Like it or not, Christmas is almost here. Children everywhere have compiled their lists of what they hope to find under the tree this year. And forewarned is forearmed, so we’ve scoured the shop shelves (physical and virtual) for you to see what’s coming out on top of this year’s wish lists.
The good news is collectable toys are enjoying a resurgence, so some of your youngster’s much longed-for loot comes in at the affordable end of the scale. The bad news is, some of it doesn’t. But toy manufacturers are moving away from throw-away gifts and gadgets as we all become a bit more environmentally aware and are trying to make packaging part of the product itself rather than something simply to be thrown away.
And many new-to-market products offer add-ons, extenders, extras and sets to collect, which, yes, will cost more, but they will also extend the life of the toy keeping it fresh, interesting and age appropriate for longer.
Interactivity remains a key selling point as our tech-savvy kids are no longer happy to simply play but are also keen to learn from, understand and engage with their possessions. Check out some of the toys that top retailers are tipping for Christmas success – and happy shopping.
Best for: Tech lovers, age five plus
This cheeky little robot is raring to go straight out of the box, no assembly and no batteries required – meaning there won’t be any tantrums come Christmas morning because you need a new screwdriver head or six triple A batteries in order to get going.
Tapping into the tech-loving generation’s passion for all things interactive, Boxer offers three different play modes. Use the remote control to race him around and perform stunts and tricks, interact with him via hand movements and touch or scan one of his activity cards for a game of bowling, football or laser tanks.
The Bot uses animated expressions and simple sounds to communicate and portray his unique personality, which will appeal to your child’s playful side, while an associated free app means they can expand his activity options so won’t get bored quickly. Not suitable for under threes.
Best for: Game-players, age eight plus
Ever had a game of monopoly ruined by accusations of cheating? Well embrace your inner conman for this revamped version of the family board game that has truly stood the test of time. First published in 1935, the game has been licensed in 103 countries and reproduced in 37 languages – not to mention multiple special editions.
The latest incarnation positively encourages theft, avoidance and scheming – but you have to successfully pull off the scams to succeed. Complete with a set of plastic handcuffs for those who do get caught out, this is a really clever twist on a classic that will get your kids off their tablets and round the table for a (semi) traditional family games night.
£74.99, John Lewis
Best for: Lego lovers, age eight and up
Despite J.K Rowling first introducing us to Hogwarts more than 20 years ago (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997), Potter’s popularity is showing no sign of waning. Thanks to a successful film franchise, a stage show and new movies in the Fantastic Beast spin-off series, every generation has a reason to love Harry, Ron, Hermione and co. And this epic 801-piece recreation of the Hogwarts Express is the latest.
Complete with a railway bridge and steps to platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, character figurines, a snack trolley (plus snacks), luggage, wands and even a tiny model of Ron’s pet rat Scabbers, the attention to detail here is mind-blowing. Lego is a real “gift that keeps on giving” as it takes children hours to assemble (thus keeping them quiet!) and unlimited time afterwards to enjoy as they can add to and change it at any time.
Best for: Lateral thinkers, age eight plus
Billed as the next generation marble machine, this build-your-own extendable track is much more than a few plastic tubes with a handful of glass balls – but the basic principles remain the same.
Applying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), this is a good way to teach children about gravity, magnetism, kinetic energy and, of course, fun. Use the blueprints included in the starter kit to get going then freestyle your own creations – the possibilities are endless thanks to the extra track packs and add-ons.
Best for: Secret agents, age five plus
Bog-eyed and big-headed, these garish glittery dolls should have kids running for cover. But instead they have emerged as one of the most popular products of recent years. Their latest incarnation taps into two of this year’s biggest trends – unwrapping and surprises.
Unbox the mini eye glass first to start discovering clues about who is inside your box and where her missing pet is (it’s all part of the theme). While undeniably ugly, the nice thing about these particular dolls is the recipient has to “work” for them by solving mysteries and deciphering clues – meaning they are more likely to engage with the toy than rip it open and move on.
Best for: Thrill seekers, age three plus
Again with the garish looking girl dolls – but again, kids can’t get enough of them. The Shopkins Hairdorables tap into the unwrapping trend and win bonus points for the box they come in being part of the game. Pull, peel and reveal 11 different surprises on the box to discover which mystery doll is inside.
And once you’ve found her, you can spend hours exploring her outfit and accessories and brushing her brightly coloured hair. There are 36 different dolls to collect and part of the fun is not knowing which one is inside – it’s also part of the drawback, as you might get the same one twice.
£29.99, The Entertainer
Best for: Cuddle lovers, age six plus
Storming onto the collectibles market in the UK last year, Fingerlings are tiny robotic monkeys, unicorns, dinosaurs and sloths that cling to your fingers and react to touch and sound. But new for 2018, the finger puppets have gone supersized with hug-size monkeys that talk, giggle, kiss and even fart depending on how you treat them.
Available in blue (Boris) and pink (Bella), their interactivity will appeal to your child’s imagination and sense of independence as it helps them to understand the importance of being kind and taking responsibility for your “pets”.
Best for: Big kids (otherwise known as adults), eight years and up
Nerf guns are the type of toys parents pretend to be buying with their kids in mind when really they just want an excuse to destroy each other. This new two-pack is pretty much the perfect game for anyone with a competitive streak. For those old enough to remember Laser Quest (is that still a thing?), it taps into similar principles and technology – but instead of having to drive to a retail park off a motorway to do it, you can play from the comfort of your own home.
We defy anyone not to be baying for (metaphorical) blood within half an hour of strapping on this set, which comes complete with armbands, light and sound effects, quick-action reload and unlimited ammo.
Best for: Pre-schoolers, age 18 months plus
These exclusive Peppa Pig plushies are every pre-schooler’s dream toy. I doubt there’s an under-three in Britain who doesn’t recognise Peppa’s cheeky pink face and Hamleys has (ahem) piggy-backed on this year’s royal wedding mania to come up with these themed soft toys. London has also been re-popularised by the recent Paddington movies making Castle Guard Peppa and Queen’s Guard Peppa instantly recognisable. Exclusive to Hamleys.
Best for: Toilet humour, age three plus
Love it or loathe it, the unicorn trend is showing no signs of using its tiny wings to fly away and this latest incarnation fully embraces the cutsie, colourful fluffy elements of the mythical creatures. It also taps into young people’s passion for all things disgusting in that it poos out multi-coloured slime poo onto a glittery potty.
In many ways this is a hell toy for parents – it’s garish and ugly, it’s childish and gross. It will also have your child repeatedly rolling around the floor laughing so job done, eh?
Best for: Beauty queens, age five plus
While you might feel like you can’t move for unicorn-themed toys, accessories, clothing and homeware, your child likely has little concept of how much is too much when it comes to multi-coloured hair and glitter.
The VTech Fantasy Unicorn embraces both these things thanks to an animatronic wand, which lets your little one alter the toy’s colours. The wand can also be used to digitally apply make-up. Think of it as a step up from a Girl’s World doll.
From £31.99, Amazon
Best for: Lock-pickers, age four plus
Unwrapping has emerged as a key toy trend for 2018 (YouTube has entire channels dedicated to videos of kids opening toys) with makers keen to get children as excited about unveiling their gift as they are receiving it in the first place.
There’s also a move towards reusing packaging within play rather than simply throwing it away. Crate Creatures embraces both of these – plus gets an extra thumbs up for highlighting imperfection as a pro rather than a con. In short, these guys are ugly and they make a string of gross noises. But therein lies their appeal. Just break into the crate to get started.
£5 for a four-pack, Amazon
Best for: Collectors, age five plus
Ever since hatching onto the toy scene in Christmas 2016, these little egg-dwelling animals have grown in popularity to become one of the UK’s best-selling toys. You have to warm the heart on the little eggs in order for your pet to hatch, so it’s a good introduction to the importance of being kind and gentle.
They are also highly collectible and fairly affordable so won’t have you crying into your Christmas cornflakes. Their associated products, however, (the Hatchimals Mystery Egg, for example, retails at £49.99) do tip the higher end of the price scale, so be warned – what starts out as a cracking gift idea may later break the bank.
Best for: Sweet teeth, aged two to five
Cute, colourful and full of sweet (albeit inedible) treats, this is the type of toy pre-schoolers live for. The different scooping and stacking actions will help hone their motor skills while the game also introduces them to the concept of giving and sharing.
By inserting activity cards, children will meet six hungry characters while exploring colours, counting, flavours and numbers. Follow the customers’ instructions and test sequencing, memory and matching skills to build their order. A little bell to ring when the order is ready is a really sweet touch.
Best for: Career kids, age three plus
Barbie has come a long way since her inception in 1959. Often criticised for promoting unachievable body image and a lack of aspiration in young girls, Mattel has worked hard to make her a career woman with ambitions in every sector of the work force.
Here we find her working as a medic – be it a paramedic or a doctor, you decide as this ambulance converts into a three-room hospital complete with check-in desk, waiting room and x-ray suite. Attention to detail is key here with the 20 additional accessories including medical paraphernalia such as a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff and even cute little waiting room magazines. It’s worth noting that Barbie herself is not included.
Best for: Rescue rangers, age three plus
For parents with children of a certain age, it may feel like the canine stars of Canadian cartoon Paw Patrol have taken over your entire lives. Fans of the animated series can – and do – buy pretty much anything Paw Patrol branded, from games and gadgets to cushions and crayons, roller-skates and reading books.
The latest edition to the merchandise family is this Fire Truck Playset with a whopping 2ft extendable ladder. Predicted to enjoy the same success as last year’s best-selling Sea Patroller, the fire truck comes complete with flashing lights and sounds, four working water cannons, a fire hose, rescue claw, hidden mini fire cart and a figurine of fireman dog Marshall – it should keep your kids busy for weeks. If they do start to tire of saving the day, you can buy extra figures to freshen things up as there is room for up to six dogs in the truck’s cab. Batteries are required, but are also included.
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