Kids' toys 2022: The 16 best kids' toys our experts tested – USA TODAY
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It’s pretty safe to say that we test a lot of toys here at Reviewed. When the holiday season hits, our living rooms have piles of toys to test that sometimes run so high it would shock a Christmas elf.
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Testing toys is a tough (read: awesome) job, but somebody has to do it. This year we asked some of our colleagues to help out the parenting team to see which toys should rise to the top of the pack.
Here are our favorites, as tested by real kids (and some adults who are kids at heart).
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Best for ages: 6 to 12
A new spin on last year’s runaway best-selling toy, this updated version of Magic Mixies Magical Cauldron is every bit as fun—with a bunch of truly magical upgrades.
Magic Mixie’s Crystal Ball is like a portal into an imaginative world your kid didn’t know they had access to. Magic Mixies Crystal Ball comes with an accompanying “spell book” that teaches kids how to spell cast with smoke to conjure toys seemingly out of thin air, which they can do again and again and again (for about 80 cycles until you need to purchase a mist refill pack).
The fun really begins once the accompanying toy is revealed. You can use the wand to bring out all sorts of customizable personality traits—80 in all—to make a Mixie that’s all your own.
What our tester liked best, however, was the crystal ball itself. Once the Mixie is first revealed, you can actually hide any favorite toy in the hidden chamber. Then kids can go through the “spell casting process” to seemingly conjure their favorite toys out of thin air. Our tester loved working his magic with all sorts of different toys and game pieces.
What’s more, when not used to make magic, the crystal ball has a dual functionality as a nightlight. A very cool, misty nightlight!
This may be our favorite toy of the year and seems to appeal to both boys and girls. Get this one before the holiday rush. —Janelle Randazza
$70 at Amazon
Best for ages: 3 to 7
The amount of imaginative play and creativity enabled by this Play-Doh set is extraordinary. There are endless accessories and molds that come with this adorable ice cream truck, along with 12 Play-Doh colors for creating unlimited “ice cream” creations.
The built-in “soft serve” dispenser and sprinkle extruder let kids go beyond simply squishing and molding to create realistic-looking swirls and fun toppings. Scoops, spoons and classic ice cream shop dishes enhance the experience and the excitement.
Our 3- and 5-year-old testers spent hours serving up a variety of faux ice cream treats and ringing up sales on the mini cash register. Taking orders and building the requested sundaes and ice cream cones provided long-lasting entertainment, especially because of all the possible color (aka “flavor”) combinations available with this set. —Danielle DeSiato
$95 at Amazon
Best for ages: 3 to 7
If you have a Peppa Pig fan in your midst, this is the ultimate holiday gift. I actually squealed at the pieces as I unboxed this set—it’s an impressive show-stopper of a toy.
Peppa Pig Deluxe Playhouse has eight rooms for kids to explore over three floors. Each room is designed to look just like Peppa’s house, with amazing attention to detail that little Peppa fans will love.
Our testers loved the accessories, including Mummy Pig’s telescope, an interactive refrigerator and toilet, a stove with a light-up range and a bedside table that plays Peppa and George relaxing bedtime music.
We also loved the accompanying wooden accessories that came with this playhouse, including a boat, a family of figurines and a family car. They are beautifully made and have a wonderful, chunky tactile feel to them that kids will love. —Janelle Randazza
$140 at Amazon
Best for ages: 7 and up
Every kid should get a Christmas morning train set at one point in their childhood. This fully functioning, build-your-own bullet locomotive has all sorts of cool, electrical components that make this the ultimate DIY train set that will appeal to builders and toy train enthusiasts alike.
Accompanied by plenty of track for loops and turns, kids will get miles of play out of the Lego City Express Passenger Train set. Fun to build and boasting loads of clever details including working lights, a fully stocked dining car, doors that open and close, luggage and bike racks, two crew Minifigures and four passenger Minifigures with luggage, this Lego City set is one of our favorite new sets of 2022.
This was thoroughly tested by an 8-year-old who was able to largely build it themselves as well as our 20-something office manager and Lego aficionado. Both loved it. The only caveat either reported was that the remote control took a bit of a learning curve. If your kid is frustration-prone, just be sure to make getting this thing running a team effort. —Janelle Randazza
$190 at Amazon
Best for ages: 2 to 6
The Little Tikes Glow Stick scooter is such a fun alternative to the standard scooters all the kids in the neighborhood have. The rainbow lights show up as the rider speeds up, and the faster they go the more fun the light show becomes.
This scooter was assembled in less than five minutes with the help of a small screwdriver needed to insert the batteries. For our 3-year-old, it’s just as sturdy and easy to use as a Micro, at almost half the price, plus the added attraction of super cool lights.
The handlebar is also quite quick and easy to adjust, making it useful for our 5-year-old as well. Dusk is now our favorite time to be out scooting around the neighborhood.
Another nice feature is this scooter is super easy to store and transport. The frame is lightweight and the handlebar can be easily removed and reattached in minutes. —Danielle DeSiato
$50 at Walmart
Best for ages: 5 to 8
This isn’t a new toy, but it’s one of the best we’ve tried this year. The LeapFrog Magic Adventures Globe is guaranteed to make your kid a geography buff and more curious about the world around them.
This highly interactive globe not only gives insight and information about oceans, continents, countries, cities and regions around the world, it does so in an entertaining, engaging way.
An attached stylus allows kids to hear thousands of facts, ask questions, play games and watch videos on a small screen that gives them a birds-eye view into the parts of the world they are learning about. This toy stoked our testers’ interest in the world around them.
It’s entertaining enough for them to reach for it when you want them off their tablets or conventional screens. Plus, because it also has a geopolitical component, it inspired lots of questions and overall engagement in kids with the world around them. This globe is intended for kids ages 5 to 7, but our nearly 9-year-old testers enjoyed it just as much as our younger ones, which makes this a toy with longevity. —Janelle Randazza
$64 at Walmart
Best for ages: 3 to 12
There are lots of kids’ audio players on the market, but this one is—by far—our favorite. The Yoto Player is a multi-tasking kid’s music player, podcast player, mini-radio and storybook reader that is bursting with kid-friendly features. Designed for kids ages 3 to 12, the Yoto Player works with preloaded content cards that you can purchase separately.
Out of all the kids’ audio players we tested this year, this audio player had the best content and “grow with you” functionality of all on the market. There are also Yoto-only offerings that can be played through the player for a constant stream of free content, like the Yoto Daily Podcast, evening meditations and Yoto Radio.
Also available through the app is a monthly rotation of free stories that you can download to blank Yoto cards, load onto your device and own forever.
We happen to be fans of the original Yoto Player but the Yoto Player Mini has almost all of the same terrific features and sells at $30 less so. —Janelle Randazza
$100 at Amazon
Best for ages: 3 to 12
This cutie little kids’ digital camera made us swoon over its diminutive size, soft and grippy body and intuitive and easy-to-use features. In fact, this camera was so easy to use that we never once had to break out the instruction manual. Just take it out of the box, charge it up and watch your kids snap away.
The Kidamento Model K was obviously designed by photo buffs. This camera can take photos up to an astonishing 48 megapixels, making it a formidable camera as far as photo quality is concerned. We also liked that it looks and feels like a shrunk-down DSLR, yet is automated to get the best possible photos for a young child who hasn’t yet honed their photography chops.
It’s fun, it’s cute and it works remarkably well. If you’re looking for a first camera, this is the best we’ve tried. —Janelle Randazza
$80 at Amazon
Best for ages: 3 to 5
The LeapFrog Clean Sweep Learning Caddy is a talking play set that includes a cleaning caddy/mop bucket with a friendly face as well as a play mop, broom and dust pan, spray bottle and cloth. The bucket has several interactive features from a soap pump to a foot pedal and it will sing, count and encourage kids to play clean up.
The fun activities are designed to encourage listening comprehension, teach numbers and quantities and following directions.
Our toddler testers really enjoyed pressing all the buttons on the caddy to make it sing and count; they also liked the stand-alone pieces that resembled real cleaning materials. —Amber Bouman
$23 at Amazon
Best for ages: 2 to 7
The Step2 Adventure Camper is a playhouse that’s part RV, part food truck and all fun. Intended for ages 2-plus, the open-concept camper features a molded interior kitchen area with a sink and stovetop where kids can play cook and use their imaginations. There’s also a grill, a working doorbell and a variety of play food and utensils.
The camper encourages a variety of play and development in young children from storytelling, taking turns and problem-solving. Most importantly, our toddler testers completely loved playing with the camper from the clicker knobs on the stovetop to the various fake foods and kitchen accessories.
Step2 says the camper is made EverTough, a proprietary construction technique that features plastic resin and a double-walled construction. This makes Step2 toys capable of standing up to all manner of wear and tear. True to form, it survived all the abuse that two toddlers could throw at it—even before it was fully assembled.
While the Adventure Camper does attract dirt and debris, especially if real food finds its way inside, it is simple to wipe down and clean. The accessories are well made and it is well designed overall, durable and keeps my kids occupied for long stretches. But be forewarned that assembly is complicated. I’d rather sit through a root canal than have to assemble this playhouse again. —Amber Bouman
$333 at Amazon (with $17.50 coupon)
Best for ages: 2 to 6
Our 3-year-old tester, who’s a big fan of Cocomelon, squealed with delight when he saw this JJ doll. He was excited to hug and “treat” JJ with all of the doctor accessories, even before he ever heard that JJ had talking and singing features.
The accessories are of great quality, and our kids have so much fun using them on the doll, each other and any grownups they can convince to get a checkup.
Any Cocomelon fan will enjoy this plush JJ doll, which teaches young kids how to handle minor injuries with a variety of doctor accessories. The soft doll will announce his boo-boos, and the related area (head, elbow, knee or foot) will light up red, so that children can use the included stethoscope, bandages, thermometer and syringe to help him feel better. Once treated, JJ will respond with “Yay! My boo boo is gone!” He can also sing the ‘Boo Boo song’ if his belly is pressed, and will cry, ask for help and say other phrases and sounds.
Our toddler testers were excited to use the accessories, on themselves as much as on the doll, and really liked the Cocomelon-themed doctor’s bag as well.
The doll itself is quite soft, the ‘hurt’ spots responded well when pressed and the accessories are well constructed. However, we wouldn’t have minded an option to lower the volume as the songs and sounds are a bit loud. —Amber Bouman
$40 at Amazon
Best for ages: 3 to 9
There are so many terrific dollhouses on the market, but we like this one for being one that can accommodate any toy, doll or style your child can dream up.
If there was one dollhouse I would want to shrink down and live in, this would be it. The Little Tikes Stack n’ Style Wooden Dollhouse is three floors of cool. It’s chic, it’s stylish and it looks like it popped out of the pages of Architectural Digest. It’s also beautifully made and heirloom quality, with impressive details that are built to last.
The modular design of this toy lets kids customize the home to have the exact layout they want. Real lights and sounds make for more exciting imaginative play and the accessories in this dollhouse are nothing short of dreamy.
Another thing that we liked about this dollhouse is the overall non-gendered approach, making for a more inclusive play experience than most dollhouses on the market. Our male testers liked this just as much as any girl might and played with it for just as long.
From a clawfoot tub to bistro seating to even a tiny mini coup, Little Tikes has really amped up the fun with this stylish new dollhouse—and they have done it beautifully. At over $200, this dollhouse is a bit of a splurge, but it’s one of the best we’ve seen and totally worth the price. —Janelle Randazza
$212 at Amazon
Best for ages: 3 to 9
You can’t go wrong with a Playmobil play set. The brand has a longstanding tradition of making well-made and durable toys that go the distance with playability, and its animal-focused sets have always been a hit with younger kids.
Our son grew up on a now-discontinued Playmobil animal hospital and, while he’s at the upper age range of most Playmobil lines, the Wiltopia reinvigorated his love for Playmobil’s animal-focused lines.
The Playmobil Wiltopia world takes us into rainforests and jungles and is made from an average of 80% post-consumer waste recycled materials. Playmobil toys are built so well and can last for decades, so the fact that they are now being sustainably made makes them that much better. That the Wiltopia line focuses on wildlife and the natural environment makes it a perfect line to get kids talking about sustainability.
As for playability, this line is awesome. My son loved playing with the animal care station and the cool little thoughtful details that came with it. The exotic animals like ocelots, tapirs and parrots–and all of the medical supplies you need to treat them—were wildly engaging for my son and his friends.
We also loved the Wildtopia app, which teaches kids about animals and the environment, making this more than a static play set but one that has a ton of educational value as well. —Janelle Randazza
Shop the Playmobil Wiltopia line at Amazon
Best for ages: 5 to 10
This Toy Insider top holiday toy winner is an inspiring and imagination-building play set. This celestial, star wish tower comes with more than 150 pieces, including a pretend-play telescope tube with three colored lenses, glow-in-the-dark stickers and loads of accessories. It can also connect with other award-winning Pinxies sets (including last year’s gorgeous Pinxies Enchanted Ice Castle).
If your child likes building their toys in addition to playing with them, the Pinxies collection of toys are worth a look. The concept is simple: Each set is like a colorful and whimsical play set or dollhouse that you build yourself, with plastic tabs holding together larger pre-cut, printed sections, accessories and characters. Building these sets doesn’t require as much force or dexterity as a Lego set, making it more appropriate for slightly younger kids.
Our daughter adored putting together the Pinxies Star Wish Tower, especially playing with the little girl figurine that came with the set. It also included a faux telescope with some glow-in-the-dark stickers that she’s been with obsessed with ever since. Our only hangup is the resulting tower is a bit rickety compared to a traditional dollhouse and it has tons of little cardboard pieces, meaning we’ll surely be finding Pinxies pieces all over our house for weeks. —TJ Donegan
$30 at Amazon
Best for ages: 3 to 7
There’s no doubt that magic is having a moment right now. It’s an ongoing trend in toys and, this year, even the littlest witches and wizards can be part of the play.
We were so impressed with this pint-size magic kit that has everything a tiny spell caster might need to conjure all sorts of magical spells and potions. A noise-making spell book, a flickering candle, a watchful frog, a magical wand and a cauldron that lights up and creates sounds makes for truly engaging imaginative play.
Our testers loved the multi-sensory experience this toy provides. They loved the tiny toy feathers, jewels, mushrooms and a magical egg that made them feel like they were mixing real potions, and they loved the noises the cauldron would make to convince them that their magic was working.
We were also particularly appreciative of the non-gendered design of the Little Tikes Magic Workshop. Rather than pandering to pinks or blues, the design is straightforward and looks exactly like what a real potion lab might look like if you stumbled upon it in the woods. —Janelle Randazza
$80 at Walmart
Best for ages: 7 to 12
Squaregles are a fun new take on magnetic tile toys. Out of all of the magnetic tile toys out there, the more architectural components of this one appealed to our older testers the most. This is a more dynamic building system than a lot of magnetic tile toys—but it’s also a bit tougher to build with—making it a great choice for kids ages 7 to 12.
This 105-piece set is a dynamic building system filled with slopes and loops as well as draw-on panels that kids can personalize to complete their architectural vision.
The set comes with 32 square magnet tiles, eight triangle magnetic tiles, 20 interactive pop-in panels, ramps, jumps, tubes and a ton more!
A nice added feature is the included characters and their accompanying comic card. The characters, known as Oggs, are silly little men that kids can customize with accessories, faces, helmets and even their ride-on vehicle of choice. —Janelle Randazza
$120 at Amazon
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.