Play helps kids learn about problem solving, decision-making, and building and managing relationships with others. But kids generally don't care about that. Kids care about having fun, and when word of this year's must-have toys breaks, it's big news.
Maybe you were in the generation who had to have a Cabbage Patch doll or the latest G.I. Joe, or maybe you were part of the Beanie Babies phenomenon. Remember the excitement about that "it" toy from your own childhood? Well, you're not alone. American shoppers are poised to spend an estimated $586.1 billion during the holiday sales season (November and December) in 2012, which will be about 4 percent more than in 2011 -- and about $2.55 billion of that will be in toy sales [sources: National Retail Federation, Gifts and Decorative Accessories].
We've compiled a list of this year's must-have toys, which should help narrow down what you spend your chunk of that $2.55 billion on. This year's most-wanted list includes everything from rag dolls to Android-based tablets that rival your own iPad or Kindle. First things first, let's talk about WowWee's augmented-reality toys.
The idea behind WowWee's AppGear is pretty cool. Unlike any of the other toys on this year's hot list, this one is based on augmented reality (AR).
Instead of downloading digital apps for your kids to play on your smartphone or tablet, AR technology pulls the app experience into your real, physical world. It works something like this: First you download one of the AppGear apps to your smartphone (or any iOS or Android-based smartphone or tablet), and depending on the game there may be physical toys involved as well. For example, to play the app Elite CommanderAR, players mount an interactive plastic toy pistol to their tablet or smart phone and then shoot enemies conjured by augmented-reality targets. (Think of it something like the hologram of Princess Leia asking for Obi-Wan's help in "Star Wars IV: A New Hope.") To interact with the app ZombieBurbz, you move small plastic zombie figures across your smartphone or tablet's screen.
At the end of 2012, the collection of available AppGear apps includes: Alien Jailbreak, Akodomon, Elite CommanderAR, Foam Fighters, Mysterious Raygun, and ZombieBurbz -- recommended for children ages 9 and older [source: WowWee].
Lalaloopsy dolls are made by the same company that brought us Bratz and Little Tikes, and since they were first introduced in 2010, the dolls have been a hit.
They're based on the idea of rag dolls, but what makes Lalaloopsy dolls so popular is their magic: Each takes on the characteristics of the clothing she or he wears (with a little bit of imagination, that is). Tippy Tumblenia, for example, is made from a ballerina's tutu and comes with a pet swan. Ace Fender Bender is made from mechanic's clothes and comes with a pet monkey.
And of course, a doll collection wouldn't be complete without play sets and accessories -- Lalaloopsy doll-lovers may have trouble choosing between a remote-controlled scooter and the Sew Magical House.
He's stuffed and he's energetic, which might remind you of another hot toy from the 1990s: Tickle Me Elmo. But wait until you turn Tigger on.
Give his foot a squeeze and Disney Bounce Bounce Tigger bounces (after all, it's what Tiggers do best), waves, dances and "wiggety, wiggety wiggles" in rhythm with his new song "Bounce Bounce," a hip-hop remix of his signature Tigger song [source: Disney]. Tigger also has a giggle mode and knows 16 phrases.
Disney Bounce Bounce Tigger is made for little kids, and is a plush, stuffed toy sitting upon a springy, coiled tail. And a note to all you parents out there: Bounce Bounce Tigger has an adjustable volume control.
If you don't know what Monster High is, you must not be around kids much. Monster High is the imaginary high school attended by the kids of famous monsters, including Dracula's daughter Draculaura; Frankie Stein, the daughter of, you guessed it, Frankenstein; and the like. The idea behind the hot product line is to, "be yourself, be unique, be a monster" [source: Mattel].
While the top sellers are the Monster High dolls such as sisters Nefera de Nile and Operetta, don't overlook the accessories which include a black-and-pink roadster, a create-a-monster design lab and the high school itself.
Since the Lego Friends construction sets hit the shelves, Lego has tripled its sales to girls, rising from just 9 percent of sales at the end of 2011 to 27 percent of sales today [source:Kim]. So it should be no surprise that these latest building sets are still a hot item.
A tree house, an adventure camper and a beauty shop are among the options in the new Lego Friends line, which (while targeted to girls ages 6 and up) is compatible with all the other Lego bricks that may be lying around your house. Combine one with the Star Wars Hoth Echo Base building set and open a bakery or a veterinary clinic in a galaxy far, far away.
Role-playing helps us figure out who and what we want to be -- today, tomorrow, when we're big kids and when we're adults. Dottie "Doc" McStuffins is a Disney cartoon character, a 6-year-old girl who wants to be a physician when she grows up, just like her mom. She's an interactive doll who can sing (her theme song is called "Time for Your Checkup") and talk. And just like a real doctor, Doc McStuffins wears a white coat and a stethoscope (which happens to be pink), and she's packaged with a stuffed lamb who needs care.
Imaginative doll play also helps kids deal with emotions in a positive way -- for example, if your preschooler is scared or anxious about doctors and doctor visits, the Doc McStuffins "Time for Your Checkup" doll can help work some of that out by providing a level of comfort and familiarity with the medical world.
Mega Brands Inc.'s construction sets were a must-have in 2011, and 2012 is no different.
Mega Bloks are construction sets, toys designed to get older kids' (ages 6 and up) imaginations running through creative problem-solving and role-playing. The Skylanders product line, based on the Activision video game "Skylanders," is popular for the 2012 holiday season.
All Mega Bloks sets come with the pieces needed to snap together different storylines and engage in battles -- as well as fully articulated characters, vehicles and other accessories.
When fully constructed, Dark Castle Conquest, for example, has a working catapult. Look for other popular adventures such as Crusher's Pirate Quest and Arkeyan Copter Attack.
First announced at the 2011 Electronics Entertainment Expo, Nintendo's next-generation console, the Wii U, is predicted to be one of the hottest sellers of 2012.
The Wii U has a few new features you may like if you're looking to upgrade from the Wii, including high-def graphics, a tablet-like controller (with a touchscreen and motion controls), and an online gaming platform that hopes to compete with Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. Look for popular Nintendo game franchises to play on the Wii U including Mario, Madden NFL and Wii Fit.
In addition to being a gaming console, the Wii U will also be able to play video content through TVii and interact with favorite social media sites.
Yes, those small, fuzzy Furbish-speaking toys that were once considered a threat to national security are back for 2012, but these aren't the same Furbys you remember from the late 1990s.
One of the first things you'll notice about this line of Furbys is their LCD eyes, all the better to show you their animated emotions. As with the previous version, every Furby has its own unique personality, influenced by how you play with it. Sensors placed throughout the plastic body recognize a few basic interactions, positive and negative, including feeding, hugging, petting and tickling as well as shaking, tail pulling and holding the Furby upside-down.
This generation of Furbys has also been made with this generation of kids in mind: You can download the Furby iPhone app to translate Furby's language into English.
Oh, and parents, beware: There is no off switch.
LeapFrog is known for its kid-friendly approach to educational and interactive toys, and this year's LeapPad2 learning tablet doesn't disappoint. In addition to app-filled fun (there's a library of more than 325 apps, games, e-books, music and foreign language lessons that can be downloaded), the LeapPad2 also borrows some features from grown-up tablets, including front-and-back cameras.
There are two other LeapFrog tablets to consider this year. The LeapsterGS is LeapFrog's newest gaming system (educational gaming of course), and don't forget the Leapster Explorer, which was on the 2011 list of must-have toys.
All are compatible with earlier generations of LeapFrog cartridges and apps.
If you're looking for a tablet more like your own Android, iOS or Windows-based version, those are available as well for the pint-sized posse. Look for the Tabeo (from Toys "R" Us), the Kurio 7 (from Techno Source) or the MEEP! (from Oregon Scientific), and finally take back your iPad.
Barbie, the ultimate classic doll, turns 60 this year. HowStuffWorks goes to the party.
Author's Note: 10 Must-have Toys for 2012
I have to admit that while I was reviewing all these awesome toys there was one that I found myself coming back to one again and again. Which one, you ask? Nope, not the Furby. The MEEP! from Oregon Scientific. If I were 6 years old, I'd want one. (I'd take one as an adult, too.) First, it's ruggedized. Anyone who has ever met me -- or stood anywhere near me -- knows that I am a klutz and every product I purchase should come standard with some sort of padding for its own (and, honestly, my own) safety. But take the suite of parental controls out of the picture and what you have is pretty similar to all the adult-marketed Android devices on the market. This tablet is packed with the standard tablet goodies (7-inch [17.8-centimeter] touchscreen, camera, WiFi, SD card support, etc.), games, apps, e-books, a chat program, and educational activities -- and you can buy accessories such as a steering wheel, joystick and drum pad.
More Great Links
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- Barnes, Brooks. "Disney Finds a Cure for the Common Stereotype With 'Doc McStuffins'." The New York Times. 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/31/arts/television/disneys-doc-mcstuffins-connects-with-black-viewers.html
- Benedetti, Winda. "Nintendo's Wii U will arrive Nov. 18 and cost you $300, $500." NBC News. 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/ingame/nintendos-wii-u-will-arrive-nov-18-cost-you-300-996023
- Berk, Christina Cheddar. "Hot Holiday Toys for 2012." CNBC. 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.cnbc.com/id/49150720/Hot_Holiday_Toys_for_2012
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- Kim, Susanna. "Lego Friends Triples Sales Despite Feminist Critique." ABC News. 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2012/09/lego-friends-triples-sales-to-girls-despite-feminist-critique/
- Lalaloopsy. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.lalaloopsy.com/
- LeapFrog. 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.leapfrog.com/
- Lee, John W. "Doll Plays and Life Lessons." Disney Family. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://family.go.com/parenting/pkg-preschool/article-799765-doll-plays-and-life-lessons-t/
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- Mega Bloks. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.megabloks.com/shop/construction-toys/skylanders/
- MGA Entertainment. "Lalaloopsy Hailed as Hottest Holiday Toy for Second Straight Year." 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/lalaloopsy-hailed-as-hottest-holiday-toy-for-second-straight-year-139251018.html
- National Retail Federation. "Holiday FAQ." (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.nrf.com/modules.php?name=Pages&sp_id=1140
- Niccolai, James. "WowWee puts real toys in digital games, creates 'appcessories'," Macworld. 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.macworld.com/article/1164836/wowwee_puts_real_toys_in_digital_games_creates_appcessories.html
- Nintendo Wii U. 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.nintendo.com/wiiu
- Time to Play. "Bounce Bounce Tigger." (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.timetoplaymag.com/toys/4551/just-play/bounce-bounce-tigger/
- Wong, Raymond. "Nintendo's Wii U voice chat mess: Console does not support wireless headsets." Yahoo! News. 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://news.yahoo.com/nintendo-wii-u-voice-chat-mess-console-might-144440811.html
- WowWee. "Products" AppGear." 2012. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://store.wowwee.com/appgear/