Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D., is really into playing with toys -- hence her nickname, Dr. Toy.
Auerbach has been tracking trends in the toy business for more than 30 years, so when she raves about a toy, parents can feel good about buying it for their kids. Her picks are ones kids want to play with, not toss in the corner of the room where they will sit gathering dust.
Auerbach recently released her list of the best classic toys for 2012, which she likes for their simplicity and the open-ended, creative play they inspire:
Alex Toys Read All About Me Activity Book ($18): This kit, which includes markers, colored paper, sequins and more, gives children the tools to make a scrapbook about their lives. There's even a little family tree page, so your kid can spend time talking to you, grandparents and other relatives to find out more about family history.
B. Dazzle Diggin' Dinos Scramble Squares 9 Piece Puzzle ($10): This isn't just a simple picture of a Brachiosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops. It's a challenging puzzle in which a user only succeeds if the squares are arranged in a way that a complete picture can be seen from all directions.
DuneCraft Fairy Triad Garden Kit ($20): Kids can create a fairy wonderland garden and grow lobelia, thyme, clover and evening star (popular plant varieties with the fairies of the world). This is a fun way to explore an enchanting topic in a hands-on way.
K'NEX Classics 30 Model Building Set ($23): There are more than 300 pieces in this kit, along with suggestions on how kids can build a truck, helicopter, dune buggy and more. Or kids can use their awesome imagination to create other things that go.
Maranda Enterprises Eternas ($30): There's enough of a challenge in this 3-D strategy game to keep adults interested on game night, too.
MGA Entertainment Little Tikes Cozy Coupe 30th Anniversary Edition ($55): Toddlers always gravitate toward this cute little car, which they can push with their feet, hop in and out of and "steer."
OWI Hyper Peppy ($35): Instead of handing over your smartphone, help a tech-oriented child build a robot, using only basic hand tools and the supplies in this kit. Who knows, maybe you'll inspire the next Steve Jobs.
Terri Lee Associates Summer by the Sea ($40): For more than 60 years, Terri Lee has been making dolls. The sweet Summer by the Sea doll was modeled from Terri Lee's original, classic designs.
WowToyz Ultimate Space Adventure Set ($25): This cool 20-piece set contains highly detailed space vehicles based on NASA designs. The kit includes a "100 Years of Rocketry" poster, too.
Wild Republic Plush Twin Spotted Rattlesnake ($12): This company introduces children to the wonders of their natural environment in an accessible, cuddly way. Dr. Toy likes Wild Republic's cool variety of plush snakes, which are way less scary, and much cuter than the real thing.