Making a list and checking it twice might be Santa Claus’ job, but it’s also a responsibility that falls to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. But while you don’t have the elvish assistance at the Big Guy’s disposal, you do have this: our comprehensive guide to what’s hot in Chicagoland this year. They’re all available at some of our favorite independent toy stores, and they all cost less than one bill with Grant’s face on it.
Top ideas for kids ages 5-10.
High-fives and fist bumps are basically a universal language, which is partly why this game will appeal to pretty much everyone. The fast-paced frenzy of card matching has players high five, switch places, pound it out and perform a move named after the game itself. Laughter is required.
Happy Salmon, $20, 6+ (M)
Shooting darts in the dark sounds like a risky proposition (to moms and dads, at least). But that’s not the case with these light-up rockets that come equipped with a no-risk suction cup. Plus, it includes a light-up ball to round out your kids playtime.
Nightzone Night Darts, $29.99, 6+ (BM)
Calling all aspiring directors! This kit lets young filmmakers create their own stop-motion masterpieces with just a free mobile app and the smartphone of your choice. Here’s hoping whatever they create is a little more Spielberg than Scorcese.
Stickbot Studio, $12.99, 4+ (BM)
Introduce girls to the world of STEM with the help of this building set. Roominate lets young architects use their imaginations to design and build, then tap into their engineering sides to add up to eight circuits, all controlled by an easy-to-use app.
Roominate rPower, $29.99, 6+ (G)
Even Simone Biles would have trouble pulling off this tricky balancing act. Kids carefully place the colorful beans on the seesaw to keep it from teetering –all while learning some essential elementary algebra concepts. Solving for x has never been so fun!
Balance Beans, $20, 5+ (M)
Even if you have a visceral reaction to the words ‘fanny pack,’ you’ll fall in love with these chic go-anywhere bags, perfect for stowing your girly-girl’s lip gloss, hair ties or favorite tiny toys. The mom-designed bags are made from super-soft faux leather that easily wipes clean. And they can even hold snacks or juice boxes for your little lady on the go.
Hip City Sak, $19.99, 5+ (BM)
If the only words to describe your kid are ‘imagination gone wild,’ you’ll want to save their creative ideas for posterity. These kits let young authors come up with their own stories to match the illustrations, then use a website to publish it. Before you can say ‘Pulitzer Prize,’ the completed book will arrive at your doorstep.
Write Brain Author’s Kits, $44.99, 5+ (P)
You don’t have to give up glamour to become the next Olympic champion. These swim goggles come outfitted with gemstones, glitter and all manner of sparkle, but they’re still latex- and lead-free, fog-resistant and guaranteed to make your little mermaid feel like she’s in a whole new world. (#mixedDisneymetaphors)
Bling2o goggles, $22.99 (G)
Prepare for an epic snowball battle this winter with the help of this device, which prevents the soggy-mitten problem while simultaneously allowing you to build up an arsenal of perfectly shaped frosty weapons. If you move fast, you can make enough to last until the snow starts to melt sometime in April.
The Original SnoBaller, $11 (M)
We ain’t afraid of no ghosts! Whether your kids are more on the Melissa McCarthy-Kate McKinnon end of the spectrum or old-school Bill Murray-Dan Akyroyd, this single player puzzle game will keep them supernaturally immersed. And the 60 different challenges mean it always feels freshno remakes required.
Ghost Hunters, $18, 6+ (M)
You don’t always want to hide away the toys when company comes to visit. The good news is this beautifully designed wooden game looks nice enough to display with the rest of your living room knick-knacks. Plus, its multiple game options and wide age appeal are perfect for when you’ve run out of small talk.
Box &Balls, $32.99, 5+ (P)
‘Hot ice’ may be an oxymoron, but it’s not as impossible as you might think. This kit uses a sodium acetate solution to create crystals that look like ice but release heat. But while kids might think they’re doing magic, they’re actually learning some important chemistry.
Hot Ice Crystals Science Kit, $19.99, 8+ (BM)
What do you get when you twist (literally) a classic? In this case, a fun variation on a puzzle that has captured the imagination of generations. This version, also created by Erno Rubik, has no single solution and encourages creativity and fine motor skills rather than mathematical mettle.
Rubiks Twist, $18, 8+ (M)
At one point or another, we’ve pretty much all wanted to be a mermaid. Complete your Ariel fantasy with the help of these clever blankets that come in assorted color combos. We’re guessing they’ll make bedtime just a little less painful. (Yes, they’re also available in adult sizes.)
Blankie Tails, $39.99 (BB)
Everything’s better with superheroes, even the classic toys of your youth. Those boxy fighting robots get a heroic makeover — and probably a better reception than they did at the box office.
Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: Batman v. Superman Edition, $35.99, 6+ (G)
Once upon a time, you spent countless hours at the local arcade, trying to defeat unwelcome aliens. Now you can pass on that nostalgia to your own kids — in your own home! –thanks to this handheld version of the throwback fave. But Dad, remember: They get a turn too.
Space Invaders, $24.99, 8+ (P)
You don’t need to go to a laboratory to complete these experiments — Dr. Eureka brings the lab to you! This fast-paced brainteaser challenges players to configure their test tubes according to the challenge cards, and you can even compete head-to-head to intensify the mad scientist vibe.
Dr. Eureka, $22, 8+ (M)
If you’re raising a Chicagoan, they really ought to know their Lincoln Park from their Lincoln Square and their Wells from their Wacker. This puzzle helps them get the lay of the land sometime before they get their driver’s license. Plus, it comes in a cute can that will make you crave potato chips.
Geotoys Chicago City Puzzle, $9.99 (BB)
Think fast! That’s the object of this quick-matching, card-slapping game, which is in the same family as dice game Tenzi. And like Tenzi, it’s great to play in groups and will almost certainly result in uncontrollable laughter.
Slapzi, $19.99, 8+ (BM)
Becky & Me Toys, Evanston
Building Blocks Toy Store, Lakeview and Wicker Park, Chicago
Galt Toys + Galt Baby, downtown and Lincoln Park, Chicago and Skokie
*play, Logan Square, Chicago
Moore Toys & Gadgets, Wheaton
Where we shopped