Exploring the Most Engaging Kids Toys for 2021

Exploring the Most Engaging Kids Toys for 2021

There's a lot to love about this year's toys, but a few stand out for their ability to promote creative, imaginative play that can also build STEM skills (צעצועי ילדים). In an effort to help parents find the best gifts for kids this holiday season, Smithsonian asked a group of experts, including Ali Mierzejewski, editor in chief of The Toy Insider, and Chris Byrne, an independent toy analyst, researcher, and consultant who goes by the name the Toy Guy, to highlight their favorite toys that teach important engineering concepts like spatial reasoning, coding, problem-solving, and design thinking.

One of the top picks was this transforming Batman playset that kids can use to create a multi-level interactive Bat Cave complete with elevators, jail for super villains, and more. It's great for kids ages 3 and up and can be used by multiple children at the same time. "It's a very high-quality toy that fosters imaginative play," says Mierzejewski. "Plus, it's really fun to see your kid's face when they open it."

Another exciting gift for kids is this ferocious dinosaur toy that moves, roars, and dances when kids speak to it or touch it. It's a cool upgrade from last year's popular Squeakee balloon dog and also plays on the dinosaur trend, which is always a hit with young kids. "Kids will get a great laugh out of this toy," says Byrne.

For kids who are obsessed with the Netflix hit Bluey, this light-up interactive playhouse is a great way for them to continue their screen-free fun at home. It's based on the Heeler family house from the show and allows kids to play games, interact with characters, and build their imaginations.

This augmented reality toy lets kids explore their world with a tricorder-like device that scans objects and brings them to life. It also provides educational content ranging from science to history to geography and is an excellent choice for kids who enjoy a mix of education and entertainment.

Another cool toy that promotes STEM learning is this magnetic coding kit that introduces kids to basic coding skills. It's a great option for preschoolers and helps them learn about directional words, sequencing, and more as they code their dragon to dance, chase a ball, or even light up!

Another top gift for kids who are obsessed with slime is this 30-pack of Play-Doh branded slime. It comes in a variety of colors and includes a few accessories so kids can make their own creations. This is an easy way to fill up stockings and will keep kids busy for hours while reinforcing their fine motor skills.

Exploring the Most Engaging Kids Toys for 2021

In a post-pandemic world, parents are eager to spend quality time with their children and are looking for toys that reinforce important skills. Experts are predicting that toys with an experiential element will be big this year, particularly those that promote social emotional learning and STEM skills. In addition, toys that support outdoor play and allow for multiple kids to interact together will also be popular. These trends will be especially apparent in 2021 when a few of the biggest toy brands are launching a range of interactive, experience-based toys that will help kids and their families bond through creative, hands-on play.

According to the Toy Association, more than half of parents report that they are spending more time playing with their children than before the pandemic. And with the average kid now interacting with screen media for up to six hours per day, it's even more important than ever to provide toys that encourage interaction and engagement. This is why experiences over objects are becoming more popular, says Kristin Morency, an associate director with the Toy Association. "Toys with an experiential element are the best way for families to bond while still allowing kids to enjoy some screen-free time," she explains.

This year, a few of the most engaging toys for kids that experts are recommending include an upgraded version of last year's popular Baby Yoda that now features four accessories and a cute sound mode that responds to kids when they touch it, plus a new robo-city garage that parks more than 100 cars, includes a multi-course speedway and chomping T. Rex. And if your child is a Batman fan, they'll love this huge transforming toy that opens up into a three-foot tall Bat Cave complete with jail and elevator.

Other top toys include a set that lets kids mix up powders and potions in a magical cauldron and then summon a new stuffed animal friend, as well as a toy that teaches them how to read digital and analog clocks with an easy-to-use light up interface. A coding toy called Botley is another fun gift that teaches preschoolers the basics of computer programming and allows them to code their own robot.

And a line of magnetic construction toys that are inspired by the Netflix series Ada Twist, Scientist is sure to excite young builders and engineers alike. Designed to teach kids STEM concepts like gravity, balance and energy, these toys are compatible with existing Magna-Tiles sets. And for older kids, this new Grover and Friends set will inspire their creativity by letting them build and rebuild a fire truck with an interactive monitor, two figurines and a dog while reinforcing STEM concepts and fine motor skills. Lastly, a new toy called Pixicade takes kids' drawings and transforms them into an 8-bit video game they can play on their own or with friends. To ensure our picks are kid-approved, our editors carefully evaluate each toy based on how simple it is to assemble and whether or not it fosters imaginative play, as well as safety, durability and ease of use.