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The best Web guides for researching toy purchases

December 6, 2013

The best educational toys are the ones your child loves because they are engaging and fun to play with; building their brains is a side effect.

In fact, it could be argued that all toys teach something to our children, intentionally or not. The best toys are the ones that encourage your child to develop her skills in a multitude of directions – language skills, sensory skills, large motor skills and social/emotional skills, for example.  If you’re looking for specific toy recommendations, check out the following sites for expert advice from parents, toy retailers and education experts.

ASTRA Toy Guide

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, or ASTRA, represents local independent toy shops around the country. They offer an excellent toy buying guide organized primarily by age level,as well as a list of Best Toys for Kids awarded annually and organized by year and type of toy: scientific play, pretend play, constructive play and active play, for example.

ASTRA suggests that when shopping for a toy, you focus on what your child can do with the toy rather than what the toy can do. They also encourage adults to skip the marketing and focus on the specific interests of your particular child. And, of course, they encourage you to shop at your local small business whenever possible; ASTRA also sponsors the annual Neighborhood Toy Store Day each November.

Creative Child Toy Guide and Awards

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 2.09.07 PMThe Creative Child Awards are administered by Creative Child Magazine. Products are submitted by consumers and educators and evaluated by hundreds of guest reviewers assembled over a long convention weekend. The resulting toy guide is released in November, just in time for the holiday shopping season. Awards are offered in more than four dozen categories including Ride-on Toys, Plush Toys, Educational Toys, Dolls, Family Games and Creative Play.

Parents’ Choice Awards

Each year, the Parents’ Choice Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to identifying quality in children’s toys and media, sponsors the Parents’ Choice Awards. Awards are granted at six levels: Classic, Gold, Silver, Recommended, Approved, and Fun Stuff. Award committees perform their evaluations confidentially. Use their Product Finder to search for past and present winners by age, product type, price range and award level.

Dr. Toy Holiday Gift Guide

Dr. Toy is the alter ego of veteran educational expert Stevanne Auerbach, who has worked for the Department of Education and written over a dozen books about children, toys and play. She administers her own independent toy awards at, where she personally evaluates each submission according to a number of criteria including educational value, ethnic diversity, durability and value for the money. Dr. Toy maintains an ongoing archive of awards in categories such as Best Green and Best Under $25.

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Toy of the Year Awards

The annual Toy of the Year Awards are sponsored by The Toy Industry Association, so they are an industry award. The Association nominates toys in several categories including Outdoor Toy of the Year, Infant/Toddler Toy of the Year, Educational Toy of the Year and Innovative Toy of the Year.

The nominees are then voted on by the general public as well as Association members, journalists, retailers and researchers. The nominations are released in November and the top award winners are announced in February.

The Toy of the Year Awards also offers an annual Guide to Holiday Shopping.