The best toys of 2021 might make for a magical holiday season. With Magic Mixies, mix up a potion and—poof!—summon a new stuffed pet. With Lego Vidiyo Party, create a music video in real time, wherever you are, with the power of virtual reality. And the Spirograph Animator reinvents a classic toy. It uses a light show to add animated effects to spiral designs. The editors of TIME for Kids have rounded up the best toys of the year for you.
Work Your Magic
Magic comes alive with these toys. The Magic Mixies Magic Cauldron, from Moose Toys, includes a spell book and everything you need to create a magic potion. Add ingredients to the cauldron and watch the mixture foam and bubble. Then wave a magic wand, say the magic words, and—presto!—a mist rises from the cauldron. When it clears, an adorable creature called a Mixie is revealed. The Got2Glow Fairy Finder, by WowWee, sends you on a search for more than 30 virtual fairies. They could be anywhere: in a bedroom, the garden, or the kitchen. Once the fairies have been safely placed in the electronic jar, you can “bond” with the magical creatures by feeding and hugging them.
This is no ordinary camera. Sure, it takes photos. But the VTech KidiZoom PrintCam also lets you add special effects, borders, and digital stickers to your snaps. When your selfie or portrait looks just right, hit the print button. A black-and-white version instantly ejects from the front of the camera. Use it to create comic strips. Or turn your photos into coloring pages. There’s also a video-record function and games built in.
All Your Marbles
Put your scientific mind to work with one of these contraptions. The Marble Rush Ultimate Set, by VTech, sends marbles rolling along tracks and ramps, around a lighted cone, and out of a cannon. Color-coded parts make the paths easy to assemble. For even more-high flying fun, try the National Geographic Makeway Magnetic Marble Run. Magnetic pieces let you build marble runs on vertical surfaces, like whiteboards and refrigerators. The set comes with a learning guide. It explores scientific concepts such as energy, gravity, and Newton’s laws of motion.
Code and Create
Family Game Night
Quick! What’s an item you find at a grocery store? Good! Now name another. Hurry! When playing GibGab, from Fat Brain Toys, thinking and speaking faster than your opponent is key. Face an opponent across the electronic game board. Choose a category from one of the cards. Press a button, and you’re in a head-to-head battle. GibGab is great as a two-player game. Or gather friends for tournament-style play. The Disney Pixar Toy Story Talent Show, from Funko Games, brings beloved characters from the movies to family game night. In this super-active game, players show off their skills in a series of challenges. Complete the challenges to win prize tickets. Collect the highest number of prize-ticket points to win.
Moments of Mindfulness
Does a calming, screen-free activity sound nice? These tactile toys focus your attention and soothe your senses. With Mindful Maze boards from Hand2mind, use your fingers to move through various patterns, including waves, rainbows, and stars. Pace your breathing to each task. Dimpl Pops, by Fat Brain Toys, offer a different satisfaction. The pop of colorful bubbles is as fun as it is relaxing.
These two toys transform screen time with technology. With Bill Nye as your guide, you’ll be transported to outer space to explore black holes, the cosmos, and more than 125 other immersive experiences. Bill Nye’s VR Space Lab, from Abacus Brands, comes with VR goggles and a 96-page activity book that they bring to life. There are also materials to build a planetarium and do 30 hands-on experiments. With the Lego Vidiyo app, create your own music videos. Just download the app, scan your Lego figurine, and create a video that will take place in augmented reality, wherever you are. The Party Llama BeatBox set comes with a scanning stage, a Party Llama figurine, and 16 BeatBits. Each BeatBit is used to create a different video effect in the app.
Up for Grabs
Candy Claw Machine, from Thames & Kosmos, puts a spin on the classic arcade game. This do-it-yourself kit lets you build and engineer your own claw machine. Use gears, cranks, belts, and levers to make it work. Then add your favorite treats and practice reaching for prizes. The set also comes with three interchangeable claw types you can use to scoop and score.
These classic toys, both from PlayMonster, are revamped for your generation. The Koosh Sharp Shot game puts a spin on soft and squishy Koosh balls, which were all the rage in the late ’80s and ’90s. In this slingshot game, they’re used to test a player’s aim. The Spirograph Animator is a modern twist on the original Spirograph. It was introduced in 1965 and lets you create detailed geometric drawings. The Spirograph Animator takes the fun a step further: Once you create your designs, set them on the animator. It will spin the drawings and start a light show. This creates an animated effect.
Bring It to Life
These kits take you behind the scenes to learn about video-game design and development. Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage, which can be played on Nintendo Switch systems, provides interactive lessons in programming and design. It guides you as you build seven games, from a thrilling car race to a challenging maze. Once you’ve learned the basics, you can create almost any game you can dream up. BitOGenius Inc.’s Pixicade Mobile Game Maker is perfect for art lovers. It comes with paper and five washable markers. Use them to draw your own game. After you use the Pixicade app to snap a photo of your work, it’s transformed into an animated game. The game can be played on a smartphone or tablet.
From 2D to 3D
Keep your hands busy with Cubles. The toys are made from 100% recyclable paperboard. They’re part puzzle and part origami. To create a Cuble, pop out shapes from the paperboard and follow color-coded instructional tabs. Pieces fit together to make a three-dimensional toy. Cubles become a variety of creatures, including dinosaurs, dragons, and unicorns. They also turn into characters from beloved children’s book series, such as Little House on the Prairie and Dog Man. Cubles are small and don’t use scissors or glue. That makes them the perfect toy for holiday road trips.