Got a kid to buy for and no clue what to get? Steven Aarons is your guy. As owner of Barstons Child’s Play, which has stores in Chevy Chase, Arlington, McLean and Rockville, Aarons gets as excited as any child about toys.
“We believe in a lot of open-ended play,” Aarons says, and his choices for this year’s gift guide reflect that.
Dragons and pinball
Let’s start with the dragon that breathes steam. Yep, Hearthsong’s Steam Breathing Dragon retails for $40 and breathes hours of imaginative play with all that hot air. Not the animal of choice for the wee folk in your house? How about Thames and Kosmos’ Tumbling Hedgehog, also at $40? This cute-faced critter is a programmable pet that reacts to sounds and handclaps.
For kids who would like a toy that’s even more active, Aarons recommends B4 Adventure’s Cosmic Mini Golf ($120-$160). This is basically a “make-your-own miniature golf course” that comes in a variety of course lengths. Imagination required
Other toys that make Aarons’ list: BRIO’s Wooden Pinball Game ($50) and a Gumball Machine Maker, also from Thames and Kosmos ($40). This is exactly what it sounds like but also somewhat “like a marble run but with gumballs.” We like the sound of that!
Dolls and treehouses
Many parents are familiar with Our Generation Dolls, the reasonably priced cousin of American Girl dolls and a line known for its range of accessories. The popular sleepover set, for example, even has its own full deck of doll-sized cards. New this year, the line is offering a Grill to Go Food Truck ($120). This fun toy is expected to ride the popularity of the line’s ice cream truck and easily chugged its way into our gift guide.
LEGO’s IDEAS series offers a Tree House ($200) with leaves that can be changed out with the seasons. And speaking of being green, Bio Buddi, a Duplo-compatible set of bricks, is made from plant-based materials, which make for a “better long-term” toy, Aarons says. (Set prices start at $20.)
Toy shoppers can expect to see some of the familiar this year as well — “Star Wars,” “Frozen” and that perennial wizard, Harry Potter, remain popular, as do Pokémon, fidgets and games, Aarons says.
This gift guide recommendation comes from aMuse Toys, which has stores in Fells Point and Quarry Lake, and we love it: Yellow Scope Science Kits ($50). These award-winning kits were created by moms and scientists for creative girls interested in STEM.
There are four kits in the line: Foundation Chemistry; Paper Chromatography; Acids, Bases and pH; and their newest, DNA and Traits. This kit comes with lab equipment, a notebook and outlines for many activities that explore DNA. The founders at Yellow Scope are passionate about educating and inspiring girls, and their items will enthrall any curious mind.
Got a puzzle lover to buy for? Check out this gravity-powered puzzle, Blue Orange Tumble Maze ($28). The maze is a logic game that involves creating a maze to get a marble through a series of tracks to a finishing point. “We can’t stop playing it,” says Flora Stelzer, co-owner of Shananigans in Baltimore. “There are so many levels to get through, so we’re always entertained.” With 40 levels that increase in complexity, this maze engages children and parents alike, challenging even the brainiest.
More games and archery
“It’s so hard to find puzzles that have diversity,” Donahue says. “The art for these puzzles is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s super inclusive. I really love it.”
A favorite is the Sweetgrass Head Basket Memory Game ($17), but the line also has Santa puzzles that feature an African-American Santa ($14).
Shashibo Shape Shifting Box ($20) is a seemingly simple toy that offers any child endless ways to play. The Shashibo box is a magnetic puzzle cube that can be used as a creative medium or just a quiet fidget toy. Available in four mesmerizing patterns that can transformed into more than 70 shapes, this little box unleashes a lot of creativity.
Archery is back, you read it in our gift guide first! And the Two Bros Bows Archery Set ($53) is for any kid who likes to be active. The set is a safe alternative to traditional bows and arrows, but it still allows wild creativity to run loose. With foam tips as arrowheads, this archery set has the potential to be a new kid and parent favorite.
Baby’s first holiday has to be special, right? Help any child on your list become fashion-forward with unique threads from Emerson & Friends Baby Apparel ($22 for one onesie). This apparel line has witty slogans and soft fabrics. Another good one for the littlest ones on your list: Indestructibles Baby Books ($6), which are rip-proof, chew-proof, nontoxic and 100 percent washable. They offer original stories based on classic nursery rhymes.
So, happy shopping, parents!
“Gifts are great, but I want to take my child somewhere.” Sure, check out our list of holiday happenings this month.
With reporting from Molly Szymanski