How do you know if a toy is good or not? You play with it!
That's why we went to the experts when putting together this list of holiday toys and games. We gathered nearly 80 items, from board games and race cars to crafts and collectibles, and then asked 10 classes of schoolkids to put them to the test. The second- through sixth-graders considered everything: Is it easy to set up? Will it still hold interest in six months? Is it worth spending an allowance on? Most important, is it fun?
In the end, more than a dozen left the kids goggle-eyed with delight. Here are the toys that made the holiday wish list. They're available through many retailers and online sellers such as Amazon, or check the listed website for a store locator or to order.
just for fun
OgoSport (www.ogosport.com), $15-$25, for ages 6+.
Tested by: Third-graders. Testers called this new building toy "epic" because of the incredible variety of colorful creatures and vehicles you can make. The high-quality parts snapped together easily and inspired the kids' imaginations. One tester said he would play with it "every single day."
OUTER SPACE ADVENTURE / DINOSAUR DOME
DuneCraft (www.dunecraft.com), $25 each, 3+.
Tested by: Third-graders. These clever dome planters, about the size of a bowling ball, won raves from kids who loved "planting with friends" and "could not wait to see it grow." These terrariums have seeds that will grow into four or five small exotic plants to create a futuristic or prehistoric-looking landscape. The kids also loved decorating the domes with stickers, gravel and creatures.
TONKA XT RICOCHET TRICKSTER
Hasbro (www.hasbro.com), $25, 6+.
Tested by: Third-graders. The testers flipped for the flips that the car does. When the fast-moving remote-control vehicle with big wheels turns upside down, it just keeps on going. "It chased me!" one tester said.
Wow! Stuff (www.wowstuff.co.uk), $40, 3+.
Tested by: Sixth-graders. The adorable little guy responds to sound and motion, and kids just melted when they saw it react to them and dance to music. Testers liked that it was squishy and cute. "Interacting was fun!" one tester said.
DODGETAG SHIELD SET
Diggin Active (www.diggin active.com), $30, 6+.
Tested by: Second-graders. The goal of this game is to throw the soft balls at your opponent and have them stick to the included vests -- and to catch your opponent's ball with your shield when he throws one at you. Kids wished there were more balls but liked that you could play it inside, "because the balls won't break anything."
HAPPY FEET TWO: FREEZING FRENZY
Pressman Toy (www.pressmantoy.com), $20, 5+.
Tested by: Second-graders. When the bouncing penguin sends colorful ice cubes popping out of the tray, you have to grab all the cubes of your color before anyone else can throw them back in. Kid testers liked that four kids could play, called it "noisy in a good way" and said they would play with it "over and over again."
Blue Orange (www.blueorangegames.com), $20, 5+.
Tested by: Fourth-graders. Players flick little wooden discs though a small hole, and the first one to get all of the discs to the other side wins. The simple game won raves from every tester. "This is the most funnest, awesome, fast, enjoyable game I could ever play," one girl wrote.
Goliath Games (www.goliathgames.us), $25, 8+.
Tested by: Third-graders. Just putting on the kooky-looking, vision-altering glasses makes the game funny, testers said. Trying to do the drawing challenges while wearing them makes it just plain wacky. One tester said the only thing she didn't like was that everyone wanted to play with it.
INI (www.ivenevergame.com), $25, 8+.
Tested by: Fifth-graders. This "cool and fun" game was one of the best word games the kids tested. Players get 20 tiles and have five minutes to fill a tiered stand with a two-, three-, four-, five- and six-letter word. It can take several rounds to get a winner, but kids said it was easy to play and "made you think."
Fundex Games (www.fundexgames.com), $30, 8+.
Tested by: Sixth-graders. Putting together the colorful plastic maze was tricky. But once kids started playing and tried to answer questions before the marbles made it to the maze bottom, the game turned out to be fast and fun. Testers would buy it with their own money because "it is totally worth it," one wrote.
Other games that tested well: Cranium Brain Breaks (Hasbro), WordSearch (Goliath Games), Monopoly Electronic Banking (Hasbro) and Scrabble Alphabet Soup (Hasbro).
just for boys
Cepia (www.cepiallc.com), $5-$20, 4+.
Tested by: Second-graders. Testers really loved the twist on stunt-car action. Instead of cars on a looping track, this toy has crazy character balls that are fun to collect and go really fast. The boys also liked that it was "super easy" to put together.
BEYBLADE TRIPLE BATTLE SET
Hasbro (www.hasbro.com), $30, 8+.
Tested by: Third-graders. Boys love Beyblades, and the complete set has everything needed to hold a thrilling stadium tournament, including inserts to customize the arena and two exclusive metal tops. One tester called it "the best toy ever."
just for girls
Crayola (www.crayola.com), $20, 6+.
Tested by: Third-graders. It's hard to believe that you can make jewelry with modeling clay, but the girls really enjoyed creating swirled beads that can be air-dried and glazed. "You could make whatever jewelry you want," one tester said.
Klutz (www.klutz.com), $17, 8+.
Tested by: Fourth-graders. Girls enjoyed twisting the fluffy and bright pipe cleaners that come with the spiral-bound book into different designs. The book includes simple how-to tips and pictures of the adorable creatures you can make. The testers liked everything about it and said they hoped to get it as a present.
Zing Toys (www.ickeez.com), $1.25-$3, 4+.
Tested by: Third-graders. These icky, squishy creatures really hang around: Each one has a little suction cup so "it can stick to stuff," one tester explained. They are cute and gross at the same time, so naturally the kids liked them.
Moose Toys (www.mooseworld.com.au), $6-$10, 5+.
Tested by: Second-graders. Kids love to get dirty and love to collect things, so it made sense that testers loved the spongy critters that look like they came out of the garbage. Also a hit? The trash cans they come in.
i-Star Entertainment (www.fyrflyz.com), $10, 8+.
Tested by: Fourth-graders. The spinners create amazing, swirling light shows. Kids liked that there was nothing to put together but that they had to practice to make the effects they wanted. Works best in the dark.