Sydney's dad, Samuel, said it was one of her favorites. The set features a spinning merry-go-round, slide with ladder, a flexible mesh suit with two stud shooters, lockers with opening doors and a lunch bench with a catapult. Bubbles and Princess Morbucks minifigures, and an Octi figure, are included.
Playmobil Hidden Temple with T-Rex ($59.99) • This was the clear winner with our testers. Each of the children played with this set for extended periods, both alone and together, and also incorporating the other toys into their play. Eemmaus really loves dinosaurs and wished the set came with more than one. Annie, his mom, said the set also fell apart easily, which was frustrating. Whitney liked it because "you can do a lot with the characters, like go on adventures and look for treasure."The set comes with a temple with a functioning pulley and portcullis, a T-Rex, three people figures and a dog. There are also accessories for the characters, including binoculars, backpacks, pivoting LED laser gun, and a map that reacts to heat when touched. An UV flashlight included in the set activates UV-reactive features on the temple.
Barbie Ultimate Kitchen Playset ($49.99) • Complete with various cooking "appliances" and utensils, and several colors of "Barbie Dough," this set was an instant hit with our testers. The kitchen includes a stovetop with light and sound, an oven and several food molds necessary to make a Barbie-sized feast. Sydney and Whitney spent significant time playing together with the set, and returned to it after testing other toys
Little Live Pets My Dancing Unicorn ($17.79) • Sparkles lived up to her name — walking and "dancing" with her light-up horn when activated. Sparkles also makes sounds and has hair that can be combed with the included brush. Our testers quickly incorporated it into their play with the Playmobil and Barbie sets. Sydney said it was her favorite toy because of how it moved and used the horn.
Botley the Coding Robot ($79.99) • This little robot from Learning Resources is a fun introduction to if/then coding language. Botley comes with a remote, programming cards and several items that can be used to set up obstacles or games. Botley has cute sounds, though they were hard to hear with the noise in the testing room. The recommended age is listed as 5+, but the instructions were too complicated for the young readers to navigate alone. Once explained, our youngest testers had no trouble using basic functions on the remote. Parents gave it mixed reviews, saying it seemed fun, educational and a toy likely to grow with their child, but noted a steep learning curve.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tank ($29.99) • The testers on our age group didn't show a lot of love for the turtle tank. While the shooting function was a hit and the kids were able to open and close the truck cab with ease, raising and lowering the tank portion with the ladder proved trickier. Samuel Martin, Sydney's dad, said the quality felt cheap, and several parents were surprised to hear that none of the turtle figures were included, but each sold separately. During the free play portion, a couple of Ninja Turtles fans from the 3-5 age group were more excited to play with it.
Circuit Conductor ($69.99) • Through a free app downloaded to a phone or tablet, Circuit Conductor uses increasingly difficult puzzles and colorful diagrams to teach kids how electrical currents and circuits work. Using the pieces provided, kids can build circuits that make a fan spin or turn on a light. Our testers and parents found the app difficult to use, and the magnetic connections that held pieces together became easily disconnected when adding new items to the circuit.
Trix Trux ($19.99) • The truck and track were an instant draw for several of our testers. Trix Trux comes with a rope track and several obstacles for the truck to tackle. The truck conquered several of the obstacles, though it often got stuck or jumped the track and took off across the room. The aerial zipline was not as easy to use as it appeared and the truck fell off more often then not. Despite these hiccups, testers were undeterred and seemed eager to make the car try again.
LEGO The Powerpuff Girls Bubbles’ Playground Showdown ($19.99) • Sydney's dad, Samuel, said it was one of her favorites. The set features a spinning merry-go-round, slide with ladder, a flexible mesh suit with two stud shooters, lockers with opening doors and a lunch bench with a catapult. Bubbles and Princess Morbucks minifigures, and an Octi figure, are included.
MagicPad ($19.99) • Drawing on the clear screen of the MagicPad was fun even without the lights on, but it's the eight different lighting features that set it apart. It comes with three two-sided markers, a cloth for erasing and 30 cards that can be slid into the frame behind the screen for tracing or playing games. Sydney used one of the cards to make part of a picture before moving onto another toy. Compact and portable, several parents said they could see using it for long car rides or at a restaurant.
Mobo Triton bike ($299.99) • This three-wheeled cruiser uses handles to steer with the back wheels. Each of our testers took it for a spin down a wide (but not wide enough) hallway. Without a wide open space, it was difficult to get a feel for the steering and braking, though each of our testers enjoyed it. Their parents like it, too. Amanda, Lucas's mom, said she could see him being more willing to ride the cruiser style than his regular bike.
Sticky the Plunger with Sticky the Poo + Target ($21.99) • Throw two sticky plungers and a sticky poo emoji at a toilet target to see who gets closest to the center. Or, place a photo of an unfortunate friend into the pocket on the target and take aim. The appeal of the game was short-lived, though it did elicit giggles from the kids and a few groans from the parents.
Plus-Plus Open Play tube ($6.99) • Create buildings, animals — any structure you an imagine using small, colorful shapes that look like two plus signs stuck together. Plus-plus are sold in tubes with various color combinations, or in sets aimed at building something specific. Our testers were encouraged to build freely and experiment with how the pieces fit together, but none was interested in building for long.
Meet our testers
Grace Lenz, 2, Manchester
Mila Peralta, 2, South St. Louis County
Christopher Caldwell III, 3, Florissant
Brooks Wolf , 3, St. Louis
Graham Shapiro, 4, Chesterfield
Veda Rentschler, 4, St. Louis
Aliyah Cruts, 4, St. Louis
Cooper Dixon , 5, Breese
Whitney Murray, 7, St. Ann
Lucas Ferling, 7, Defiance
Emmaus Tzeng, 8, Ladue
Sydney Martin, 8, Maryland Heights
Amaré Barnes, 9, Florissant
Lenore Upwood, 9, St. Louis
Jack Grigaitis, 10, Frontenac
Margot Schusky, 10, Collinsville