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Holiday Gift Guide: Toys

Thinking outside the big box for some new ideas in children’s toys

by Erin Pihlaja on November 29, 2012

Last year a video of a little girl ranting about the oppression of toy manufacturers went viral. Riley Maida, who at the time was 4 years old, stood in the toy aisle of a store surrounded by baby dolls housed in pink and white boxes and let loose about the companies who make the toys, and who try to “trick” girls into liking princesses and boys into preferring superheroes. Her stance against all the “pink stuff” was viewed more than 1 million times. What have we learned from Miss Maida? Possibly that there is no safe bet in choosing gifts for today’s savvy little consumers, or that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to think outside of the big-box stores and their somewhat limiting options.

There are plenty of places to shop locally for kids, and when all else fails, it’s easy to shop online. Here are some toys that can be found in the Capital Region or in cyberspace; and that are appropriate for girls that like Batman or Barbie; and for boys who don’t mind GI Joe staying home to take care of his unruly Monster High daughter.

According to a new upstart called GoldieBlox, gold is the new pink. Founder Debbie Sterling, an engineer, wanted to create construction toys from a girls’ point of view to bring engineering to a broader audience. Not sure how Miss Maida feels about this one, since these toys definitely have a traditional “girl” aesthetic. Still, the toys teach spatial relations, creativity, and problem solving. Plus, there’s good money in engineering, so consider the $29.99 spent on GoldieBlox’s first release an investment for the future. And a lesson in patience since currently you can only preorder this gift, and the estimated delivery time is April 2013. The future engineer is sure to understand that good projects are worth waiting for, right?

If you’ve got a doll lover, check out Karito Kids. There are six dolls that represent different cultures across the world. One of the goals of the company is to “spread the word that kids around the world are pretty much the same.” Each doll comes with her own story, but hold on, there’s more! Each product also comes with a unique activation code that can be entered on the company’s website. The owner of the doll gets access to games that earn them points. With enough points, the child can vote for a project from a children’s charity called Plan. The dolls look very similar to the ever-popular American Girl dolls, and range from $70 to $100—a price point slightly less expensive than the American Girl product, which tends to focus more on buying expensive accessories than anything else.

A variation of a doll on the store shelves, made by Slinky Science, is Our Amazing Mummies. While the Slinky brand offers many pro-science choices, this one lets your little Indiana Jones remove the preserved body of a pharaoh from a coffin (now that’s holiday fun), wrap him in Egyptian shrouds, then paint him and his new coffin in fancy gold nontoxic paint. That’s a lot of busy time, with the bonus of a lesson in the cultural and historical study of the art of mummification. Pretty good deal for under $20.

Hungry? Let those little sugar fiends work for their holiday desserts with the Play and Freeze ice-cream-maker ball ($25-$40). You fill one end of the ball with ice and rock salt. The other gets the ingredients for whatever ice cream recipe you desire. After about 30 minutes of shaking and rolling, you’ve got a quart of homemade, kid-powered frozen deliciousness.

If all else fails, there’s a bunch of toys that never go out of style. LEGOs will always be a childhood classic, and who wouldn’t be psyched to get Mad Libs in their stocking? You can easily force your childhood on your loved ones and get them a version of Lite Brite ($15.99) and the EZ Bake Oven ($39.99)—both have been updated, but the ideas are still the same. There are also tons of creative kits available (Alex brand is a pretty safe bet), and definitely buy the ones with a million little plastic beads for the children of parents you’re just not that close with.

For all of the youngsters already slinging their own smartphones, there are so many great apps to choose from, but if you’ve still got one that enjoys writing the old-fashioned way, try a diary. But don’t forget to get the kind with a lock and key. Because keeping secrets from adults is something that will never cease to bring joy to children everywhere.