Christmas lists are being made and checked twice – and not just by Santa.
Retailers are releasing their most-wanted Christmas toys lists and children everywhere are putting pen to paper (or finger to tablet) to decide what they’d like to see under the tree.
So what can you expect to see on your child’s wish list?
Unboxing – the act of unwrapping a product – remains a key trend in the 2019 toy market so expect increasingly lavish packaging and layers to peel back, unstick or unravel.
“Surprise” toys are also big business – children don’t know which collectable character they’re getting until they have unboxed it all. It’s a bit of two-fold trend – kids are beyond excited for the big reveal, but if it’s a toy they didn’t want or already have, it can bring crashing disappointment. It’s frustrating for parents too as there is a risk of wasting your money.
Board games are making a bit of a surprise comeback in 2019 – but savvy manufacturers have brought them hurtling into the 21st century with electronic and interactive features and associated digital apps.
Technology plays a key role so expect lots of battery-operated and rechargeable devices. But try not to take the stance that all technology is bad for your child – interactive features have usually been well thought through and many apps and games are educational or promote problem-solving.
Bright, garish colours continue to appeal to the younger market so get ready for some bright new additions to the family. But you can also look forward to welcoming back a few old friends such as LEGO, Monopoly and everyone’s favourite space ranger, Buzz Lightyear.
Best for: Unboxing and collecting
Key specs – age 6+; also available from Argos, Smyths Toys and Very
The LOL Surprise collectable dolls have come a long way since their original launch in December 2016. Built around the two key trends of unboxing and collecting, these tiny little fashion dolls are housed in layered balls which reveal different clues (such as stickers and accessories) to the “surprise” doll inside.
The biggest “surprise” this year, however, might just be the price tag. Many a parent will be wincing at the thought of spending nearly £100 on this plastic extravaganza. The good news is, that with 55 surprises included, it offers hours and hours of play time.
Fully extended, the glamper van measures 2ft by 3ft and opens out to offer complete 360º play. The front of the vehicle detaches to become a separate car, complete with with horn and headlights, while the main body features 10 separate “hang out” areas for the dolls – a light-up pool, fashion runway, BBQ patio and DJ booth among them.
Sadly, the price only includes one doll – but any child pestering you for this will probably already be an avid collector. Just be thankful they’re not asking for the next level of surprises – Hamley’s has just released its most-wanted Christmas toys list, featuring the £250 two-level LOL Surprise Chalet Dollhouse. Fingers crossed they spot this camper van first…
Best for: Stopping Monopoly cheaters in their tracks!
Key specs – age 8+; also available from Argos, Very, Smyths Toys and Selfridges
It’s nice to see good old fashioned board games still making kids’ Christmas lists – even if it is thanks to a modern makeover. Monopoly has evolved over the years from the simple, argument-inducing board game that has been played since the early 20th century with numerous “special editions”, a never ending list of themed versions, an electronic payments option and last year’s surprise big seller, Monopoly: Cheaters Edition.
This year’s newcomer, Monopoly Voice Banking, eliminates the need for a nominated banker as you have a virtual one at the touch of a top hat. Mr Monopoly plays the banker and manages the players’ money – simply press the button on the top hat to “speak” to him and he will sort out all your financial transactions for you. Think of it as Deal Or No Deal? meets telephone banking. It’s totally unnecessary – but loads of fun and while Monopoly creators Hasbro say it has been designed to speed up what can traditionally be a (days) long game, it also reduces the risk of cheating as the virtual banker is ultimately in charge.
£97.99, Smyths Toys
Best for: A tech twist on a classic
Key specs – age 9+; also available from Amazon, LEGO and John Lewis
This is another top-price product – but its clever concept will capture your child’s imagination for years to come. As with all LEGO products, you have to build it first – all 1,474 bricks. But that’s at least half the fun.
Complete with a bus stop, computer lab, library, bathroom, chemistry room and bell tower there are tonnes of nooks and crannies to explore. There’s even a hidden chamber. The fairly normal looking school can be transformed into a haunted house thanks to a few clever twists, turns and hidden flaps, creating hours of fun and exploration.
But LEGO has taken the concept to a new level by introducing an augmented reality (AR) element via a free-to-download app. The app effectively turns your smartphone into a ghost-hunting device. You just scan the LEGO model and watch as the “hidden side” comes to life with AR ghosts and ghouls visible in and around the school. The app also includes interactive games and puzzles that will unlock different AR elements.
It’s a brilliant merging of a traditional toy with modern technology that extends the life of the toy as it will keep older children interested for longer. It also works as a standalone LEGO model so if you don’t want your child engaging with a smartphone just yet, they can still build and play for hours on end.
Best for: Kids of all ages
Key specs – age 3+; also available from Amazon, Smyths and Argos
The popularity of Paw Patrol shows no sign of waning and this enormous command centre looks set to be a sell-out thanks to both Argos and Amazon naming it among their top ten toys for Christmas 2019. This 2-in-1 vehicle transforms from a jet into a mobile command centre for the PAW Patrol team, simply lift the handle on the jet to switch into mobile mode.
It’s easy to see why this will appeal to kids of all ages – there is an (extremely) easy to operate disc launcher, a detachable mini jet, ejector button, cargo pit, lights and sounds and an exclusive edition Mighty Ryder figure.
But be a little wary of what’s not included. While there is room on board for all the pups, no other figures come with it and it also boasts “space for one Deluxe Mighty Vehicle” but this, again, is sold separately. It requires 3 AAA batteries which, thankfully, are included in the near £60 price.
£16, The Entertainer
Best for: That Christmas Day family game
Key specs – age 8+; also available from Amazon, John Lewis, Smyths and Argos
This is another example of a traditional toy getting a modern makeover thanks to the addition of a smartphone app. We all remember Pictionary – the game where you have to draw the answers while your teammates struggle to guess what a squiggly line and a lot of frustrated faces actually means. In Pictionary Air, you download the free app, point the in-app camera at the illustrator and they’ll appear, along with their sketch, on the screen of your smart device. You then take turns drawing clues in the air while your teammates guess the images that appear on the screen – much like the original game.
The app even lets you record your performance and play it back – which is often a lot funnier than you might think. There are also options to save and share the footage, which is slightly less appealing. It’s a great way to engage older kids who might think board games are “boring” or teenagers who seem to be glued to their smartphones. You can also adjust the length of time for turns and the number of rounds in a game to give younger children a better chance. Named by both Amazon and Hamleys as a Christmas pick, it’s a real family-friendly option with a budget-friendly price tag.
£20, John Lewis
Best for: Entertaining little ones
Key specs – age: 3+; available from Amazon, Argos, Very, Smyths, The Entertainer and Early Learning
“Boppi the booty shaking llama dances wildly when you press the button on her side”. This is the rather tame description given by retailers selling this popular product and it essentially tells you everything you need to know. It’s a llama that dances – or twerks if you prefer – and shakes its head to three different songs. Sounds simple, and it is, but for some reason it also has children dissolving into fits of uncontrollable giggles and begging you to “do it again”.
It also has them shaking their bottoms like there’s no tomorrow so you’ve got a good chance of wearing them out – which is perhaps why Argos and John Lewis have named Boppi in their Christmas wish lists this year. It will drive you mad, but at £20 at least the price won’t send you too crazy.
£59.99, Smyths Toys
Best for: A silly bit of fun
Key specs – age: 6+; also available from Amazon and Argos
This is the stuff that Harry Potter fans’ dreams are made of – a chance to use the wizard’s iconic invisibility cloak. Well, sort of. Using the Wow! Stuff app (included) you can recreate scenes from the Harry Potter films. You simply cover yourself, family, friends or (as seen on YouTube) your dog with the invisibility cloak, then either watch, photograph or film yourself through the app on your own phone or tablet to become “invisible”.
Off screen you’re wrapped in a green blanket. But on screen, any bit of you that’s covered does disappear, which is as funny as it sounds. It might sound like a bit of a gimmick, which of course it is, but it’s also incredibly satisfying. You can film yourself in your own front room or, thanks to an in-app feature, against scenes from the movie. It does take a few minutes to set up – you have to download the app and verify with the authentication code included with your cloak – so younger children will need assistance (and your mobile phone or tablet).
Best for: Preparing children for a real-life pet
Key specs – age 5+; also available from Amazon and Smyths Toys
Anyone remember Tamagotchis? The digital pocket pets were popular in the late 1990s and this new concept by Spin Master toys is a much more advanced – and expensive – version. By nurturing your own baby Owleez, you can help it realise its ambition and learn to fly. The little pet responds to touch and lights up and makes sounds to let you know it’s listening. You are encouraged to feed, pet, tickle and rock Owleez and it responds via a total of 100 different sounds. The pet’s eyes also change colour to show you what mood it is in.
Eventually, when it’s ready, the Owleez will fly its little nest (which also doubles up as a USB charging point) – but don’t worry, the little drone won’t stray too far so you won’t lose it. This is actually a nice way to teach your child about nurture and care and responsibility and introduces them to the concept of having a real pet some day. And unlike a Tamagotchi, you can’t “feed it to death” which was always a slightly worrying feature…
Best for: Controlling what your kids watch and play
Key specs – age 3+; also available from Argos, John Lewis and Currys
We all struggle to limit screen time for our children – so rather than obsess over how much they’re watching, why not try and focus on the quality and suitability of the content they consume? The Fire 7 Kids Edition can help you to do just that. It comes with a one-year subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited, giving you access to age-appropriate audio books, games, videos and apps. The subscription gives you access to content from Disney, Nickelodeon and Sesame Street and you can download educational apps direct from the app store. Look for apps that can help your child learn skills such as reading or counting and games that improve their fine motor control.
You can set time limits (and educational goals) remotely and the Fire 7 comes with a thick, hardy, “kid-proof case”. If you do break it, you’re covered by a two-year guarantee. The tablet features 16 GB of storage and up to seven hours of battery life. This is a great option for parents who want more control over what their child is watching – and those who are being held hostage by a youngster constantly asking to borrow their phone. It will make them feel more grown up to have a device of their own – and it’s virtually indestructible (unlike most of your devices!).
Best for: Bedtime stories
Key specs – age: 3+; also available from Amazon and Baby Centre
This German-made product was launched this time last year and has proudly entered the top 10 most-wanted Christmas gifts for 2019 – according to John Lewis at least. The chargeable story box is easy to operate so children as young as three can do it all by themselves. You simply press the “ear” on the box to turn it on, pop a magnetic Tonie character on the top and wait for the story to begin. It switches off automatically when it finishes.
The branded characters (such as The Snowman, The Gruffalo and the witch from Room On The Broom) tell the story in which they feature while the Tonie characters can be filled with your own content via a free-to-download app – this may be you reading aloud or singing to your child or (more likely) your child recording themselves talking nonsense.
This is a brilliant gift for children who like to fall asleep listening to stories, for those who enjoy the extra comfort of a parent’s voice and also for early risers – leave it within reaching distance and they can amuse themselves first thing in the morning. It is genuinely easy to use, grows with your child as there are so many different characters for so many different age groups, and once you have the box, adding a new Tonie to the collection is a really easy, budget-friendly gift.
£59.99, John Lewis
Best for: Maintaining interest past Christmas
Key specs – age 6+; also available from The Entertainer, Smyths Toys and Very
Tapping into the trend of toys that evolve and grow with your child, TOMY’s latest offering Rizmo evolves twice – from baby to child and from child to fully grown. This interactive toy responds to your touch and voice and can even learn to mimic you by repeating songs you sing to it. The more you cuddle, sing to, and play with Rizmo, the faster it evolves. Its eyes even change colour to tell you what game Rizmo wants to play – including rolling, moving, dancing and singing. Two of the play modes are only “unlocked” during later evolutions.
This is a really nice way to teach a child about nurture and responsibility and the importance of taking care of their toys – but it does so in a really fun, interactive way that really makes the child think the toy is responding directly to their love and affection. It’s pricey, but the changing play modes and evolving little character should spark their interest for a lot longer than the average cuddly toy.
£89.99, Smyths Toys
Best for: Interactive play
Key specs – age 3+; also available from The Entertainer, Very and Amazon
As terrifying as this baby elephant looks to adults, it holds a definite appeal for pre-schoolers. With a catalogue of more than 100 sounds and movements to draw on, children genuinely think this toy has come to life. You can teach it tricks such as blowing a kiss or picking up a peanut or toy with its animated trunk. Like many of this year’s popular toys, interactivity plays a key part. But toymakers Spin Master have given this area a lot of thought – not just thinking about how Juno responds to you, but how you can connect with her. As a result, features like her ability to play Peekaboo or a Build-a-Tune game are particularly effective and it adds a really lovely extra element to play. This isn’t a cheap toy so make sure it’s what your child really wants for Christmas – pre-schoolers are notoriously fickle!
£10, Smyths Toys
Best for: Stocking fillers
Key specs – age 5+; also available from Argos, Very, The Entertainer and Sainsburys
This is one of the few toys making all the top tens that could genuinely be classed as a stocking filler. At £10 a doll, parents everywhere will be breathing a sigh of relief when they see “Blume” scrawled on a letter to Santa. Taking in the trends of unboxing, surprises and collectables, Blume Dolls “grow” out of a flower pot – but only once you’ve watered them with the tiny little watering can (included).
Once your doll – complete with mad, squishy hair – has popped out of her pot, you’ll find lots of little surprises inside including clothes and accessories (all of which can be mixed and matched with other dolls in the collection) and even a little sidekick. For anyone sceptical about the whole “unboxing” trend, Blume Dolls might just convert you. The box opens flat to reveal three mysterious envelopes, while the flower pot itself houses a host of peel-back packets.
Once you’ve finished unwrapping everything, the flower pot acts as a mini wardrobe that can also store the doll itself. Of course as with all the “surprise collectables”, you don’t know what you’re getting until it’s been unboxed so completing the collection (there are 22 in total) may take a while – and a more substantial financial investment.
£25, Shop Disney
Best for: Parental nostalgia
Key specs – age 3+; exclusive product
The release of Toy Story 4 earlier this year means a whole new generation has been won over by Buzz Lightyear’s charm. As a result, Buzz, Woody, Jessie and the gang are back on most-wanted and Christmas lists everywhere. This interactive talking Buzz Lightyear action figure is a classic offering – it’s essentially the real Buzz. Just like in the first film, he has a pretend laser, light-up, pop-out wings and a string of stock phrases.
A newer edition to his skill set is the ability to sense when other action figures from the collection (Woody, Jessie, Rex, Forky, Zurg, Bullseye and Bo Peep are also available) are nearby – they start “talking” to one another. This is one of those toys that appeals to parents and children alike – young kids will recognise the characters from the most recent films, while parents will feel nostalgic for the original (it was released in 1996 in case you’re wondering).
from £9.99, Amazon
Best for: Simple smartphone-free fun
Key specs – age 4+; also available from Very and Winning Moves
An old fashioned game gets a modern (ish) makeover. Most families will be familiar with Top Trumps – the card game that helps you rate everything from fast cars to famous faces. The craze has really taken hold in recent years and there are now Top Trump sets available for LOL Dolls, Shopkins, multiple Star Wars films, Horrible Histories and err, Jaguar Land Rovers. Two of the big sellers include a 500-question Harry Potter Quiz edition and a 500-question Friends Quiz version. Friends has found a new fan base thanks to Netflix winning the right to stream every episode (but only until the end of this year!) so the card game is a real winner for all ages.
Parents will know the answers from the first time round so may even have the edge – something that doesn’t happen too often in family game play. Price-wise these are genuinely affordable stocking fillers and they’re also a nice game for everyone to sit down and play together rather than a console or phone game that can be quite antisocial.