollercoaster The Original Rollercoaster
Ages: 2 - 5 yrs.
Anatex Enterprises, Inc., $49.95

With its multicolored swoops and dips, this toy inspires the same finger-fiddling that an abacus invites. Each length of colored metal is bent into a different pattern and each is threaded with variously shaped bright beads. Children slide the beads along each wire, following its twists and turns, dips and rises, from end to end. The toy provides absorbing fun at the same time it challenges a child perceptually, physically, and mentally.

Imagibricks Giant Building Blocks 40-Piece Set
Ages: 2 - 6 yrs.
Imagiplay, Inc., $32.99

Constructive play begins with the kind of large corrugated cardboard blocks beloved by generations of children. They are light enough even for toddlers to carry and stack, big enough to show quick results, and strong enough to stand or sit on. Their proportional sizes, based on a 6"x6" square that is 3" high, also include half-squares and double squares; you can easily see how preschoolers will learn the concepts of addition, equality, and fractions even before they can understand numbers.

Groovy Girls- J Series 13 Groovy Girls- J Series 13"
Ages: 2 & Up
Manhattan Toy, $10.00

A bouquet of fun comes with one or all of these groovy girls. Jayna, Jordan, Janisse, Josi, Jada and Jacinda are washable lovable 13" dolls with belly buttons and ears that stick out. The clothes fashion the namesake with textures, colors, patterns and shoes that can't get lost. Great value both for the dollar and the play.

Big Dump Truck; Big Loader Big Dump Truck; Big Loader
Ages: 3 & Up
The Little Tikes Company, $6.99

These two sturdy yellow and black plastic vehicles may take care of a child's sandbox landscaping needs for years to come. About knee-high to a preschooler, the equipment is virtually indestructible, even by the elements. Both feature cabs that turn easily and move on large air-filled treaded tires. The lifting and hauling mechanics are just sophisticated enough to set scientifically inclined minds to wondering.

Ages: 3 & Up
Woodstock Percussion, Inc., $49.95

Eight precision-tuned aluminum pipes are arranged in a foam-rubber holder. Children strike them with two rubber-tipped mallets, either picking out familiar melodies or just improvising. The accompanying songbook encourages players to match the different tubes with colors, numbers, and eventually musical notes. Happily, this instrument combines rich sound, a simple concept, and self-paced learning.

Doorway Puppet Theater
Ages: 3 & Up
HearthSong, $49.95

Every doorway becomes a stage for the imagination with this magnificent fabric puppet theater that hangs from its own adjustable rod and fits securely into any doorway. Commendable details include a clear plastic pocket in front to hold a poster announcing the show, storage pockets in back for easy access to puppets and props, and a fold-out ledge to serve as stage.

Storybook Village Storybook Village
Ages: 3 & Up
T.C. Timber, $34.90

You've heard of coffee-table books? This is a coffee-table toy, so beautiful that you won't mind if your children leave it there. The houses are chunky wood blocks with cutouts that can be oriented to represent doors, windows, or balconies. Line them up or stack them, and top them off with curved, peaked, angled, or gabled roofs. Add the trees, people, benches, fences, dogs, horses and cart, and you have 105 satiny-smooth red, green, blue, and natural color wood pieces with which to construct a fantasy world.

Groovie Blocks
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Uncle Goose Toys, $33.95

These strikingly innovative wood blocks make it possible to combine construction play, mathematical discoveries, and pattern-making. Each block has interlocking grooves on two sides for topple-proof building. For starters, make two towers, or lines, each using blocks with a different color of embossed numerals (0 - 9). Opposite each number you'll see a corresponding embossed shape (one diamond, two circles, etc.). On the blocks of one tower these shapes are the same size, arranged symmetrically; on the other tower they are random in size and arrangement for greater challenge in counting. Each block also displays painted geometric shapes, math symbols, other images and paradigms.

Groovie Blocks

Boomwhackers Tuned Percussion Tubes- C Major Scale
Ages: 4 - 12 yrs.
Whacky Music, Inc., $24.98

Each person holds one or two of these eight perfectly-tuned percussion tubes and whacks them against his or her arm, thigh, or any hard surface to produce the sound. The gradations in length of the tubes help players arrange themselves in sequential notes and to understand the relationship between length and pitch; similarly, the color gradations provide an additional way to visualize the sequence of notes and an understanding of the spectrum. Art and music converge, and groups that cooperate well can make beautiful music together. Tubes are 12" to 24" long.

Can You Dig it Sand Tools
Ages: 4 - 12 yrs.
Days At the Beach, $12.99

A talented sand sculptor once said, "There are as many different castles in a pile of sand as there are grains of sand in that same pile." And these are the tools to help you discover them. Conveniently packaged in a mesh-bag, the set contains six easy-to-use tools made of durable ABS plastic, suitable for both right-handed and left-handed sculptors. All surfaces of the tool heads can be used in various combinations to create myriad effects. Basic instructions remind sculptors to: Wet the Sand. Pack the Sand. Take it from the top and work inside out. Be Patient. Rome wasn't built in a day.

Blocks & Marbles Standard Set
Ages: 5 & Up
Tedco, Inc., $39.99

Quarto Classic Board Game Quarto Classic Board Game
Ages: 5 & Up
Gigamic, $29.99

Quarto's wooden pieces are about the size of little wooden saltcellars, and the board is another solid, handsome piece of wood. This is a game of similarity. The factors are tall/short, rounded/square, solid/hollow, light/dark, with each piece containing some combination of those features. Players try to create a line in which the pieces express "family resemblance" in terms of one of those variables. But change-o!, at each turn the player gets to choose the next piece for his opponent to play - with diabolical helpfulness. Its initial simplicity makes it appealing for younger kids to tackle, but the complexities are enticing for older kids.

Neocolor II Painting Crayons
Ages: 6 & Up
Caran d'ache of Switzerland Ind., $14.45

Caran d'ache is a Swiss company that manufactures a beautiful but expensive line of quality art supplies. Their Neocolor II painting crayons are water-soluble and can be applied to any material. They come in 10-to 30-crayon sets, or individually, and feel just great in your hand. Because they're water-soluble, you can paint your face and not show up at school the next day with blue eyebrows.

SET Game
Ages: 6 & Up
SET Enterprises, Inc., $12.00

In this game of logic, perception, concentration and speed, players must form three-card sets from an array of cards showing figures that differ in shape, quantity, color, and shading. To try it out, play a sample game at

Pictionary Junior Pictionary Junior
Ages: 7 - 11 yrs.
Hasbro Games/Milton Bradley, $16.99

Clues to 480 possible words are given in pictures, and response time is limited, in this "charades on paper" game, which includes two wipe-off drawing boards, nontoxic crayons, and 120 cards.

Ages: 8 & Up
Educational Insights, $99.95

A shiver of electronic lights selects a question on your chosen subject. You type in an answer and get a musical pat on the back if you're right. (You get a groaning computer if you're wrong.) Try again. The card for your subject (countries, capitals, the solar system, physical and political maps, bird and animals, world landmarks) remains on GeoSafari's slender console. Fascinating as it all is, the learning still comes through trial, error, thinking, thinking, and repetition. Response time will shorten as you go through the questions again. More and more quickly. But unknowns remain and noodge you to try and find the answers. A sleek, motivating teaching machine, GS electronically delivers lessons about our world and beyond. Reluctant and ravenous scholars - privileged and underprivileged - will stand in line for a chance at it.

Rubik's Cube
Ages: 8 & Up
Hasbro, Inc., Winning Moves Games, $9.99

Rush Hour Rush Hour
Ages: 8 & Up
ThinkFun Inc., $15.99

Players must time their moves in the right sequence to extricate the red car from a traffic jam. Please see Rush Hour Jr. for a description of the game for younger players.

The A-Maze-Ing Labyrinth
Ages: 8 & Up
Ravensburger, $25.00

Players must wend their way through the labyrinth to retrieve treasures assigned at the start of the game. But before each turn, a player shifts part of the maze, opening up some passageways and closing off others. A unique game, it's absolutely intriguing.

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