The phrase “like a kid with a new toy” summarises that feeling you get when playing with something new. But selecting a toy for your child – or favourite small relative – is no easy feat.
You want something imaginative and inspiring to look at that’s also educational and creative. But you also want it to be built to last, so it can potentially be passed on, or, dare we say it, shared with siblings.
We also believe that a good toy shouldn’t be a five-minute wonder – it should be cherished and become a long-term companion.
How we tested
These pointers have all been considered on our hunt for the best toys, with the aid of a three-, five- and 12-year-old tester. We’ve also taken cost into consideration, as the most expensive toys don’t always end up being the most treasured, in addition to quality, value for money and, most importantly, fun.
The best kids’ toys of 2021 are:
- Best overall – Janod game of skill acrobat: £19.99, Kidinn.com
- Best wooden toy – JoJo Maman Bébé Palaeontologist play set: £34, Jojomananbebe.co.uk
- Best for magic – Magic Mixies magic cauldron, pink: £69.99, Smythstoys.com
- Best for role play – Little Dutch coffee machine: £23, Kidly.co.uk
- Best value for money – Kindi Kids poppi pearl bubble ‘N’ sing doll: £29.99, Thetoyshop.com
- Best for experience – The Den Kit Company the British woodland den kit: £50, Kidly.co.uk
- Best STEM toy – Science Museum Mechanics Junior moving animals kit: £25, Sciencemuseum.org.uk
- Best for style – Midilli rocking horse: £76, Mamatoyzuk.com
- Best for longevity – Hape fire station: £69.99, Smythstoys.com
- Best multi-generational game – It's Bananas!: £23.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for two-person play – SmartMax build and roll: £49.99, Smarttoysandgames.co.uk
Janod game of skill acrobat
Building towers is the type of child’s play that soon sees the adults getting involved. This creative building game from French toy brand Janod is full of feel-good fun, as you throw the three die and strategically place your wooden acrobats on the corresponding coloured spots. The first person to knock down a tower loses. While it’s recommended for kids aged five and above, this game had all our mini reviewers involved. There are 20 discs with coloured spots and 57 comical acrobats, plus a handy storage pouch. This game is good, honest fun.
JoJo Maman Bébé palaeontologist play set
Best: Wooden toy
Does your child have a desire for dinosaurs? You’re not alone. New for 2021, this 11-piece palaeontologist playset from renowned baby and child brand JoJo Maman Bébé is simply brilliant.
Everything history buffs could ever need to get their prehistoric fix can be found inside this dino discovery kit. There are perfectly portioned pieces for small hands, including a kaleidoscope “magnifying glass”, trowel, brush and pickaxe, a chalk board to note down their findings, fossil pieces which can be attached using Velcro, and two dinosaur puzzles to piece together.
We love that this comes in a handy case that can be neatly stored for when your palaeontologist takes a break. Plus, this set is made from wood, so no pesky plastic.
Magic Mixies magic cauldron, pink
Best: For magic
OK, this toy is a little bit special and certainly has the wow factor. Our five-year-old tester squealed with delight as she conjured up a magical potion to create her own Mixie creature, following the spellbook. There’s a selection of magical ingredients included such as a feather, a glitter star and crystal gem to be added to the cauldron, and the final step is to name your Mixie – ours was called Zina. Each step is followed by three taps of the magic wand, creating enchanting sounds and lights, and on the last step a magical child-safe mist appears and, with a surprise bolt from the cauldron, the interactive Mixie is revealed.
It’s worth doing a bit of prep before gifting this toy to ensure it’s as magical as can be. The cauldron itself is charged via USB and the first charge takes around an hour, while the Mixie toy comes with batteries. While the first go is the most magical, the cauldron is designed to be used again and again – just make sure you remove the liquid each time. It may be worth considering purchasing an additional refill pack too (£9.99, Smythstoys.com), to keep the magic alive.
Little Dutch coffee machine
Best: For role play
How do you like your coffee in the morning? We all know our offspring love to imitate us, so why not let them channel their inner barista? This wooden coffee machine from Little Dutch serves up espressos, cappuccinos, macchiatos and more to really get children’s imaginations brewing. Made from wood and finished with water-based paint, we were impressed with the quality. Our three-year-old apprentice loved nothing more than slotting in the coffee pods and turning the handle. You’ll get two spoons, two cups and five coffee pods in the set.
The Little Dutch coffee machine is expected back in stock very soon, and you can sign up to receive an email when it returns.
Kindi Kids poppi pearl bubble ‘N’ sing doll
Best: Value for money
If there are two things our little testers love, it’s bubbles and babies. The reaction when they could have the two together? Well, all their Christmases came at once. Kindi Kids is the hot product on the dolls scene, with the latest release being the “scented sisters” range. Two toys in one, Poppi Pearl blows ice-cream-scented bubbles from her mouth after being fed her bottle. She also sings and giggles too. You also get a bubble wand full of the same scented bubbles, so kids can join in the fun.
The Den Kit Company the British woodland den kit
Best: For experience
More than just a toy, this British woodland den kit is an experience. Whether you simply venture out to your garden or travel further afield to your nearest woodland, this kit has been lovingly designed to not only encourage resourcefulness and creativity but also to provide budding foresters with hours of good, clean fun. Well, scrap the clean part.
Inside the cotton satchel you’re provided with everything you need to set up a shelter, with camouflage tarpaulin, a green groundsheet, natural rope, hand-turned wooden mallet and steel tent pegs. Our five-year-old tester loved the idea of creating a hideout in the garden, and by tying the rope to two well-placed trees, we set up camp. To make use of the tree identification chart, plant a tree guide, and seed-collecting sack, you’ll want to travel beyond your backyard, but this is a wonderful way to encourage children to learn about nature, however far you go.
Science Museum Mechanics Junior moving animals kit
Best: STEM toy
Budding builders aged six and over will have their hands full with this Mechanics Junior moving animals kit. Tapping into a child’s desire to construct, there are over 120 elements to piece together, creating five different animals; gorilla, lion, seal, shark and insect. Each model surrounds the motor-driven module which sees the animals come to life (although remember you’ll need three AA batteries).
Watch on in amazement as the shark swims, the gorilla walks and the insect flaps its wings. The set also includes five different cardboard scenes to bring your creations to life. Approved by the Science Museum, this kit educates and engages kids in a fun and stimulating way.
Midilli rocking horse
Best: For style
The rocking horse dates back as far as the 17th century, so there’s no denying this toy’s popularity. Fast forward to 2021, and this wooden Scandi-style example from Mamatoyz is a stylish addition to any playroom.
Standing pretty at 46cm tall, it’s designed for kids aged one and up – but we’d say it’s the perfect companion for those aged between 15 months and two years, helping to aid their balance skills as they rock back and forth. Even those that aren’t DIY-inclined will find assembly a doddle, as the main body arrives constructed. It’s a robust ride made using completely natural beech and poplar, and it can be wiped clean. We also loved the pops of yellow on the handle and footrests.
Hape fire station
Best: For longevity
This 13-piece fire station from toy brand Hape will really get kids excited. It’s a classic wooden toy – albeit quite a grand one that requires assembly – which uses natural textures and bright colours to stimulate their senses, and it is packed with fun features.
Whether you choose to fly using the helicopter or hit the road with the fire engine, there are three levels to be explored including a rooftop helipad, a working fireman’s pole and a garage with functioning doors. But it’s the finer details that make this a captivating toy; there’s a bell you can ring, flame props to set the scene, a fire extinguisher and a rescue dog. With two AA batteries, flashing lights and bell sounds will add to the drama – a feature which didn’t tire with our testers.
Best: Multi-generational game
Be prepared for some serious monkeying around with this hilarious new game for 2021. Designed for chimps aged six years and above, this was right up our competitive 12-year-old tester’s street. Aiming to collect the most bananas, players strap on a tail and follow the game rules in the enclosed booklet, battling to win the “chimp-ionship”. We found the rules were easy to follow, but you can opt for an online tutorial if you’d rather. It’s an active multigenerational game that is sure to have your cheeky monkeys belly laughing.
SmartMax build and roll
Best: For two-person play
There are 44 pieces of fun to be had in this box from the geniuses at SmartMax. Oversized for kids’ hands, it’s fascinating to watch young constructionists build towers. Both our three-year-old and five-year-old testers got stuck in, with the magnetic balls and coloured sticks having the biggest appeal. While the instruction guide could be geared more towards this specific product, our mini testers enjoyed going off-piste and creating their own ball runs (with some adult assistance). Great for STEM learning, this is a toy to be played with between siblings or friends. And we love that all SmartMax sets are compatible with each other, so the possibilities are endless.
The verdict: Kids’ toys of 2021
We love how simple yet effective Janod’s game of skill acrobat is. It’s creative and captivating, but most of all it’s just a lot of fun. Plus, you’ll even get change from a £20 note. If you’re looking for something a little pricier with the wow factor, the Magic Mixies magic cauldron is truly spellbinding.
For discounts on toys and offers on kids’ clothing, try the links below:
We’ve also rounded up the best gifts for 3-year-olds that inspire learning and creativity
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