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   Gift Guide: Preschoolers

Preschoolers can be the easiest people to shop for—they are wide-eyed and enthusiastic about almost any new toy they unwrap. But if parents want that initial excitement to last beyond Christmas morning, it is wise to shop around. When it comes to toys and software, any parent will agree that there are wiser choices than others--toys that entertain and educate at the same time are ideal. Often, though, some of the best gifts are toys that inspire imagination and encourage discovery. So, while electronic teaching aids can be fantastic, tubs of paints and wooden blocks are priceless.

 

Top Gifts
for Preschoolers

10+ TOP PICKS

2020 EDITION



1Leap Frog's LeapPad Ultra

Tablets are where it's at for portable fun and learning. This very kid-friendly tablet is specifically designed for young children and is filled with fun and truly educational (or edutaining) activities. The LeapPad Ultra Kids Tablet is currently available in green or pink. It's tough, the apps are strong and appealing, kids love the camera and video options, and it includes a kid-safe internet browsing experience.

The only real problem with this choice is that additional apps/software for the unit are necessary for full enjoyment of the tablet, as users cannot access non-LeapFrog apps such as Google Play, and they are quite expensive. A regular tablet will be desired once the LeapPad Ultra has outgrown its appeal, and this has to be considered as well (some parents would prefer to skip right to a "real" tablet instead). If you can afford it, however, you will likely be happy with your choice. A regular tablet will be desired down the road, but this one is quite perfect for the younger set.

For more reviews, information, or to buy (affiliate link): LeapPad Ultimate



Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids Edition

We love this tablet. The Galaxy Tab 3 can be run in standard mode, and it's the same Galaxy Tab 3 that adults use. In kid mode, there are nice parental controls and preloaded kid-friendly apps with the option to acquire more. You can load up this tablet with apps from Google Play, for example, or the Samsung Kids Store.  It's fun right out of the box. We love the carry handle that turns into a tablet stand and stylus version, although the other version with the orange bumper is good as well. For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids Edition (7-Inch with Carrying Case and Stylus) - affiliate link



The New Leapster L-MaxLeapster L-Max

The Leapster L-Max is a handheld portable unit that mimics Nintendo's GameBoy, but with important differences that make it not only more kid-friendly, but exceptionally more educational as well. The comparatively large screen is also a touch screen, and kids interact with the games by using a directional pad and an attached stylus. Game cartridges, available separately, offer children "edutaining" games that support learning. What's the main difference between the Leapster and the Leapster L-Max? Besides a slightly less bulky unit, the L-Max can be played as a portable or can be plugged into the TV and played on both the little and "big" screens. The unit is backwards compatible -- the original Leapster game cartridges can be played on the new unit. Most of the original games play on both the portable and TV screens, while some only play on the handheld. The Leapster L-Max is now available in pink as well as the standard silver. Read our full review of the L-Max here.

For more information, user reviews, or to Leapster L-Max Handheld Learning Game System or Leapster L-Max Handheld Learning Game System - Pink at Amazon.com - affiliate lilnks]
 

 

2Mini Monet

What fun! This reversible fold-out easel features a chalk board on one side and a marker board on the other. A large clip holds paper if desired. This set comes with eight magnetic shape cut-outs that stick to either the chalk board or the marker board. Kids can trace outside or inside the shapes, creating hearts, moons, diamonds, or more complicated stars. The set also comes with markers, chalk, paint brushes, and storage cases for all of these art supplies. It's a nice portable set that encourages creative play as well as hand-eye coordination, of course. We love it!

 

3
Little People A to Z Learning Zoo

The chunky Little People from Fisher Price have been treasured by many young preschoolers for years. The Little People toy sets haven't "needed" funky electronics to attract children to them. Still, the electronic interaction of the Little People A to Z Learning Zoo is an added bonus, especially since this interaction gets children interested in learning their ABCs through animal sounds. This playset includes a Little People zookeeper, 26 animals with names from A to Z, and zoo items that kids can place them on, such as a waterfall, tree with swing, and a car. Kids can store their big collection of chunky animals in the included storage bag. Cute!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Little People: A to Z Learning Zoo at Amazon.com - affiliate link]

 

4
Lite Brite Cube 

The classic Lite Brite toy was updated, now in the shape of a sizeable cube and featuring four surfaces on which to place colorful pegs. A storage drawer makes clean up easy. The extra surfaces not only make it a fun toy to share with friends and siblings, it is great for solitary play too. Furthermore, kids can keep their work-in-progress, move onto another creation, and return to a previous surface! 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: LB CUBE at Amazon.com - affiliate link]


5 Cutting Food Box
 

Children love play food. How about "slice-able" cucumbers, bread, and more? This set features wooden play food, and each food item contains slices that connect together with Velcro. When kids use the included wooden play knives to slice their food, it makes a very satisfying "crunch". Kids can assemble sandwiches with the set, and when they're done playing, all the pieces fit back into the wooden box, and a slide-on lid keeps the set neat and easy to store.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Cutting Food Box at Amazon.com - affiliate link]

 


6 Glitter Dream Dollhouse

This dollhouse will hold its appeal longer than most dollhouses, simply because it is designed to accommodate 12" fashion dolls (Barbies, My Scenes, and the like), so that it grows with a young child. Besides the pink decor, there's an elevator with a crank that kids always love. The dollhouse comes with some wood furniture, and the walls are detailed backdrops. The dollhouse is tall, sturdy, and looks fabulous -- it would make quite a statement under the tree!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Glitter Dream Dollhouse at Amazon.com - affiliate link] 

 
7 Brio Wooden Airport Set

Anyone familiar with Brio wooden toys will know their quality and most will love the tactile experience the toys offer young children. This gorgeous wooden airport set features an airport terminal building and road track that can be used as is, or linked to other Brio tracks. The terminal includes a luggage conveyor, check-in counter, and control tower. Accessories include 3 different planes, plenty of street lights and trees, as well as wooden people (including airport workers), buses, and cars. A satisfying, albeit pricey, set for preschoolers!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Wooden Airport Gift Set at Amazon.com - affiliate lilnk]

8 Word Whammer Fridge Phonics

Similar to the Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letters set below, this electronic toy very firmly sticks to your fridge via magnets. For children experimenting with simple three-letter words, the set allows kids to create real (and nonsense) words right on its surface. If a real word is formed, the toy announces its name. The sound quality leaves something to be desired, but the concept is excellent. If you already own the Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letters set, you'll be pleased to know that you can use letters from that set with this one. Letter sounds are reinforced.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Word Whammer Fridge Phonics at Amazon.com - affiliate link]

 

The Letter Factory Game

Children often need some hand-holding when it comes to working through board games, simply because they need to learn about turn-taking and develop some patience. The Letter Factory Game by Leapfrog features electronic hand-holding in the form of Professor Quigley, a talking guide who lets them know whose turn it is, how many spaces to move, and which cards to find. This board game has an educational agenda, but it certainly doesn't detract from the fun. In fact, The Letter Factory Game features little ditties that can be downright silly about each letter of the alphabet, and it reinforces colors and counting concepts as well. Two levels of play accommodate children ages 3 to 5 or 6. Phonics letter sounds are introduced with this fun and educational game.  

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: The Letter Factory Game at Toys R Us/Amazon.com - affiliate link]

 


Leapfrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letters

This is an electronic toy that is effective, attractive, and affordable. Most families recognize both the appeal and educational value of magnetic letters for the fridge. This set takes magnetic letters a step further. It comes with all 26 letters of the alphabet, as well as a little electronic unit that also sticks to the fridge. Children place any magnetic letter onto the unit (the reader) and the letter is recognized and named, along with a fun little song that reinforces the letter's name and phonics sound! This set is simple, appealing, and rather easy on the pocketbook. As children grow, of course, parents can help children put letters together to form small words. Highly recommended.  

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set (affiliate link) at Amazon.com]


9

LeapPad Plus Writing & Microphone

LeapFrog has raised the bar in the electronic learning toy department. Its fantastic LeapPad series is case in point. In many ways, this electronic pad plays like an electronic storybook software program, with the added convenience of portability. Kids use a touch-sensitive pen to interact with special books they place on the pad. This toy is supported by a large—and growing—library of books available that teach early reading, math, music, and science skills. This latest release adds writing and speech to the learning power of the toy—kids can use the magic pen not only to point and activate hotspots, but to write letters, words, shapes, and numbers; and they can interact with microphone-enabled books. The package comes with two sampler books. Additional interactive books are sold separately.

Note that there are a number of LeapPad versions available. Last year, LeapPad Plus Writing was released, and the latest version released this year is LeapPad Plus Writing and Microphone. These two latest versions are backwards compatible. In other words, they will accept any LeapPad book, whether or not the books are microphone-enabled. Common sense suggests purchasing this latest version with the writing and microphone features.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy LeapPad Plus Writing and Microphone or the previous versions: LeapPad Plus Writing, LeapPad and Pink & Purple LeapPad]



10 ABC Puzzle: Upper & Lower Case

There's something satisfying about wooden puzzles. With the ABC Puzzle: Upper & Lower Case, kids refine motor skills as they learn the alphabet. While there are plenty of alphabet puzzles on the market, this one is especially educational. It features letter pairs--both upper and lower case wooden letters--that fit into the puzzle tray. As well, this puzzle is of the "see-inside" variety. Pictures of objects that start with each letter are "hiding" behind, which opens up opportunities for caregivers to reinforce letter sounds with little learners. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy ABC Puzzle: Upper & Lower Case at Amazon.com for approximately $15 US] 

 


More Good Choices:

 


coverRalph's World CDs & Video/DVD

Kids just love the three recordings in the Ralph's World line of children's music. And adults adore them too! The result? Great family listening. All three albums make great purchases. The first title, simply called Ralph's World, is a fun place to start. The lyrics and delivery are fresh, fun, and enormously appealing. Now available is a video and DVD, Ralph's World: Say Hello, that features fun skits for each of sixteen songs, culled from the three albums. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Ralph's World At the Bottom of the Sea, or Happy Lemons. Also available, Ralph's World: Say Hello (VHS) and Ralph's World - Say Hello! (DVD).]

 

V Smile

The concept is excellent: the V.Smile is an electronic learning system designed for children too young for traditional video games. The colorful unit plugs into the TV and accepts software in the form of cartridges (called Smartridges). Children use the unit's large, kid-friendly joystick to interact with the software. Parents of young children, especially those with older siblings, know that their preschoolers are itching to play video games like the "big kids". The V Smile offers games that truly play like video games, but feature a distinct educational component at the same time. The unit comes with one software title, a Smartridge called Alphabet Park Adventure. Additional Smartridges, many of which feature popular licensed characters such as Winnie the Pooh and Scooby Doo, are sold separately. This makes an exciting gift.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: V-Smile at Amazon.com]

 

Cabbage Patch Kids Dolls & Cabbage Patch Kids Babies

A blast from the past! The original Cabbage Patch doll frenzy occurred in the early 1980's. Many parents of today's children took part in the thrill of the dolls: each doll is entirely unique and comes with adoption papers that include a name and a birthdate. Kids loved them then, and they love them today. Many parents will be happy to know that today's Cabbage Patch dolls have not been "updated" with technology or anything of the sort. 

Cabbage Patch dolls were re-released last year. This season, they introduced Cabbage Patch Kids Babies, such as the one at right. These adorable dolls come with a kit of baby accessories (including a diaper), and they smell like baby powder!

Note that you can order these dolls through Toys R Us (see link directly below this description) by choosing a general description of the doll, such as "Blonde Hair Girl, Pink Sweatsuit", but because each doll is one-of-a-kind, the eyes, hair styles, and faces will be different than those shown. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: All Cabbage Patch Dolls (affiliate link) at Amazon.com]

 

 

 

Caillou's Holiday Movie

Released in the final quarter of 2004, Caillou's first full-length movie is a real treat. An advent calendar generates anticipation for Christmas, and Caillou takes part in many winter activities as he gets ready for the holidays. The movie explores and introduces children to holiday traditions in different cultures as well. The DVD edition is well worth purchasing, not only because of its extras in the form of an animated interview with Caillou and two multi-level games, but because it can be viewed in English, French, and Spanish. The multilingual feature is of particular interest to families who want to encourage second-language acquisition at an early age. Highly recommended. Our Rating: A

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Caillou's Holiday Movie (DVD) or Caillou's Holiday Movie (VHS)]

 
Fisher Price Read With Me DVD System 

This exciting electronic unit by Fisher Price offers kids the chance to watch specially designed DVDs, featuring popular characters and classic stories, and interact along with them in educational ways. Designed in conjunction with Scholastic, the system includes the hardware itself and a bonus DVD, along with activity cards, a DVD case, and a kid-friendly remote control. This DVD-based learning system requires that you own a DVD player. Additional DVD software titles must be purchased separately. These include classic storybooks such as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Dr. Seuss, and more. Children place the activity card over the wireless Read with Me controller and answer educational questions. Over 100 questions are programmed into each DVD, so children are kept stimulated and enjoy different experiences each time they watch.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Fisher Price Learning: Read with Me DVD System with "The Little Engine That Could" Rom or Fisher Price Learning: Read with Me DVD System with "Where The Wild Things Are" Rom at Amazon.com - affiliate links]

 


Imaginext - Fisher Price Line of Building Toys

Imaginext is a new line of building toys that is ideal for older preschoolers as well as Kindergarteners. A number of sets are available, and each is compatible with the next. Plastic pieces snap together in a variety of ways. This is a very satisfying and durable system that encourages creativity, planning, and building skills. Pictured above left is the Rescue Center. With this set, kids can build a firehouse, play with a few figurines, and operate both a water cannon and a fire truck with flashing lights. At right is the Dragomont's Fortress, which features swinging doors, Dragomont and King Bravemore figurines, and flying companions (an eagle and winged dragon). Both sets are cute and educational--and they will last well beyond the construction phase.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Imaginext Dragonmont's Fortress with Video , Rescue Center, or Imaginext Sets at Amazon.com - affiliate link] 

 


Dancing Deedle Dudes! 

What fun! These "dudes" are adorable. Pick them up, poke them, or make a loud noise and they start to sing a funky song and move to their own beat. There are six Dancing Deedle Dudes in all -- a frog, cat, dog, horse, mouse, and cow. See our full review for the scoop on these voice- and touch-activated stuffed animals.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Deedle Dudes (affiliate link) at Amazon.com]

 

 

Magnetic Calendar  

This perpetual calendar can be assembled for any month, and kids will love setting it up. The Magnetic Calendar is a fantastic educational tool. With the help of parents, children add magnetic pieces of the month, year, and days, and then they personalize it! Kids can add magnets for each holiday, soccer days, going to the dentist, getting a haircut, the first day of winter, and more. It's a visual aid, and it helps children understand calendar concepts, numbers, and the importance of being organized.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Magnetic Calendar at Amazon.com - affiliate link]

 


Band in a Box
 

Cymbals, a triangle, maracas, a tambourine, and more...for making lovely (not jarring) music the "old-fashioned way". What fun! This set inspires imagination. Kids will parade around the house with their very own musical instruments, delighted that they can make music any way they want. There are plastic sets of musical instruments for kids on the market, but this set is more realistic and entirely more satisfying. Everything fits back into a wooden box for easy storage.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Band-in-a-Box at Amazon.com - affiliate link]

 


coverPizza Party
 

This toy by Melissa & Doug is ideal for younger preschoolers. Any way you slice it, this wooden set delivers lots of fun with a serving tray, spatula, play cutter, slices of pizza, and more than 50 toppings (wooden circles painted with mushrooms, pepperoni, and other such yummies) that attach to the pizza slices with velcro. Very satisfying toy that serves to inspire the imagination.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Pizza Party: Wooden Pizza Set at Amazon.com - affiliate link]

 
coverJumbo Box Scholastic Video Collection -- DVD set

Children's storybook classics put to video, narrated beautifully, are featured on the 6 volumes of extras-loaded DVDs in this amazing set. Preschoolers will enjoy these treasured stories, from Where the Wild Things Are to Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, come to life. The format celebrates storytelling -- the original illustrations are used so that kids can enjoy the books as they were originally intended. Very nice! 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy Jumbo Box of Storybook Classics (Scholastic Video Collection) at Amazon.com]

 
Magazine Subscriptions

Graduates of Babybug magazine as well as newbies will thoroughly enjoy LadyBug magazine. High-quality stories and illustrations, games and activities, rhymes, and more make up the pages of this special magazine designed for preschoolers. Kids will get a present in the mail throughout the year with a gift subscription to the magazine. Another good choice is Preschool Playroom. Featuring favorite characters like Spot, Maisy, Bear in the Big Blue House, and Blue, this magazine will delight little learners with activities and write-in workbook pages. Preschoolers will feel extra special receiving mail that's just for them, throughout the year. 

[Sign up for a subscription to Ladybug at Amazon.com - affiliate link] 

 


Cranium's Cariboo

Some exciting new board games for preschoolers have recently been released. Cranium's Cariboo takes kids on a treasure hunt--for colorful balls! They unlock compartments with a special purple key after matching colors, sets of objects, or letters. Very cute! 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy Cranium Cariboo at Amazon.com - affiliate link]

 


Country Barn & Farm House

This absolutely gorgeous wooden Country Barn, by Plan Toys (a division of Brio), is a treasure for any young preschooler. It opens up to create many play opportunities, and it includes a moveable ladder to a hay loft, a milk churn, 4 fences, and a sack of grain. The wall folds, which helps to offer space for kids to play. The Farm House is solid and durable, and comes with a farmer, sheep dog, table, and two chairs. Both the barn and the farm house are beautifully constructed. Preschoolers will be proud!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: PLAN Toy Country Barn (affiliate link) - Amazon.com] 

 


coverA book with the title The Most Incredible Outrageous Packed-to-the-Gills Bulging-at-the Seams Sticker Book You've Ever Seen has a lot to live up to. Fortunately, it does just that. More than 450 stickers are included, and can be used on the pages of the book in a variety of ways. Kids love stickers--the more the better. Naturally, they'll love this "packed-to-the gills" sticker book, and will  be busy with it for hours. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy The Most Incredible, Outrageous,... at Amazon.com - affiliate link]

 

 

coverAnimal Alley Stuffed Animals 

Kids love soft stuffed plush animals, and the Animal Alley line from Toys R Us is a favorite. The animals are adorable and decently-priced. The selection is wide--ranging from small to jumbo-sized animals, and all types of animals, from frogs to bears to unicorns. Pictured at left is a jumbo Darny Dog, a huggable 43-inch dog. coverAt right is a smaller Bichon Frise dog. Big and little colorful frogs, tall giraffes, cool alligators, panthers and tigers, and many more cuddly animals make up this wonderful line of affordable stuffed animals. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: see the full line: Animal Alley Stuffed Animals at Amazon.com]

 

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