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2011’s best toys

NAPPA’s awardees this year include brain-teasers, spacial games and (of course) the new American Girl dolls. This slide show start with toys for younger kids, then goes up in age.

Ellen Metrick consults with major toy manufacturers on product design. She has created systems to research and evaluate toys’ impact on childhood development and their therapeutic value for children with special needs. She has written extensively on creative applications for play products, including a bi-monthly column for ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailers Association). The lead evaluator for the Toys ‘R’ Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids for 15 years, Metrick currently serves as manager of business development at the National Lekotek Center, a nationwide nonprofit that focuses on accessible play for children of all abilities.

We sent some parent media and game experts out to find the best for Chicago Parent readers. Here’s our list of great toys for Christmas and Hanukkah.

Reinvented stacking cups extend traditional play to includeproblem solving, muscle strengthening and the beginnings of readingreadiness. Funnel top, balls and a hole in each cup keep kids’interest long after their tower is built. International Playthings;$24.99; intplay.com; ages 1 and up.

Kidoozie Stack N Roll Tumbling Tower


Crib companion, on-the-go amigo and teacher of tots-thishand-held electronic learning toy can entertain and soothe babies.Plus, the 20 educational cartoons, 288 learning games and otherneat activities will prepare them for school-time success as theygrow. The Ohio Art Company; $199.99; ohioart.com; infants and up.

K-Magic


The preschool set can create roadblock diversions with spinners,ramps and tab dividers for the erratically quirky, hyper Hexbug toscamper around. When play is done, the set can be left completelyintact, folding up securely for next time. Innovation First Labs;$34.99; hexbug.com; ages 3 and up

Hexbug Nano Hive Habitat Set


If only we had as much memory as this handy, kid-friendlycamera! An internal memory of 256 megabytes lets kids snap 1,300pictures or five minutes of video. Special effects can embellishpictures before or after snapping. Fisher-Price; $69.99; fisher-price.com; ages 3 and up.

Kid-Tough See Yourself Camera


Continuing with the success of the original Perplexus, this is aslightly scaled-down version, both in size and difficulty. Widertracks and taller walls help the small metal marble stay on thetwisting maze. PlaSmart; $22.49; plasmarttoys.com; ages 4 and up.

Perplexus Rookie


This ultrasoft bedtime companion whispers reassuring messagesfrom Mom and Dad, keeping troublesome nighttime frights at bay.Dual-track voice-over allows 10 seconds of recording and can bequietly played back along with prerecorded soothing sounds. CloudB; $34.95; cloudb.com; ages 3 and up.

Mimicking Monkey


This laptop has the look and feel of real. The 4.5-inch colorLCD screen comes equipped with 120 activities to engage younglearners with the fundamental skills of math, reading readiness,Spanish, music and more. VTech; $49.99; vtechkids.com; ages 5 and up.

Brilliant Creations Advanced Notebook


Sure to be a holiday hit. Children can thread the light-uptubing through specifically placed pegs, then turn the frame on tosee their design glow in neon splendor. Extend play with games likeMemory, Fortune Teller and Sound Visualizer, which flashes to thebeat of kids’ own music. Skyrocket Toys; $29.99; meonglow.com; ages 5 and up.

Meon Deluxe Animation Studio


The playful pastime of a lemonade stand gives children much morethan a cup of juice! This ultimate business stand assembles easilywith no tools, while the accompanying book gives youngentrepreneurs the tools needed to learn how to run a successfulbusiness. DelVisionaries; $199; littlegreenmoneymachine.com; ages 9 and up.

Little Green Money Machine


Beautifully crafted dolls teach about the experiences of twofriends during the troubling time of the 1853 New Orleans YellowFever epidemic. They come from different economic and racialbackgrounds, yet tell similar stories to give readers a historylesson. American Girl; $234; americangirl.com; ages 8 and up.

Cécile and Marie-Grace Best Friends Collection


This mini remote-controlled car delivers pocket-size power!Speeding up to 14 mph, it can hurl off stairs, across road rampsand land unscathed. The dual-sided car knows which way is up, sodriving directions remain consistent and uninterrupted, and thepistol-grip remote rumbles to feel the impact of crashes.Silverlit; $49.99; silverlit.com; ages 8 and up.


Quirky creatures with goofy bios await your inner ghoul. Fiftyperforated, paper-folded fiends pop out to be assembled. WorkmanPublishing; $16.95; workman.com; ages 9 and up.

Papertoy Monsters


Mastered the original Perplexus? With four starting points and125 barriers to finesse through, Perplexus Epic delivers! Threepractice runs get you warmed up before tackling the maze of allmazes. Teeter-totter and slide bucket provide extra intensity andanxiety-provoking fun! PlaSmart; $29.99; plasmarttoys.com; ages 8 and up.

Perplexus Epic


Once you have mastered traditional brick building, test yourskill and empower your patience by constructing minute objects withthese tiny, interlocking blocks. Tweezers will be your tool ofchoice. Quitters need not apply! The Ohio Art Company;$7.99-$14.99; ohioart.com; ages 8 and up.

Nanoblock


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