10 best kids’ toy brands: From educational games, dolls and wooden playsets – The Independent


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Lockdown has sorted the wheat from the chaff when it comes to toys.With days, weeks and months spent at home, it’s been clear to see which toys are played with again and again, and which are ignored. Those that have been popular are brands that allow children to experiment and play independently (a HUGE bonus for working parents), and all the brands included here work brilliantly at capturing children’s imagination and running away with it. Toys from these brands empower children, and encourage them to explore both themselves and their surroundings, and to develop essential life skills, but most importantly, they spark playful joy. These are our go-to toy brands – they never fail to impress and are consistently inventive. You won’t go wrong with anything from their ranges. You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent. LegoA staple of so many childhoods, Lego bricks have been around since 1949 and take their name from the Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”. Lego’s popularity took a bit of a dip in the 1990s, but with the success of film tie-ins, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, Lego was back on track by the mid to late 2000s. The Independent would like to keep you informed about offers, events and updates by email, please tick the box if you would like to be contactedRead our full mailing list consent terms hereNow with 42 different themes, Lego starts for toddlers with the Duplo range, and increases in complexity through elaborate architecture sets and coding creations, with every movie and TV tie-in between, from Marvel to Frozen to Stranger Things. The simple plastic connecting bricks appeal to all ages, grown ups included, and utterly absorbing sets start from as little as a few pounds. Meri MeriWe love Meri Meri for its beautiful fancy dress – the tulle superhero cape with leather lightning bolt patches and sparkly eye mask is a big hit – but it also makes fun party supplies, cute little cotton dolls with illustrated suitcases to live in, and gorgeous accessories (such as hair clips, fabric patches and handbags), as well as baking sets and kids jewellery. Everything has a playful feel without being childish and there’s plenty of pleasing textures – from metallics to sequins to glitter – in mainly pastel colours with the odd splash of bright. Djeco Djeco is our go-to for adorable craft sets and anything arty, but the French brand (that was set up by a mum in 1954 and remains family-run) is so much more than just colouring and cutting. With a strong design ethos that focuses on attractive, intelligent toys, Djeco makes everything from musical instruments to toy houses, spinning tops to kites. One of our most enduring Djeco toys has been a wooden ice cream set that’s provided hours of entertainment, the latest addition to this range is a BBQ set with pieces of food to thread on to wooden kebab skewers. Smart Smart is home to three fantastic sub-brands – SmartMax, a magnetic construction system for pre-schoolers, Smart Games, multi-level logic puzzles and games for four-year-olds and up, and GeoSmart, a magnetic construction system, including turbo motors and track wheels, for aged eight and up. With a focus on figuring things out, children are encouraged to think and play at the same time. We’re a big fan of Smart Games’ camelot jr, where the princess has to rescue the knight (or vice versa) using various tower blocks to create a safe path. It’s challenging and satisfying. InfantinoIf you’re looking for fun and well thought through products, go to Infantino. Making everything babies and toddlers need for sleeping, weaning, bath time and playing, its product range is full of surprises at affordable prices. In particular, Infantino makes some excellent baby gyms and activity toys – featuring teepees, ball pits and musical pandas. We also like their range of easy-to-use baby carriers.VTechMaking a huge range of electronic learning toys, VTech covers everything from hand-eye coordination to number skills, problem solving to role-play. You name the skill you’d like to encourage, VTech has a toy for it. We particularly like VTech’s skill at taking everyday grown-up gadgets and making them child-friendly, so the Peppa Pig learning watch, with alarm, timer and stopwatch functions, and the kidizoom camera, for taking proper photographs, are wonderfully empowering toys for children. LeapFrogFounded in 1995 by a father who wanted to help his child learn how to read, Leapfrog encourages a love of learning through all its toys. It’s not just about learning to read and write though, Leapfrog has some fantastic toys for babies. Everything’s in bright primary colours with a chunky, indestructible feel – ideal for little hands. Our favourite is the grill and learn BBQ – an excellent role-play toy to encourage learning numbers, colours and healthy eating, as well as plenty of pretend play for two- to five-year-olds. Orchard ToysOrchard Toys’ shopping list game has been a best seller for more than 10 years and judging from how regularly it’s been played in our house, it’s clear to see why it’s so popular. A simple matching game, it’s small enough to pack in a bag to entertain on long train journeys or while waiting to eat, and teaches vocabulary, memory skills and turn taking.It’s just one of Orchard Toys’ brilliant games (we love knights and dragons, and giraffes in scarves too), who also make great jigsaws and activity colouring books. Lots of the products are under £10, and its website has lots of free resources, including colouring sheets, craft ideas and maths and literacy games. SunnylifeBringing the best of the Australian summer to pools, beaches and gardens across the world, Sunnylife is the go-to brand for fabulous fun inflatables, floats and pool toys. Cheeky designs and bold prints bring a kitsch feel to the range. Lottie DollsA brand that firmly brings toy dolls into the 21st century, Lottie dolls are inspired by real kids and aim to be relatable and empowering toys for girls and boys. We love that the dolls are based on the average proportions of a nine-year-old child, not an adult woman, and the range of dolls celebrate all that is great about childhood. The dolls are beautifully made and the brand encourages diversity, sustainability, positive body images and STEM principles through its range, which includes a young inventor, a superhero hospital patient and a welly-wearing puddle splasher. It’s worth signing up to its weekly newsletter for free printable activity sheets. IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.
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